The NWSL is many things to many people. The five-year-old league offers elite female players an environment to fulfill their dreams of becoming professionals, provides wonderful role models and represents a huge step forward in opportunities for women to compete in the world’s best pro league.
For U.S. head coach Jill Ellis, the league also serves as an invaluable platform for U.S. National Team veterans to continue to show they are playing at an elite level while giving younger players the chance to show their skills, continue to improve, compete daily in a high-level environment, and if they are talented enough, use their performances in the league as auditions for possible call-ups to the U.S. WNT.
In the last 13 months since the end of the Olympics, Ellis has made it a priority to reward players who have performed well in the league, give them a look within National Team training camps, and if earned, in matches as well.
For the two upcoming friendlies against Canada, Ellis once again showed how valuable the NWSL can be for players that perform consistently, calling up two members of the 2017 NWSL champion Portland Thorns in goalkeeper Adrianna Franch and defender Emily Sonnett.
Sonnett and Franch were a big factor in the NWSL's Portland Thorns run to the 2017 title.
Though both Franch and Sonnett have been in with the National Team in the past, and Sonnett earned 12 caps in 2015-16, their return highlights the cause-and-effect of how a quality club season can translate to an invite into a National Team camp, even if a player has been absent from rosters for months.
“I think where we are with our league and our National Team is where we want to be,” Ellis said. “We want to have a fluid environment where players are brought in based on performance and not just because they’ve been on the team for two or three years, or they have this many caps. That’s been reflective of this process. It’s not the old-school environment where you’re in and you’re set. There’s movement and that’s important to continue making this environment competitive and healthy and not letting it become static.”
For Franch, who has been involved with the WNT program for about five years, the November camp is her first call-up since training camp in January of this year. She had a spectacular 2017 NWSL campaign, where she set a new league record for clean sheets (11) and was second in the league in save percentage (80.1%) and fourth in saves (80). She was also named the 2017 NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year.
Adrianna Franch was last in with the WNT in January Camp 2017.
“[Being here] is familiar in a sense of knowing what to expect,” Franch said of her return to WNT training camp. “But with the National Team, there’s a certain type of tactical plan, a system that is all new and fresh, so I’m basically trying to come off the season that I just had, do my best in the environment and learn and progress with this team.”
Sonnett – who made her WNT debut back in 2015 – hasn’t played in a game for the USA since Oct. 19, 2016 against Switzerland. She was part of the 2017 SheBelieves Cup roster but did not see any game action.
Still, an excellent NWSL season opened the door again. In just her second season in the league, Sonnett anchored the Thorns’ back line and scored several key goals, including a header in the 4-1 NWSL Semifinal victory against the Orlando Pride. She tallied four goals during the season (on only six shots on goal), an impressive number for a center-back.
“I think the NWSL gives a lot of players the platform to develop and to showcase themselves,” said Sonnett, who is broadening her experience by playing in Australia for Sydney FC during the NWSL off-season. “I think you’ve seen a lot of people in this environment do that. I think Casey Short is a good example of that after she came back from injuries. The NWSL is great for me. I play with a quality club and had a lot of success towards the end of the season. It helped me out. Being in a concentrated environment with the top of the top here is just another way to get better and I’m thrilled to be back at work with them.”
Emily Sonnett earned 12 caps with the U.S. WNT between 2015 and 2016.
This much is clear: as the NWSL keeps progressing, so will the opportunities for players to blossom and show their qualities to National Team coaches. Every NWSL weekend is a chance for a player to show what they’ve got to break into the WNT mix. While Ellis used all of 2017 to expand her player pool, and 2018 will likely feature more refinements to the current group, the opportunity for new players – or players that have been with the team in the past – is always there.