Hina Sugita, midfielder, Portland Thorns
There’s a tongue-in-cheek phrase (well, should be, anyone using it without hints of levity is not to be trusted) that was introduced by Twitter (and basketball) God Kevin Durant that whittled down to ‘real hoopers know.’ Sugita, the 25-year-old Japanese midfielder, is a player who doesn’t get many headlines but has a bevy of tools to devastate on the pitch.
The tongue-in-cheek portion is that it doesn’t require a top hat and monocle to see why Sugita is so effective in attack. She’s slick with the ball at her feet and able to manipulate the ball to maintain control while confronting the ferocious athleticism in the NWSL. Spaces in this league are tight, and plenty of technicians have come to the NWSL and been neutralized. Not Sugita. She combines technique with an ability to read where gaps to attack appear, and makes exceptional movements to put herself in positions to take advantage. And when the ball comes, she has the shot variety to turn attempts into goals — as evidenced by her four goals from six shots on target.
Lo’eau Labonta, midfielder, Kansas City Current
Labonta is a bundle of fireworks on the pitch. Her energy is nonstop and she’s always one of the most positive players with the ball. Each time it gets to her feet, she’s looking to immediately advance the ball to a dangerous position. Her assist this past weekend is a perfect encapsulation. She was deep in her own half stalking the ball and optimistically hoping a teammate would win a scrum and the ball would roll to her.
It did, so she wound up and punted a gorgeous assist over the defensive backline for CeCe Kizer to finish. Labonta’s energy plus clean striking of the ball make her a must watch player. Oh, and also if Kansas City win a penalty, be prepared for Labonta to take it and attempt to explode the netting.
Diana Ordoñez, striker, North Carolina Courage
Ordoñez is in her rookie NWSL season but already proving to be a terror in the box. She’s racked up five goals in eight games played (seven starts). With so many on-ball creators in the North Carolina team, plus the laser-guided wide service of left back Carson Pickett, Ordoñez’s task is to put herself in positions to take advantage.
Her movement in buildup play is fun to watch as well. At 5’11 she’s one of the tallest center forwards in the league, but is comfortable with the ball at her feet and can drop deeper to help shift the ball into space. In addition to her goals, she also has 5 key passes (a pass that leads to a chance at goal).
Alex Chidiac, attacking midfielder, Racing Louisville
Chidiac is a 23-year-old attacking midfielder who came to the NWSL from Australia. Her diminutive stature and quick feet make her one of the hardest players to stay in front of with the ball. There was no better evidence of this than her balancing act for her first NWSL goal.
She kept control tight, rode a challenge, kept the ball from rolling out then from nearly no angle at all, rolled the ball along the byline by the keeper and into the far side netting. It seemed just a taste of what this young talent is capable of, but you’ll want to watch whatever’s next.