NWSL players to watch while stars are away on international duty

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  • While international tournaments rage on across the world, the NWSL is still going strong even without some of its biggest names 
  • Which NWSL players should we pay close attention to this month while their teammates are away? Let’s talk about that 
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This is an excerpt from Monday’s Weekend Recap. Subscribe to our free newsletter to get future editions of the Weekend Recap delivered right to your inbox.

Despite all 12 teams losing at least one player to international duty, the 2022 NWSL season marches on.

Players across the league have stepped up and filled in for their teammates, putting on impressive showings that have kept things interesting in the NWSL. Who should we continue to keep an eye on this month?

Savannah DeMelo, CDM, Racing Louisville FC

DeMelo was a standout midfielder at the University of Southern California before she was selected fourth overall in the 2022 NWSL Draft. She’s been making a case for the Rookie of the Year title since moving to Kentucky.

She and fellow defensive midfielder Nadia Nadim are tied for first in goals on the Louisville squad with three, but DeMelo’s leading the team in key passes (24) and goals added (1.57). What’s even more impressive is that DeMelo is also leading all defensive midfielders in the league in shots (19), shots on target (7), key passes, and goals added. She’s been a true impact player this season.

DeMelo has scored two goals in two games in July. Her rocket against the Orlando Pride last week was a near carbon-copy of the free-kick goal she scored against the San Diego Wave in May.

Saturday’s goal against NJ/NY Gotham FC in the 67th minute tied up the score before Racing ultimately fell 2-1, but this goal proved that DeMelo has more in her tool kit than bangers from 20 yards out.

Sydney Leroux, W, Angel City FC

Leroux has been a household name in the NWSL for years, but she’s spent the last several seasons being one of the few bright spots on a bad Orlando Pride team. She was traded to Los Angeles at the end of June in a homecoming of sorts, as she spent her college years solidifying her name in the UCLA Women’s Soccer record books.

In seven games with Orlando this season, Leroux scored two goals and added an assist while leading the team in goals added (0.57). One of those two goals was a game-winner against her new team at Banc of California Stadium in May. 

Coming to LA in the wake of forward Christen Press’s season-ending ACL injury, Leroux is poised to make a difference on an Angel City side that’s struggled to score goals this season. So far, she’s logged 133 minutes over two games in LA but has yet to score her first goal as an Angel. She recently surpassed the 10,000 regular-season minute mark in her last time out against San Diego. 

The offensive production hasn’t come just yet, but Leroux could come up big in the second half of the season as Angel City tries to make the playoffs.

Bethany Balcer, ST, OL Reign

Balcer has proved herself as a valuable forward in this league since winning Rookie of the Year in 2019. While the OL Reign attack has only scored 11 goals this season, Balcer’s been involved in five of those goals: she’s scored a team-leading four of them herself and added another assist.

Last weekend against North Carolina, Balcer set Jess Fishlock up for a tap-in goal early in the second half, and the two players exchanged roles later in the half as Fishlock played Balcer in behind the Courage backline. Balcer’s goal put the OL Reign up by two, which marked the first time the team had a multiple-goal lead in the 2022 regular season. Balcer also scored against the Portland Thorns in the 81st minute yesterday to pull the Reign level with their rivals.

With eight Reign players away on international duty this month, we’ll also look for Balcer to combine with her new OL Reign teammates Kim Little and Tobin Heath. 

Little, the 2014 NWSL MVP and Golden Boot Winner, signed with the OL Reign in June for a short-term loan from Arsenal that will run through the end of this month. OL Reign acquired the rights to USWNT legend and former Portland Thorns FC mainstay Tobin Heath in the middle of June, but she has yet to make her debut in Seattle. 

All stats courtesy of American Soccer Analysis.