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NWSL best XI shows league’s value to USWNT

NWSL is fulfilling one of its core purposes, acting as an incubator for new WNT talent.

Olympics: Football-Women's Team-1st Round Group G-Colombia (COL) vs United States (USA) Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 NWSL Best XI and Second XI have been announced, and they demonstrate the increasing ties between the USWNT player pool and the players NWSL is developing.

NWSL Best XI

Goalkeeper: Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride)

Defenders: Lauren Barnes (Seattle Reign), Arin Gilliland (Chicago Red Stars), Emily Menges (Portland Thorns), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City)

Midfielders: Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns), Allie Long (Portland Thorns)

Forwards: Jessica McDonald (WNY Flash), Kealia Ohai (Houston Dash), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Lynn Williams (WNY Flash)

Second XI

Goalkeeper: Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)

Defenders: Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Christie Rampone (Sky Blue FC), Casey Short (Chicago Red Stars)

Midfieldesr: Danielle Colaprico (Chicago Red Stars), Vanessa DiBernardo (Chicago Red Stars), Jess Fishlock (Seattle Reign), Kim Little (Seattle Reign)

Forwards: Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit), Shea Groom (FC Kansas City)

The NWSL awards are voted on by club officials, players, media that cover the league on a consistent basis, and fans.

Unsurprisingly, WNT members are scattered across both lists despite absences for the Olympics. There are also names that WNT fans are about to become much more familiar with after Jill Ellis’ recent callups for October camp as the United States prepares for two friendlies against Switzerland.

Arin Gilliland, Kealia Ohai, Lynn Williams, Casey Short, Danielle Colaprico, and Shea Groom have all earned their first callups to the WNT. In fact, almost every single American on these lists has now been called up to a senior WNT camp except for Jessica McDonald and Emily Menges, and McDonald arguably has deserved a callup for some years now.

Considering part of the league’s very foundation was to enhance the WNT player pool, that the WNT is finally, finally really delving into its NWSL resources is a huge relief. Of course, these past two years, Jill Ellis probably hasn’t felt that inclined to tinker en masse due to needing a more stable roster for the World Cup and the Olympics, but at times the roster has felt slighty too stable, bordering on stagnant. Taking this chance to actually shake up the Etch-a-Sketch while simultaneously giving established WNT players a long, uninterrupted break at last is a great move.

There’s also the fact that so many players were worth being called up, demonstrating that the league can provide depth for the WNT player pool at every position. No new NWSL goalkeepers were called in for this camp, but Jill Ellis would be a fool not to look at players like Michelle Betos, Adrianna Franch, and Abby Smith in the coming months and years.

This new roster is a very positive move; fans shouldn’t read too much in the absences of players like Alex Morgan and Julie Johnston. Most of the WNT has been going more or less nonstop since World Cup qualification between tournaments, camps, club teams, and the general hustle of promotion. It’s time for them to have a vacation and to see what kind of quality the team can start developing out of NWSL, which also strengthens the ties between WNT and league, which can help feed back into the popularity of the league. It’s a circle of development that’s good for everyone.