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NWSL midfielders who should go into the USWNT pool

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NWSL is developing a lot of good talent in the center of the park.

Stephanie Yang

The midfielder core for Rio looks to be set, barring unforeseen circumstances. After the Olympics, what does the midfielder pool look like?

Breaking into and staying in the midfielder pool for the USWNT is a tricky proposition. Perhaps more so than any other position midfield depth is determined by the preferred system of the manager in charge. Jill Ellis generally prefers to utilize a narrow, three-woman central midfield and two wide attacking midfielders. So theoretically there are five midfield spots to fill. However, Ellis oftens slots in forwards - Christen Press in particular - into the wide attacking midfielder position which limits opportunities for pure wingers.

The US women are actively trying to transform into a more technical and tactical set up. Though playing a long and direct style got the job done for much of the first two decades of the program, the rest of the world has caught up. In fact, much of the world has surpassed the technical ability of the US women. Midfielders of the future will have a greater emphasis on passing percentage, tactical responsibility, playmaking abilities, and effectiveness in the middle and attacking third of the field.

Vanessa DiBernardo stands out as a future playmaker for the US. The University of Illinois product was drafted by the Chicago Red Stars with the fourth overall pick in the 2014 NWSL College Draft. Even before she was drafted into the NWSL, she was called up in August 2013 by Tom Sermanni. Though she wasn't capped at that time, she's represented the US at the U20 and U23 levels - winning the 2012 U20 World Cup on a team that also featured current stars like Morgan Brian, Julie Johnston, and Crystal Dunn.

Her success doesn't stop at the youth level. She's transitioned to the NWSL well, scoring 3 goals and chipping in with 11 assists in 53 career appearances for the Red Stars. To put that into perspective, Diana Matheson has 11 assists in 59 appearances. Her playmaking ability is on par with the elite midfield talent of the NWSL.

In the 2016 season, DiBernardo has completed 77% of her overall passes, and her middle third pass completion percentage is the exact same. Those are par for the course, average numbers. But it's her 90% attacking third pass completion percentage that tells the story of DiBernardo's ability to play that incisive final ball in the attack. That is something that the US women will need going forward as they look to capitalize on a young and talented group of attacking players.

Vanessa DiBernardo 2016 Stats

Recoveries

Interceptions

Pass %

Fwd Pass/90

M3 Pass %

A3 Pass %

Career Goals

Career Assists

67

16

0.77

25.87

0.77

0.90

3

11

DiBernardo's teammate in Chicago, Dani Colaprico, is already on the fringes of national team consideration. Colaprico, Chicago's ninth overall pick in the 2015 NWSL College Draft, represented the U23 team at the 2015 Six Nations tournament in La Manga, Spain. Following a solid tournament performance where she scored a goal for the US, she was called up to the full national team in November 2015. Much like DiBernardo, Colaprico was not capped during her time with the national team. Unlike Sermanni before her, Ellis seems to call up some younger players purely for evaluation and camp experience without the intention of awarding a cap.

Much like her time at the University of Virginia, Colaprico's defensive midfield style allows the attacking midfielders she plays with to flourish and take more risks. She's made an impressive 72 recoveries through six games in the 2016 season, 44 of those being defensive recoveries. This puts her on par with players like Allie Long and Sarah Killion, who is another player who should be in consideration for the future. Her incredible positioning and work rate has also led to a league leading 32 interceptions. The next closest midfielder on that list is Allie Long who has 19. Once Colaprico wins the ball she's looking to get it up the field to players like DiBernardo, she averages 21.82 forward passes per 90 minutes.

Dani Colaprico 2016 Stats

Recoveries

Interceptions

Pass %

Fwd Pass/90

M3 Pass %

A3 Pass %

Career Goals

Career Assists

72

32

0.79

21.82

0.77

0.50

1

2

There is only one young defensive midfielder who matches the defensive efficiency of Dani Colaprico and that's Sarah Killion. Killion was selected by Sky Blue second overall in the 2015 NWSL College Draft. During her time at UCLA, she helped lead the Bruins to their first ever College Cup championship in 2013. She was also a part of the same U20 World Cup winning team as DiBernardo. Tom Sermanni called her up to the 2014 Algarve Cup but much like Colaprico and DiBernardo she is yet to receive a full team cap.

In 27 appearances for Sky Blue, Killion has scored two goals - both penalties - and has one assist. It's not her offensive production that makes her a valuable asset but the work she does in the middle third. She's recovered the ball for her team 79 times, including 47 defensive recoveries. Killion's 23 interceptions only trailed Colaprico and Ali Krieger. Through 6 games this season, her 85% middle third pass completion percentage led all field players. These numbers combine to paint a picture of Killion as a steady, responsible defensive midfielder who gives her teammates confidence to drift higher up the field.

Though she's been on and off the national team radar since college, Killion may be hindered by the fact that she plays for a poor Sky Blue team, whereas DiBernardo and Colaprico benefit from the positive light of a winning Chicago team. Sky Blue has struggled during Killion's tenure to put together a string of good results, going 8-11-11 over the past two seasons.

Sarah Killion 2016 Stats

Recoveries

Interceptions

Pass %

Fwd Pass/90

M3 Pass %

A3 Pass %

Career Goals

Career Assists

79

23

0.84

28.64

0.85

0.62

2

1

The future of the central midfield for the US looks flush with prospects. No matter the result in Rio, the US has an embarrassment of riches in that position. The existence of the NWSL should ensure the US continues to have this fortuitous problem.