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SSFC Spotlight: Mia Fishel could be a key player next summer in Paris

The attacker is breaking through in the new era.

Colombia v United States Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Following a disappointing early exit at the World Cup, the United States Women’s National Team is in the process of a rebuild. The roster is set to undergo several changes with the involvement of new players in advance of the upcoming Summer Olympics. One talent who could be taking on a bigger role moving forward is Mia Fishel, who recently made her senior international debut in September and scored in the friendly against Colombia. The 22-year-old Chelsea attacker has taken a bit of an unconventional journey, turning down the National Women’s Soccer League and heading to Mexico for her first professional contract.

Born in the youth soccer hotbed of San Diego, California, Fishel – nicknamed “Big Fish” with an apropos love for angling – competed with Patrick Henry High School and San Diego Surf SC. She respectively earned first-team All-CIF and Development Academy Best XI honors, preferring to line up as an attacking midfielder in a creative role. The attacker credited her club teammates with “pushing [her] to be a better player” while also excelling at high school basketball, providing a level of sporting versatility sometimes lacked by modern players.

Fishel matriculated to the powerful UCLA program and began playing more as a striker. In her first season, she led the Bruins in scoring with 14 goals, being named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman, All-Conference third team, and Top Drawer Soccer Freshman Best XI. During her sophomore year, her contributions included six goals and six assists, earning All-Pac 12 first-team and second-team All-American honors while leading her team to the Pac-12 title. After declaring for the NWSL Draft for her third and final season in Westwood — having outgrown the collegiate level and believing that her development “hit a wall” — the forward found the back of the net 12 times, claimed another conference championship, and was once again named an All-American.

Despite being selected with the fifth overall pick in the 2022 NWSL Draft, Fishel opted to sign with Tigres UANL of Liga MX Femenil over several offers from Europe and Mexico, expressing distaste for the drafting process and preferring to choose her path. “Tigres came in very strong with a presentation about the Tigres family, the media recognition that they have, playing in stadiums every game and their training as well,” Fishel told the LA Times. “I knew that coming in, there was going to be a lot of questions about, you know, ‘is the league going to develop her?’ But the training and the players are very intense. It’s very serious here.”

She found the new, unfamiliar environment to be “super friendly” and “super welcoming,” with the club having an established track record of bringing international players into the fold. In her first half-season, Fishel scored 12 goals in 18 total appearances, overcoming a minor hamstring tear. ESPN named her one of the best players in the world under the age of 21, pointing to her impressive work in the build-up and on the defensive side of the game while showing signs of becoming a top player in Liga MX Femenil.

The following season, Fishel exploded with 35 goals in 46 matches. She was the leading scorer in the Torneo Apertura as Tigres UANL claimed a fifth title. Her brace in the first leg helped claim the Campeón de Campeones over Club América by a 3-0 aggregate margin. The attacker credits her time in Mexico as forcing her to adapt to “a more technical environment,” which paved the way for future success.

With a rising profile, the young striker was the subject of global transfer interest. She crossed the pond for a reported $250,000 transfer fee, landing at reigning Women’s Super League champions Chelsea and signing a three-year contract. Since joining the Blues, she has made five appearances, with her first goal coming in her debut, a 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge over rivals Tottenham. Her initial role is to serve as a back-up to Australia international Sam Kerr, with the crowded schedule providing ample opportunity for playing time.

At the international level, Fishel is eligible to represent Bermuda and has been a part of the United States program since the U-15 level, claiming three youth continental titles and winning the Golden Ball at the 2016 CONCACAF Girls’ Under-15 Championship and 2020 CONCACAF Women’s U-20 Championship. She was a finalist for U.S. Soccer Young Female Player of the Year in 2020. Her first senior call-up was in October of 2020; however, following a long and controversial wait, her debut came almost three years later in a September friendly against South Africa, while the first goal found the back of the net last month against Colombia.

Standing 5’7”, Fishel is a “versatile nine” who can also line up at attacking midfielder and “shows a high level of talent playing back to goal, running behind defenses, and smashing in goals in the penalty area.” She possesses fantastic speed, athleticism, and creativity, all of which enable her to run behind the back line, check back into the midfield, distribute to teammates, and leap above taller centre-backs to claim headers. Perhaps most importantly, the striker possesses the innate quality of appearing in the most opportune areas almost as if by magic, a necessity for any prolific goal scorer. Future USWNT manager Emma Hayes describes her as an “exceptional finisher whose box presence and movement make her elite,” noting a bright future ahead.

“Mia Fishel is not just a player who stays high up the pitch and waits for the ball to come to her, demonstrating... that she is just as important in helping to build phases of play as she is at ultimately converting opportunities,” wrote David Astill in a comprehensive breakdown for Total Football Analysis. “It is not uncommon to see her accelerating and decelerating... and it is one reason that she has been such a tricky opponent to face, with defenders unable to react in time to her sharp changes of pace and therefore leaving her open and able to shoot at goal... Her constantly making sharp changes of direction and twisting around opponents as she looks to carve open a gap... and her composure in tight spaces and ability to keep moving around is another reason opponents are kept guessing whenever she is on the ball.”

Fishel finds herself entering the senior national team at an interesting time when there are potential minutes and roles available. She got off to a good start with her goal against Colombia, although there will be a lot of competition to get on the plane to Paris next summer. While not necessarily an advantage over other players, the striker will also enjoy the benefit of having worked at Chelsea with the program’s future head coach, an unexpected and rare benefit ahead of the Olympics.