A hard league to break into
Many years from now, the 2018 NWSL season is going to be known as the lost year for rookies. The six-year-old league contains the best talent from the United States, Canada, and Australia along with numerous players from Brazil, Japan and other countries around the world. On the whole, it is easily the most talent-heavy women’s soccer league in the world.
That’s why, when forward Frannie Crouse was drafted by the North Carolina Courage in the first round of the 2018 NWSL College Draft, she knew it was going to be hard to make the roster, but she was excited about the opportunity to play somewhere like North Carolina.
“My senior year I was [injured] and I actually wasn’t expecting to be drafted at all due to the fact that I missed almost half of my senior season, so being able to be drafted especially in the first round was unbelievable to me. I was shocked and I’m so happy I got drafted by one of the best teams in the league so there was nothing I could actually be unhappy about.”
“When it moved from the [Western New York] Flash to the Courage I was like ‘oh, I’ve always wanted to be in North Carolina.’ That was one of my dream states to live in. Then I was drafted here and I was like ‘wow, it’s unbelievable that I was picked to a place that I was hoping to go.’”
Like most rookies in the league this season, Crouse is finding it difficult to earn playing time with so many talented players in the league.
“It’s definitely difficult, but I feel that across the league there are so many talented players and it’s not ever a given. I guess that’s what makes the league what it is. They want the best competition wherever it comes from, and when you enter into the draft and you get drafted you have to earn that spot; they’re not going to give it to you, and I feel like coming into the Courage I knew that was something that was going to be very difficult.”
Playing striker for the Courage was always going to be difficult, with Jess McDonald, Lynn Williams, and Crystal Dunn as three of the best-attacking players in NWSL history. McDonald is second in league history for goals scored, and Williams and Dunn were both named league MVP in 2016 and 2015 respectively. With Kristen Hamilton and Darian Jenkins both well integrated into the team, there is a long line of players vying for a small number of starting spots. Even through the adversity, Crouse tries not to let the pressure get to her.
“Each and every day it’s a different challenge. You know you’re playing with the best at practice. That’s what I keep telling myself. I’m getting better every day. They’re pushing me to be the best that I can and just by playing and being here I’m growing as a player and that’s so beneficial because I feel like if I was somewhere else that may not be the case. From being here and being able to play with the girls that are in front of me, I have grown so much and I have changed my game in so many ways. I am very thankful even to be in this opportunity here, regardless of if I’m playing or not.”
The emotional roller coaster of the bubble player
The NWSL is always going to be a difficult league to enter, but 2018 is unique. Just after the draft, the Boston Breakers folded and their players were reapportioned amongst the remaining nine teams through a dispersal draft. This meant that rookies would be facing off against new, seasoned veterans for space on the field and the bench on game day. This has left the vast majority of the league’s rookies without an NWSL contract. With the exception of a few star players, the rest of the 2018 rookie class is on the edge of the roster bubble. Crouse was the only player drafted by the Courage to receive a contract from the team, but when defender Yuri Kawamura was fully recovered from her ACL injury it was Crouse on the chopping block. On Monday, May 28th, Crouse was waived by the Courage.
“I was obviously very frustrated, but I was doing what the team needed and I understood that what the team needed at that point in time was for Yuri to be off the D45 list… [I figured] if that was the end for me, that was the end for me. I mean, I didn’t want it to be over... but I’m trying to make the best of it in whichever way it takes me.”
Then, just three days after being waived, Crouse was added back as a National Team Replacement Player. With six Courage players scheduled to miss the June 3rd match against Houston, the team added a number of players back to the squad. The game that followed was a tough one. Played in the heat and humidity of Houston in June, a group of players, many of whom were getting their first game minutes of the season, stepped onto the field. At times it was ugly, but Crouse came into the game in the 63rd minute and scored the equalizing goal at the 80-minute mark. Crouse talked with me about the goal and the feeling after the game.
“It was a surreal moment. I guess it’s something that you work for, and I’ve been working for this the whole season. Just to even get into the game I was happy about. Scoring was topping it off, but I really couldn’t have done it without the team and the opportunity that I was given. I was very grateful for that.”
“I think we all felt very relieved. Like, everyone knew this was going to be a very competitive match, and I guess we felt like underdogs because everyone was going against us because we were missing some of our best players, but we felt very confident in ourselves before the match and then after the match we felt relieved and it was almost like we won the game. We kept our streak going. It was really great.”
Now, a few weeks after the game-tying goal, Crouse is back on the outside of the roster looking in. After being waived for the second time, Frannie looks to the future.
“I don’t really know. I know a lot of rosters are actually locked right now. I mean they are basically full, so I was hoping that maybe they would consider me, but if it doesn’t and that was my last game I ever played in the NWSL I left on a good note. Something I’ll always remember.”