Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander in the NWSL
There are many amazing women in the NWSL who are part of the Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander community. May is a month that is used to share their stories and bring attention to their community.
23-year-old Jun Endo is in her second season with Angel City FC. Last season saw the Japanese international rack up over 1,900 minutes, second most on the team, in a key play-making role for Angel City. Endo seems to dance with the ball at her feet. A technically proficient player with incredible vision, she has certainly made a pink-haired splash in the NWSL. Internationally, she’s scored 3 goals in 32 appearances for the Japanese Women’s National Team. Originally from Japan’s Fukushima Prefecture, she fought against discrimination and unimaginable hardship following the 2011 Japanese Earthquake during which she couldn’t practice outside for a year. Japan’s 2011 World Cup Win helped inspire her to continue following her dream. Now, Endo has become a fan favorite in Los Angeles, and her joy for the game is evident in every minute played.
Ali Riley has been with Angel City FC since their inaugural season in the NWSL. Riley is one of Angel City’s players that have played in all nine games so far, starting six of those games and accumulating 558 minutes played. Outside of the NWSL, the American-born Riley is captain of the New Zealand National Team and has been a key player for the team since 2007, when she was first called up to the senior team. With the national team, Riley has made the 2007, 2011, 2015, and 2019 World Cup squads, along with the 2008, 2012, and 2016 Olympic squads. Without a doubt, Ali Riley will be on the final squad for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, which New Zealand is hosting, alongside Australia.
Lily Nabet enters her second NWSL season for Angel City after being selected in the third round of the 2022 NWSL Draft. Nabet is a graduate of Duke University, where she used her fifth year of COVID eligibility to pursue a Master’s Degree in Business Management. Originally a California native, the midfielder has said that being able to play for Angel City has felt like coming home. Nabet has played 135 of 180 minutes for Angel City for their 2023 Challenge Cup matches and has seen the field in 5 of their 9 regular season games so far. Nabet is a young defensive midfielder with a bright future ahead of her.
Thompson was drafted first overall by Angel City FC in the 2023 NWSL Draft. Only a senior in high school, Thompson has had to find a balance between school and soccer in a new way than ever before. However, she is having no trouble adjusting to professional soccer, even if it means missing an English class here or there. Just six games into the season Thompson has played a crucial role for the Angels, scoring three goals in her five starts. On an international level, she has grown up in US youth camps, even going to the most recent 2022 U-20 FIFA Women’s World Cup. She has received a call-up to the senior stage, playing at Wembley back in October of 2022 to make her debut. When Mallory Pugh went down with an injury, Thompson was on the first flight out to Kansas City where she subbed in for the USWNT. An already impressive career for the teen is just getting started.
Chicago Red Stars
Japanese international Yuki Nagasato is one of the most fascinating players in the NWSL. She is a beloved member of the Chicago Red Stars, having played for the team from 2017-2020 and then returning in 2022 after a season-long stint with Racing Louisville FC. Internationally, Nagasato played for Japan from 2004-2016, scoring 58 goals in 132 caps. She was part of the World Cup-winning Japanese team in 2011. Nagasato is also known for being a trailblazer. In 2020 she became the first woman to sign for a men’s professional team in Japan, going on loan to Hayabusa Eleven to play alongside her older brother Genki. In addition to playing soccer, Nagasato is a drummer for Bruised Broken Band and a visual
Caprice Dydasco was selected as the 19th overall pick in the 2015 NWSL draft. Now entering her ninth season and second with the Houston Dash, Dydasco leads her team in regular season minutes and holds it down for Houston’s back line. A Hawaiian native, the 29-year-old has made over 100 NWSL appearances and played for over 10,000 minutes. She was named the NWSL Defender of the Year as well as the NWSL Best XI while playing for NJ/NY Gotham FC in 2021. Known for her speed and accuracy of delivery, she has racked up many assists and leads the Dash in corner kicks taken this year.
After a great college career with the Washington State Cougars, Makamae Gomera-Stevens was picked 27th overall by the Houston Dash in the 2021 NWSL Draft. Gomera-Stevens ended up signing with the Houston Dash in April of 2021. Before suffering an ACL injury in 2022, which is making her miss the 2023 NWSL season, Gomera-Stevens played decent minutes for the Dash. Along with teammate Caprice Dydasco, Gomera-Stevens is a Hawaiian Native.
Kansas City Current
After breaking the internet last year with her iconic goal celebrations, Lo’eau LaBonta has become one of the Current’s key pieces. The midfielder is often sporting the captain’s armband for her team and it’s easy to see why. LaBonta is a leader on the field, controlling pacing in the midfield and setting up chances for her teammates while often taking shots herself. The Celly queen scored eight goals for the Current last season, and was a driving force in getting them to the championship. She brings a sense of fun and creativity to the pitch, and she’s well-known for making teammates and fans laugh. In just one recent example, LaBonta sparked laughter during a press conference with teammate Cece Kizer when Kizer credited part of her goal to having long legs and LaBonta followed up with “must be nice.” A crowd-pleaser and a ball of fun, LaBonta is a player you never want to take your eye off of.
Chardonnay Curran is entering her second year with the Kansas City Current after a strong college career with the Oregon Ducks. In college, Curran set the school records for matches played, consecutive matches played, and matches started. She also had three game-winning goals for the Ducks. As a rookie, the Hawaiian native played in all 22 regular season matches and all seven Challenge Cup games for the Current. This season, Curran has started two games and made five overall appearances as a midfielder.
37-year-old Nahomi Kawasumi is playing in her fifth season with NJ/NY Gotham FC, but she’s been a league regular since 2014. The Japanese international has loads of experience, making 90 appearances and scoring 20 goals for the Japanese National Team. She played in the 2011 and 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, as well as the 2012 London Olympics. Her experience has led her to be a solid and steadying presence in the Gotham midfield throughout its many changes. In 2014, she was named to the NWSL Best XI, and in 2017, she set a single-game record of four assists. While she sees fewer minutes than she used to, there’s no doubt that her knowledge of the game is an asset to her teammates.
North Carolina Courage
In her first NWSL season, Narumi Miura has started every regular season game thus far for the North Carolina Courage. The 25-year-old played for the Japanese club Tokyo Verdy Beleza for 7 years before making her NWSL debut. Miura has 30 appearances with the Japanese National Team and played for them in the 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympics. So far this season, Miura has been a crucial playmaker for the Courage, holding the ball confidently in the midfield. She leads the team in assists and her pinpoint delivery on corners have helped make the Courage dangerous on set pieces.
The Virginia native, Clara Robbins comes to the North Carolina Courage this season after being the 9th overall pick in the 2023 NWSL Draft from Florida State University. At FSU, Robbins had a dominant college career ranking 19th overall in scoring in program history, and is the all-time leader for FSU in games played. So far. Robbins has played in three games for the North Carolina Courage, two games during the NWSL regular season and one game during the NWSL Challenge Cup. In the future, Robbins will be a huge asset to any team she plays for.
Victoria Pickett was drafted in 2021 and despite changing teams twice since then, she has been impressive in all three environments. In her rookie season at the Kansas City Current, Pickett was a Rookie of the Year finalist after starting in 16 of the 19 matches she appeared in. She was a massive help to the Current in their inaugural season, as well as their second season before a trade sent her to Gotham FC. At Gotham, she appeared in 10 matches during the end of the 2022 season and the very beginning of the 2023 season. At the end of the ‘22 season, Pickett helped to add stability to the Gotham midfield which had been struggling for a large majority of the season. On April 27, Pickett was traded to the North Carolina Courage, where she has made 4 appearances and scored one goal already. Pickett is a strong attacking midfielder, with a play similar to that of Rose Lavelle’s having both come from the University of Wisconsin.
Olivia Van der Jagt
Affectionately known as OLO by the fans at Lumen Field, Van der Jagt has already made waves this season with the Reign after scoring her first goal in incredible fashion. The hometown hero scored the lone goal in a match against San Diego, winning the match for the Reign in stoppage time. Van der Jagt was drafted by the Reign in 2022 from the University of Washington and has since become a fun piece in the midfield. Van der Jagt has settled into the defensive midfielder position, and her poise on the ball allows others to get forward and make chances, trusting that the 23-year-old will have their back, and she almost always does. Laura Harvey has expressed her excitement for Van der Jagt’s future with the club, and it’s not hard to see why as the young star continues to show up in big moments for the Reign.
One of the many staples on the Reign’s backline, Sam Hiatt has become one of OL’s most important defenders in her four-year career with the club. Hiatt is one of the Reign’s many hometown players, growing up in Washington State before heading to Stanford. Drafted in the third round of the 2020 draft, Hiatt has started in all 28 matches that she’s played for the Reign. In the 2022 season, Hiatt played over 1,700 minutes for the Reign after starting in 19 matches. She also put in the work on the backline, leading the club with the season record of 81 clearances. At the young age of 25, Hiatt has cemented her place on the coveted Reign backline, set to take up the mantle of Lu Barnes and lock down the Reign’s defense for many seasons to come.
The Colorado Springs, Colorado native was the sixth overall pick in the 2020 NWSL Draft by the North Carolina Courage. Due to not originally being signed with NCC, she signed with Melbourne City of the W- League in Australia. NCC eventually signed Watt before the 2020 Challenge Cup, but unfortunately was injured in her debut for the club. NCC eventually traded Watt to OL Reign at the end of the 2020 season. Watt played in 19 games for the Reign during the 2021 and 2022 NWSL seasons, before being traded to her current team, the Orlando Pride in August of 2022. The Pride are a young and upcoming team, which fits Ally Watt perfectly, and this season, she has scored two goals over two appearances during the 2023 Challenge Cup, which runs at the same time as the 2023 NWSL regular season.
Sugita is a 26-year-old Japanese international who has shined a light in Portland’s star-filled midfield. From the young age of 15, Sugita has represented her country at the youth levels including U-17 and U-20 Women’s World Cup winning a gold and bronze medal respectively. Sugita’s knack for winning has continued to club play winning an NWSL Championship in only her second season in the American league. So far this season, Sugita has 2 goals and 1 assist in only 8 games. Her individual technical ability to hold the ball, while also successfully dribbling past multiple defenders makes her a mainstay in the Thorns’ starting lineup on a weekly basis. Her teammates will speak highly of her and off the field you will find Sugita exploring Portland’s Japanese food and nature.
Abby Erceg is in her first year with Racing Louisville but in her ninth NWSL season. A seasoned veteran, Erceg spent five years with the North Carolina Courage as one of the most integral pieces to the Courage’s historic season in 2018 and to a back-to-back title in 2019. Erceg spent 17 years with the New Zealand national team, making rosters for the 2007, 2011, 2015, and 2019 World Cups. She played in a total of eight international tournaments during her time with the Football Ferns before deciding to permanently retire from international football in January 2023. She continues to be a large piece of the puzzle for Racing, adding experience and calmness to the young team.
Nadia Nadim has been with Racing Louisville FC since 2021. Unfortunately, her time with the team has been highlighted by two ACL injuries, one in 2021 and the other in 2022, which allowed her to only play in 8 games in 2021 and in 11 games in 2022. Outside of the NWSL, Nadia who was born in Afghanistan, has had a big international career with the Denmark National Team, after her family fled to Denmark. Outside of the sport, she is a doctor, receiving her medical degree from Aarhus University in Denmark.
Wang Shuang is playing in her second NWSL season with Racing Louisville FC after many successful years playing abroad. Shuang has 121 caps and 43 goals with the Chinese Women’s National Team and has won the Chinese Women’s Footballer of the Year Award three years in a row, from 2017-2019. Named to the 2015 World Cup team and the 2021 Olympic Team, Shuang has been a stalwart for the Chinese midfield, even scoring four goals in one game during the 2021 Olympics. Over the past two seasons, Shuang has proven an important piece to Racing’s success. Often taking corners and set pieces, her experience and poise on the ball have helped Racing’s young team gel.
San Diego Wave
One of the most promising rising stars in the game was acquired by the San Diego Wave through a discovery process in 2022. The Texas native introduced herself to the professional level with a historic season highlighted by 3 goals in her first 3 games, becoming only the second player in the NWSL to accomplish this achievement. Later that year, Shaw went on to compete in the U-20 Women’s World Cup and win the U.S. Soccer Young Female Player of the Year. Her outstanding records prove to the league age is just a number and her decision to forgo college continues to be a great one. Now in her second season as a professional, Shaw has become a starter for her championship caliber club team. In 9 games, she has tallied 3 goals equalling her total from last season. Shaw is guaranteed to get better each week and her unpredictability will have fans on the edge of their seats for more games to come.