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Rumor: Thorns to sign Ellie Carpenter?

Australia v China PR Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images

Without as robust a media environment as men’s soccer, rumors of new signings in the NWSL are often hard to come by. Radio silence is easier to keep; unless people want the news to be out there.

One of the top young defensive talents in the world, Ellie Carpenter is just 17 years old but already has 13 caps and one goal for the senior Australian women’s national team. A member of the Matildas 2016 Olympic squad, she received her first cap in Olympic qualifiers and has been a regular presence in the team ever since. She has played at center back and in midfield at club level but is widely expected to be the Australian right back for the next decade, if not longer.

Carpenter announced that she would be heading overseas somewhere at the end of the W-League season in an article for Player’s Voice last November, noting that she was “kind of leaning toward the US” and had a few offers on the table. Since then, Mark Parsons has liked a few Carpenter related tweets, and Carpenter has liked some Portland tweets—all innocuous enough, until Merritt Paulson decided to mention her directly today, with a winky face no less. Carpenter herself recently followed the Portland Thorns on Twitter.

A former track star who at one point was the second fastest 100 meter sprinter in her age group in the country at age 12, Carpenter was signed by Western Sydney Wanderers in the W-League at age 14, making 23 appearances in two seasons before moving to Canberra United this season. She has gone on to win club player of the year at Canberra and is a nominee for W-League Young Player of the Year. Her coach at Canberra, former Matilda Heather Garriock, described her as “the most professional teenager she’d ever seen”, saying, ”Ellie is so driven and intrinsically motivated and just has that winning mentality through the roof, her enthusiasm and work ethic is second to none[...]she could be one of the best players in the world.”

We mentioned Carpenter as a possible overseas signing during our draft roundtable back at the start of the year. Her form in the W-League was good then and it has since become impossible to ignore. When Canberra have been lagging this season she has been the one to take the game into her own hands and drive her team on. To do that from right back is already impressive: to do so as a 17-year old is outstanding.

She scored her first professional goal last week in the 1-5 defeat at home to Newcastle Jets on a counter attack, running with the ball for almost the full length of the field, beating the Newcastle center back for speed and finishing into the far corner.

Carpenter would be a discovery player and would not require a trade by herself, though the Thorns would need another international spot in order to fit her into the team should they keep their current internationals: Hayley Raso, Ashleigh Sykes, Andressinha and Caitlin Foord.

With Katherine Reynolds out for the first part of last season, the Thorns had something of a revolving door at right back, eventually switching to a modified back three in order to play more attacking players in the right wingback position. Carpenter would provide enough athleticism and be able to cover enough ground for the team to potentially switch to a back four. The NWSL is a league full of converted forwards playing at right back, and to have someone who is both defensively capable and an attacking threat is valuable. It’s fair to say that there would be an adjustment process to the NWSL, which is an older league on average, but as a standout player week in and week out in the W-League, she would be expected to immediately compete for a starting spot. Reynolds could then become defensive cover both in the center and on the right of defense.

Should Carpenter be signed, she would be the first ever NWSL player to be born in the 2000s, a record she also set for her country when she received her first cap at age 15.