Welcome to the NWSL Star Power Index -- a weekly gauge of the players who are generating buzz around the league. Inclusion on this list is often a a good thing but it doesn't have to be. Buzz comes in all sorts of different flavors and simply means that they're capturing the NWSL world's attention for one reason or another. Also, this is not a ranking. The players listed are in no particular order, they're just all driving the conversation one way or another.
1. Carson Pickett (D) - North Carolina Courage
Outside back Carson Pickett has been putting in strong performances for North Carolina Courage during the 2021 regular season. Acquired in a trade with Orlando Pride during the offseason after North Carolina faced a massive player exodus. Pickett has slotted into North Carolina's system at the outside back position with relative ease. Head coach Paul Riley commented on the addition of Pickett back in February, saying:
"We feel she fits our profile, and a fresh challenge will hopefully be beneficial to the player and to our club. A fabulous spirit and a desire to be the best are inherent qualities Carson has and in our environment, we think she can flourish and further develop many aspects of her game. She is a fantastic pick up as we continue rebuilding the squad and our squad depth."
The left back has started all three matches so far the 2021 NWSL regular season. What makes Picket stand out is her ability to contribute on both sides of the ball. She's provided solid defensive coverage, her 1.67 interceptions per 90 minutes are second on among players getting regular minutes for the club. And Pickett has also been crucial in building the attack for North Carolina. She plays the second most passes per 90, 60.67 of any regular on the team, as well as the second most passes in to the final third, 12.67 per 90. And she's a crossing machine, putting in a whopping 14 per 90, her 42 crosses are 13 more than anybody else in the league. For good or for bad, when the Courage get forward it's Pickett doing the lion's share of the work.
2. Alex Morgan (F) - Orlando Pride
Alex Morgan is back with the Pride after an ill-fated loan stint with Tottenham Hotspur and it's like she never left. The U.S. women's national team forward has been part of the Pride since their inaugural season in 2016, and she continues to be a goal scoring machine for them over their opening four matches. Morgan has recorded three goals and one assist so far. The striker spearheaded Orlando's current undefeated streak with a late game equalizer against Washington Spirit during the club's home opener. It was her first goal with the Pride since 2018.
Morgan's xG is 2.92, which leads NWSL (though in part that's because she's played every minute in four matches while many teams have only played three) while her 17 total shots are fourth and six on target are third. Three of her four goals have come via her left foot this season. As Morgan's career has progressed she's become an extremely potent goal scorer in and around the penalty area with the vast majority of her work coming in the box. This season is no different as 88% of her shots are coming from inside the penalty area.
3. Ashley Sanchez (F) - Washington Spirit
The Spirit forward has spent time centrally for the club, being a target forward up top or as a center attacking mid this year. The second-year player has been relentless covering huge swaths of the field for the team in her four consecutive starts over the Spirit's first four matches.
Sanchez has been involved in nine key passes this year, tied (along with Pickett) for second most in the league, and scored one goal to start her season, with nine total shots and six on target so far. Her first goal of the 2021 regular season was a rocket from outside the box against Houston Dash.
4. Rocky Rodriguez (M) -- Portland Thorns FC
The Costa Rican international has been splitting time in the midfield with Angela Salem to provide different looks to the Thorns tactics. Rodriguez has made four appearance and two starts in the early weeks of the season for Portland, and has become a key figure for the team in their attacking build-up and their defensive shape.
Rodriguez is the more conservative option in possession with only 31.5% of her passes going forward, as compared to 43.8% for Salem. But she is also a more active defensive presence as her seven interceptions and five clearances far outstrip Salem's three and three. They're different players, with different strengths, and Rodriguez is showing why what she brings to the table is such and important look for the Thorns.
5. Casey Krueger (D) -- Chicago Red Stars
The defender has split time at the center back and fullback position for Chicago this year, but has settled in out wide over recent matches. After the club opened their regular season with their worst ever loss in their franchise NWSL history, a five goal drubbing against Portland, the team recovered by picking up four points over three matches.
Chicago's defense appears to be clicking once against as Krueger has has settled back permanently at outside back and provided solid defensive coverage throughout. She has gotten involved in the attack, completing 26 passes into the final third, the third most on the team while also leading the defensive unit with 8 aerial duals won to go along with her 27 recoveries to start the season, third most in the team.
CBS research and TruMedia assisted with this article.