Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The race for the NWSL’s Rookie of the Year is starting to narrow, with a few clear favorites emerging as the 2021 regular season winds down.

This year’s Olympic break offered the league’s younger players a rare opportunity to shine while NWSL veterans left for Tokyo, making way for new faces in several team’s starting lineups. Now, with international talent back from the Games and the playoff push well underway, some names have floated to the top of the league’s list of newbies poised to contend for Rookie of the Year honors.

Here are the top three:

1. Trinity Rodman

Trinity Rodman has been making headlines since before she took the pitch for the Washington Spirit. Originally set to play at Washington State University, Rodman opted to go pro after her freshman season was canceled due to COVID-19. Picked second overall in the 2021 draft, she became the youngest player ever to be drafted by the NWSL at 18 years old. Having a famous father also brought the teen even more attention.

Entering the league surrounded by hype, Rodman answered the call, scoring in her debut with the Spirit and quickly establishing herself as the team’s offensive target.

In her 16 matches with Washington, Rodman has scored four goals and notched three assists. She is currently tied for fourth in the league for goals and assists, alongside Ashley Hatch and Jess Fishlock.

Rodman is known to antagonize opponents’ backlines, beating defenders one-v-one with the confidence of a seasoned veteran. Her and teammate Ashley Sanchez have become one of the most formidable attacking duos in the NWSL, and as the Spirit fight for a spot in the league playoffs, expect Rodman to continue her break-out season, one that could be marked by a post-season run and which will likely be crowned with a Rookie of the Year award.

2. Ebony Salmon

Ebony Salmon came to the NWSL by way of Bristol City, with the English striker signing a two-year contract with Racing Louisville FC in May.

Though she was late to the party, Salmon made quite the entrance, scoring in her first minute on the pitch with Louisville.

The 20-year-old now has five goals in her 12 appearances with Racing Louisville. She is currently tied for 6th on the goal-scoring list, only two goals behind Ashley Hatch, Ifeoma Onumonu and Sydney Leroux, who stand atop the leaderboard.

Salmon is also fourth in goals per 90 at .59, highlighting the rookie’s lethal efficiency on the field.

The danger in Salmon’s game lies in her ability to capitalize in the final third, pouncing on defensive miscues and converting them into points.

In her debut NWSL season, Salmon has made her presence known, establishing herself as Louisville’s premier attacker and leading goal scorer. Not bad for someone who’s still just 20 years old.

3. Emily Fox

Why should forwards get all the glory? Emily Fox is proof positive that defenders can make an impact, too.

Picked first overall in the 2021 draft by Louisville, Fox had three caps with the senior USWNT before ever playing in the NWSL. The North Carolina Tar Heel has now made 16 appearances with Racing, anchoring the club’s defensive line.

Fox has completed 557 successful passes so far this season, with an 85.3 percent accuracy rate in her own half. The 23-year-old also has 40 clearances, 37 interceptions and five blocks to her name. As a defender, Fox isn’t afraid to get high up the pitch, notching two shots this year, with one landing on target.

Fox has already been named to the NWSL’s May Team of the Month, quietly making a case for herself on the domestic and international stage. While she might not walk away with the ROTY award, her debut season should give Racing Louisville fans confidence that they’ve found their defensive cornerstone for years to come.