Alyssa Thompson, the future of USWNT, explodes onto NWSL scene with golazo in debut

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 26: Alyssa Thompson #21 of Angel City FC reacts with teammates Paige Nielsen #14 and Dani Weatherholt #17 after scoring a goal in the first half of a game against NJ/NY Gotham FC at BMO Stadium on March 26, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images)
Alyssa Thompson (far right) reacts to her debut goal for Angel City. (Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images)

Alyssa Thompson is a kid. She is a high-schooler, an 18-year-old who adores her little sisters and frequently tugs her long sleeves over her palms. She is a daughter who lives with her parents in Southern California, and so, understandably, she has been billed as the future, hyped as American soccer's next transcendent star.

And in her NWSL debut, she proved that all the hype, all the prophecies, all the seemingly hyperbolic statements about her future greatness were, in fact, slightly inaccurate.

Because she is not just the future. She is the now.

Even before the goal that jolted 22,000 people out of their seats and thousands more off their couches, Thompson burst up and down the left wing at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Sunday, lighting up Angel City's season opener against Gotham. She sped past defenders, some of them World Cup winners, and carried the ball with her, never breaking stride.

And then, less than 11 minutes into her first official game as a professional, she slithered into a pocket of space just outside the box and picked out the top corner.

All four sides of the stadium exploded. Teammates, even goalkeeper Dijana Haračić, sprinted toward her and engulfed her in a mob of joy. Thompson grabbed captain Ali Riley, who's nearly twice her age, by the shoulders, and bounded up and down with teenage glee.

"I'm so happy," she'd later explain with a girlish smile but a professional's focus, "that I get to do this in my hometown, and in front of all my friends and family."

It was a story straight out of Hollywood, in more ways than one, and of course it wasn't over. It had, and has, only just begun.

Thompson was electric all evening, perhaps the most electric player in the entire NWSL. She needed only 20 minutes to make that statement pretty inarguable. She flew up and down the field. Her pace was breathtaking. And her skill matched it.

The game ended 2-1 to Gotham — Angel City had another brilliant goal annulled by video review, then coughed up its lead — but Thompson was the story. She was everything Angel City had paid handsomely for in a trade for the No. 1 draft pick, everything Nike had sought when Alyssa was 17, everything that billboards touted and an MLS NEXT boys academy helped shaped.

And she was all of it immediately, in the present.

The speed was known. Thompson ran the second-fastest 100-meter time among girls in California high school track last year. But the way she coped with the physicality of the NWSL, and the way her brain immediately acclimated to the quickness of the professional game, was eye-opening. It prompted all sorts of amazement and even a question: Should Thompson go to this summer's World Cup?

She debuted for the U.S. women's national team last fall, coming off the bench in front of 76,893 fans at Wembley Stadium. She has been considered a long shot for the World Cup roster, and did not get an invite to training camps in January and February. Her biggest obstacle is the six accomplished and talented wingers ahead of her on the USWNT depth chart: Mal Swanson, Sophia Smith, Trinity Rodman, Megan Rapinoe, Lynn Williams and Midge Purce.

To go to New Zealand in July, Thompson would likely have to displace three of those players. And all made statements of their own on the NWSL's opening weekend. Five of the six scored goals of their own. Rodman's was a banger to beat the OL Reign. Purce and Williams combined for Gotham to stun Angel City.

So the answer to the question is a sheepish "probably not." Then again, does anybody in the U.S. player pool — heck, anybody in the world — offer what Thompson could offer for 30 minutes off the bench?

"I just want to keep developing and playing at the highest level that I can in hopes of making the World Cup roster,” Thompson said this past week.

But even if New Zealand is a step too far, too soon, she is still the future. She is still 18. She is still worried about missing her prom because it conflicts with an Angel City game. She still goes to class, and still has to graduate from Harvard-Westlake in Los Angeles this spring.

But she has shown no willingness to conform to the typical timelines of women's soccer. She was excited, but seemingly not surprised by her exhilarating debut, and by her goal. And it is perhaps the safest bet in soccer that Sunday's will be the first of many.

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