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Stephanie Roche has been the most talked about female footballer over the last year or so. Her goal for Irish football club Peamount United was an internet sensation and saw her nominated for the 2014 FIFA Puskas Award, also known as goal of the year. She did not win the award, coming second to James Rodriguez with her 33% of the vote falling behind his 42%, but she raised the profile of the women’s game massively and after becoming the first woman to reach the last three for the award, and she made more history earlier this week by signing for Houston Dash and becoming the first Irish player in the NWSL.
Roche will certainly attract fans to the league and Houston Dash following all her exposure over the last twelve months, but on a personal level she will hope the move can help her achieve great things in her career and allow her to become more than just ‘the girl who came second in the Puskas Award’. It is certainly a huge step up for her following time spent in Ireland where, despite her playing in the Champions League, women’s football is of a low standard, as well as her time in France where she played for ASPTT Albi who are struggling to stay out of the relegation zone in this season’s Division 1 Feminine.
The language barrier Roche faced in France prevented her from reaching her full potential this season, with just one goal in ten games for Albi. However, her ability has been clear on both the European and international stages with Peamount United and Ireland. With her former club in the Champions League, Roche has a solid goal-scoring record of seven goals in eight games, whilst she can boast a strike against Germany in a nine minute appearance off the bench in last year’s World Cup qualifiers as Ireland narrowly lost 3-2. This is the sort of top quality experience that the striker can bring to the Dash’s front line.
Ironically, despite her becoming a well-known name over the last few months, very little is known about Roche’s playing style and what she offers to her team (apart from the fact she can do kick-ups and strike a pretty decent volley). Something that is immediately apparent when watching the 25-year-old is that she offers a great physical presence up front. She is strong and able to cope with defenders trying to bully her off the ball, and she is not the smallest either so is therefore able to rise high to meet long balls forward and crosses into the area – adding another dimension to her team’s attack.
However, on top of this, Roche has fantastic pace too which allows her to burst past these sturdy opponents with ease. Her movement off the ball gives defenders a tough time as she never stays still and instead constantly keeps her opponents on their toes. Her anticipation of the game means she is always in the right place at the right time to tap in simple chances, following up long distance shots and dropping off at the back post when a cross comes in to find herself in plenty of room to finish with defenders ball-watching as she plans ahead. This sees Roche get into a number of great positions throughout matches to allow her to rack up such excellent goal-scoring records.
On top of this, her finishing is superb. With her wicked left foot, Roche can beat goalkeepers with the sheer power of her shots as opposed to having the find the corners every time. The force she gets behind an effort means it’s easy for her to hit the target and score from a tight angle, with goalkeepers struggling to deal with her strikes and either parrying them into the path of one of Roche’s teammates or just getting a futile hand on them as they fly into the back of the net.
Back to the video of Roche’s wonder goal though, one thing it clearly demonstrated was the skill that the 25-year-old possesses. Her fantastic ability on the ball means she’s dangerous when running at opponents with the ball, as well as being able to take them on and escape their challenges with ease using a quick trick or change of direction. This is a side of her game that is rarely seen though as she spends most of her time on the pitch pushing right up on the last defender. There is nothing wrong with this as it means that there is always an outlet for her teammates looking to play the ball forward, but if Roche dropped deeper sometimes to receive the ball, she would be able to assist her team by creating something herself using this great skill she has. Roche is an incredible talent, but a raw one at that who needs to be tamed by a top quality coach of a top quality team in a top quality league. Dropping off to receive the ball is just one thing that the Dash’s coach Randy Waldrum can help integrate into her game more, but it certainly will not be the only thing he helps her develop as he’s a brilliant coach who knows how to get the best out of his players.
Waldrum has in fact spoken of the excitement he feels about the signing of Roche, stating that the Dash are “getting a player that has great technical ability, a superb left foot, and possibly the best goalscorer to come out of Ireland since Olivia O’Toole.” The team will definitely benefit from her arrival as they really struggled last season to score goals, finishing bottom of the standings as a result. They registered the lowest total of goals scored in the league with twenty-three in twenty-four games, and the big reason for this is that they did not have a reliable goal-scorer to turn to when they needed someone to step up in a game. Their top scorers last season were Nina Burger, Tiffany McCarty and Kealia Ohai – all tied on just four goals. Carli Lloyd is part of the team this year, the USWNT’s highest scoring midfielder of all time, as well as Morgan Brian, meaning the Dash’s forward line does not just have firepower this year, but versatility and plenty of dimensions too.
Roche’s goal underlined the raw talent she possesses, and the move to America can help mould her into a fantastic player. Hopefully the exposure she received from her Puskas nomination can draw new fans to the NWSL and women’s football as a whole whilst Roche excels and puts the troubles she endured in France behind her. With the talent she will have around her this season, the Irish international should receive the quality service necessary for her to propel herself back to her best and help send the Dash flying up the standings.
To see the full list of the NWSL fixtures for this season, including the times and dates when you can catch Roche and her new side in action, click here!
Hi, I’m Ameé, I write reguarly about the English Football League on my blog, A Pitchside View, and also women’s football at A Women’s Pitchside View. If you liked this post, please feel free to rate it and also check out other pieces I’ve written on these sites, as well as on Fanthem. Thank you.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Ameé Ruszkai