Tuesday, July 16, 2024

USWNT rising star Mia Fishel shows more than just her promise on stellar Chelsea debut

It took just 28 minutes for Mia Fishel to live up to the hype. Chelsea’s new signing scored before the half-hour mark of her side’s 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, wasting no time in a statement-making debut. Fishel’s goalscoring exploits are no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention — she scored 38 goals in 48 games for Mexico’s Tigres before a big-money move to England over the summer. Her unconventional path to one of women’s soccer’s top teams almost suggested that an adjustment period would be required before she hit her stride, but her quick start provides optimism that Chelsea’s summer business was wise.

Fishel is one of several newcomers to Chelsea, including fellow American Catarina Macario and Canada’s Ashley Lawrence, who were recruited in an effort to level up. The Blues hope to maintain domestic dominance — they seek a fifth consecutive WSL title — but finally couple it with continental glory. A first UEFA Women’s Champions League title still eludes the club, despite finishing runners-up in the 2020-21 season. While Macario missed out on the match as she is in the last phases of recovering from an ACL injury, strong debuts from both Fishel and Lawrence definitely suggest Chelsea can compete with the likes of FC Barcelona for Europe’s top prize.

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In that sense, Fishel’s success is almost inextricably linked to the biggest women’s soccer story during this European season. Barcelona have arguably become the team to beat after winning their second Champions League title in three years last season, and the argument was only bolstered by Spain’s victory at the Women’s World Cup. A handful of Barcelona players were crucial to that victory, including Golden Boot winner Aitana Bonmati, which suggests a new club is atop the women’s game in Europe after years of Lyon’s dominance.

Chelsea had always appeared to be the heir-apparent to Lyon’s success after years of smart investment but still have fallen short in the chase for European glory. The chance to finally get over the line this season could also usher in a new, more competitive era for the women’s club game in Europe that could mirror the fiercely-contested World Cup.

Fishel’s performance at Chelsea is also incredibly relevant as international soccer enters a new world order, particularly after the U.S. women’s national team were unseated as the world champions. The squad’s 200-plus minute goalscoring drought raised questions about the attack, which will likely take center stage as the USWNT aims to rebound from their round of 16 exit.

Despite less-than-ideal showings at times at the World Cup, Sophia Smith and Trinity Rodman are expected to lead the USWNT’s forward line as a new generation of talent stake their claim. The task of reverting the four-time world champions back to the attack-first style of play many are used to seeing is bigger than just Smith and Rodman, though.

The good news is that there are a host of unproven but promising players that could join the ranks as the team prepares for next summer’s Olympics in Paris. Chief amongst that group is Fishel — while teens like Alyssa Thompson and Jaedyn Shaw compete in their first seasons as professionals, Fishel already has some impressive experience on her résumé that implies she can slot in sooner rather than later.

The process might already be underway for Fishel to make a case for herself. She made her national team debut just a week before doing the same with Chelsea, and many will hope she sees more time in the USWNT’s October friendlies.

In the midst of women’s soccer’s rapid evolution, it’s worth keeping an eye on Fishel. She has arguably been one of the sport’s hidden gems over the last few years, but the forward is well and truly out of obscurity now — and likely has the ability to stay there.

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