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Explaining The Sam Kerr Phenomenon

Sam Kerr is the highest-scoring player in the NWSL at the World Cup Break. Let’s dig into why.

2019 Cup of Nations - Matchday 3: Australia v Argentina Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images

Sam Kerr is the most dynamic player in NWSL. The eye test might tell you that, but the stats do, too.

The thing is, it’s not like there isn’t any competition. Lynn Williams is shooting more— 26 shots to Kerr’s 21— and Amy Rodriguez’s passing accuracy, combined with being tied for second in goals with four, makes her a serious contender for that top scoring spot, too.

Yet, Sam Kerr is set apart from the pack every single game. Let’s take a look at why.

(All stats courtesy of NWSL.)

As I mentioned above, Lynn Williams is out-shooting Sam Kerr (and everyone else) with 26 total shots so far this season. Half of them (13) have been on target, and yet her conversion rate is hovering around 11%. Sam has 14 shots on target, which means she leads in that category as well as goals with six. Her conversion rate more than doubles Williams’ at 29%.

Amy Rodriguez, who has 20 shots, 11 on-target, has a 20% conversion rate. So, the first piece of the puzzle here is that Sam doesn’t just shoot the ball often, she shoots the ball on-target more than anyone else, and she finishes almost 30% of her shots. That’s almost like a guy “batting 300.”

Soccer: Womens World Cup-Italy at Australia
Kerr will no doubt be a pivotal part of Australia’s World Cup run during the NWSL break.
Presse Sports-USA TODAY Sports

Her game— and the game in general— is more complex than that. Lynn Williams has won no fouls this season, and conceded two. Amy Rodriguez has won one and conceded nine. Sam Kerr has won five fouls and conceded two. She’s such a constant threat on the field that it’s not uncommon for players to commit fouls on her while trying to contain her, and yet, in spite of the havoc she wreaks, she’s not a liability, either.

If you were to look only at distribution, Kerr, Williams, and Rodriguez are equally matched. Rodriguez completes 66% of her passes, while Kerr completes 64% and Williams completes 62%. Of the three of them, Williams is the most responsible in her own end, completing a whopping 94% of her passes in her team’s half, but the other two complete 80%, so they’re no slouches, either.

Where Kerr further sets herself apart in the run of play is in competition with other players. She has won 100% of her tackles this season. She’s won 59% of her aerial duels. She’s got 14 clearances, which dwarfs the other two— 3 for Rodriguez and 2 for Williams— so when she’s not scoring, she’s still making a massive impact. In short, Sam Kerr is the most complete player in NWSL play so far this season, so it’s no surprise she’s leading the pack right now.

That’s not to say that the other two players here aren’t dominant in their own right, though. Rodriguez leads Utah in goals and shots on goal, and her team is solidly in third place at the break while Chicago rests tied for fifth with Houston. Williams has more key passes (14) and open play crosses (15) than Kerr or Rodriguez, and the Courage are sitting in 4th at the break.

All that to say that while it’s clear from the statistics that Sam Kerr is the best player in the league so far this year, there’s not necessarily as much light between her and the others as you might guess.