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As Kim Little returns, some NWSL nostalgia for you

Whether it’s in the NWSL, the FA WSL or in the Champions League, Little is worth the price of admission alone.

Arsenal Women v Charlton Athletic Women: Pre-Season Friendly Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Arsenal W.F.C. are set to play Paris Saint-Germain Féminine in the UEFA Women’s Champions League quarterfinal, and due to the pandemic, Kim Little will also be set to feature in the match this Saturday. Had it not been for the break, during which Little was able to rehab a foot injury from February, Little would not have been available during Arsenal’s campaign in the Champions League and that would’ve been a big blow for not only the Gunners but anyone who enjoys watching talented players strut their stuff on the biggest stage.

It brings back a feeling of nostalgia for the days when Kim Little would terrorise teams in the National Women’s Soccer League, which she did consistently for two seasons with Seattle Reign FC (now OL Reign). Her impact was felt not only on a team that was coming off a 5-14-3 record in the previous season but across the league as well as new audiences got to see what those in the UK had been seeing for a long time: a magician at work.

I was fortunate enough to have been following the league back in 2014 and when the Reign announced that Kim Little had signed for them, I was excited. Little did I know just how influential she would be during her time in the NWSL. One only has to pull up a goal or highlight with Little in Seattle’s colours to see just how fantastic a player she was and still is.

SOCCER: AUG 21 NWSL - Seattle Reign FC at Houston Dash Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A moment that came right into my mind after thinking of Little in Seattle was the 5-0 thrashing she helped facilitate against Portland Thorns FC in 2014. I’m sure Portland fans never want to see that match again but those of you who want to see a maestra at work need to look up the full match which is still available on Youtube. Kim Little took over the show against a team that included the likes of Alex Morgan, Christine Sinclair and Veró Boquete, and capped off her sterling performance with a goal for herself in stoppage time.

When I think of Kim Little, I think of someone who can create and score goals almost at will but what also stands out for me in that game is how she set the tempo for the Reign and thus allowed the likes of Jess Fishlock and Keelin Winters to play around her, and sometimes further forward than her. Now most people know that Little is capable of playing further back in midfield but during that time, most people saw her as a No. 10, which she excelled at, but she also demonstrated the football IQ and patience to play in a deeper role should the match require it. Little could play a quick, cutting pass in the final third or swing a raking cross across the area to an oncoming teammate, like she did with Nahomi Kawasumi’s goal. Everything you would want from a midfielder, you got that day from Kim Little. She got forward brilliantly and with great effect, while also maintaining her defensive duties and pressing when needed to by her team.

Her cross for Kawasumi’s goal was impressive but it was the build up that stood out even more for me. Little took the ball with Amber Brooks on her back, tuned her and drove down the left flank before looking up and picking out Kawasumi perfectly at the far post. That was one moment of quality that encapsulated just how good Little was and still is. Strength to hold off her marker, skill to turn her marker, the speed to race away from defenders and then the ability to swing in an inch-perfect cross that one of the shortest people on the pitch that day could head in with ease.

With all that being said, my favourite Kim Little moment did not even happen in this game. Instead, it came a few months later when the Reign played the Washington Spirit in the NWSL Playoff semi-final. The Spirit were one-nil up in the 70th minute when Toni Pressley was judged to have handled the ball inside the penalty area, leading to a penalty for the Seattle Reign.

Little stepped up to take the penalty, as she always does, and watched calmly as goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris tried everything she could to put her off. Harris pointed to her right, telling Little that she was going to dive that way and then as Little prepared to take her run up, danced in place to fool Little into possibly kicking whichever way Harris thought she would. Harris did go to her right but Little used her body to disguise her penalty and coolly slotted it to Harris’ left, leaving the Spirit goalkeeper watching as the ball rolled into the opposite corner. There is nothing wrong with a goalkeeper using whatever advantage they have to try and unnerve the penalty taker but for all of Harris’ antics, she forgot one key thing: Kim Little does not buckle under pressure. The Reign went on to win the game 2-1 and book their place in the final but that moment, with everything riding on Little converting her penalty and thus giving Seattle a chance to get back into the game, stayed with me until this day.

Now Little has to help her Arsenal team find a way past PSG to book a semi-final berth in the Champions League, something they have not managed to do in quite some time. If anyone can do so, it’s Kim Little. The Scottish international has the ability to turn games on their head with her own individual quality and when Arsenal square off against the Parisiennes this weekend, I hope that the Little who blew Portland away all those years ago shows up once again, because if anyone deserves a major title in her career, it’s Kim Little.