It’s been a long year and while the outside world continues to be a long slog to...who knows where, I still managed to find joy in football. Across every league, despite varying challenges, players did their best to entertain, thrill and give anyone watching the joy of witnessing magic happen. So in no particular order, here are my top ten moments of 2021.
1. Canada wins a historic Gold medal
Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. That was the slogan you could attach to Canada for years as they always fell short of the USWNT in their search for an international title. Despite the conditions in Tokyo, the Canadians did something that they had come so close to doing nine years ago in London: beat the United States and win a Gold medal at the Olympics.
It took a Jessie Fleming penalty in the semi-final against the USWNT to overcome that “mental block” the Canadians had against the USWNT and it took an impressive defensive performance from their back five to topple Sweden in penalties and win Gold for the first time in the program’s history.
It wasn’t pretty most of the time but if you’re a lover of pure defensive grit and excellence, the Canadians led by Ashley Lawrence, put on a show for the ages. They did enough at every stage to give their attackers a platform that usually only needed one goal and then made sure that their opponents could not get by them more than once, no matter who they faced.
In football, it doesn’t matter how you win, you just have to win and no one could begrudge the Canadians the joy they felt when they had those Gold medals placed around their necks on a balmy night in Tokyo.
2. Barbra Banda, no further explanation needed
As someone from a country that borders Zambia, watching they and in particular Barbra Banda, announce themselves on a global stage was incredibly fulfilling. Zambia, like my own home country, is a small nation that usually doesn’t get mentioned when it comes to the great footballing countries in Africa but this past summer, the Zambian team did everything in their power to make sure you would remember them.
Barbra Banda was the heart and soul of that Zambian explosion at the Olympics, picking up two hat tricks against the Netherlands and China as Zambia looked to try and book their place in the knock out stages. It didn’t turn out the way they would have hoped but watching Banda make finishing look so easy was worth having the Zambians at the Olympics, despite what their scorelines suggested. Banda showed great awareness and technique in front of goal throughout Zambia’s campaign and if anyone deserved to come out of that tournament with more respect to her name, it would be Barba Banda.
3. Eugénie Le Sommer’s goal vs Racing Louisville
Eugénie Le Sommer’s time in the NWSL may have been short but she left us all with a lasting impression during her time in the US. Against Racing Louisville as OL Reign FC looked to push up the table and make it to the playoffs, Le Sommer gave us a goal to savour for a long, long time.
It's goal No. 1 in a Reign uniform for Eugenie Le Sommer!— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) August 1, 2021
The home team takes the lead! #RGNvLOU | https://t.co/iecT7II54a | #NWSL pic.twitter.com/goMjG1rnU1
The quick movement of her feet and the wherewithal to then finish smoothly with a curling effort just made everything about this goal sensational. Leaving your defender on the ground also helps in amplifying just how good your goal is in my eyes as well.
Le Sommer has long been thought of as one of the best forwards in the Europe and although it took her some time to get going in the NWSL, once she found her footing, we all witnessed why she was so highly regarded and why her exclusion from the French national team remains so confounding, especially when she can produce something like this.
4. Barcelona decimating Chelsea
Chelsea fans, look away for a moment.
Months ago, most of the English-speaking press didn’t even think FC Barcelona could make it to the UEFA Women’s Champions League final. Most of that media wrote them off before then and said that Paris Saint-Germain would knock them out at the semi-final stage, and when that didn’t happen, that Chelsea FC would be too strong for them in the end. That turned out to be a terrible take when the final whistle blew in May.
The Blaugranes came out of the trap flying and within 35 minutes, had put four goals past Chelsea with no reply. Alexia Putellas as always, was imperious, Lieke Martens produced some of her best football ever down the left flank, Caroline Graham-Hansen was immaculate and alongside Putellas, Aitana Bonmatí showed guile and poise to keep Chelsea’s midfield unbalanced. It was a performance from a team not only fully confident in their ability but also knows exactly what to do to counter their opponent without changing too much of how they play. A team at the peak of their prowess showed up that day in Gothenburg and didn’t hesitate to show that to the world.
5. PSG win the Division 1 Féminine title
It took 21 years. 21 long years of watching others win the title, barely piping them to it and watching Olympique Lyonnais win 14 in a row but this year, PSG finally managed to stop the juggernaut that is Lyon and win the Division 1 Féminine title for the first time in their history.
Every year, for as long as I can remember, the French title would usually be decided by which team would win the head-to-head battles against each other, and in a year that saw the Parisiennes knock out Lyon in the Champions League, they did enough in the league to topple their fiercest rivals from winning a 15th consecutive title.
The two teams matched each other step for step coming into the last stretch of the season and had PSG not managed to beat Lyon in their first meeting, the title may have gone to Lyon once again due to their superior goal difference. Lyon couldn’t find a way past PSG in the reverse fixture and PSG went on to win their remaining matches thus clinching the title.
6. The USWNT’s disallowed goal against Mexico
Remember when right before the Olympics the USWNT put together a sweeping move that resulted in an offside goal by Christen Press? That goal hasn’t left my mind since. It had everything you’d want from a tactical point of view and everything else you’d want from a purely aesthetic point of view.
IT'S SO PRETTY pic.twitter.com/K7o9LVJ7Lm— Diaspora United Podcast needs a nap (@DiasporaUtdPod) July 6, 2021
That type of movement was nowhere to be seen at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics but whenever I get the chance, I go back to look at the entire pattern of movement for that goal and wonder where that team went to. That is what the USWNT is capable of and as someone who enjoys watching good movement come together to produce something special, I hope that this becomes more of the norm for the team in the future,
7. Fridolina Rolfö goal vs Arsenal
If you aren’t aware of it by now, Fridolina Rolfö scores bangers for fun. She showed that during the Olympics against Australia and then a few weeks ago, produced another cracking goal against Arsenal FC in the UWCL.
The Swedish international currently plays at left back for Barcelona but because of the style/system of play the Spanish champions use, Rolfö gets forward a lot to great effect. Against Arsenal, with half time approaching and Barcelona already up by two, Rolfö picked up the ball just outside of the box and then proceeded to bend it in off the post and away from the goalkeeper’s despairing dive.
A CHRISTMAS CRACKER OF A GOAL— DAZN Football (@DAZNFootball) December 9, 2021
Gift wrapped by Rolfö
It still boggles the mind that someone as gifted as Rolfö is being made to play at left back but because she has so much talent with both feet, and because she has quickly adapted to how Barcelona like to move the ball about, she can pop up out of nowhere and score a goal like that. Long may it continue.
8. Casey Murphy vs Australia
Anytime a goalkeeper pulls off a performance like the one Casey Murphy did against Australia, I always note it down. Goalkeepers don’t get as much love as other positions on the pitch and even when they perform outstandingly, if the rest of the team doesn’t, they’ll still concede a lot of goals and have their performance disregarded.
This time around, a goalkeeper did so well that even when those around them faltered, it was still enough to get the win for their team.
REMEMBER THE NAME: CASEY MURPHY pic.twitter.com/cxLp5zM3VP— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) November 27, 2021
Murphy has been in great form for the North Carolina Courage during the past season in the NWSL and once she got her chance to shine with the USWNT, she took it with both hands. If she keeps performing like that, it will be very difficult for Vlatko Andonovski to not only keep her out of the team but quite possibly, keep her from at least competing with Alyssa Naeher for the starting goalkeeper spot.
9. Ada Hegerberg returning from her injury
I had the opportunity to interview Ada Hegerberg just before she made her long awaited return to football after a lengthy time out. She was as excited and as prepared as anyone could have hoped for leading up to that moment, and when it happened, the world welcomed her back with open arms.
She then followed those small substitute appearances with her first goal since returning from injury, against PSG of all teams, as Olympique Lyonnais look to retake the league title from their rivals.
After nearly 21 months out with injury, 2018 Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg scored her first goal for Lyon since returning.— B/R Football (@brfootball) November 15, 2021
It meant everything ❤️
Whether you’re a fan on Lyon or not, seeing Hegerberg out there and slowly coming back to her very best is something any football fan can appreciate. Before her injury, she was one of the best around and setting a record-breaking pace for goals in Europe and in the Division 1 Féminine. I for one, hope she can get back to that level again so we, as football fans, can enjoy one of the best around strut her stuff once more.
10. Trinity Rodman defies expectations
The 2021 NWSL Rookie of the Year had high expectations coming into this season after being drafted by the Washington Spirit. Many wanted to temper those expectations because of her age/youth but Trinity Rodman herself never had any doubts about how good she could be.
Nothing encapsulates her character more than her performance during the NWSL Championship. After being frustrated time and time again by her own efforts and those of the Chicago Red Stars defenders, something seemed to click inside of Rodman during the second half and she began to take over the game. That led to her producing the pass that led to Washington’s equaliser and more importantly, the inch-perfect cross that led to the game-winner for the Spirit.
Others who follow the Spirit will have written better articles about Rodman than I could but I couldn’t finish this piece without mentioning not only her ascendancy as a player but also even with that ascendancy, you can still see that she has much more to give.
Her performances throughout the season and in the playoffs have been fantastic to watch. We are all watching a player mature in front of our eyes into possibly one of the best around. That’s not hyperbole. She has all the tools to excel on the pitch and if she can match those tools with the maturity that usually comes from playing at a high level regularly, the sky is the limit for Trinity Rodman.
As I previously noted, these are some of the moments that I’ll remember from 2021. Which moments captivated you the most? Sound off below.