Move aside Morgan & Lavelle: O’Sullivan is NWSL gem worth watching in Women’s Super League

Plenty of the USWNT’s World Cup winners have moved to England this year, but so has one of the world’s best – and most underrated – midfielders

Alex Morgan, Rose Lavelle, Sam Mewis, Christen Press and Tobin Heath have all made moves to England’s Women’s Super League this summer.

World Cup winners with the United States, they have created all sorts of hype after migrating from the NWSL, with America’s domestic league having been hit especially hard by Covid-19.

However, there has been next-to-no buzz around another player making that same move across the Atlantic, one who is regularly recognised as one of the very best players in the NWSL – arguably the best league in the world.

Denise O’Sullivan is part of the North Carolina Courage team that won back-to-back Championships in 2018 and 2019. After both title-winning campaigns, her team-mates voted her the team’s Most Valuable Player.

“What a player this young lady is, oh my God,” Courage head coach Paul Riley told the Equalizer.

“She’s almost – out of the whole team – the one player we can’t play without. That’s what she’s become.”

Last month, O’Sullivan joined Brighton & Hove Albion on loan for the upcoming season. Although, unless you are a dedicated follower of the WSL or the NWSL, you probably will’ve missed it.

The nature of the move sums up just how underrated O’Sullivan is in itself.

With her quality and achievements, the Republic of Ireland international could have certainly slotted into the starting XI of a bigger, more-established club – with no disrespect to Brighton, who have enjoyed an impressive start to the season, which included a draw with Manchester City.

Regardless of whether it’s because she isn’t a World Cup winner, or the manner of her unsung box-to-box role in midfield, O’Sullivan is in Brighton for the coming campaign and will be a huge asset for former England boss Hope Powell as she looks to change the culture of the club.

A regular relegation-battling side, a number of the Seagulls’ players, as well as Powell, have spoken about wanting to push on this season, and a signing of O’Sullivan’s calibre can help them do that.

“She will change Brighton’s whole way of playing,” Riley said. “She has a massive impact on tactics because she controls the tempo, dictates the tempo and her job functions are multi-faceted.

“She’s the first player on the team sheet every week in Courage country.”

It’s no surprise Riley praises her so highly. O’Sullivan’s attitude and consistency are top-class, while she also possesses fantastic technique, can play a killer through ball and is brilliant at creating space for others. There’s very little than she cannot do.

The glowing reviews among her peers only highlight her quality.

Last year, she was voted into the NWSL Players Association’s first ever Best XI for the 2019 season, adding to that pair of MVP titles she was handed by her Courage team-mates.

It’s clear that while her performances don’t grab the headlines on a regular basis, she is certainly not undervalued by those she plays both with and against.

“I’ve known Denise since I was young. She’s from Cork, where I live, so I know her very well, and I don’t think you could meet a better person,” Megan Connolly, who plays in midfield with O’Sullivan for Ireland – and now Brighton – said.

“Off the pitch, she’s someone who will always have your back, and I think that translates on the pitch a lot of the time.

“When you mess up, all of a sudden, Denise comes out of somewhere and saves you. She makes up for your mistakes.

“She’s a very consistent player. In the big games, she always steps up. As a team-mate, you know she’s always performing.

“I think you can ask anybody on the team and they’ll have the same kind of respect for her.

Paul Riley Denise O

Paul Riley Denise O

“That’s the one big thing about her – no matter where she goes, you could talk to anyone and they always have so much respect for her on and off the pitch.

“She’s someone you can always rely on and that someone is very important in a team.”

Brighton will go to Arsenal this weekend looking to cause another upset.

They couldn’t find the quality in the final third to break City down but O’Sullivan has had a number of weeks and games in which to settle – even scoring in Brighton’s recent FA Cup semi-final against Birmingham.

This weekend, and for the next five or six months, Brighton have a player with title-winning experience and match-winning capabilities.

They have a player that Riley – a highly rated coach – describes as “one of the most gifted and complete midfielders” in the world.

But, despite all that, in O’Sullivan, they have a player who is possibly still the most underrated footballer in the game, too.

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