With the World Cup having kicked off this week, USA TODAY High School Sports is taking a closer look at the next generation of U.S. soccer. Today we feature midfielder Katie Cousins, the recently crowned Gatorade Girls’ Soccer National Player of the Year.
Club Team: Richmond Kickers
School: Jefferson Forest (Forest, Va.)
It’s hard to quantify what makes Cousins an elite player. She doesn’t pile up prodigious goal or assist totals. Her physical attributes like height, speed and strength aren’t dazzling. But watch her play, and you quickly understand why she took home this year’s Gatorade National Player of the Year award. Cousins is the heartbeat of whatever team she’s playing for, rarely putting a foot wrong and always popping up in the right spots to dictate the flow of the game. The Tennessee commit is looking to cap her junior season at Jefferson Forest with a Virginia 4A state crown this weekend.
Why she could be World Cup-bound: Because she’s a true team player who only cares about winning. There was a time when the U.S. could get by on athleticism alone, but having come up empty at three successive World Cups it may be time for an upgrade in the tactics and strategy department. Enter Cousins. At 5-foot-2, her athleticism isn’t off the charts, but her soccer IQ certainly is. The versatile midfielder excels in a defensive role, using her keen positioning sense to close down threats before they fully develop. She can single-handedly control the tempo of a game and is more than happy to launch the attack on offense and let her teammates take it from there. It can be a thankless job at times, but it’s a vital role that Cousins is happy to play.
Plays like: Bastian Schweinsteiger. Dubbed “the brain” of Germany’s talent-rich national team by coach Joachim Löw, Schweinsteiger has deputized the midfield for a squad that has finished third at the past two World Cups and is among the favorites to win it all this time around. Like Schweinsteiger, Cousins is a gifted technical player with elite dribbling and passing skills. They are both content to sit deep and pull the strings, but when they do venture forward they tend to score big goals in big moments, often in spectacular fashion. The Bayern Munich man also knows a thing or two about winning, having hoisted the Champions League trophy in 2013 in addition to his seven Bundesliga titles.
Key number: 1. Players born in 1996 selected to play with the U.S. U-20 National Team at last year’s 12 Nations Tournament in La Manga, Spain. In a team predominantly filled with players born in ’94 and ’95, Cousins made waves as the lone ’96er on the roster. Despite being the youngest player on the team, Cousins appeared in all three games and registered an assist on the only goal the U.S. scored at the tournament.
Expert Opinions: “What she does on the field – controlling the tempo and solving problems for her teammates – is so unique and special that there are very few women players in the United States with this ability. It is usually about athleticism, speed and scoring. I believe she is a future World Cup star for the U.S.” – Richmond Kickers club coach Rob Ukrop.