A lot — perhaps too much — was expected from Rachel Hill entering the 2018 NWSL season. The University of Connecticut product had come off a promising rookie season in which she scored three goals and assisted on another in just 14 games (eight starts). That was followed with a standout season in the Australian W-League, where Hill played lights out for Perth Glory over the NWSL off-season, scoring the third-most goals (9) in the league and leading all players in assists (6).
Maybe it was an unfair expectation, but it seemed like Hill would slot into the forward line next to Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux to form one of the most dynamic attacking trios the NWSL had ever seen. That obviously isn’t what happened in 2018.
Acquired in January of 2017 for two draft picks — a first and a fourth in 2018 — from the Portland Thorns, Hill entered her second season with Orlando this spring. A nagging groin injury came back with her from Oz, and it cropped up throughout the season, limiting Hill’s minutes and effectiveness. It forced her to completely miss the April 15 match against Portland and the June 3 meeting with Seattle.
After starting eight matches and appearing in 14 over the course of her rookie season, Hill played in 21 games in 2018, but started just seven. Her minutes rose from 713 last year, but only to 813 this season, despite playing in seven additional games. Hill scored four goals, tying for third best on the team with Marta and Chioma Ubogagu, but did not record an assist on the season.
She shot 20 times (10 on target), completed 67% of her passes, attempted 35 crosses, made just two clearances, committed 16 fouls while drawing only four, and saw her first NWSL yellow card. Some of those numbers track well based on slightly increased minutes, but her passing accuracy dropping 5% and her drawing six fewer free kicks in 100 more minutes is a bit troubling.
Hill’s best game came in a 20-minute spurt of play off the bench on May 2 in a 2-0 road win over the Chicago Red Stars. She came on for Leroux and brought the energy off the bench that she’s been known for in her brief professional career, firing three shots — all on goal — including this nifty move to clear Alyssa Naeher and slot home a late insurance goal.
Rachel Hill puts this one away for @ORLPride!#CHIvORL | #NWSL pic.twitter.com/3D7reY8W1Q— NWSL (@NWSL) May 3, 2018
Although she didn’t have a great passing night (43%), she only attempted seven in her limited time on the pitch. But she was a difference maker the entire time she was on the field and that’s something we can’t say about all of her performances in 2018, particularly the starts, where she tended to have trouble finding her way into the match.
2018 Final Grade
The Mane Land staff gave Hill a 5.5 for her second season, a full point down from 2017. Maybe we expected too much from her or maybe the groin injury forced Tom Sermanni to manage her minutes more carefully, preventing her from finding a groove in 2018.
It seemed there were two Rachel Hills on the Pride — the one who came off the bench to provide good energy and dangerous scoring chances late in games, and the one who started matches and never seemed to quite have the same impact on the game over longer stretches as she did when coming on to add some late offense.
Hill will need to produce more as a starter to earn more minutes moving forward and prove she can do more than be a super sub in the NWSL. She’s shown an ability to produce as a starter with Perth Glory, and she’ll need to bring that back to the U.S. with her after she once again returns from Australia. She must also continue to get stronger and be more physical. At times she would be satisfied getting to the end line and if nothing was there, boot the ball off the fullback to try to win a corner. Adding some new moves to try to work her way around the fullback would be a great asset, especially when she comes off the bench and can use her speed against the more tired opponent.
After having her option exercised by the club last October, I’m not sure if Hill is out of contract or if there’s another option year. We should hear more about contract situations with the Pride in the coming weeks, but without a coach in place it is difficult to predict who will stay and who will look elsewhere.
This is a young player the club should absolutely bring back. Hill has tremendous upside. She’s shown she can be a proven goal scorer and also set up goals in the Australian league, although being Sam Kerr’s teammate no doubt helps a lot, especially with the latter. Her time with the U-23 USWNT shows she can produce at the international level as well.
Last year, I wrote this in Hill’s season in review grade:
If Hill can continue to develop in Australia and carry that form into the NWSL in 2018, she could give a huge boost to an offense that already was the league’s best, although it will be without Camila for a portion of the 2018 season.
I expected a big leap in 2018 that didn’t come, but that could be related to whatever malaise affected the entire team and it could be due in part to her injury. I’ll hold to the belief that Hill can develop into a top level player in the NWSL and she should be an important part of the Pride’s future.
Check back with The Mane Land for more Orlando Pride player season reviews.