Late round NWSL draft picks rarely make rosters, much less have a significant impact in their rookie season. That has been the general rule of thumb in recent years (prior to roster rule changes in 2019), as a lack of expansion resulted in intensified competition for a limited number of roster spots. In 2018, Houston Dash forward Veronica Latsko was one of the rare exceptions.
Selected out of the University of Virginia with the 28th pick of the draft, Latsko was the only 3rd round pick last season to remain on a roster for the entire year. Not content to simply be on the roster, she made 21 appearances, including 9 starts, scored 4 goals and had 2 assists in 972 minutes.
With more starts, Latkso might have been considered a Rookie of the Year candidate and perhaps should have been anyway. Sky Blue’s Imani Dorsey, who won the award, finished with 4 goals and 1 assist in 1,047 minutes played.
However, Latsko did not even expect to get drafted, much less see the playing time and have the impact that she did.
“I was preparing to go for preseason tryouts. I came here and the expectation was, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to make the team or not but all I want to do is work as hard as I can and hopefully I get noticed, and if I don’t then it wasn’t meant to be.’
“I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and every day I just tried to keep thinking, ‘Hey I’m not the most technical, I don’t have the best shot, I might not be the fastest but every time I step on the field I want to be the hardest working player.’ ”
Her hard work in the preseason earned her a start in the home opener and later led to her scoring two of the most important goals of the season for the Dash. The first came in the 79th minute of the May 5th game at Sky Blue; after four consecutive shutout losses, Latsko’s finish of a Thembi Kgatlana cross gave the Dash a 3-2 win, their first of the season.
Four weeks later, she picked up a pass from Kgatlana at the top of the box in the final seconds of second half stoppage time and rifled a shot past Michelle Betos to give the Dash their first win of the season at home and their first-ever points off of Seattle Reign.
“I definitely wasn’t expecting that,” Latsko says of her contribution. “When I made the team I was like, ‘I don’t even know if I’m going to see a minute on the field but if I do then I’m going to make the absolute most of it.’ I was not expecting to play as much as I did. I loved it. It was just amazing, the amount that I’ve learned over the course of last year was incredible.”
Following the 2018 NWSL season, Latsko joined Adelaide United in the W-League. “I always wanted to go and play in Australia. I heard amazing things from my teammates, like Danny Colaprico from college, Emily Sonnett, Makenzy Doniak and Sofia Huerta.”
Latsko credits Huerta with facilitating the move, “Sofia really helped me get that contact at Adelaide. She told the coach (Ivan Karlović) about me and set up the whole arrangement.”
Karlović spoke with Latsko, watched film of her and told her he thought she would make a great fit for the team. “He said he really prided himself on hard-working players and I was sold.”
Latsko was joined by Dash teammate Amber Brooks on an Adelaide United side that nearly doubled its 2017/18 point total. The forward was one of the key drivers in the success of the team, scoring 9 of the team’s 17 goals on the season. That put her joint-second in the league along with Natasha Dowie and Caitlin Foord and just behind Sam Kerr’s 13 goals.
As a regular starter for Adelaide United, Latsko was able to work on the things she felt needed further development, like her first touch, her shooting and other technical skills. The improvement, as well as finding the back of the net with regularity, boosted her confidence heading back for the 2019 NWSL season.
“A lot of confidence,” says Latsko, “It was just nice to be able to get the groove back from soccer. To be able to step on the field and say, ‘I’m ready to have fun today. I’m ready to be relaxed and be composed’ and not think and get in your head.
“I think that happens a lot in this league. I think that every player should be able to step back and be like, ‘why do I play this sport?’ If it is not because I love it and I have fun every time I step on the field then you have to kind of think about how can I get back to that. And Australia did that for me. I’m absolutely so grateful for that experience.”
Latsko will likely be an important figure for the Dash this season, particularly when Rachel Daly, Nichelle Prince and Kyah Simon are away with their respective national teams for the FIFA Women’s World Cup. If she is able to convert the confidence gained from her rookie season and time in Australia into a similar level of productivity, then she just might help lift the Dash to their first-ever playoff appearance.