Canadian midfielder Samantha Chang ready for next step on soccer adventure

After a stellar career at the University of South Carolina, Canadian midfielder Samantha Chang now looks forward to playing professionally.

The first door to possibly open is Thursday's NWSL draft. But the 22-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., who has already won one cap for Canada, is also investigating options overseas.

Her future has yet to unfold.

"I'm not really sure. There are so many unknowns," said Chang, who knows the challenges that await.

"Any league I'm going to go to since Canada doesn't have a league yet, I'm going to have to fight to get one of those international roster spots which is pretty limited depending on which league you go to," she added.

Chang is one of 13 Canadians to have registered for the four-round draft, which is being held in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

That list does not include highly touted fullback Jayde Riviere, who has already won 36 caps for Canada and was part of its gold-medal team at the Tokyo Olympics.

The 21-year-old from Markham, Ont., has been linked to a move to England's FA Women's Soccer League with Manchester United reportedly among those interested. United is already home to Canadian forward Adriana Leon.

In September, Riviere announced she had played her last game for the University of Michigan and was taking time to recover from an injury that required surgery ahead of making the move to the pro ranks.

Angel City FC is expected to open the draft by taking forward Alyssa Thompson after acquiring the first pick via a three-team trade last week. The 18-year-old Thompson, who is committed to Stanford, made her debut with the U.S. senior team last year.

Angel City acquired midfielder Yazmeen Ryan from the Portland Thorns in exchange for the fifth overall pick this year, a 2024 second-round selection and US$200,000 in allocation money. Angel City then sent Ryan to NY/NJ Gotham with US$250,000 in allocation money for the No. 1 pick.

Thompson was named the 2021 Gatorade High School Soccer Player of the Year after scoring 48 goals in 18 games for Harvard-Westlake School. The California native played club soccer for Total Futbol Academy and, at 17, featured at the under-19 level as the league’s only female player.

Thompson has four goals in eight international appearances at the under-20 level.

She won her first of two senior caps against England on Oct. 7. At 17 years 334 days she was the youngest player to debut for the U.S.

NJ/NY Gotham FC pick second followed by the Orlando Pride, Racing Louisville and Portland.

The North Carolina Courage have three first-round picks, selecting sixth, ninth and 11th. Portland also has the 12th and last pick of the round.

Quinn, a midfielder who goes by one name, is the highest-drafted Canadian in the NWSL. They went third overall to the Washington Spirit from Duke in 2018. Evelyne Viens was chosen fifth overall by Sky Blue FC from the University of South Florida in 2020 while fellow forward Deanne Rose was taken 10th by North Carolina in 2021 from the University of Florida.

Also available Thursday is University of Texas defender Emma Regan, who has won one cap at the senior level for Canada.

Canadian youth internationals eligible include Tanya Boychuk (a University of Memphis forward), Shana Flynn (Arkansas midfielder) and Jessica De Filippo (Arkansas midfielder/forward).

Twin sisters Mikayla and Malikae Dayes, a forward and defender respectively at Maryland, were born in Toronto but compete for Jamaica where their parents come from.

Also eligible is Cal defender Sydney Collins, who has both Canadian and U.S. citizenship. Father Brett played three seasons in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams while mother Susan played volleyball in Canada.

Chang was 13 when she made her debut in the Canadian youth program in 2014 with coach Bev Priestman. And it was Priestman who gave the then-20-year-old her senior debut in February 2021, bringing her in off the bench in a 1-0 win over Argentina at the SheBelieves Cup in Orlando.

"I had a moment where I sat in my hotel room after the game and just cried," recalled Chang, one of six uncapped players called up by Priestman in her first roster as senior coach. "Because it is surreal. So many girls grow up dreaming to be on that team and play for Canada. And I did too, since the 2012 Olympics (In London) when I watched it and was screaming at the TV. That's kind of the first moment when I knew I wanted to play for Canada."

Chang did not have to wait long.

She represented Canada at the CONCACAF Girls’ Under-15 Championship in 2014 in the Cayman Islands, the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Jordan in 2016 and the CONCACAF Women’s Under-20 Championship in 2020 Dominican Republic.

She was also called into camp by Priestman in April 2021 ahead of friendlies against England and Wales.

"A dream come true. But wanting to get back there," Change said of the senior side. "So hopefully that will happen some time soon as well."

Chang played 83 games for South Carolina, including 67 starts with nine career goals and eight assists. The 13th-ranked Gamecocks won the SEC Tournament title in November, upsetting No. 3 Alabama 1-0 in the final after victories over Mississippi and Georgia.

Chang was one of four South Carolina players to make the all-tournament team.

The Gamecocks, beating Wake Forest and Harvard, reached the round of 16 the NCAA tournament before losing 2-1 to No. 8 Duke. Chang and South Carolina made the tournament quarterfinals in 2019 and 2021.

South Carolina finished the season with a 15-4-5 record, outscoring the opposition 38-14 while recording 14 shutouts.

Chang redshirted her freshman year in 2018 after suffering a knee injury five months before arriving at South Carolina. She made her collegiate debut in 2019, registering two assists in a 2-1 win over No. 21 North Carolina State.

She has played holding midfielder but her preferred role is as a box-to-box midfielder, allowing her to get involved in all areas of the field.

Chang, who graduated in May with a degree in social work, is completing postgraduate studies in health communications online.

Canadians Eligible for NWSL Draft (with school, position and hometown/citizenship)

Emily Amano, Colgate, midfielder, Ottawa; Tanya Boychuk, Memphis, midfielder/forward, Edmonton; Samantha Chang, South Carolina, midfielder, Mississauga, Ont.; Sydney Collins, Cal-Berkeley, defender/midfielder, Beaverton, Ore., (Canada, U.S. citizenship); Mikayla Dayes, Maryland, forward, Brampton, Ont.; Malikae Dayes, Maryland, defender, Brampton, Ont.; Jessica De Filippo, Arkansas, midfielder/forward, St-Lazare, Que.; Shana Flynn, Arkansas, midfielder, Brampton, Ont.; Tianna Harris, Kent State, defender, Whitby, Ont.; Ida Miceli, Niagara, defender, Nobleton, Ont.; Reese Moffatt, Oregon State, defender, Langley, B.C.; Emma Regan, Texas, defender, Burnaby. B.C.; Madelyn Robbins, Fairleigh Dickinson, midfielder, Cambridge, Ont. (Canada, Portugal citizenship).


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 11, 2023.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press