Estefania Banini, who spent most of the 2015 season injured and began the 2016 season as one of a cadre of forwards all vying for minutes on the front line, has been named the NWSL player of the month for July by the NWSL Media Association. Prolific Western New York Flash striker Lynn Williams and Sky Blue FC winger Leah Galton made up the rest of the top three. However, voters chose the Argentine based on her four goals - including what has to be the league’s Goal of the Year frontrunner - and the Spirit’s 4W-0D-1L July record.
With the 2016 Olympics resulting in five Spirit starters leaving for national team duty, someone needed to step up. The Spirit’s defensive depth and possession-oriented style have helped out on the defensive side, but with their two most creative players - Crystal Dunn and Diana Matheson - gone, the offense was always going to be a bigger concern. When preseason began, the focus on who would join them as the club’s third starting forward was more on Katie Stengel - brought over from FC Bayern Munich - and draft picks Cheyna Williams and Cali Farquharson.
All three of them have had their moments, and Francisca Ordega’s return to health after some early season injury issues has been a spark, but Banini has been the star of the show recently. She was the NWSL’s player of the week following her two goals against FC Kansas City, while also scoring against the Chicago Red Stars and in this past weekend’s win over Sky Blue. Banini’s outburst has seen her take the team’s goalscoring lead, and has likely ensured that she’ll be an important player even after Dunn and Matheson return from the Olympics.
Let's close with one more chance to see Banini's amazing second goal at FCKC: