“With the seventh pick in the first round of the 2023 NWSL Draft, Chicago Red Stars select Penelope Hocking from Penn State.”
With those words by Commissioner Jessica Berman, Penelope Hocking officially started her journey as a professional soccer player in the National Women’s Soccer League, and with her rookie season in the books, what a start it was.
Hocking ended the NWSL’s 2023 regular season with 16 games played, 14 starts, three goals (tied for second most with Yuki Nagasato), one assist and 2.91 expected goals (third behind Bianca St-Georges and Ella Stevens). Heading into the NWSL’s Decision Day, the Chicago Red Stars were tied for third in goals scored behind Portland and San Diego, after losing their 2022 lead goal scorer, Mallory Swanson. Without Hocking’s three goals, the Red Stars would end the season tied for second to last in goals scored. In UKG Challenge Cup play, Hocking added another two goals, bringing her season total to five goals across all competitions. The rookie is also one of two Red Stars to score a goal during the Challenge Cup.
When considering Hocking’s rookie season, three key moments come to mind.
Penelope Hocking earned a starting spot in the Red Stars lineup to start the season, and after her electrifying performance in front of the home crowd at SeatGeek Stadium in week three, Hocking proved why she deserved to play at this level. Standing across from a formidable Kansas City Current lineup that featured Brazilian star, Debinha, Penelope Hocking, met the moment and introduced herself to her home crowd. In the 49th minute, with Chicago up 1-0, Penelope Hocking received a ball from fellow forward, Ella Stevens, and fired off a left-footed shot that got past AD Franch to extend Chicago’s lead and earned the rookie her first professional goal. In the 67th minute, Chicago’s Cheyna Matthews sent a ball over the Current’s backline to a charging Hocking who, again, took a first-touch shot, with her right foot this time, that found the back of the net to give the rookie the first brace of her professional career. With that performance, Hocking became one of only a handful of Red Stars to ever score a brace in any competition; a list that includes players like Mallory Swanson, Christen Press and, of course, Sam Kerr. Just three weeks into her professional debut, Hocking made a statement to the rest of the league – Hocking had arrived.
On July 7, right before the NWSL Summer Break, Chicago prepared to take on the Houston Dash in their second regular-season matchup. Coming off a 1-0 win against San Diego, Chicago was trying to carry momentum as the team traveled to Houston, but the oppressive heat, players missing or limited due to injury and a line shift in the starting lineup meant the game would be an up-hill battle. Penelope Hocking, working her way back from injury, was available off the bench for the Red Stars and hoping to see her first minutes since sustaining her injury five weeks prior. After 67 grueling minutes of back-and-forth play between the two sides, Hocking was subbed in for Bianca St-Georges who, at the time, had 3.06 expected goals. Seconds later, defensive midfielder, Cari Roccaro, took an ambitious shot from outside of Houston’s 18-yard box that deflected toward Hocking who, with one touch, buried it into the back of the net to give the Red Stars the lead and ultimately helped them walk out of Houston with three points. Hocking’s goal was officially clocked at 23 seconds following the forward’s substitution into the match, making it the second–fastest goal by a substitute in NWSL history.
One month after Hocking’s game-winning goal in Houston, Chicago prepared to face the Dash once more, this time in UKG Challenge Cup play. To that point, Chicago had recorded only one point in the group stage of the Challenge Cup thanks to a tie against the Kansas City Current the week before, and the team had yet to score their first goal in the tournament. All of that changed, however, Saturday, August 5, at SeatGeek Stadium. 36 minutes into the match, defender Casey Krueger found Penelope Hocking on a run down the left side of the pitch. Hocking received the ball, turned to dribble into the 18-yard box and powered a shot up and over a diving Jane Campbell to give Chicago the lead, it’s first goal of the Challenge Cup and Hocking’s first goal of the tournament. Seven minutes later, it was Krueger’s turn to dribble up the left side of the pitch before crossing a ball to a wide-open Penelope Hocking who gently sent the ball into the net with her left foot. The Red Stars added a third goal by Yuki Nagasato – also assisted by Krueger – to seal the victory, but Hocking’s brace was more than enough to earn the team the win. Hocking’s second brace of the season put the rookie past names like Kealia Watt, Sarah Woldmoe and current teammate, Ava Cook, on the list of Red Stars who have scored a brace across all competitions. The second brace by the rookie ties her record with Yuki Nagasato and Jen Hoy.
There are a number of rookies throughout the NWSL that deserve to win Rookie of the Year; the high level of talent and competition demands it from them in this league. In our honest, though admittedly biased opinion, Penelope Hocking is the most deserving. Hocking’s contributions to the team this season allowed for the Chicago Red Stars, who fought and clawed their way through the season, to be in a position to fight for a playoff spot with just two weeks left in the regular season. Making the playoffs wasn’t meant to be this year, but rewarding Hocking for her performance this year is still possible. So, we ask, please consider Penelope Hocking for your vote for NWSL Rookie of the Year.
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