2023 Women’s World Cup: Kerolin — the 23-year-old star who is fueled by creativity, goals, and winning

by | Jul 11, 2023 | 2023 Women's World Cup, NWSL

Brazil Will Play Panama on July 24th To Start Their Group Stage Campaign

By Jaden Dakwa – LA Soccer Press

The upcoming weeks in Kerolin’s life are exactly the moments she used to dream of as a child.

The Brazilian forward is preparing for her first World Cup and is currently the second leading goalscorer in the National Women’s Soccer League with eight impressive goals.

Her long term dreams serve as a vivid reminder of when she first started playing and developing a deep love for the game. Her journey and aspiration to one day become a player for the Selação, the affectionate nickname for the national team in Brazil is nothing short of admirable.

“My memories are of playing with my cousins on the street,” Kerolin said. 

There is a certain reverence attached to the Seleção in Brazil. Football is ingrained in the culture. The game shreds apart divisions of race and socioeconomic status, to allow children of all classes to play together and develop a unique style of play through street football. 

The national pride or inspiration sits with Kerolin each time she sets foot on the pitch to represent the Seleção Brasileira de Futebol. There is an abounding sense of fulfillment.

“For me, it’s always inspiring,” Kerolin said. “It’s always very exciting to play for your country. It’s very gratifying.”

She admits inspiration stems from her sporting heroes as well. If you look closely at the side of Kerolin’s left thigh you will see a tattoo which reads, “As pessoas não entendem o quão obcecado eu sou em vencer”. In English, it translates to a statement of intent. “People don’t understand how obsessed I am with winning.” Fans or close followers of football may recognize an identical tattoo that Brazilian superstar Neymar has. When I asked Kerolin if Neymar is someone who inspires her, she responded with a strong sense of confirmation. 

“For sure, he is an inspiration for me,” Kerolin said. “I even have his tattoo that inspires me. He’s always inspired me a lot. He’s one of my idols.”

Her motivation to win, creativity, and her technical ability is evident. She appears to be fueled by any opportunity to create chances for herself and her teammates, and she possesses an unrelenting ambition to score goals. This is a cunningly efficient mix.

A sense of effortlessness and determination tends to emanate from her play. There are times where she uses her skills and flair to beat defenders. Other times, she uses her pace to run directly at defenders then explode past them.

There is elegance and directness. Grace, but eagerness to attack as well.

She has entered preparation for the 2023 World Cup in the midst of some of the best form in her career. 

She has already recorded more goals this season, eight, one more than her previous goal total last season. This season, she has been deployed off the left hand side of attack, the right hand side, and up top. During this past six week spell of excellent form, she has mainly featured off the right hand side of attack. No matter where she has been played this season she does seem to have license to roam throughout the final third. 

The most recent goal she scored in the league was against the Orlando Pride on June 17th. This goal is evidence of her ability to link up with her teammates through third man combinations and her intelligence to drift into open pockets of space.

Take a look at the goal she scored in that match. There was a clever piece of play from Mille Gelj to cut back and send a lofted through ball into space. Tess Boade was able to control the ball and play a nice layoff into the path of Kerolin. Kerolin then scored with one touch. Kerolin opened up the side of her foot and guided the ball in the corner with not too much power on her effort. There was more of a focus on accuracy than hitting the ball with force.

Despite her admirable stats and impeccable recent form, she continues striving to develop and improve certain aspects of her game. 

“What the coaches and the other athletes tell me is to just trust myself in one-on-one situations, try harder and have more self confidence,” Kerolin said. “I do have the confidence of the coaches and that really helps. One-on-one situations are something that I truly enjoy and obviously scoring goals.”

North Carolina Courage head coach Sean Nahas has admitted to being somewhat demanding with Kerolin, because he admires her potential and her talent. After the match against Orlando Pride on June 17th, he remarked that on current form she is “untouchable” and how special it is to coach her as an athlete and a person.

“She is untouchable right now,” Nahas said. “She’s a different class. She’s a wonderful person. She works her tail off. She works on both sides of the ball. And she’s playing with a smile on her face. That is what Brazilians want. They want to be able to play and enjoy the game and she’s a special talent but she is even more of a special person.”

These sentiments are evidence of the trust the coaching staff and her teammates have in her. She links with her teammates well and this is a side of her game that keeps improving. 

One week before the game against the Orlando Pride, Kerolin recorded a hat-trick against the Chicago Red Stars on June 10th. In one of the goals she scored, the Courage recorded 25 passes leading up to her goal. It displays a level of cohesion the Courage has in their possession based style. During this match, Kerolin was again deployed on the right hand side. For this particular goal, Courage defender Kaleigh Kurtz played a lofted ball over the top into the path of Kerolin. Kerolin’s dynamic off the ball movement helped to stretch the Chicago Red Stars.

It is evident that Kerolin’s off the ball movement places her in a position to score. A skill which helped to give a direct option of depth behind the Red Stars defense after a series of short passes. 

Her first goal was a one touch finish after the ball was cut back to her around twelve yards from goal. Kerolin was able to make an incisive run into the box before the ball was even played to place her in position to score. She closed out her hat-trick by striking a ball into the roof of the net.

There are moments of individual brilliance that she displays as well. In the Courage’s match against Portland Thorns, she scored a stunning long-range effort from distance and completed seven-take ons against the Thorns defense. As of May 8th, that is the highest total by a player in the NWSL season. It shows a willingness to dribble and a proficiency to beat defenders. 

There were two runs in the match against Portland that point to the mix of gracefulness and directness.

The first run, Kerolin picked up the ball and ran past two Portland defenders while the defense attempted to close her down. All it took was a touch of the sole to create space and straight line running at defenders with the ball at her feet. 

Later in the match, on the stroke of halftime, she was able to get isolated one-on-one with a defender on the wing and she used a deft chop to slip past a Portland defender. 

She never misses the opportunity to attack through direct running, breezing straight past defenders, or using a clever piece of skill to slip past her marker.

This was on display in the opening match of the season against the Kansas City Current as well. 

In the first run shown here in the 5th minute, she uses her pace then takes a touch past a defender. She displayed strength as the defender continued to stay tight to her. 

The run shown in the second minute of stoppage time of the first half shows Kerolin running directly at defenders while attacking at speed. 

Although she has not recorded an assist in the NWSL this season, there are several occasions where she was involved in the build-up to a goal. She is currently averaging 1.6 key passes a game. This total is slightly higher than her total last season of 1.5.

Her technical ability, the ability to link up with teammates, and her work rate from an attacking and defensive perspective has helped further her versatility. For Brazil, she started in a midfield pair, as a center midfielder, or in a midfield trio. For the Women’s Finalissisma at Wembley Stadium, in England, when Brazil played against England she featured as a left center midfielder. 

The midfield role is a position she has been deployed in recently. Along with playing as a midfielder, she is still capable of playing along the front three positions. 

This versatility in her role provides Brazil with an extra layer of flexibility heading into the tournament. 

Kerolin expressed a sense of familiarity at the sizable contingent of Brazilian players in the NWSL and that more Brazilians are beginning to watch the league.

“It’s a highly competitive league,” Kerolin said. “There’s many Brazilians so I can feel comfortable playing against them sometimes. The more players from Brazil the more interesting for the league. Brazilians are beginning to watch it and the fact that it is a very competitive and strong league has made me play harder.”

When Kerolin signed for the North Carolina Courage in 2022, she joined a roster with fellow Brazilian international, Debinha, who was in a starring role for the club. Debinha scored 51 goals in all competitions for the Courage, a total that is the joint second-highest amount in NWSL history. 

Before Debinha departed the Courage heading into the 2023 season, Kerolin spent a full season playing with her. The duo impressed when linking up with each other on the pitch. Off the pitch, Debinha helped Kerolin to adjust to life in the United States.

Debinha and Kerolin have been international teammates for five years. Kerolin was called up to the Brazilian national team for the first time in September 2018. Her first ever appearance was against England, and she appeared as a substitute in the 56th minute for Debinha. 

“Of course, she was a very important person for me, especially when I arrived,” Kerolin said. “Since I didn’t speak any English and she didn’t know much English. She really helped me translate it and I felt really welcomed by her. I am really thankful for her.”

Kerolin playing alongside Debinha in her first ever World Cup holds significance. Debinha has been there to witness other firsts in Kerolin’s career over the past years. 

The Seleção Brasileira Feminina will be competing on the biggest stage while hoping to get their hands on a World Cup trophy for the first time in the team’s history. 

In doing so, this win will send another fellow great in the women’s game, Marta, into retirement as a World Cup winner.

Photo courtesy of Sydney Mahlangu / Backpage Pix.

Dakwa holds a BS in Journalism from Elon University. He writes about North Carolina professional soccer for L.A. Soccer Press. Follow him at @JDakwa on Twitter.