Backline Soccer’s 2016 NWSL Awards

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The NWSL awards are being voted on but here at Backline Soccer we decided to hold our own awards voting. We held a staff vote simultaneously with a fan poll to see what all of you had to say.

Here are the results!


Backline Soccer Staff Selection: Coach of the Year: Christy Holly, Sky Blue FC

Backline Soccer Fan Selection: Jim Gabarra, Washington Spirit

Christy Holly was named head coach of Sky Blue FC just two days before the 2016 NWSL draft. The same draft that saw Sky Blue take Raquel Rodríguez, Leah Galton, Erica Skroski, and Caroline Casey, who each featured frequently in Sky Blue’s Starting IX this season.

Holly, a former Sky Blue assistant, came into the head coaching job and managed to change the culture of the team, and when we spoke with several of Sky Blue’s players this year, they each praised Holly on his ability to bring the team together and uniting the team toward a common goal. The team started strong in 2016, marking a win in their opening game against Seattle, the last team eliminated from this year’s playoffs, as well as their strong performances (2-2) against regional rival Washington Spirit, number two seed in the playoffs, were all surprises to those pre-season analysts who ranked Sky Blue as a team that might finish dead last in the table.

We can’t wait to see what Coach Holly does in 2017.

Backline Soccer Staff Selection: Rookie of the Year: Rachel Daly, Houston Dash

Backline Soccer Fan Selection: Leah Galton, Sky Blue FC

The 2016 draft class saw young soccer powerhouses like Emily Sonnett and Raquel Rodríguez go 1 and 2. But it was an English forward from St. John’s University in New York City that ended up being the stand out NWSL rookie of the 2016 season.

Rachel Daly tallied four goals and four assists in twelve starts. Her first goal came in the very first game of the season, when the Dash took on the Chicago Red Stars at home. At times this season it seemed that she was one of very few bright spots for Houston. Her 41 shots taken this year lands her 7th on the list, between Alex Morgan with 44 and Nadia Nadim with 40. And when the Dash finally broke their scoring drought? It was Daly who struck the goal. 

Backline Soccer Staff Selection: Goalkeeper of the Year: Nicole Barnhart, FC Kansas City 

Backline Soccer Fan Selection: Alyssa Naeher, Chicago Red Stars

Nicole Barnhart played every minute for FC Kansas City this season. She made 83 saves, 21 more than Ashlyn Harris in second place with 62. Both let in 20 goals. Barnhart and Alyssa Naeher ended the season tied for most clean sheets with six each.

FC Kansas City underwhelmed this season, and were unable to capitalize on their back-to-back championship wins to make a play for a third turn at securing the NWSL championship tournament. They gave up more goals than they did in 2015. But the goals given up had more to do with turnovers in the FC Kansas City lineup and playing Chicago four times than with any faults in Barnhart’s performance.

In FC Kansas City’s history, Barnhart has played 90% of playing minutes for the goalkeeper position. Such a feat marks Barnhart down as not only the best goalkeeper of this year but also the best goalkeeper in the NWSL’s four-year history.

Backline Soccer Staff Selection: Defender of the Year: Christie Rampone, Sky Blue FC

Backline Soccer Fan Selection: Christie Rampone, Sky Blue FC

Christie Rampone seemingly doesn’t care how many times NWSL broadcasters mention her age on air, she has no plans to let her performance on the pitch suggest she’s any older than her teammates. At least physically, because her years of experience in all levels and elements of the game is certainly a welcome contribution to the Sky Blue franchise.

Rampone is one of–if not the best–centerbacks in women’s soccer history, both at the club and the international level.  And in the 1800 minutes and 20 games of the 2016 season, from their opening win against Seattle to the disappointing loss in their final against Portland, Rampone has been a steady and guiding force of a defensive squad that frequently featured three, or sometimes four players, in their first or second year in the league.

It was Rampone’s willingness to clean up fires started by others, her refusal to back down against any any oncoming attacking player, and her leadership guiding a backline and goalkeeping partnership that was better than they might have had any right to be, that all combined to make her our selection for defender of the year.

Backline Soccer Staff Selection: NWSL MVP:Tobin Heath, Portland Thorns

Backline Soccer Fan Selection: Tobin Heath, Portland Thorns

Tobin Health broke the single season NWSL assists record this year in only 13 starts, 14 total appearances, with 10 assists.

Heath has always been a sizable part of the Portland Thorns’ offensive power. But with Alex Morgan gone from the team, she was seemingly able to increase her role and her offensive output. While scoring only one goal this season she managed to see have a 55% shot on goal percentage. And her 10 assists helped propelled Portland to an NWSL Shield winning season.

When Christine Sinclair, Portland’s long time captain and the captain of the Canadian women’s national team, was unable to play it was Heath who wore–sometimes upside down–the captain’s armband. And the leadership role she took on and off the field was apparent in her play and the play of the Thorns around her. Heath was the engine in Portland’s machine this season, and her drive and performance pushed the Thorns forward each and every time she took the field.