Every year there is a conversation on who the NWSL MVP should be. We here at Backline Soccer decided to offer 9 nominations, one from each NWSL team.
Chicago Red Stars: Sam Kerr
Sam Kerr, who else? It’s not that Chicago doesn’t have other potential options. Julie Ertz is a game-changer; Yūki Nagasato has become one of the league’s most incisive providers; Katie Naughton has grown by leaps and bounds into her defensive role; Dani Colaprico remains as solid as ever. But Sam Kerr is the best player on the planet right now. After missing the opening month of the season for World Cup qualifiers, it took her a few games to settle in with her new team. But since then it’s been vintage Kerr. She’s still scoring goals at almost the same clip as in her record-setting 2017, and is also finding a lot more room for link-up play, thanks to a much stronger supporting cast. At Sky Blue, it was Kerr or bust. Now that she doesn’t have to put the team on her shoulders every week, we’re seeing some livelier and more sophisticated play. Sometimes the easy answer is also the right one. Kerr is the best player in the world, and she should probably be the MVP, even if she did miss a quarter of the season.
Rachel Daly: Houston Dash
Rachel Daly is the solid MVP choice for the Houston Dash. She has nine goals in 20 games this year, good enough for fourth in the league. Daly has been a bright spot for a struggling franchise since her rookie season in 2016. She tallied four goals and three assists in 16 games. The next season, she led the team with five goals and two assists. When healthy, Kealia Ohai is a solid choice for MVP of the Dash. She has four goals and three assists on the season. Sofia Huerta is another honorable mention for the Dash. She has tallied three goals and two assists since being traded to Houston in June.
McCall Zerboni: North Carolina Courage
The whole of the starting XI for the Courage should be in contention for MVP. From tip to tail this team has been outstanding on and off the ball. But the heart of the team and the reason it all flows so brilliantly is the work of one McCall Zerboni. Without Zerboni doing what she does to both control the midfield and protect the defense, players like Dunn, Williams and O’Sullivan wouldn’t be having the seasons they are. Someone has to clean up on each team and that role is done expertly than how Zerboni does it for the Courage.
Orlando Pride: Dani Weatherholt
In a season of inconsistent play from a star-studded squad, this year’s Orlando Pride “most valuable player” is Dani Weatherholt. The former Santa Clara midfielder drafted in the first pick of the fourth round at the 2016 NWSL college draft has grown and developed as a versatile mainstay since the team’s first year of existence. As a third year professional, she has translated her defensive grit into offensive tenacity. Coach Tom Sermanni praised Weatherholt’s performance this season after a 2-2 home draw with Sky Blue FC by saying, “I’ve said this before but I would love 10 Dani Weatherholts out on the field and that’s what she’s been for us this season. She’s a person that’s really dragged our team along in games quite often. Whether that’s been a decisive tackle, a decisive run, a decisive goal like it was tonight, or whatever. She’s just been magnificent this year. As I’ve said, I need 10 players doing that. If we had 10 players doing that then I think we would be a little bit further up the table.”
Christine Sinclair: Portland Thorns FC
There were lots of options for MVP for the Portland Thorns this season. Lindsey Horan is having a fantastic season, as well as Tobin Heath and Hayley Raso. But my choice for MVP is Christine Sinclair. Sinclair is a versatile midfielder, who has a noticeable impact on both defense and offense. She is ranked No. 5 in the league with seven goals and leads the league in assists with six. Sinclair has worn the Captain’s armband this season and has lead her team to a potential playoff run. Sinclair featured in the June NWSL Team of the Month.
Imani Dorsey: Sky Blue FC
Well, it has to be someone. Imani Dorsey gets credit for showing up late after finishing up her degree—and therefore missing some of the worst parts of the season. Since joining the squad, she’s been a breath of fresh air, and provided some of the crucial attacking width and pace that has often been missing for the New Jersey club. Three goals in nine games isn’t going to challenge for the golden boot, but it’s a perfectly serviceable tally, particularly on a team that has struggled so mightily to find the net at times. Her time on the team has coincided with some of their few bright moments on the season, with Dorsey seemingly functioning as the key that has finally unlocked some of the creative potential in the attacking ranks. When and if Sky Blue do find that elusive first win, you wouldn’t go wrong betting on Dorsey to be the goal-scorer.
Megan Rapinoe: Seattle Reign FC
It’s hard to think of anyone but Megan Rapinoe for MVP of the Seattle Reign in 2018. In 15 games, she leads the team in both goals (7) and assists (5). Rapinoe is crafty on the ball, making her a threat to score or create chances for her teammates. She is both exciting for fans and aggravating to opponents, making her entertaining to watch (even aside from her National Team popularity). Lydia Williams has 35 saves and eight clean sheets for the Reign in 12 appearances. The Reign have the least goals allowed (15) and sit in second place behind the North Carolina Courage.
Rachel Corsie: Utah Royals FC
The Utah Royals have had an odd season. Players that otherwise would have been in the XI every week have been hurt or in some cases just played poorly. Their attack has been anemic far too often this year but the one player who has been pretty outstanding every week has been Rachel Corsie. The Reign centerback turned Royal’s centerback has shown all the more with Sauerbrunn having missed some games. Her calm on and off the ball and a few Save of the Week wins have really cemented her place as the team’s MVP.
Aubrey Bledsoe: Washington Spirit
My MVP for the Washington Spirit is Aubrey Bledsoe. While it has been a tough year for the Spirit, Bledsoe has been a bright spot. This is her first year with the Spirit, following a trade with the Orlando Pride in the offseason. Bledsoe leads the league with 93 saves and has earned four shutouts this season. With a defense that has struggled, Bledsoe often faces many shots throughout the game and has been forced to make some creative saves. She has earned her share of Save of the Week nods throughout the season, and in Weeks 11 and 12, was named the NWSL Player of the Week.