We have reached award season as the NWSL regular season comes to an end. And, while I am firmly in the camp that awards don’t matter all that much, if we’re going to have them I do believe they should go to the correct people.
World Cup and Olympic years are always a bit odd in terms of giving out awards. Do we focus on who was there all year, grade internationals on a curve, what makes a player most valuable? It’s as much of an art as it is a science to try to give an answer to each award that feels not only correct but satisfying. Giving awards speaks as much about the giver of the award as it does the person getting the award.
So for the record, yes the World Cup happened and some players didn’t see all the minutes they might have in a less internationally heavy year. That will be taken into account but, like life, one factor is not the whole story. I’ve tried to find the right balance between who held the league down all year and who still shown brightest even when 50+ players were pulled out.
Most Valuable Player: Sam Kerr, Chicago Red Stars
Sam Kerr finished 2019 with a record setting – a record she held herself – 18 goals and 5 assists. Her 19 games played leaves 5 games on the table as she missed time in the league to go to France with the Australian national team. When Sam Kerr is on the pitch, even when another teammate is scoring the goals, eyes linger on Kerr as greatness is just expected in the league at this point. She is perhaps the greatest player in the NWSL’s history. If this is her last year – reports say she may be heading overseas – she has put on quite a show while still here.
Defender of the Year: Casey Short
Chicago Red Stars
It is never easy being one of the last players cut from a USWNT World Cup roster. In 2015 Crystal Dunn lit up the NWSL after being the last player cut and in 2019 it was Casey Short’s year to show it may have been a mistake to leave her behind.
Short is a more defensive outside back than you’d find from Dunn or Kelley O’Hara. But no current NWSL outside back has her defensive chops. She might be the toughest one vs one defender we’ve seen in the league, able to take on any of the world class forwards she comes up against. The Defender of the Year has, so far, always gone to a centerback. But this year Short has shown that outside backs can provide stout defense, as well as leading their backlines, as well as any center back could.
Goalkeeper of the Year: Kailen Sheridan
Sky Blue FC
In a year where Sky Blue had more ups than in the last few years, goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan was their brightest spot. Since being drafted by the team in 2017 she has been a consistent bright spot for the team.
This season she had 86 saves off of 111 shots on goal faced, tied with Aubrey Bledsoe of the Washington Spirit. In her 19 appearances (she was in France with Canada for the World Cup) she showed why she belongs in the top goalkeeping spot for the year. Working behind a backline that was often a bit rough, she managed three clean sheets to go with her 86 saves.
Rookie of the Year: Bethany Balcer
There will be a lot written about Bethany Balcer in the coming weeks. And she deserves every word of it. No NWSL player has come out of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) before but Balcer didn’t just prove she could make a pro roster, she proved she should be a starter for a playoff team. Her six goals lead the team this season. She featured in all 24 games, starting 19 times and playing 1,700 minutes. These numbers are impressive for any player, but for a rookie they are outstanding.
Coach of the Year: Vlatko Andonovski
Do I really need to explain why he gets my vote?
His ability to spot talent like Balcer, to patch up a roster that featured nearly a full XI of players listed as “Out” for a large part of the season, and ability to win the games his team needed, all come together to give him the edge. He took a team that slowly lost player after player to the IR and had brought them to the playoffs. I don’t know if he should be the next USWNT coach. But he has shown why he is so highly spoken about for the job.
The NWSL Best XI
Goalkeeper: Kailen Sheridan Defender: Casey Short Defender: Abby Erceg Defender: Lauren Barnes Defender: Merritt Mathias Midfielder: Bev Yanez Midfielder: Bethany Balcer Midfielder: Yuki Nagasato Forward: Lynn Williams Forward: Sam Kerr Forward: Christen Press
The NWSL Second Best
Goalkeeper: Casey Murphy Defender: Sarah Gorden Defender: Becky Sauerbrunn Defender: Emily Menges Defender: Sam Staab Midfielder: Crystal Dunn Midfielder: Midge Purce Midfielder: Debhina Forward: Kristen Hamilton Forward: Jodie Taylor Forward: Ashley Hatch
Did I get it right? Wrong? Who would you have selected? Let me know below.