Analysis: Explaining my votes for the NWSL End of the Year Awards

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Editorial — Another NWSL season is coming to a close as the month ends. This is the seventh season the NWSL has been part of the soccer world in the United States. That, in itself, is historic. No other women’s soccer league in the country for more than five seasons.

The NWSL also got some help this last year with the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Attendances went up in essentially all markets — although they stayed the same in Houston. For example, in their first home match with the national team players at BBVA Stadium, Houston racked up 3,510 fans. However, the stadium holds a capacity of 22,039 fans.

That’s not why we’re here, though.

The NWSL season ending marks another time for members of NWSL Media to mark their award winners. There’s no denying that U.S. Women’s National Team players are the most popular vote getters. However, there is talent throughout the league that doesn’t even belong to another federation’s team. Those players have risen up in the midst of the World Cup.

As a member of the official NWSL Media Association, I already cast my ballot. So, I’m here to tell you all who I chose and why. Hopefully, I can convince you with these votes.

NWSL MVP: Sam Kerr, Chicago Red Stars 

It’s really hard to argue with this one.

Sam Kerr, the Australian international, is a fantastic, prolific goal scorer. She just knows how to find the back of the net. Kerr has been on fire for the Chicago Red Stars this season. And, the team needed her when she was at the World Cup. Chicago had a losing streak during the World Cup break of three matches without Kerr in the fold.

Once she returned, hurricane Kerr couldn’t be stopped.

This year, Kerr broke her own goal-scoring record. Read that again, once more. She broke her own record. Kerr scored 18 goals this NWSL season and is gearing up for the playoffs. However, Kerr has a huge mountain to climb. She has never won an NWSL Championship. Last year, the Red Stars fell out of the playoffs to the Courage. Now, they’re up against the Portland Thorns.

But this time, they’re hosting a playoff match for the first time since 2013.

Kerr is coming off a disappointing World Cup, where Australia bowed out of the knockouts, losing to Norway on penalty kicks. Kerr had an impeccable 2019 season for club and continues to score for country. Now, she just needs that trophy.

Rookie of the Year: Bethany Balcer

There’s nothing like a Cinderella story.

We’ve gotten that as sports fans, not even soccer fans, with Bethany Balcer. The rookie is your true definition of the underdog. She didn’t come from a big, fancy, world-renowned soccer school like North Carolina or USC. In that regard, Balcer did not even come from an NCAA school.

Balcer came out of Spring Arbor University, which is an NAIA school. She’s the first-ever professional women’s soccer player to come from a school in that conference. It’s not the most popular conference out there. Balcer didn’t attend a landmark school. However, she succeeded and forced Vlatko Andonovski and his staff to scout her.

They didn’t even need to drive far. Balcer featured for the Seattle Sounders Women in 2018, which is part of the WPSL. With the team, Balcer helped lift up the league trophy. She made her NWSL debut against Houston on April 14, the league’s opening day.

This year, Balcer has scored six goals. She’s worked hard for a starting spot on a team that includes Jodie Taylor, Megan Rapinoe and Beverly Yanez. This wasn’t just an instance where players left for their international teams and came back to take a starting spot. No, instead, Balcer worked hard, scored goals and retained her starting spot.

She’s a young, bright spot for the league. In a wondrous rookie class that includes Sam Staab and Jordan DiBiasi of the Washington Spirit, Balcer stands out due to her story, her perseverance and success in the league.

NWSL Coach of the Year: Vlatko Andonovski

This entire list isn’t just Reign FC, but it’s awfully close.

There’s a reason for this submission though. After almost typing out Richie Burke for completely turning around the Washington Spirit organization and drafting tremendously, it was easy to write Andonovski’s name. This is a coach who battled much adversity on this season with his roster, and still made the playoffs.

He’s a winning coach with a reputation. And, heads are turning to see Andonovski as the next manager of the U.S. Women’s National Team. It’s hard to not applaud the work Andonovski did this season.

Reign FC had a laundry list of injuries this year. First and second string goalkeepers Lydia Williams and Michelle Betos suffered injuries. Jess Fishlock looked ready to rock the league after returning from Lyon, just to tear her ACL. Andonovski didn’t even have Megan Rapinoe in his selection until the end of August.

There were plenty of ACL injuries to fill a roster. However, Reign FC managed to pull in players and increase depth. Next year, when those injuries heal, it’ll be dangerously scary to see how Reign FC looks with a roster.

Andonovski has battled different problems this season. Now, the noise is incredibly loud. He’s in a tough contest this weekend, facing off with the first-place North Carolina Courage and Paul Riley. However, Andonovski has essentially been handed the famous Riley phrase; Reign FC are the real underdogs.

Defender of the Year: Casey Short, Chicago Red Stars

There are six votes for NWSL Team of the Week.

In every single vote, Casey Short was on the list. This came after she was unforgivably left off the U.S. Women’s National Team roster for the World Cup. She was skipped over for more popular, better known named players like Morgan Brian, Ali Krieger and Kelley O’Hara. Despite Jill Ellis having a natural back who can play the position in Short, she elected to keep starting Crystal Dunn, despite her playing in the attack for club.

That’s another rant for another editorial. However, Short has shown left and right that she’s one of the best defenders in the league. It’s not easy seeing your name off the World Cup list. That certainly gave her an edge, a bone to pick with Ellis and U.S. Soccer.

Short undoubtedly deserves this award. Despite the three-match losing streak during the World Cup, Short has anchored a defense that has been pretty stout this year. Fans should be outraged if she’s not on a plane to Tokyo next summer.

Goalkeeper of the Year: Kailen Sheridan, Sky Blue

It’s hard to imagine an eighth place team winning this award.

However, Kailen Sheridan has grown exponentially and deserves this award. In 19 matches this season, Sheridan has been tested, as she’s tied with Aubrey Bledsoe with the most saves with 86. Sheridan has three clean sheets this season, but her leadership gives her extra props. Sky Blue transformed after the departure of Denise Reddy.

Sheridan stepped up in more of a leadership role. She didn’t have to fill in as a player-coach, but whatever the next thing to that is, she did it. Her presence in goal was much stronger this season. There are even whispers to her being the Canadian starter in goal sooner than later.

Sheridan over Bledsoe wasn’t an easy choice. Casey Murphy of Reign FC also had her name in the hat too, for stepping up when she was desperately needed. Sky Blue making it out of last place, though, deserves some kudos.


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