As some of the league’s most high profile players bounced in and out of rosters, National Women’s Soccer League teams relied on depth in 2019.
For the championship bound North Carolina Courage and Chicago Red Stars, that’s what allowed them to dominate the regular season. Fellow playoff side Reign FC also worked through a large roster, succeeding while balancing World Cup absentees and an injury crisis.
As a result, some of the league’s most reliable individuals took center stage, and that is reflected in Pro Soccer USA’s picks for the league’s best players in 2019.
Here are the Pro Soccer USA NWSL writers’ picks for 2019 awards.
Most Valuable Player
Sam Kerr, Chicago Red Stars
While the NWSL saw new headliners in 2019, Kerr was one player who maintained her status as one of the league’s best players even with a trip to the World Cup with Australia over the summer. Australia was knocked out of the competition in the Round of 16, so Kerr returned and played 21 NWSL games this year and scored 18 goals, a league record.
Others receiving votes: Debinha, North Carolina Courage.
Defender of the Year
Casey Short, Chicago Red Stars
While Kerr was working on one end, Short dominated the other for the Red Stars. Playing all but 15 minutes this season, Short was a consistent force in a rotating back line.
Others receiving votes: Jaelene Hinkle, North Carolina Courage.
Goalkeeper of the Year
Casey Murphy, Reign FC
When the Reign was in a bind after Michelle Betos’ season-ending injury, the team signed Murphy and she easily slotted in. The goalkeeper made 73 saves and recorded six shutouts as the team had the second-best goals against record in the league.
Others receiving votes: Aubrey Bledsoe, Washington Spirit; Kailen Sheridan, Sky Blue FC.
Rookie of the Year
Bethany Balcer, Reign FC
Balcer was signed to the Reign’s supplemental roster just days before the start of the season. She became the third NWSL player to play college soccer for a non-NCAA Division I team, completing four years (2015-18) at Spring Arbor University in Michigan. During her rookie NWSL season, she scored six goals for the Reign and picked up two assists.
Others receiving votes: Jordan DiBiasi, Washington Spirit.
Coach of the Year
Vlatko Andonovski, Reign FC
Tasked with coaching a team full of injuries and missing national team players, Andonovski secured the Reign a playoff spot and took the dominant Courage to extra time before a semifinal defeat. He was the only unanimous choice of the writers after a season that tested his tactical acumen and recruiting processes.
He will soon be announced as the next head coach for the United States women’s national team, replacing two-time World Cup champion Jill Ellis.
Best XI (4-3-3)
Goalkeeper: Casey Murphy, Reign FC
Murphy beat out Sheridan and Bledsoe, who each received one vote.
Defenders: Lauren Barnes, Reign FC; Abby Erceg, North Carolina Courage; Merritt Mathias, North Carolina Courage; and Casey Short, Chicago Red Stars
Joining the writers’ pick for Defender of the Year are Barnes, part of the strong Reign defense, and Erceg and Mathias, who were part of the league’s best defense. Eight total players received votes.
Midfielders: Veronica Boquete, Utah Royals FC; Debinha, North Carolina Courage; and Yuki Nagasato, Chicago Red Stars
Three of the league’s top assist-makers made the cut: Nagasato tops the group with eight, while Debinha had seven and Boquete had six. Five total players received votes.
Forwards: Kristen Hamilton, North Carolina Courage; Sam Kerr, Chicago Red Stars; and Lynn Williams, North Carolina Courage
Like the midfield category, the NWSL’s top scorers made up the writers’ picks for the best forwards. Kerr scored 18 times, while Williams had 12 goals and Hamilton had nine. Five total players received votes.