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Case for the NWSL Golden Boot: Ashley Hatch steps into spotlight

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Washington Spirit forward Ashley Hatch scored off a penalty kick in Sunday's 1-1 draw with the Portland Thorns. (Amber Searls/USA TODAY Sports)

The NWSL playoffs are less than two months away, and the Golden Boot race is tighter than ever.

Just five goals separate the top five places in the standings. Last year’s league MVP Sophia Smith leads the way with 11 goals, while Ashley Hatch (8), Kerolin (8) and Lynn Williams (7) round out the top four. But who will win? Just Women’s Sports is taking a look at the front-runners. First up: Ashley Hatch.

Hatch won the 2021 Golden Boot with nine goals. She already has matched that total this season with five regular season games left to go. And she just scored on a penalty kick to pull the Spirit level with Portland in the 90th minute of Sunday’s 1-1 draw.

“We knew coming into this game that it was going to be a high-energy day, just with all of our fans and the whole team back together,” Hatch said. “So we wanted to start the game off strong. Maybe if we had put one away earlier it would have helped us, but I’m proud of how the team played today.”

Still, the goal marked her third result-changing penalty in stoppage time in her NWSL career, which puts her ahead of every other player in league history, according to OptaJack.

The goal came after Hatch put on a show during the World Cup break after her USWNT roster snub. The 28-year-old forward scored in the Spirit’s last regular-season match before the break, then scored two in a Challenge Cup match against Gotham FC on July 28. Those Challenge Cup goals don’t count toward her Golden Boot total, but they underline her impressive scoring run this season.

In four consecutive seasons with the Spirit, Hatch has scored at least seven goals. The only player to score more in the NWSL since 2021 is Smith. And this season, Hatch has been right back at her best, with 41 shots and 24 shots on goal, both of which sit third in the league. Her 0.70 expected goals (xG) per game in 2023 ranks as the best in the league, ahead of the Golden Boot leader.

And with Smith facing down a potentially serious knee injury, Hatch could be the favorite for the 2023 Golden Boot title.