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Case for the NWSL Golden Boot: Messiah Bright shines among rookies

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Orlando Pride forward Messiah Bright enters the field alongside teammate Summer Yates. (Stephen Brashear/USA TODAY Sports)

Messiah Bright is in the conversation for the NWSL Golden Boot in her first professional season, showing off the scoring touch that made her a top college player.

The race for the scoring title tightened over the weekend, with North Carolina’s Kerolin (10) pulling within one goal of Portland’s Sophia Smith (11). While the top stars are pulling away from the pack, Bright leads all rookies with six goals, so she could have a different award — Rookie of the Year — on lock.

After scoring 50 goals across five seasons at TCU, Bright saw her stock drop on draft day. Projected as a first-round pick by many prognosticators, she dropped to No. 21 overall, which has turned out to be quite the steal for the Orlando Pride.

The 23-year-old forward has started in 14 of her 20 regular-season appearances for Orlando, and she has been scoring goals from all over the place. One of her goals came off her left foot, three off her right and two from headers.

She has 12 total shots on target this season, meaning that her conversion rate on shots on target sits at 50% and ranks sixth in the league. Bright’s efficiency in goalscoring has put her in the top 10 in the league in goals (T-7th), goals per 90 (5th), xG (6th), xG/90 (4th), non-penalty goals (4th), non-penalty goals/90 (3rd) and goals per shot on target (6th).

Bright is good on aerials, too, having won 37, which puts her ninth in the league. And has had 27 successful take-ons, which also ranks ninth in the league.

All together, that’s not a bad rookie season for Bright, especially on a team in Orlando that has struggled offensively. But the Pride are trending upward, having won three of their last five. With two matches to go, they sit within striking distance of the NWSL playoffs — and if they do make it, Bright will have been a huge part of that turnaround.

And the Pride will be able to grow with their young star, as she signed a three-year deal with the club ahead of the 2023 season.

“I am beyond excited to be able to stay in purple and call Orlando home for the next few years,” Bright said at the time. “It’s always been a dream of mine to play professional soccer, and I finally get to do that with such an amazing team.”