all scores

JWS’ NWSL midseason awards: Mallory Pugh, Casey Stoney shine

Fueled by

Fueled by

Chicago's Mallory Pugh is currently third in the Golden Boot race with six goals. (Denny Medley/USA TODAY Sports)

With the end of July looming, three months of the NWSL regular season are already in the books and only two remain.

As the league dives further into the second half of the year, Just Women’s Sports is handing out midseason awards for the players and coach who have stood out so far. The San Diego Wave earn two nods, and five teams are represented in total across the six awards. Three NWSL newcomers also get a shoutout.

This list excludes our selection for midseason MVP, which we’ll name Friday from a list of frontrunners. Here we go.

Offensive Player of the Year

Mallory Pugh, Chicago Red Stars

After being named an NWSL MVP nominee last season, Mal Pugh’s impact on the Red Stars has only increased. She’s currently third in the Golden Boot race with six goals and has also contributed two assists. Of her 22 shots so far this season, 19 — or 86 percent — have been on target.

But it’s not just her scoring abilities that make her one of the best players in the league. Pugh has a dribble success rate of 76 percent, and defensively, she wins 67 percent of her tackles and has registered eight interceptions.

Defensive Player of the Year

Naomi Girma, San Diego Wave FC

Naomi Girma, 22, makes everything look easy. The rookie’s transition from college to the pros has been seamless. She looked to veteran and fellow center back Abby Dahlkemper for guidance when first joining the Wave in February, but when Dahlkemper was ruled out for a number of games due to COVID-19 and broken ribs, Girma had no trouble leading the backline line on her own. Playing every minute of the season so far, the 2022 No. 1 pick has displayed a level of composure on the ball well beyond her years and is completing her passes with 84 percent accuracy.

Goalkeeper of the Year

Phallon Tullis-Joyce, OL Reign

When she’s not debating with teammate Nikki Stanton about whether mermaids are real, Phallon Tullis-Joyce is between the posts making people’s jaws drop. Her name was hardly known coming into the 2022 season; she played just one minute as the backup goalkeeper her rookie year. Since she took over the starting spot, Tullis-Joyce’s calm demeanor and on-field leadership have quickly made an impact on the sixth-place Reign. In 12 games so far this season, the goalkeeper has recorded an impressive 83.3 save percentage, six clean sheets and 45 saves.

Rookie of the Year

Savannah DeMelo, Racing Louisville FC

The 2022 rookie class is particularly strong. Savannah DeMelo has been one of the many first years turning heads since the very beginning of the season. The midfielder is confident on the dribble and quick to capitalize on opponents’ mistakes. The fourth overall pick has also proven to be the most lethal player in the NWSL when it comes to scoring off free kicks, having buried a league-high two already this year. To add to that, she’s registered another goal and an assist for Racing Louisville.

Most Improved

Taylor Smith, NJ/NY Gotham FC

From the Courage bench to the waiver wire to a valued member of Gotham FC, Taylor Smith has had a rollercoaster of a season. After playing no more than 45 minutes in four of five games with North Carolina, she parted ways with the club in June and signed with Gotham two days later. There, the 28-year-old has made an instant impact.

In three games in New Jersey, Smith has registered four shots on goal in 219 total minutes, compared to the zero she had with North Carolina. She scored the game-winner in a 2-1 win over Racing Louisville in just her second match with the club while also playing as the lone starting forward. Gotham coach Scott Parkinson has repeatedly expressed how happy he is to have her with the team.

Coach of the Year

Casey Stoney, San Diego Wave FC

To get a team to the top of the table is one thing. To keep them there is another. To do all of that with an expansion team is superhuman, and yet that’s exactly what Casey Stoney has achieved through the first 13 games of the season since coming to the NWSL from the FA Women’s Super League.

The coach’s on-field strategy has been executed to plan, her impeccable timing with substitutes has led to goals on multiple occasions, and she treats her players with the care they haven’t always received from coaching staffs elsewhere. Stoney is intentional about never blaming poor results on the effort of her players, creating a nurturing environment that allows for mistakes and generates success.

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.