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NWSL 2022 MVP: Top candidates halfway through the season

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San Diego Wave rookie Naomi Girma (Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports)

On Thursday, JWS released a list of NWSL midseason awards. Today, we complete those awards with a rundown of five frontrunners for league MVP three months into the regular season.

The Best Offensive Player and Best Defensive Player from Thursday have made this list, and are joined by three others — two forwards and one defender. We make our pick for midseason MVP at the end.

These are not predictions for who will be named the 2022 NWSL MVP, because a lot can happen between now and the end of the regular season in October, but rather a nod to the players who have stood out from the rest so far.

Let’s dive in.

Mallory Pugh, F, Chicago Red Stars

Mallory Pugh appears to be in the best form of her career. Getting 86 percent of her shots on target, she’s buried a total of six for the Red Stars to sit third in the Golden Boot race. The 2021 NWSL MVP nominee also has two assists and a dribble success rate of 76 percent. On the other side of the ball, she wins 67 percent of her tackles and has made eight interceptions. On Thursday, she was named the best offensive player in JWS’ midseason awards.

Sophia Smith, F, Portland Thorns FC

On a Thorns team full of stars, Sophia Smith manages to stand out with her quick and precise decision-making in the opponent’s box. Leading the league in both shots and shots on goal, she has eight goals and two assists on the year. The 21-year-old is behind only San Diego forward Alex Morgan (11 goals) in the Golden Boot race. Thanks to Smith’s efforts, the Thorns currently lead the league with 29 goals, nine ahead of the second-best Red Stars, and with 80 shots on goal, 16 ahead of Chicago.

Sofia Huerta, D, OL Reign

Sofia Huerta delivers some of the best crosses in the NWSL, creating two assists and 18 chances so far in 2022. With a 76 percent success on her passes and 67 percent of her shots going on target, Huerta’s accuracy is key to OL Reign’s attack. Defensively, Huerta has a 75 percent tackle success rate to help the Reign’s backline hold opponents to a league-best nine total goals this season.

Alex Morgan, F, San Diego Wave FC

Eleven goals is hard to ignore. Alex Morgan has led the league in goals all season, helping push the Wave to the top of the NWSL standings in their first season as a franchise. Creating nine chances, she also has an assist to her name and has won 75 percent of her tackles.

Our pick: Naomi Girma, D, San Diego Wave FC

A rookie has never officially won an NWSL MVP award, but if there’s a player to do it, it’s Naomi Girma.

The May Rookie of the Month has arguably been the best defender in the league this year. Making the NWSL’s Team of the Month for both May and June, the center back is smooth in every aspect of her game — from her passing accuracy of 84 percent, to her one-v-one defending, to her ability to read opponents, leading to 18 interceptions. In the absence of the injured Abby Dahlkemper, Girma has emerged as a leader who’s already worn the captain’s armband, just six months into her rookie year.

The No. 1 2022 draft pick has played every minute of the games she’s been available for, leading a San Diego backline that’s conceded just 11 goals to stay atop the league standings.

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