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NWSL 2022 MVP: Cases for Mallory Pugh and other frontrunners

Mallory Pugh is fourth in the NWSL Golden Boot race with 10 goals this season. (Jamie Sabau/USA TODAY Sports)

With the end of the NWSL regular season on Oct. 2 come the playoffs and the race for top individual awards, including 2022 MVP.

Seven players have made our list of MVP nominees, ranging from star goal scorers to key playmakers to staunch defenders. The players represent five teams in the league, with the San Diego Wave and OL Reign featured twice.

These are the cases for NWSL MVP frontrunners, including our pick at the end.

Alex Morgan, F, San Diego Wave FC

Alex Morgan just keeps finding the back of the net. With 15 goals on the season, she leads the Golden Boot race by three goals, with Thorns forward Sophia Smith coming in next at 12. Morgan took less than half the season to score the same number of goals as last year’s Golden Boot winner, Ashley Hatch, who finished with 11. Her efforts have helped San Diego stay near the top of the league standings and make a serious case for the Shield in the club’s first season.

Rose Lavelle, M, OL Reign

A world-class superstar, Rose Lavelle has been in peak form in her sixth year in the NWSL. She’s hitting shots on target from distance with a new level of power, contributing to a career-high five goals for OL Reign so far this season. Inside the box, she poses a threat on one-timers and in the air with the ability to score on diving headers. In addition to her iconic dribbles through the midfield, Lavelle boasts a passing success rate of 81 percent and a long-ball success rate of 74 percent.

Sophie Schmidt, M, Houston Dash

Perhaps the most underrated player on this list, Sophie Schmidt brings a consistency to the Dash’s defensive midfield that has put them in position to make their first playoff appearance in franchise history. Starting every game and totaling 1,393 minutes so far, Schmidt has been both a defensive and offensive powerhouse, setting up the attack with nine key passes and winning the ball in the midfield. In addition to 35 interceptions, she’s won 60 percent of her tackles, 57 percent of her duels and 58 percent of her aerial duels. She’s also contributed three goals and an assist while completing 74 percent of her passes.

Sophia Smith, F, Portland Thorns FC

Sophia Smith is is the main reason the No. 1 Portland Thorns lead the league with 43 goals and became the first team to punch their ticket to the playoffs with a win over Racing Louisville on Wednesday night. Second in the Golden Boot race with 12 goals, Smith also leads the NWSL with 64 shots and 41 shots on goal. She’s a defender’s worst nightmare with her expert ability to navigate backlines and create dangerous chances in front of net.

Sofia Huerta, D, OL Reign

OL Reign have been one of the NWSL’s best defensive teams all season and are currently tied with the Wave for the fewest goals against at 19. Huerta has contributed heavily to that success at wingback, playing every minute of every game with 10 blocks, 20 interceptions and a 65.6 percent tackle success rate. She’s also been integral to the Reign’s attack with a goal, four assists and 36 successful crosses, ranking second in the league in big chances created.

Naomi Girma, D, San Diego Wave FC

JWS’ midseason MVP pick, Naomi Girma has adjusted seamlessly to the professional game. The May Rookie of the Month has played every minute of her 17 games for the Wave, making 81 clearances, 12 blocks and 25 interceptions while winning 68 percent of duels. Her efforts have helped San Diego concede just 19 goals this season. In possession, the 2022 No. 1 draft pick averages an impressive 83 percent passing success rate.

MVP Pick: Mallory Pugh, F, Chicago Red Stars

Mallory Pugh does it all. Ten goals in one season? Check. Leading the league in assists? Check (she has six). Taking the ball 90 yards up the field for a goal and nutmegging two players in the process? That happened last week against the Kansas City Current, the NWSL’s first-place team at that point. The Red Stars forward has the ability to change the course of a game every time she steps onto the field, winning 80 percent of her tackles and passing with 77.3 percent accuracy. Last year, Pugh was nominated for NWSL MVP, but this year she’s playing the best soccer of her career.

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