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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.

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

Other former players contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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