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NWSL 2023 MVP: Who’s leading the race at midseason?

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Sophia Smith leads the NWSL with 10 goals in the regular season as she heads to the World Cup with the USWNT. (Gary Rohman/USA TODAY Sports)

The number of NWSL games left in the 2023 season has now hit single digits, and more than a few players have brought goal-scoring fireworks. It has not been a particularly impressive season for NWSL defenses thus far, and as a result, our midseason MVP shortlist is primarily made up of attackers.

Shootouts and big scorelines have been common this season. Players facing up on goal have shifted outcomes with ease, and many of those gearing up for the World Cup stage have raised their games to new levels. In contrast, some teams near the top of the table have found success by sharing the load.

Here are our picks for NWSL MVP frontrunners, with two-thirds of the season behind us.

Sophia Smith, F, Portland Thorns

It’s Sophia Smith’s world, and we’re all just living in it. Smith leads the league in goals scored with 10, is second in assists with five, and features as the focal point of the NWSL’s most vaunted attack. She scored her first two career hat tricks in 2023, leads the league in both shots and shots on goal, and is the top field player in generating xG and American Soccer Analysis’s g+ calculation.

It can be difficult to say definitively that a player already at an MVP level has raised their game, but in a crucial World Cup year, Smith has managed to do just that. Her campaign will take a slight hit with her missing at least two regular season games due to the World Cup, but if she returns to the NWSL in a form anywhere near how she left it, she’ll be a near lock for a second-straight MVP award.

Kerolin, F, North Carolina Courage

Kerolin was already a mid-season force in 2022, but taking on an expanded role in 2023, she’s become one of the premier attackers in the NWSL. With her eight regular season goals, the Courage have shot toward the top of the league table, a stunning reversal of fortunes considering the team lost talent like Debinha and Diana Ordoñez in the offseason.

Kerolin’s underlying stats also support her growing influence on matches. She’s currently sixth among field players in xG generated, having notched a hat trick in June, and her impressive dribbling stats showcase how important she is to North Carolina’s overall ball progression.

Lynn Williams, F, Gotham FC

If you believe an MVP award represents in part what a player means to their team, Lynn Williams is a necessary addition to the shortlist. Where Williams goes, so goes Gotham, who have jumped from last place in 2022 to playoff contender in 2023 thanks to the striker’s clinical form.

Williams, who recently signed a three-year contract extension with Gotham after getting trade to the club in January, has adjusted her playing style to fit more of a lone striker role and scored seven goals, many of which have been opportunistic strikes off of turnovers. Her shots to shots-on-goal ratio competes with Smith’s. She’s shown the ability to step up and execute in crucial moments, leading Gotham in key attacking stats like xG and ASA’s g+ metric. She might not end up being the NWSL’s top performer in 2023, but in terms of value, she’s irreplaceable for a team on the rise.

Ashley Hatch, F, Washington Spirit

Keep an eye on Ashley Hatch. One of the first players left off the USWNT’s World Cup squad, the Washington Spirit forward has been just as efficient in front of goal in 2023 as in past seasons. She’s quietly scored eight goals in the regular season and is second behind Smith in xG generated.

She also will be with her club team consistently throughout the rest of the season, unlike the other World Cup players on this shortlist. Even with the league’s short break during the international competition, Hatch should have more opportunities — and extra motivation from a World Cup snub — to contend for a second-career NWSL Golden Boot honor.

Our pick: Sophia Smith

Smith has two Player of the Month awards to her name already in 2023, and she’s got a clear runway to continue her dominant run. She’s first in the most concrete stat available (goals scored), and she leads the competition in almost every other relevant advanced stat. There are a few players close to reaching Smith’s level, but none that have overtaken her thus far, making her our midseason MVP.

Whether Portland can pull off a repeat NWSL championship remains to be seen, but Smith’s two-year period of dominance has left no doubts. She’ll take her form to the international level before finishing business at home.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.