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NWSL MVP: Should Sophia Smith win despite missing 25% of season?

Sophia Smith has scored 11 goals for the Portland Thorns this season. (Troy Wayrynen/USA TODAY Sports)

Sophia Smith is the frontrunner for NWSL MVP, despite having missed almost 25% of the season due to the World Cup and a knee injury.

The 23-year-old forward missed more than 40 days with an MCL sprain before making her return last Saturday, but in that time she maintained her place atop some of the NWSL’s most important statistical categories. Smith still leads the league in goals (11), goals per 90 (0.87), goals and assists (16), shots on target (38) and shots on target per 90 (3.02).

Her goals and assists average per 90 (1.27) nearly doubles that of second-place Kerolin, who sits at 0.74 for the North Carolina Courage. She also leads in non-penalty goal categories, shot-creating actions per 90, goal-creating actions and goal-creating actions per 90.

Simply put: Smith has been, statistically, one of the best players in the league once again, after becoming the youngest MVP in league history last season. And to top it all off, Smith is nominated for the Ballon d’Or.

Other MVP candidates, including Orlando’s Adriana, North Carolina’s Kerolin and Washington’s Ashley Hatch, have put together solid seasons. But no team has an answer for Smith.

In five matches without Smith, Portland lost four matches and won just one. In 16 matches with Smith, the Thorns went 9-2-5 (W-L-D). So Smith’s presence on the pitch certainly provides a boost, both for the Thorns in their quest for back-to-back NWSL championships and for Smith in her quest for back-to-back MVP awards.