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The NWSL MVP race: five players who could win it

ORLANDO, FL - MAY 30: Sydney Leroux #2 of the Orlando Pride waits for the throw in during a game between Kansas City and Orlando Pride at Exploria Stadium on May 30, 2021 in Orlando, Florida.

The NWSL MVP race is heating up. With half of the regular season in the books, competition for the league’s top individual honor has started to take shape, with a handful of favorites emerging.

As national team players return from Olympic duty, here’s who to keep an eye on for the remainder of the 2021 NWSL season.

Sydney Leroux, Orlando Pride

Sydney Leroux is on a tear. The Pride striker currently leads the league’s Golden Boot race with seven goals in 13 appearances, and she also has the most attempted shots so far this season, with 42.

The veteran forward has powered a resurgent Orlando offense, stretching opponents’ backlines and exploiting seams wherever she can. Though her attacking presence can’t be understated, Leroux is also known to put in the work on defense. The 31-year-old often tracks into midfield or all the way back to Orlando’s box in order to break up an opponent’s play, triggering the Pride’s counterattack.

Leroux’s standout year marks the striker’s first full season back on the pitch since having her second child in 2019. The biggest question may be whether the Pride can keep their form following the departure of Marc Skinner.

Ashlyn Harris, Orlando Pride

Ashlyn Harris has long been a dominant presence in goal, but the veteran keeper seems to have tapped into a new mindset this year.

Harris has stopped five straight penalty kicks from the line, making her the only goalkeeper to stop multiple PKs so far this season.The 35-year-old sits third in the league’s goalkeeper rankings, with 39 saves in 990 minutes on the pitch.

Harris’s ability to come up clutch and keep Orlando in close games has propelled the club to fourth in the NWSL standings with half the season left to play.

Bethany Balcer, OL Reign

Second only to Leroux in the Golden Boot race, Balcer has been a consistently energizing force for the OL Reign.

The 2019 Rookie of the Year is lethal in the club’s attack, employing strategic movement off the ball to create a flurry of chances in the final third. Whether or not the 24-year-old is scoring–and she often is–Balcer’s mere presence and ability to create space rattles defenses, complicating opponents’ game plans.

Simone Charley, Portland Thorns

Simone Charley is having a moment. Making her mark during the Olympic break, Charley’s third year with the Thorns is proving to be her breakout season.

The 26-year-old is currently tied with Sophia Smith as the club’s leading scorer, recording four goals in 13 appearances. The Portland striker has emerged as a fixture for Portland’s offense, creating ten chances and powering the team to the top of the NWSL table. If Portland can stay there, and Charley can keep scoring, she’ll remain a dark horse candidate for league MVP.

Lynn Williams, North Carolina Courage

Williams has momentum on her side. The Courage striker is coming off an impressive Olympic debut, notching a goal and an assist in the USWNT’s win over the Netherlands in Tokyo.

Williams was on a scoring streak before leaving for the Games, netting four goals in four days in her final NWSL matches before heading to Tokyo. If Williams can keep up that type of offensive output for the Courage, she could be in contention for her second NWSL MVP award, having won the honors in 2016 with the Western New York Flash.