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USWNT awards: Who were the top performers in 2022?

Sophia Smith led the USWNT with 11 goals in 2022. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

The United States women’s national team had a year to remember, claiming the Concacaf W Championship in July to qualify for a chance to win a fifth title at the 2023 World Cup. They also had moments fans would probably soon like to forget, such as tough results against world powers this fall and their first three-game losing streak since 1993.

Through all the highs and lows, a handful of players stood out above the rest. The Just Women’s Sports team — Claire Watkins, Jessa Braun and Eden Laase — got together to put a bow on the 2022 campaign with picks for individual awards and superlatives.

For reference, our voters could choose from all capped players in 2022, while a few categories had their own requirements for consideration (as outlined in those sections below).

MVP

Watkins: Sophia Smith

This is a hard choice based on how much the U.S. rotated this year, but I have to go with NWSL MVP Sophia Smith. She scored the most goals for the USWNT, played both centrally and on the wings, supported defensively and consistently looked like a bright spot, even when the team around her was struggling. 2022 was the Year of Sophia Smith.

Braun: Naomi Girma

Center-back Naomi Girma was a USWNT rookie in 2022, but her lack of experience wouldn’t have been noticeable to someone not familiar with the national team. Playing with the composure of a veteran, she was a standout in the backline against some of the USWNT’s toughest opponents, including England and Germany to close out the season. At just 22, Girma is already a world-class player in distribution, one-on-one defense, reading the game, directing her teammates and everything in between.

Laase: Sophia Smith

Sophia Smith is my pick, too. While she’s been making appearances with the senior team since 2020, this year she truly cemented herself as the future of U.S. women’s soccer. She scored 11 goals in 17 appearances, including one in a much-needed win over Germany on Nov. 13.

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Naomi Girma also won 2022 Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in the NWSL. (Roy K. Miller/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Rookie of the Year

Eligible with fewer than five caps entering 2022: Sam Coffey, Alana Cook, Naomi Girma, Jaelin Howell, Aubrey Kingsbury, Taylor Kornieck, Hailie Mace, Casey Murphy, Carson Pickett, Trinity Rodman, Alyssa Thompson, Ashley Sanchez, Ashley Hatch

Watkins: Naomi Girma

I think the winner here has to be a true rookie, and I’m going with perhaps the most obvious choice. Girma didn’t get her first cap until April, and she slowly worked her way into becoming irreplaceable in the USWNT backline.

Braun: Casey Murphy

In a world where goalkeepers are too often forgotten, Casey Murphy shined on the international stage. Rotating games with two-time World Cup champion Alyssa Naeher, Murphy had no trouble maintaining the standard in her first year with the senior team. She played the most games of the three goalkeepers, totaling 810 minutes, and she had the most shutouts with six.

Laase: Naomi Girma

Girma made her debut for the national team on April 12 in a friendly against Uzbekistan and has made 10 appearances since then. Girma doesn’t play like a rookie. Her instincts are that of someone in the middle of their career, and she rarely makes mistakes. When she’s in the game, the backline looks much more relaxed, and that’s saying something for a player at the start of her career.

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Becky Sauerbrunn was a stable presence on a young defense in 2022. (Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports)

Defender of the Year

Eligible: Alana Cook, Abby Dahlkemper, Tierna Davidson, Crystal Dunn, Emily Fox, Naomi Girma, Sofia Huerta, Hailie Mace, Kelley O’Hara, Carson Pickett, Becky Sauerbrunn

Watkins: Becky Sauerbrunn

Girma’s my rookie, so I’m going to go with classic defensive standout Becky Sauerbrunn. Sauerbrunn arguably had an underrated 2022. The veteran was tasked with bridging a divide as her regular compatriots in the backline weren’t available due to absence and injury. Sauerbrunn’s pairing with Girma in the last game of the year — which marked only their third time together at center-back — is a good example of just how flexible the team’s captain is in her defensive role.

Braun: Sofia Huerta

Sofia Huerta was one of two defenders to play over 1,000 minutes this year, even with minutes restrictions. She also started 11 of the 16 games she played. An aggressive threat in possession, Huerta registered two assists courtesy of her lethal crosses, tying her with Alana Cook for the most by a U.S. defender. After three years away from the national team, the tenacious fullback returned last November and was a backbone for a defense dealing with injuries and lineup changes.

Laase: Naomi Girma

I have no issue picking Girma for multiple awards because of the all-around stellar year she had. So, in addition to Rookie of the Year, she’s my Defender of the Year for all the reasons I mentioned above.

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Center-back Alana Cook played the most minutes of any USWNT player this year. (Bill Barrett/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Iron Woman of the Year

Eligible with over 1,000 minutes played: Alana Cook (1,286), Sofia Huerta (1,074), Rose Lavelle (1,107), Mallory Pugh (1,030), Sophia Smith (1,192), Andi Sullivan (1,126)

Watkins: Alana Cook

I’m going to go with a player who has received some criticism in recent months and stick with the team’s most depended-on player in 2022. The fact that Alana Cook is both eligible for rookie status and also played the most minutes for the USWNT in 2022 provides some insight into her development as an international center-back. She had to hold everything down while pairing with a rotation that included Tierna Davidson, Abby Dahlkemper, Sauerbrunn and Girma.

Braun: Sophia Smith

To play the second-most minutes on the team is not common for an attacker, but Smith proved this year that there’s nothing she can’t do. She started and played 17 games, the most of anyone on the team, and she was also the only player to reach double digits in goals with 11. Known as the brace queen, Smith also scored at least two goals in four matches.

Laase: Andi Sullivan

Injuries plagued Andi Sullivan’s early years with the senior national team, including a torn ACL in 2016, a torn meniscus in 2020 and a quad injury in 2021. This year, she stayed healthy and appeared in 15 games. The USWNT is sitll figuring things out in the midfield heading into a World Cup year, but Sullivan was a steadying force throughout all the workshopping.

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Crystal Dunn returned to the field only five months after giving birth. (Ion Alcoba/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

Biggest surprise

Watkins: Sam Coffey

It has to be Sam Coffey, in that a year ago, I’m not sure anyone had her ascension to the USWNT on their radar. Coffey played as a forward at Boston College and then as an attacking midfielder at Penn State, only joining the Thorns as a defensive midfielder at the beginning of 2022. That she took to the position so quickly and is already being hailed as the possible “One True No. 6 To Rule Them All” is a bit of a shocking development, and a welcome one.

Braun: Megan Rapinoe

In most ways, Megan Rapinoe was not a surprise at all. The legendary veteran has been instrumental in getting four World Cup stars above the USWNT badge. But this year, her return to the national team during a time of turnover wasn’t entirely predictable, especially after she played limited minutes for her NWSL club, OL Reign. When she joined the national team for the first time this year in June, she was expected to serve as an off-field leader. But Rapinoe took full advantage of the few minutes she spent on the field, recording two assists and scoring a goal in November to save the U.S. from a scoreless loss against Germany.

Laase: Crystal Dunn

For me, the biggest surprise was Crystal Dunn coming back to play just 140 days after giving birth to her son. Though the USWNT lost to England on Oct. 7, Dunn subbing in at the 63-minute mark was one of the best moments of the match. The 30-year-old not only managed to play at the highest level of soccer less than five months after giving birth, but she also reminded the USWNT how valuable she can be to the lineup.

Best goal

Watkins: Mallory Pugh vs. Iceland (Feb. 23)

I think you could pick any of the first four goals that the U.S. scored against Iceland to clinch the SheBelieves Cup in February, but I’m going with the fourth. Catarina Macario sprung a counter with her defensive work rate, and she and Mal Pugh looked like the only two strikers on Planet Earth in the back-and-forth sequence that ended in a perfect final pass from Macario and strike by Pugh.

Braun: Catarina Macario vs. Iceland (Feb. 23)

Like Claire said, those goals against Iceland are top of the list. For me it’s the first one, where Macario is in a two-on-one situation at the far corner of the box and blasts the ball from there. The build-up to the goal was about as picture-perfect as Macario’s strike itself, with the fluid string of passes showing the chemistry the national team is capable of.

Laase: Mallory Pugh vs. Germany (Nov. 10)

While it wasn’t the most impressive or exciting of all the goals scored this year, I’m going with Mal Pugh’s game-winner against Germany. The U.S. desperately needed a win to end the year on a high note after an unexpected three-game slide. Pugh outran the German defense and placed the ball perfectly into the low corner, finally giving her squad something to celebrate.

Best Off-Field Content

Watkins: Trinity Rodman

Long away camps are never easy, but Trinity Rodman’s Concacaf W TikToks (supported by a rotating cast of teammates) will live forever.

Braun: Taylor Kornieck

The videos might not be on her own social media profiles, but Taylor Kornieck shines in the goofy entertainment she creates with San Diego Wave FC teammate Kailen Sheridan. The “High School Musical” human basketball reel on Sheridan’s Instagram can’t be forgotten.

Laase: Rose Lavelle

It was late in the year, but I have to shout out Rose Lavelle’s performance of Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” at the Player’s Ball. Iconic.

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

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

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

In Hartford, Simone Biles Returned to Form While Familiar Faces Vied for an Olympic Ticket

us gymnasts at core classic in hartford connecticut
Biles appears to be a lock for the Olympic team after last weekend's stunning performance. Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

37-time world and Olympic medalist Simone Biles took first place at the Core Hydration Classic over the weekend, looking every bit the top contender she is. 

Earning an all-around score of 59.500, Biles also earned the highest scores in both the vault and floor exercises. She successfully incorporated the triple-twisting double salto into her floor routine for the first time since the qualifying round at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and picked up the highest score of the night — 15.600 — on vault with a Turchenko double pike.

"I was just happy to be back out there," Biles told NBCNews. "As long as we’re there cheering each other on and hoping for the best and having confidence in each other’s gymnastics, then it’s going to work."

Cementing her place as the nation’s second-best all-around gymnast was Shilese Jones, who finished the competition second in the all-around and won the uneven bars with a final score of 15.250.

Reigning all-around Olympic champion Suni Lee won the balance beam event. While she didn’t compete on uneven bars, Lee is aiming to compete in all four events at the 2024 Xfinity US Gymnastics Championships, which kicks off May 30th in Fort Worth.

"I think I’m starting to build a lot more confidence on beam," Lee told reporters after the meet. "I think it’s super important that we start feeling the nerves now because it’s only gonna get harder."

In a surprising turn, three-time Olympic gold medalist and 2012 all-around champion Gabby Douglas wound up withdrawing from the Core Hydration Classic after a rough start on the uneven bars. 

Douglas's first return to competition since the 2016 Olympics in Rio came three weeks ago at the American Classic in Katy, Texas. While she finished 10th in the all-around, she scored high enough in the vault and balance beam events to qualify for the US Championships.

"I have to give myself a little bit of grace," Douglas said after her American Classic appearance. "It ended rough for me in 2016, so I didn’t want to end on that note. I want to make sure I end on love and joy instead of hating something that I love."

While Biles's recent performance made her looked like a shoo-in for this summer's Olympics Games, four additional team members and two alternates are yet to be determined. 

Of course, there are some familiar faces still in the mix: Jade Carey, who was on Team USA in 2020, placed fourth overall at the Core Classic while medaling in individual events. Fellow 2020 Olympian Jordan Chiles placed third in the all-around. 

The US Olympic gymnastics roster will be determined at the Olympic Trials in late June, with athletes qualifying to compete at the Trials at the US Championships.

Chelsea, Arsenal Planning U.S. Tour of NWSL Friendlies

Mayra Ramirez of Chelsea battles with Lotte Wubben-Moy of Arsenal during the 2023/24 FA Women's Continental Tyres League Cup Final
The last time Chelsea and Arsenal met, the Gunners walked away with the FA Women's League Cup. (Copa/Getty Images)

Two of the WSL's biggest teams will cross the pond this summer, set to battle both each other and select NWSL teams in a series of Stateside club friendlies.

On Monday, the Blues confirmed their matchup against NJ/NY Gotham FC on August 19th, setting up a showdown between two league champions. It’ll be the first time that the English title-winners square off with the NWSL champs. 

Longtime Chelsea goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger recently joined Gotham FC, setting up an extra layer of intrigue ahead of the August 19th championship scuffle. 

It’s not Chelsea’s first time playing in the States. Back in August 2022, the Blues traveled to Portland to compete in that year's Women’s International Champions Cup.

ESPN reported on Saturday that fellow WSL contender Arsenal is scheduled to face the Washington Spirit in the same timeframe. To cap off their joint US tour, Arsenal will then take on the UK table-toppers at Audi Field in Washington DC.

Making things even more interesting, two of the teams featured in the club friendly series will have recently undergone coaching changes. The preseason matches could be a first look for Sonia Bompastor at Chelsea, as reports indicate that the Lyon manager will take over for incoming UWSNT coach Emma Hayes next season. (Chelsea is waiting until the conclusion of Champions League to make a formal announcement.) In the US, the Washington Spirit will be welcoming Jonatan Giráldez from Barcelona once he finishes his tenure with the Spanish club next month. 

This Saturday, Bompastor's Olympique Lyonnais Féminin will go up against Giráldez's FC Barcelona Femení in the 2024 UEFA Women's Champions League Final.

Chelsea Wins WSL Title, Sends Emma Hayes Off to USWNT in Style

chelsea fc celebrating their wsl title win
The Blues lifted the WSL trophy once again after beating Man United on Saturday. (Naomi Baker - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

Emma Hayes is bowing out of the WSL in style, with Chelsea winning its fifth consecutive WSL title on Saturday.

The Blues needed a win over Manchester United on Saturday and they got one in true Chelsea fashion, beating United 6-0 to take the WSL crown. While the team tied Manchester City in points at 55 apiece, they beat City on goal differential, outscoring their northern opponents 53 to 46.

The title is the team's fifth in a row and seventh under Hayes, who now departs Chelsea after 12 years as manager.

"I can't say it's my most enjoyable but it's definitely been the toughest, without doubt, and for that reason probably the sweetest," she told Sky Sports. "I'm just so relieved it's over. The hardest thing to do is five in a row because people take their eye off the ball. My legacy is winning while building a team for the future."

Midfielder Erin Cuthbert called the title the "hardest one yet" for Chelsea, but also the sweetest. A month ago, the team was virtually all but out of the title race, with Hayes conceding as much. Chelsea went on to right the ship, however, putting on a stunning eight goal performance against Bristol City to insert themselves back into the conversation.

"In the moments that really matter, we find a way," Cuthbert told BBC Sport. "We've never really backed down from a challenge. The fans have been with us from the start, they've been incredible this year.

"There have been a few rough moments, this title has taken about 10 years off my life if I'm being deadly honest. The hardest one yet, the sweetest one yet, so I'm going to enjoy tonight."

Hayes will now leave to manage the USWNT, telling BBC Sport on Saturday that the team and its fans will always in be in her heart.

"I don't think I have the words really. I am full with a ton of different emotions," she said. "I am ready, I have given everything I've got. [I am] ready for my next adventure."

Las Vegas Investigated for Aces Sponsorship, Per Reports

aces logo on basketball court
It's not the first time the Aces have found themselves in hot water over CBA violations. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

A first-of-its-kind sponsorship has hit the WNBA, with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) announcing on Friday it would be supporting all 12 players of the two-time WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces.

The deal grants each player $100,000 dollars in exchange for representing the city in 2024 and 2025.

"The offer's really simple: We want you to just play, we want you to keep repping Las Vegas, and if you do a three-peat, that'd be icing on the cake," LVCVA president and CEO Steve Hill told the team in a video released Friday.

The news comes as WNBA salaries and team caps continue to be a point of contention in the league. With many players making less than $100,000 a year, outside sponsors have long helped bridge the financial gap for players. 

On Saturday, Aces coach Becky Hammon said that the local tourism bureau had reached out to all of the players individually via their agents, leaving the Aces organization out of the conversation entirely. The goal was to avoid breaking cap circumvention rules established by the league’s CBA.

"I'm going to put it to you real simple like this: Most of sponsorship people go after the top two people," Hammon said. "[A'ja Wilson] is taken care of — she's got plenty of stuff going on. [Kelsey Plum] has plenty of stuff. In this situation, from what I understand, is they wanted the whole team. So they went and called individuals, agents. I don't know the details. 

"I have nothing to do with it; the Aces don't have anything to do with it. It's just odd, but that's basically what happened."

Despite the apparent separation, the WNBA has launched an investigation into the legality of the sponsorship, according to multiple sources

While the sponsorship does not directly violate the league-wide salary cap because the LVCVA did not orchestrate the sponsorship with the club, other teams are likely to raise questions about its fairness and whether or not it violates the spirit of the cap rules. The deal could potentially upend the balance of what teams are able to offer players in the free agency market.

"We have 100 influencers we pay to represent Las Vegas," Hill told the Associated Press. "This isn’t any different then that. All of these ladies are completely eligible to have sponsorships. We are just asking them to represent Vegas."

It’s not the first time the league has investigated the Aces for cap circumnavigation. Just last year, the team faced consequences — Hammon was suspended for two games while the team lost its 2025 first-round draft pick — for crossing league rules regarding impermissible player benefits and workplace policies.

"We get [things] from our agents all the time; they wanted it to be a big moment because it's something that's never happened before," Aces star forward A'ja Wilson said about the LVCVA's offer. "I don't understand the investigation; I haven't dived into it yet. I just looked at my phone [after the game] and was like, 'Oh, wow, just another day in the life of the Aces.' We can't ever start just normal, it's always going to be something, and that's okay."

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