The 2023 NWSL season provided the emotional rollercoaster the league has become known for, with incredibly competitive games producing big wins and devastating losses. NWSL years with major international tournaments can disrupt form, but a few players and coaches have risen to the occasion to guide their squads through a tumultuous year.

After thorough review, here are my choices for the 2023 NWSL end-of-season awards.


(Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports)

Kerolin, F, North Carolina Courage

Shortlist: Sam Coffey, Adriana, Jaedyn Shaw

In a season where many stars burned bright in spurts, Kerolin stands out the most as an MVP candidate. She was a consistent goal scorer, finishing second in the Golden Boot race with 10 goals and three assists on the season. Her accumulative xG of 8.16, as compiled by American Soccer Analysis, was good enough for third in the league, and she delivered quality finishing in big moments. Other top scorers like Sophia Smith struggled with availability, and Kerolin carried her momentum through the Courage’s big playoff push.

She also has the argument of intangibles. The Courage lost a number of stars in the offseason, and it was unclear if they could pull together their new group in time to be a real playoff contender in 2023. North Carolina went on to surprise everyone by finishing third in the league standings. They played more methodically but stayed equally as threatening in the attack this season, led by Kerolin’s steady performance both as a striker and as a player who pulled space to aid her teammates.

In terms of how she compares to her peers in the league, and what she brings to a club that defied the odds to finish the season in third, Kerolin has my vote for 2023 MVP.

Coach of the Year

(Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports)

Sean Nahas, North Carolina Courage

Shortlist: Juan Carlos Amoros, Becki Tweed, Casey Stoney

Many of the same tenets of Kerolin’s case for MVP apply to the Courage as a whole, as led by head coach Sean Nahas. The losses of Debinha, Abby Erceg, Carson Pickett and Diana Ordoñez could (and perhaps should) have sunk the team’s chances for long-term success in 2023. Nahas followed a rough free agency period with a puzzling draft approach, taking prospects he prized over common consensus.

But Nahas’ vision shined throughout the season. The Courage, a team previously known for quick counter-attacks, began instead to prize possession and methodical build-up. Despite turnover in the team’s defense, the Courage finished the season tied for second-fewest goals allowed in the league. International signings Narumi Miura and Manaka Matsukubo also made immediate impacts in the midfield. As a result, North Carolina has looked more like a team reloaded than a roster rebuilding.

The Courage proved many experts wrong, and Nahas stepped into his role leading the squad with a clear style of play, making him deserving of Coach of the Year.

Goalkeeper of the Year

(Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports)

Katie Lund, GK, Racing Louisville

Shortlist: Jane Campbell, Abby Smith, Kailen Sheridan

This award can be divided by philosophy — whether the best goalkeeper is the player with the most organized defense or the player who excels even when their defense breaks down in front of them. Katie Lund had an argument for the latter in 2022, leading the NWSL in saves as the Louisville defense struggled to protect their keeper.

It wasn’t a standout season for a number of goalkeepers considered to be among the world’s best. The Wave’s Kailen Sheridan likely performed the best in the former category; Gotham’s Abby Smith looked poised for a breakout year before being sidelined by injury; and Houston’s Jane Campbell backed up the sturdiest defense in the NWSL.

While Racing’s defense improved this year, Lund also put together standout performances to keep her team in games. She’s arguably been the best pure shot-stopper in the league for two years in a row. And while she is still developing her distribution with the ball at her feet, she showcased technical abilities that could put her on the radar of the U.S. women’s national team and are worthy of Goalkeeper of the Year.

Rookie of the Year

(Nathan Ray Seebeck/USA TODAY Sports)

Messiah Bright, F, Orlando Pride

Shortlist: Alyssa Thompson, Paige Metayer, Jenna Nighswonger

As should be expected for young players coming into the league, the 2023 NWSL rookies had moments of individual excellence but also struggled with consistency throughout the year.

No. 1 draft pick Alyssa Thompson thrived at times with the spotlight on her, most notably scoring a crucial equalizer on Oct. 8 to keep Angel City’s playoff hopes alive. Washington’s Paige Metayer and Gotham’s Jenna Nighswonger also contributed significantly to their sides, even as Nighswonger navigated a position change to outside back. But none stood out quite like Orlando’s Messiah Bright, who finished the season with six goals for a Pride team that just barely missed out on the playoffs.

Bright fell to the second round of the 2023 draft despite being considered a top prospect by many. The TCU graduate then proved wrong every team that passed on her, becoming a key member of the Orlando attack. Most notably, she scored consistently during a key stretch in which the Pride compiled more wins than four clubs that finished above the playoff line.

Defender of the Year

(Ira L. Black/Getty Images)

Ali Krieger, D, Gotham FC

Shortlist: Kylie Strom, Sam Staab, Naomi Girma

It was a strong season for defenders throughout the league, with every team having at least one clear cornerstone along their backline. Kylie Strom has excelled as an outside back for Orlando; Sam Staab continued her Iron Woman ways for the Spirit; and 2022 Defender of the Year Naomi Girma has become so synonymous with excellence that it’s easy to overlook.

But one defender has stood out, in part due to the story of her year. In her last season before retirement, Gotham’s Ali Krieger has looked as sharp as ever, guiding the club from the league basement in 2022 to a playoff spot in 2023. She’s been a clear vocal leader for a team undergoing a significant amount of change, and she’s looked comfortable at center back after spending most of her career running the flank.

Krieger is less of an aerial presence than some more traditional center-backs, but she can use her positioning and center of gravity to make it very difficult to pass her by, which could be the basis for a career-extending playoff run. Though there are few bad candidates for Defender of the Year, Krieger appears to have the momentum to go out on a high.

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

Just three games remain in the NWSL regular season, and the players are continuing to make their case in their campaigns for the end-of-year awards.

Since Just Women’s Sports’ last check-in, no one player has pushed to the front of the pack, setting the stage for a frantic final push. Here are the players to watch in the final weeks of the season.

MVP: Sophia Smith, Portland Thorns

Shortlist: Adriana, Kerolin, Morgan Weaver, Ashley Hatch

While it remains unclear whether or not Smith will make her return from an MCL sprain during the regular season, she is back training with Portland. And her work early on in the season still puts her ahead of everyone else in the MVP race. Not only does she lead the league in goals scored with 11, she’s also second in the league in assists with five. Her goals per 90 sits at 0.88, far ahead of the next best in the league (Kerolin, 0.57). Teams don’t have an answer for the reigning MVP, and Portland has missed her in her absence.

Elsewhere, Smith’s teammate Morgan Weaver has been putting together her own case for MVP in the final weeks of the season. She’s got three goals in three games and is putting up better numbers than anyone else in the league right now.

Tara McKeown is in the thick of the competition for the Defender of the Year award. (Dennis Schneidler/USA TODAY Sports)

Defender of the Year: Tara McKeown, Washington Spirit

Shortlist: Tatumn Milazzo, Sarah Gorden, Natalia Kuikka, Sam Staab

Fresh off a contract extension, Tara McKeown has had a standout season alongside Sam Staab. The 24-year-old defender ranks first in the league in clearances and sixth in interceptions. But while she’s been a steady presence for the Spirit, Washington hasn’t won in six games, which puts her in a tough spot.

Meanwhile, Tatumn Milazzo has once again been a bright spot for a Chicago Red Stars back line that has struggled but has started to find its groove toward the end of the season. And Sarah Gorden has had a great bounce-back season from an ACL tear for Angel City, who remain in playoff contention.

Goalkeeper of the year: Katie Lund, Racing Louisville

Shortlist: Casey Murphy, Kailen Sheridan, Jane Campbell

Katie Lund leads the league in many goalkeeping categories, and she has been one of the big reasons for Racing Louisville’s turnaround this season. She’s allowed among the fewest goals in the league per 90 (1.00) – with Jane Campbell of the Houston Dash the only goalkeeper to allow fewer goals (0.79).

While Louisville is still searching for its identity, Lund has managed to keep them in the conversation for the playoffs.

Coach of the Year: Becki Tweed, Angel City

Shortlist: Sean Nahas, Juan Carlos Amorós, Mike Norris

Becki Tweed might be the interim head coach for Angel City, but she’s led the team on an astounding turnaround after the team parted ways with Freya Coombe in June. Since then, the team has put together an 11-game unbeaten streak. Not much has changed; Tweed has just made things a little bit clearer and in turn has made Angel City a possible postseason contender.

If Angel City qualifies for the playoffs, naming Tweed as coach of the year is a no-brainer. But Sean Nahas has led Gotham on a tear in his first year as head coach, turning them into one of the best teams in the league. Part of the success is due to the addition of Lynn Williams. But he’s also managed to bring World Cup champion Esther González to the NWSL, which has further boosted the club as it makes a push for the playoffs. If the winner of this award isn’t Tweed, Nahas should take it home.

Orlando Pride forward Messiah Bright and Gotham FC midfielder Jenna Nighswonger are among the players battling it out for Rookie of the Year. (Cory Knowlton/USA TODAY Sports)

Rookie of the Year: Messiah Bright, Orlando Pride

Shortlist: Alyssa Thompson, Paige Metayer, Jenna Nighswonger

This year’s Rookie of the Year race is less clear-cut, but Messiah Bright has continued to stand out amongst the rookie class. Her six goals lead all rookies, and she’s worked well with Adriana and Marta down in Orlando.

Alyssa Thompson also has been a bright spot for Angel City, putting her in contention for this award. She came out hot in her first NWSL season and has been consistently getting better as the season has progressed.

The North Carolina Courage will host Racing Louisville at 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday with the 2023 NWSL Challenge Cup title on the line. Catch all the action on CBS.

While this year could mark the end of the Challenge Cup tournament as we know it, the prize pool stands at a hefty $1 million — including $10,000 per player to the winning team.

Racing Louisville secured their spot in the championship match with a 1-0 win over OL Reign, while the Courage got a 1-0 win of their own over the Kansas City Current to make their second consecutive Challenge Cup final.

What to know about Racing Louisville

  • This is their first Challenge Cup final. The No. 4 seed heading into the semifinals, the club finished in second place in its group but snuck into the knockout stage.
  • Savannah DeMelo leads Challenge Cup scoring for Louisville with three goals and one assist in the tournament through just four Challenge Cup games played. The midfielder missed several group-stage matches while playing for the U.S. women’s national team at the 2023 World Cup.
  • Racing Louisville were without captain Jaelin Howell and defender Carson Pickett for Wednesday’s semifinal but still managed a win by capitalizing on a turnover in the 28th minute. Kirsten Davis scored the game’s lone goal. “She has been taking one step forward,” head coach Kim Björkegren said of the development of Davis. “She has better control over everything: the ball and the target play. She can keep the ball for us much stronger.”
  • Katie Lund has been outstanding in net throughout the Challenge Cup, recording three clean sheets, which is tied for the league lead in the tournament.
  • This will be Racing’s third cup final but first in an NWSL competition. The club won the first-ever Women’s Cup in 2021 before losing last year’s Women’s Cup final. “It’s been such a ride,” Lund said of the team’s journey. “We’ve been up and we’ve been down. But I truly believe this is the best team we’ve ever had. The belief is there. The support that we have is incredible. And we felt that tonight. So, just the energy around this club right now is really positive and we hope we can move that to Saturday.”

What to know about North Carolina

  • This is North Carolina’s second-straight Challenge Cup final appearance, with the Courage having won their first title in 2022. “I said to them after the game, it was a moment. It was a moment that we’ll remember,” said Courage head coach Sean Nahas following the team’s semifinal. “It was a true test of character for our group. We knew we had it in us.”
  • Brianna Pinto scored the game winner in the semifinal, which proved to be the game’s only goal, in the 96th minute. “I think we did a really great job re-setting our culture,” Pinto said of the team’s overhaul in the last year in the wake of the scandal involving former coach Paul Riley. “Everyone has bought into it.”
  • Kerolin was named the MVP of the 2022 final, a 2-1 victory over the Washington Spirit. She has been quiet in this year’s campaign but has generated four shots on goal through four matches, which is tied for second on the squad.
  • Brittany Ratcliffe leads the team with three goals through six games played. Haley Hopkins and Olivia Wingate have the most points, with two goals and two assists each.
  • The Courage will play host in this year’s Challenge Cup final. “For us to have the opportunity to win a trophy on Saturday is massive, especially at home and especially for this young group,” Nahas said. “It’s a moment that’s only going to help us grow and improve and believe in ourselves.”

With five games remaining in the NWSL regular season, the players who have excelled in 2023 are beginning to wrap up their individual awards campaigns. While the 2023 World Cup took a number of stars away from their squads, a well-timed Challenge Cup break allowed many to miss as few regular season matches as possible, making the awards race as compelling as ever.

As we head into the home stretch of the season, here’s how my current NWSL awards ballot is shaping up.

MVP: Sophia Smith, Portland Thorns

Shortlist: Kerolin, Adriana, Sam Coffey

While Smith has missed a few regular season games due to the World Cup (and may miss more due to an MCL sprain), she has once again been a standout among many in 2023. She leads the league in goals scored with 11, in addition to an impressive tally of five assists. Her dribbling abilities are unmatched, as teams build their entire game plans around trying to stop her from running in on goal to little avail.

If Smith misses the rest of the season due to her injury, the scales might tip out of her favor simply due to availability. But based on her per-game 90-minute impact, she is worthy of the MVP trophy for a second straight year.

Defender of the Year: Sam Staab, Washington Spirit

Shortlist: Sarah Gorden, Ali Krieger, Michelle Alozie

Sam Staab is such a steady presence along the Washington Spirit backline that at times she undeservedly fades into the background of the awards conversation. Partnering with first-time center-back Tara McKeown, she is the anchor of a defense that has undergone extensive change in recent years. While Washington’s defense hasn’t been perfect this year, Staab consistently controls space while playing a key role in the Spirit’s ball progression, including long-ball distribution.

Washington’s defense has tightened up in the second half of the season, giving Staab my nod over players in more staunch units. She’s been one of the better center-backs in the league for years, and 2023 is no different.

(Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports)

Goalkeeper of the Year: Katie Lund, Racing Louisville

Shortlist: Kailen Sheridan, Aubrey Kingsbury, Abby Smith

Katie Lund has been overlooked for major postseason awards due to Louisville’s difficulty with getting above the playoff line, but 2023 should be her year. She’s consistently one of the best shot-stoppers in the league, excelling both when Louisville’s defense is struggling and when she has seasoned veterans like Abby Erceg in front of her. Lund leads the NWSL in saves and leads the league’s goalkeepers in American Soccer Analysis’ goals added metric, based on her elite ability to stop shots.

Louisville increasingly looks like a team with a number of stars that can’t quite find the winning combination to contend for the playoffs, but Lund has been a steady standout for years.

Coach of the Year: Becki Tweed, Angel City

Shortlist: Juan Carlos Amorós, Mark Parsons, Sean Nahas

It’s unconventional to put an interim manager up for Coach of the Year, but Becki Tweed has flipped the script. Tweed has only been in charge of Angel City since June 14, after the club parted ways with Freya Coombe, but her ability to build off the team’s foundation has been impressive to witness. The squad is currently undefeated under her management, without having drastically changed their style of play. Tweed has simply adjusted the clarity of instruction to help turn Angel City’s players into the best versions of themselves.

Tweed’s candidacy for Coach of the Year may be dependent on the Los Angeles club qualifying for their first playoff appearance, but her work is at least deserving of a permanent job and a shot at steering the team in the future.

(Nathan Ray Seebeck/USA TODAY Sports)

Rookie of the Year: Messiah Bright, Orlando Pride

Shortlist: Paige Metayer, Alyssa Thompson, Jenna Nighswonger

When Messiah Bright fell to the second round of the 2023 NWSL Draft, it seemed fated that the forward out of TCU would make a number of teams regret letting her pass them by. Bright has been a spark plug for a rising Orlando Pride team, collaborating well with players like Adriana and Marta and developing a talent for putting the ball in the back of the net.

With six goals so far during the regular season, she’s showcasing a tenacity that will only grow with the more NWSL minutes she plays. Whether she can get Orlando above the playoff line remains to be seen, but Bright has the skills to excel in the league for years to come.

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

The U.S. women’s national team recently announced its friendly schedule for the October international window, with two games against World Cup quarterfinalists Colombia in Utah and California.

With the understanding that the team’s September games against South Africa are intended to celebrate the World Cup squad (and give Megan Rapinoe the farewell she deserves), October should bring larger roster implications. The window will give the U.S. a chance to shake up the player pool as they look to rebound from a disappointing 2023.

It’s unclear whether the team will be under new permanent management by October after the resignation of head coach Vlatko Andonovski, but leadership will be eager to reset a roster that got exposed at the World Cup. The good news for the USWNT is that there are many players excelling in the NWSL who would be great candidates for fresh looks in camp ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Here are five players I’d like to see compete for a spot on a new-look USWNT.

Sam Coffey, M, Portland Thorns

Coffey is perhaps the most obvious choice on this list as a player with some USWNT experience already. Coffey is a defensive midfielder who plays more in the style of Andi Sullivan than Julie Ertz, known for her ability to distribute and win the ball at the NWSL level. The 24-year-old is already an NWSL champion and hasn’t slowed down this year. She’s recorded a league-leading seven assists in the regular season as Portland has surged to first place despite a number of World Cup absences.

Coffey’s ability to break lines as a passer from a deep-lying midfield position is not something the U.S. prioritized under Andonovski in 2023. But ball distribution will likely be a point of focus after the World Cup as the team rethinks its shape and structure, and Coffey should be one of the first players called back into the team.

Katie Lund, GK, Racing Louisville

While Alyssa Naeher is already a USWNT legend, the program is looking for a clear successor to the 35-year-old goalkeeper. Casey Murphy has the most U.S. experience of the current group, and Aubrey Kingsbury has been excellent at the league level. But if the whole player pool is getting a rethink, Racing Louisville’s Katie Lund has proven she can handle the necessary shot-stopping to earn a call-up to camp.

Lund is leading the NWSL in saves for the second straight year, and she also leads the league in American Soccer Analysis’ goals added metric based on her elite ability to stop shots. The U.S. has increasingly prioritized goalkeepers who are comfortable with the ball at their feet, which is something even Naeher developed over time. But if the team believes that element can be coached, Lund has every other tool necessary to compete at an international level.

Jaedyn Shaw, F/M, San Diego Wave

Jaedyn Shaw had a legitimate argument for inclusion on the USWNT’s 2023 World Cup roster in the absence of Mallory Swanson due to a knee injury. Shaw has all the capabilities of a classic U.S. winger, exploiting space on the dribble to make defenders miss and providing scoring opportunities for herself and her teammates.

But what makes Shaw an even more exciting USWNT prospect is her composure on the ball, which far exceeds what one might expect from an 18-year-old. She can play in a creative midfield role as well as on the wings, picking out tricky passes with the same ease as when she’s progressing the ball on the dribble. In fact, Shaw could be the heir to Rose Lavelle’s place on the field as much as she can contribute in wide areas now. She’s a must-have as the U.S. reshapes its roster.

Morgan Weaver has earned two caps with the senior USWNT in her career. (Soobum Im/USA TODAY Sports)

Morgan Weaver, F, Portland Thorns

Weaver has been a steady force for Portland in 2023, finding ways to impact games from wide areas and contributing from the inside when needed. Weaver brings a high-motor intensity to her work both with and without the ball, knowing when to provide width and get to the endline, and when to pull defenders centrally to create space for her teammates. She has five goals and four assists so far this season, and could carry even more responsibility if the knee injury Sophia Smith sustained over the weekend ends up sidelining her for an extended period of time.

Weaver also has — for lack of a more defined term — the intangibles the USWNT has long prioritized. Whether starting or playing off the bench, she brings a desire to win that puts opponents on their heels. She can fill a variety of roles for a team that sometimes struggles to get the right combination on the field, and she’d bring a personality that seems to fit right in with the USWNT’s most intense competitors.

Sam Staab, D, Washington Spirit

If there’s one thing we learned from the 2023 World Cup, it’s that center-back depth can disappear in an instant. Andonovski made the call before the tournament began that he trusted a pairing of Ertz and Naomi Girma over other options like Alana Cook and Emily Sonnett. There are also questions of whether longtime captain Becky Sauerbrunn will re-enter the fold, whether Tierna Davidson will regain her form, and whether Ertz will step away from the sport entirely.

The U.S. desperately needs to go back to the scouting board at the center-back position, and Staab should be high on their list. She’s the Spirit’s iron woman, providing a steady durability the USWNT has missed in recent years. She can disrupt play with her positioning and send a long ball forward on a dime, and her NWSL experience should allow her to become a contributor quickly. Staab also has long throw-in capabilities, giving any team extended set-piece opportunities in the final third. The 26-year-old has done the work, and now she deserves a look.

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

Racing Louisville FC’s Katie Lund had herself a game on Tuesday, tying the NWSL regular season single-game saves record in the club’s 1-1 tie against OL Reign.

Lund made 12 saves while allowing just one goal, a shot from Jess Fishlock in the game’s second minute.

“I want to do whatever I can for this team and I know how hard this team works,” Lund said. “I want to say it comes naturally, but it was just a good night. I was feeling it, and I’m proud of the team for fighting, for blocking shots and taking away a lot of channels that they almost could have had in addition to the ones that I saved.”

Kierstan Davis evened the score in the 46th minute and the two teams would hold even after the half, resulting in the draw.
Head coach Kim Björkegren said after the game that Lund’s career night was a makeup for the team’s previous against Portland, a 2-1 loss.

“We played against a really good team,” said Björkegren. “So even if we had the chances to score in the end we can’t cry over one point today. (Lund) had a really great game, and I’m also happy for her because she had mistakes in the previous game… It was a little bit of payback time, and she is a great goalkeeper, so I’m proud of her.”

OL Reign now sits fourth in NWSL standings with 21 points while Racing Louisville is in ninth with 12 points.

Racing Louisville clinched the inaugural Women’s Cup title in front of a roaring home crowd at Lynn Family Stadium on Saturday night.

The tournament hosts stuck out a back-and-forth match against FC Bayern Munich, beating the German club in sudden death penalties to take home the championship.

Scoreless after 45 minutes, the game didn’t start to heat up until the second half.

Klara Bühl opened up scoring, striking a low shot past Michelle Betos to put Bayern up 1-0 in the 49th minute.

Racing Louisville equalized minutes later, with Jorian Baucom stripping the Bayern defender deep her in her own half and then beating the keeper to even the game at 1-1 in the 54th minute.

Yuki Nagasato changed the game in the 85th minute, volleying in a long cross to give Louisville the go-ahead goal late in the second half.

Bayern added to the late-game drama, equalizing in stoppage time, with Bühl forcing a Louisville own goal to tie things up.

With the match even at the end of regulation, the game went to penalties. Neither side had the advantage after 10 PKs, meaning the goalkeepers had to step to the line. Katie Lund, who came in for Michelle Betos in the game’s 70th minute, rifled a shot past the Bayern goalie to put her team out in front, then turned around and saved Bayern’s shot from the spot to earn Louisville the win.

Lund’s PK heroics earned her the Women’s Cup MVP in her professional debut.

The win keeps the Women’s Cup trophy in Louisville and provides the club with a marquee title in its first year in the NWSL.