Kerolin is the 2023 NWSL MVP.

The league announced the 23-year-old Brazilian forward as the Most Valuable Player, making her the first Latin American player and the first North Carolina Courage player to win the award. Eight previous Courage players had been nominated, but none of them took home the hardware.

Kerolin scored 10 goals on the season, finishing as runner-up to Portland Thorns forward Sophia Smith (11 goals) in the Golden Boot race. She’s just the third Brazilian and the fourth Courage player to finish with a double-digit goal total in an NWSL regular season. With three assists, she also finished second in the league in points.

Her expected goals ranked third in the NWSL, while she ranked sixth in total shots and fourth in shots on target per 90. She finished first in the league in shot-creating actions with 91 and successful take-ons with 67. She ranked in the top 10 in the league in 28  statistical categories.

A member of the NWSL 2023 Best XI first team, she also led North Carolina to its second straight NWSL Challenge Cup title, scoring the team’s winning goal. It was the Courage’s seventh league trophy, the most in NWSL history.

Kerolin beat out four other nominees for the MVP award: Smith and Sam Coffey of the Portland Thorns, Debinha of the Kansas City Current and Naomi Girma of the San Diego Wave.

From Gotham FC, Juan Carlos Amorós was named Coach of the Year and Jenna Nighswonger won Rookie of the Year. Girma was named Defender of the Year, while Jane Campbell of the Houston Dash was named Goalkeeper of the Year.

Kerolin will miss the 2023 NWSL playoffs for the North Carolina Courage.

The 23-year-old Brazilian midfielder tore the ACL in her right knee in the regular-season finale. The 1-0 win over the Washington Spirit clinched a postseason berth for the Courage, but they will enter Sunday’s quarterfinal against Gotham FC without their best player.

Kerolin joined North Carolina in 2022, signing a three-year deal with the club, but her breakout season came in 2023. She finished second to Portland Thorns forward Sophia Smith in scoring with 10 goals, including a hat trick on June 10 against the Chicago Red Stars. But with Smith missing nearly a quarter of the season with injury, Kerolin stood out as the front-runner for the MVP award.

In addition to her regular-season success, she led the Courage to a second consecutive NWSL Challenge Cup title. She scored the game-winning goal in the championship match, a 2-0 win against Racing Louisville on Sept. 9. And she played for Brazil at the 2023 World Cup.

The No. 3 seed Courage will host No. 6 seed Gotham FC in a quarterfinal contest at 7 p.m. ET Sunday at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina. The match will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network. The winner will advance to face the No. 2 seed Portland Thorns in the semifinals on Nov. 5.

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.

This season was one of the most competitive in the NWSL’s history. With the 2023 World Cup pulling players away from their clubs, despite scheduling changes to mitigate absences, the season featured ebbs and flows. Teams battled every week to gain an edge, and the final standings and playoff spots came down to the final day of matches on Sunday.

Consequently, it was an interesting year for individual performances. The San Diego Wave, the NWSL Shield winners, played gritty team football rather than being carried by one particular player. The Portland Thorns looked like the best team in the league at times, but they struggled with consistent form. And some of the best players of all couldn’t get their teams into the playoffs.

With many factors in play, here is my shortlist for 2023 NWSL MVP.

Kerolin, F, North Carolina Courage

Kerolin ticks a number of boxes that you want when you’re looking for 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.

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 contend for the 2023 playoffs. North Carolina went on to surprise everyone, playing more methodically but staying equally as threatening in the attack, led by Kerolin’s steady performance.

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 to be considered an MVP frontrunner.

(Troy Wayrynen/USA TODAY Sports)

Sam Coffey, M, Portland Thorns

The Thorns had an up-and-down year of player availability, due to the World Cup and lingering injury issues. As a result, Portland’s success came in spurts, with different players adding to a collective whole. Sophia Smith was statistically the most impressive player in the league before international duty and a knee injury kept her sidelined for much of the final third of the season. Morgan Weaver then picked up the slack, making key goal contributions down the stretch to earn Portland a top-two finish for the second year in a row.

But in terms of consistency, Sam Coffey is the Thorns’ best MVP candidate. Coffey handled a USWNT World Cup snub with grace, anchoring the Portland midfield as a disruptor on defense and a distributive engine in the attack. She finished the season with eight assists, three more than the next closest player, while adjusting to an ever-changing lineup of players around her. She played alongside multiple attacking midfielders, never wavering in her ability to connect and facilitate the league’s most effective attack.

Although the Thorns fell just short of the Shield again in 2023, they played some of the most cohesive soccer throughout the season largely thanks to Coffey.

(Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports)

Adriana, F, Orlando Pride

Voting philosophies for MVP can take on different lines of thinking. Should the award reflect the best player on the best team? Should it reward the top statistical performer in the NWSL? Or should it showcase a player whose team would struggle the most without them?

If we’re arguing for the last point, Adriana needs to be in the conversation. Her contributions flew under the radar at times, despite her scoring six goals and notching four assists throughout the regular season. The Brazilian attacker had the stats to back up her performances, sitting third in American Soccer Analysis’ goals added metric in large part due to her magical abilities on the ball.

In addition to her striking talents, Adriana is an excellent dribbler of the ball, bringing a dynamism to the Orlando attack that almost carried the team into the playoffs for the first time since 2017. While they fell short this time, the Pride look like a team prepped for the future, with Adriana’s breakout success a key part of that foundation.

(Nathan Ray Seebeck/USA TODAY Sports)

Jaedyn Shaw, F/M, San Diego Wave

The Wave never relied on one single player on their way to finishing at the top of the NWSL table. Abby Dahlkemper’s midseason return shook up their staunch defense, and the team went through a rough patch before rounding into form late in the year. Jaedyn Shaw stood out among the rest for taking her added responsibilities in the attack and the midfield in stride. And if MVP should reward consistency, growth, and team reliance, the teenager deserves a look.

Shaw has scored the most goals as a teenager in NWSL history, breaking the record previously held by Trinity Rodman. The 18-year-old added key elements to her game in 2023: She adjusted to becoming more of a playmaker and facilitator as much as a goal scorer, and she showcased dribbling and passing abilities that will only improve over time. Shaw scored six goals and notched three assists in the regular season, often keeping the Wave in games as they found their form.

In her second professional season, there’s an argument that Shaw is not only the best young player in the league, but also one of the best players regardless of age. As a key part of the Wave’s Shield run, she has a serious case for MVP.

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

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.

Kerolin pulled within one goal of Sophia Smith for the top spot in the NWSL Golden Boot race in the latest match week, setting up for an exciting end to the season.

With just two games remaining in the regular season, Kerolin could overtake the injured Smith if she scores in each of the North Carolina Courages’s final two contests. But Smith has been back in training with the Portland Thorns, and she could make a surprise return before the playoffs.

And while it’s likely too late for Alex Morgan to take the title, she did get her first goal in four months, bringing an end to her scoring drought. Several other players joined her in scoring their sixth goals on the season, with Adriana and Bethany Balcer also finding the back of the net over the weekend.

Trending upward: Kerolin, North Carolina Courage

Kerolin’s goal against OL Reign provided the game-saver the Courage needed to stay in the running for the NWSL Shield. Her goal in the 1-1 draw assured her team of a crucial standings point. It also marked her second in the last three games, so the 23-year-old is peaking at the right time.

With just two games left in the regular season, the Brazilian forward will need to stay hot to overtake Smith for the Golden Boot. She needs two goals to do so, as the tiebreaker would go to the Thorns forward.

Things we love to see: An Alex Morgan goal

Entering the most recent NWSL weekend, it had been far too long since Alex Morgan scored a goal – for club or country. A four-month drought is not something we’re accustomed to seeing from the star striker, so to have her score in the San Diego Wave’s 2-0 win over the Portland Thorns – a key win in the race for the Shield – was like taking that first sip of ice-cold water on a hot summer’s day.

The goal was nothing to sneeze at, either, with Morgan heading the ball from 10 yards out on a cross from Christen Westphal. And with a new head coach coming soon to the USWNT, one can only hope that the goal-scoring extends to the international level.

NWSL leaderboard

  • 11 goals
    • Sophia Smith, Portland Thorns
  • 10 goals
    • Kerolin, North Carolina Courage
  • 9 goals
    • Ashley Hatch, Washington Spirit
  • 8 goals
    • Debinha, Kansas City Current
  • 7 goals
    • Lynn Williams, Gotham FC
    • Morgan Weaver, Portland Thorns
  • 6 goals
    • Messiah Bright, Orlando Pride
    • Bethany Balcer, OL Reign
    • Adriana, Orlando Pride
    • Alex Morgan, San Diego Wave
  • 5 goals
    • Savannah DeMelo, Racing Louisville
    • Crystal Dunn, Portland Thorns
    • Cece Kizer, Kansas City Current
    • Tyler Lussi, North Carolina Courage
    • Ashley Sanchez, Washington Spirit
    • Jordyn Huitema, OL Reign
    • Jaedyn Shaw, San Diego Wave

The NWSL in September was full of fast and furious competition, leading the Shield and playoff race to tighten with every passing week. After August favored defensive players, attackers had a very strong September, and their teams crowded the top of the NWSL table.

Here are our picks for the most outstanding players of the regular season in September, with one player leading the way.

Player of the Month

Kerolin, F, North Carolina Courage

Kerolin had another exceptional month in the NWSL regular season, scoring two goals and notching two assists in September to keep North Carolina firmly in the league’s competitive playoff race. One of those goals came on Oct. 1, but with that slate of games technically closing out the final match week of September, we’re giving it the nod here.

The Brazilian forward’s most comprehensive performance of the month came on Sept. 2, when she scored one goal and registered two assists in a wild 3-3 draw against Shield contender Gotham FC. Kerolin ranks in the top four of both American Soccer Analysis’ goals added category and xG metrics for the month, keeping the Courage alive as they have otherwise struggled to turn chance creation into goals. She now sits on 10 goals, just one behind league leader Sophia Smith, who returned to training with the Thorns last week after suffering a mild MCL sprain in August.

Kerolin also had a goal in the Courage’s Challenge Cup final victory. While that does not technically count toward the regular season awards, it just serves as more evidence of how in-form the 23-year-old has been since she returned from the World Cup.

Honorable mentions

Jaedyn Shaw, M/F, San Diego Wave

Jaedyn Shaw continued to step into a larger role in the San Diego attack in September, scoring one goal and recording one assist as the Wave became the first team to clinch a playoff spot. Shaw has the ability to thread the ball into the box from an attacking midfield position, and she is also very comfortable running to the endline to send low crosses in for her teammates to capitalize on in front of net.

Alex Morgan, F, San Diego Wave

Alex Morgan ended her goal drought of almost four months in the Wave’s final match of September, sealing a huge win over Portland that lifted them to the top of the NWSL table and a playoff spot. The goal is a great sign that Morgan can overcome whatever mental block was ailing her in recent months. Her resurgence would be a boon for the Wave in the postseason after Morgan was excellent in all other attacking facets this month, including ASA’s goals added and xG metrics.

Bianca St-Georges, D/M, Chicago Red Stars

Despite a tough climb into playoff contention, the Red Stars went undefeated in September, not least because of the confident play of Bianca St-Georges. St-Georges has become one of Chicago’s best attacking outlets on the right wing, as the team continues to compensate for the loss of injured star forward Mallory Swanson. The 26-year-old can cover a lot of ground in defensive transition and send the ball into the goal from tight wide spaces, and her two goals in September have kept Chicago alive.

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.

Sophia Smith may be out with an injury, but so far nobody has come close to touching the Portland Thorns star in the NWSL Golden Boot race.

While it’s tight atop the table, with just four goals separating six players, Smith has retained the lead despite missing two consecutive matchweeks with an MCL sprain. She leads the way with 11 goals, while Ashley Hatch and Kerolin have nine, and neither of them found the back of the net this weekend.

So what makes the 23-year-old forward the front-runner for the Golden Boot, even with her injury keeping her off the pitch?

Simply put: Other players have failed to step up. Her Thorns teammate Morgan Weaver is the only player to have been consistent in her scoring over the last three weeks, tallying three goals in three games to bring herself within four goals of Smith. Weaver is tied with Debinha of the Kansas City Current and Lynn Williams of Gotham FC with seven on the season.

Yet with three games left in the regular season, the idea that Weaver, Debinha or Williams could tie or overcome Smith is a stretch.

Looking at the two players just two goals behind to Smith, Hatch has two goals in her last five games for the Washington Spirit. And while she had not gone more than one regular-season match without scoring since June, that changed in September, as she has not scored in each of Washington’s last two games.

While Hatch could get two goals in the next three games to close out the season, that would be a big ask against Kansas City, OL Reign and the North Carolina Courage. Both the Reign and the Courage have been defensively sound this season.

Additionally, Hatch hasn’t scored against Kansas City or OL Reign yet in the 2023 regular season, and she scored just once against North Carolina all the way back in April.

Kerolin’s output has been similar, with two goals in the last five games for the Courage. Her stats are buoyed by a hat trick scored against Chicago in June. And with games against OL Reign, the San Diego Wave and the Spirit coming up, it could be difficult for her to close the gap with Smith. The 23-year-old forward failed to score in North Carolina’s first game against the Reign and scored one each against San Diego and Washington.

And even if either Kerolin or Hatch were to match Smith’s 11 goals, Smith holds the edge in the tiebreaker with five assists, which sits second in the league behind teammate Sam Coffey. Kerolin has just three assists, while Hatch has two. So both players more than likely would need to surpass the 11-goal threshold to beat Smith, which would mean scoring at least a goal in each of their final three games.

While not statistically impossible, that does mean Smith still holds the best odds to take home the Golden Boot for the 2023 NWSL season. The reigning league MVP scored six goals in June ahead of the World Cup, and that surge could propel her to the trophy even as she remains sidelined week-to-week with her knee injury.

The North Carolina Courage successfully defended their 2022 Challenge Cup title Saturday, taking home the 2023 crown with a 2-0 win over Racing Louisville. With the victory, the club has seven NWSL titles in seven years – two Challenge Cups, three Shields, and two league championships.

After knocking on the door throughout the Challenge Cup, Kerolin got the Courage on the board early and they never looked back. Manaka Matuskubo got the team’s second in the 54th minute, making the 19-year-old the youngest player to score in any NWSL title game and earning her MVP honors.

“It’s a world-class finish,” Courage coach Sean Nahas said of Matuskubo’s strike. “I don’t think anyone else would have thought about hitting that first time out of the air. I think it shows the level of IQ she has. … I’m thrilled for her.

“She was shocked that she won the MVP. But for a 19-year-old to come into this environment and have an impact I think says a lot about her.”

In addition to Matuskubo, who deserves to be among the Best XI for the Challenge Cup semifinals and championship match? Just Women’s Sports makes our picks from the North Carolina Courage, Racing Louisville, OL Reign and Kansas City Current.

2023 NWSL Challenge Cup: Best XI

GK – Casey Murphy (North Carolina)

While the goal scorers were key for the Courage, the USWNT goalkeeper recorded two clean sheets in the semifinals and the final, saving three shots total, to help ensure consecutive Challenge Cup titles for her team.

D – Ryan Williams (North Carolina)

Williams played a key role on the Courage back line, which allowed just three shots on target throughout the Challenge Cup semifinal and final. In the championship match, she won three of her tackles and recorded two interceptions.

D – Malia Berkely (North Carolina)

Against Kansas City in Wednesday’s 1-0 semifinal win, Berkely recorded three tackles and one interception, while recording a game-high 97.7% completion rate on her passes, finishing on 86 of 88 attempts. Against Louisville, she also recorded a shot on target.

D – Phoebe McClernon (OL Reign)

McClernon was all over the field defensively for OL Reign in their semifinal loss to Racing Louisville, recording a game-high six tackles and three interceptions. She also held a 72.4% completion rate on 58 attempted passes, and her 42 completions were second only to teammate Sofia Huerta.

M – Brianna Pinto (North Carolina)

Pinto scored the game-winner in North Carolina’s semifinal matchup against Kansas City in stoppage time to send the team to the Challenge Cup final. While she had just 11 touches, she made the most of them, completing five of six total passes.

M – Denise O’Sullivan (North Carolina)

The foundation of North Carolina’s defensive midfield, O’Sullivan winning a game-high seven tackles in the championship match. Against Kansas City in the semifinal, she had an astounding 90.8% completion rate on her passes, and she had two tackles and one block while also recording a shot.

M – Savannah DeMelo (Louisville)

Before leaving for the World Cup with the USWNT, DeMelo was one of Louisville’s best Challenge Cup players. And she picked up where she left off upon her return. Against OL Reign, she had three shots – including one on target – while also recording two tackles and two blocks. Her 0.3 xG was the best for Louisville in that game.

M – Mana Matsukubo (North Carolina)

North Carolina’s 19-year-old midfielder made history in the NWSL Challenge Cup final, earning her a spot on the tournament’s Best XI. She had two shots – both of which were on target – in the final, converting on the one.

F – Kerolin (North Carolina)

The Brazilian star placed among the league’s top shot-takers throughout the Challenge Cup but had not converted until Saturday, when she scored the game-winner against Louisville. She finished the match with five shots, three of them on target. She also played well in the semifinal, recording two shots, one tackle and a team-high four blocks.

F – Michelle Cooper (Kansas City)

The 20-year-old rookie out of Duke had a great semifinal game for the Current, recording a team-high two shots and three tackles. Her 0.6 xG led the Current, and she also had a 72.2% completion rate on her passes.

F – Kirsten Davis (Louisville)

Davis helped Racing Louisville to their first-ever NWSL championship game with a goal against OL Reign in the semifinal. She also had a tackle and a block in that game while completing 78.6% of her passes.