Sophia Smith returned to NWSL play over the weekend. And while she didn’t score a goal to extend her lead in the NWSL Golden Boot race, nobody within striking distance of her 11-goal tally did either.

There’s just one game remaining in the regular season, meaning that Kerolin would need to score a brace in order to secure the Golden Boot. Both Ashley Hatch and Debinha would need a hat trick, as Smith’s five assists still put her ahead in the tiebreak.

The Portland Thorns star entered her team’s 1-0 win over Gotham FC on Saturday in the 83rd minute, marking her first NWSL appearance in 41 days after suffering a mild MCL sprain on Aug. 28. And she’s returned in a good place, with Portland atop the NWSL rankings and her atop the Golden Boot race.

Add a point: Debinha

Debinha was one of six players to get in on the scoring onslaught for Kansas City in their 6-3 win over Chicago on Saturday. Debinha’s goal was the team’s fourth of the match and came just after halftime. It was also the ninth of the season for the Brazilian star, pulling her into a tie for third with Hatch.

No other Golden Boot leaders scored over the weekend, making the race for the award a bit clearer as the NWSL heads into the final games of the regular season.

One for the future: Alyssa Thompson

While 18-year-old Jaedyn Shaw leads all teenagers this season in scoring, another 18-year-old provided an immediate and much-needed boost for Angel City in their 2-1 comeback win on Sunday night. Thompson’s goal in the 68th minute, coming not long after after she entered the game as a substitute, pulled Angel City level and set them up to keep their playoff hopes alive.

It also added to a record-breaking season for teenagers in the league, with players 18 and younger scoring 13 total goals in 2023, more than the goals scored by that age group in 10 years combined. Shaw leads them all with five, but Thompson now has four — which also makes her Angel City’s scoring leader this season.

NWSL leaderboard

  • 11 goals
    • Sophia Smith, Portland Thorns
  • 10 goals
    • Kerolin, North Carolina Courage
  • 9 goals
    • Ashley Hatch, Washington Spirit
    • 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

Messiah Bright is in the conversation for the NWSL Golden Boot in her first professional season, showing off the scoring touch that made her a top college player.

The race for the scoring title tightened over the weekend, with North Carolina’s Kerolin (10) pulling within one goal of Portland’s Sophia Smith (11). While the top stars are pulling away from the pack, Bright leads all rookies with six goals, so she could have a different award — Rookie of the Year — on lock.

After scoring 50 goals across five seasons at TCU, Bright saw her stock drop on draft day. Projected as a first-round pick by many prognosticators, she dropped to No. 21 overall, which has turned out to be quite the steal for the Orlando Pride.

The 23-year-old forward has started in 14 of her 20 regular-season appearances for Orlando, and she has been scoring goals from all over the place. One of her goals came off her left foot, three off her right and two from headers.

She has 12 total shots on target this season, meaning that her conversion rate on shots on target sits at 50% and ranks sixth in the league. Bright’s efficiency in goalscoring has put her in the top 10 in the league in goals (T-7th), goals per 90 (5th), xG (6th), xG/90 (4th), non-penalty goals (4th), non-penalty goals/90 (3rd) and goals per shot on target (6th).

Bright is good on aerials, too, having won 37, which puts her ninth in the league. And has had 27 successful take-ons, which also ranks ninth in the league.

All together, that’s not a bad rookie season for Bright, especially on a team in Orlando that has struggled offensively. But the Pride are trending upward, having won three of their last five. With two matches to go, they sit within striking distance of the NWSL playoffs — and if they do make it, Bright will have been a huge part of that turnaround.

And the Pride will be able to grow with their young star, as she signed a three-year deal with the club ahead of the 2023 season.

“I am beyond excited to be able to stay in purple and call Orlando home for the next few years,” Bright said at the time. “It’s always been a dream of mine to play professional soccer, and I finally get to do that with such an amazing team.”

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