There is just one week remaining in the 2023 NWSL regular season and several teams are in the midst of a playoff push. As clubs prepare to gothere are front runners for annual end-of-the-year awards emerging. The awards honor players and coaches for their accomplishments over the year with five categories, with a sixth honor -- the Golden Boot -- awarded to the top goal scorer of the season. So, with just a final week remaining in the regular season, who are the standout contenders in each category?
Let's take a look at each award:
Coach of the Year
Contenders: Sean Nahas (North Carolina Courage), Casey Stoney (San Diego Wave FC)
Dark Horses: Juan Carlos Amoros (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Mark Parsons (Washington Spirit)
Long shots: Becki Tweed (Angel City FC)
Casey Stoney earned the honors last season as San Diego was the first-ever natural expansion side to make the playoffs and despite some regular season skids, the team is in a strong position to return to the postseason. North Carolina head coach Sean Nahas leads managers this year in results on the pitch and is coming off a 2023 Challenge Cup title. Courage players have bought in and are executing the tactics and if they return back to the postseason, he's a front-runner for the accolade.
Gotham FC's Juan Carlos Amoros is in his first season with his roster, while the Spirit's Mark Parsons returned to Spirit (and NWSL) this year, and both coaches have their teams in playoff position. Angel City interim head coach Becki Tweed has only been in charge of the team since June but went on an incredible 11-game unbeaten run under her leadership, and the club is just one point shy of the playoff line heading into Decision Day.
Goalkeeper of the Year
Contenders: Kalien Sheridan (San Diego Wave FC), Jane Campbell (Houston Dash)
Dark horses: Aubrey Kingsbury (Washington Spirit), Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage)
Long shots: Katie Lund (Racing Louisville FC)
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The contenders for goalkeeping honors have a crowded field this year. Sheridan, Smith, Kingsbury and Murphy each have kept their teams in playoff contention this season. Canadian international Sheridan took home the honors last season and through 18 appearances for San Diego is in a good position to retake the award. She's tied for first with Campbell with the most clean sheets (eight) this season.
Murphy holds second for most clean sheets (seven) while Kingsbury is third in the league in crosses claimed (21) and both split time with the USWNT this year. Houston and Louisville's struggles might work against them in terms of this award despite both keepers leading the league in save percentage with Campbell being No. 1 in the league (83.7%) and Lund in second (78.6%).
Defender of the Year
Contenders: Kaleigh Kurtz (North Carolina), Sam Staab (Washington Spirit), Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave FC)
Dark horses: Kaleigh Riehl (San Diego Wave FC), Tara McKeown (Washington Spirit), Natalia Kuikka (Portland Thorns FC)
Long shots: Ali Krieger (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Sarah Gorden (Angel City FC), Abby Erceg (Racing Louisville FC), Kylie Strom (Orlando Pride)
This is arguably the most difficult category to select a winner let alone finalists. Several playoff-bound teams could easily have multiple candidates, especially during a World Cup year where teams saw players step up in performances.
Reigning winner Naomi Girma has built another strong case this year amidst some time away at the World Cup. A late second-half surge and playoff push will firmly center her in the conversation again, but her center back partner, Riehl, has been a key fixture on San Diego's backline as well. Riehl is among the top ten in the league for total clearances (74) with Washington's McKeown (111) as No. 1.
If playoff positioning helps to boost the chances for players in the mix, Spirit defenders McKeown and Staab can rival San Diego's Girma and Reighl. At the same time, Kaleigh Kurtz has been the anchor for North Carolina this season. Kurtz and Staab are tied for third in shot blocks (19), behind league leader Erceg (27). Gotham's Krieger has been a major asset on defense this year and is second in the league in dual success percentage (64.5), but despite the team's playoff position, her 16 regular season games are a shorter metric than other candidates in the field.
Angel City's Gorden is having another ironwoman-caliber season for the squad and doing it off an ACL injury, while Orlando's Strom leads defenders in the league in duels (270). If either team can break through into the playoffs on Decision Day, it could launch them into the awards spotlight.
Rookie of the Year
Contenders: Messiah Bright (Orlando Pride), Jenna Nighswonger (NJ/NY Gotham FC)
Dark horses: Michelle Cooper (Kansas City), Alyssa Thompson (Angel City FC), Paige Metayer (Washington Spirit)
Long shots: Penelope Hocking (Chicago Red Stars), Emily Madril (Orlando Pride)
Last year's rookie class was full of talent for the individual award and this year is no different. Nighswonger has elevated her profile as an outside back this season and scored three goals. Cooper, Thompson, Metayer and Hocking all have three goals scored this season, but Bright leads all rookies with six goals through 18 weeks of play. While Thompson and Cooper went No. 1 and No. 2 overall in the draft, No. 3 draft pick Madril leads all rookies in minutes played.
Contenders: Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC), Kerolin (North Carolina Courage)
Dark horses: Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit), Debinha (Kansas City Current)
Long shots: Morgan Weaver (Portland Thorns FC), Lynn Williams (NJ/NY Gotham FC)
Smith leads the race with 11 goals but a recent "mild" MCL sprain has kept the forward week to week for the Thorns. She recently returned to the pitch off the bench and played seven minutes. Kerolin has the best chance to close the gap with 10 goals heading into Decision Day, while Hatch and Debinha each have nine goals.
Gotham's Williams and Portland's Weaver each have seven goals. Williams has cooled off since her hot start to the season, and Weaver has the spotlight on her with Smith returning from injury, though there is still time to make the race interesting.
Contenders: Kerolin (North Carolina Courage), Sam Coffey (Portland Thorns FC)
Dark horse: Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit), Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC)
Long shots: Bethany Balcer (OL Reign)
Plenty can change over the final weeks of the regular season. There's no denying the level Smith brings to Portland, and the team has already felt her absence, but Coffey's stellar sophomore season has been another bright spot for the Thorns. She leads the league in assists (eight) this season and is third on the team in chances created (36).
Kerolin has also elevated her game, adding three assists to her nine goals, and she is second on the Courage in chances created (32). The Spirit are just a better team when Rodman is on the pitch. She's provided the spark for offensive attacks with five goals and two assists, but her effort to win the ball is unmatched as she leads the league in duals (310). Balcer is first for most goals scored (six) on the Reign this season and is one of two Reign players to play 21 games.