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The Lowdown: My 2017 NWSL post season awards ballot

Marta scored a second-half equalizer to help the Orlando Pride earn a point on the road in Seattle.

Marta helped the Pride rise up the table after a slow start to 2017. (photo copyright Lewis Gettier)

Here is my 2017 NWSL awards ballot. Respectful comments can be sent my way via Twitter @thedanlauletta

Most Valuable Player – Marta, Orlando Pride

This was a tough one this season, but Marta gets the edge for engineering the turnaround of the Pride from a 1-3-3 side to a playoff team. She changed the entire scope of what the Pride were doing through her remarkable work rate and ball skills. Marta is not only next to impossible to muscle off the ball with one defender, but often this season she has used the extra defenders that tend to swarm her to find the inevitable open teammate in space. The Alex Morgan renaissance was the final piece that turned the Pride into contenders, but it was Marta who pulled the strings all the way to the playoffs.

Also considered:
Sam Kerr — Remarkable season for a remarkable player, but for me Marta did a bit more to help her team and was also more consistent game over game. And while Sky Blue won several matches on Kerr heroics, I’m not sure she made them better.

Megan Rapinoe — Her best coincided with the Reign’s best but it neither lasted long enough or did enough to carry the club to the playoffs

McCall Zerboni – Everyone who sat down and watched Courage matches this season knows that Zerboni made that midfield click with her tireless work rate and defensive prowess.

Coach of the Year – Tom Sermanni, Orlando Pride

Another tough one, but there are a few reasons Sermanni gets the nod over the two coaches who beat him in the standings. When the Pride opened 1-3-3, they were actually 1-10-4 dating to the middle of last July and were in a troubling habit of giving away sloppy goals and ultimately points. Neither of those has entirely left the team’s profile, but season two easily could have slid off the rails. Sermanni also made what may have been the tactical move of the season when he shifted Ali Krieger to central defense and moved Alanna Kennedy into midfield. He has been going with the patchwork answer at right back much of the season and has not been afraid to put Marta in different roles depending on tactical needs and the health of teammates.

Also considered
Mark Parsons – He flies under the radar, but for the second straight season did a masterful job of navigating a team that easily could have come apart on egos alone, not to mention one that did not have Tobin Heath until recently.

Paul Riley – The Courage were at the top of the table every Monday morning but one. That’s tough to overlook

Defender of the Year – Abby Dahlkemper, North Carolina Courage

The best defender on the best team in NWSL and the anchor of a very good backline. A steadying presence in back, Dahlkemper is not shy about inching forward when the situation calls for it and can be found on the serving and receiving end of set pieces.

Also considered
See below

Rookie of the Year – Ashley Hatch, North Carolina Courage

This year’s Rookie of the Year race started as a Rose Lavelle runaway, got blown wide open when Lavelle got injured, and crystallized when Hatch continued to make a positive impact for the Shield winners. Scoring goals at whatever the next level is for a player is no easy feat, but Hatch proved herself up to the task once given a chance to play substantive minutes. Her presence allowed Jess McDonald to remain on the bench as she nursed a hamstring injury through the second half of the season.

Also considered…
Jane Campbell – Productive rookie season for the USWNT pool keeper, who was full of highlight reel saves but also prone to positional errors and the occasional howler.

Mallory Pugh – Similar numbers to Hatch but with less overall and consistent impact.

Meggie Dougherty Howard – Solid, hard-working, two-way midfielder looks to be a key cog in the Spirit rebuild.

Rose Lavelle – Not actually considered for the ballot due to extended injury absence but she was the best rookie in the league when on the field.

Best XI

Kelley O’Hara enjoyed a strong 2017 with Sky Blue. (Photo Copyright EriMac Photo for The Equalizer)

Goalkeeper – Katelyn Rowland, North Carolina Courage — Quietly won the job from Sabrina D’Angelo a quarter of the way through the season and just as quietly kept the ship steady for the top side in the league. Rowland rarely makes a blunder and is usually in the right place. Just enough to edge Adrianna Franch.

Defender – Abby Dahlkemper, North Carolina Courage — See above

Defender – Emily Menges, Portland Thorns FC — Another solid season in the center of the Thorns defense for the one time No. 25 pick out of Georgetown.

Defender – Stephanie Catley, Orlando Pride — The Pride defense emerged as passable when Ali Krieger switched to the inside, but they were always solid on the left with Catley. The speedy Australian has also been a hidden beneficiary of the Marta Effect, often exploiting the space on the left flank and making positive contributions to the attack. Among current NWSL outside backs, none cross the ball more with more affect than Catley.

Defender – Kelley O’Hara, Sky Blue FC — I debated this one long and hard since O’Hara was part of a defense that often leaked goals at an alarming rate. But with apologies to Casey Short, O’Hara gets the nod as the superior all-around player. She often pushed up higher and for longer than any outside back should, but when she was back defending, she was rarely beat.

Midfielder – McCall Zerboni, North Carolina Courage — Incredible season anchoring the Courage midfield as an important part of both the club’s defending and attacking has her tabbed as an MVP candidate.

Midfielder — Julie Ertz, Chicago Red Stars — Remember our surprise when the Red Stars rolled out Ertz as a midfielder? It seems so common now to watch her pulverize opponents, whether it be shutting down their buildup, distributing the ball forward, or going all the way forward herself to hunt for goals. A Second XI or better selection as a defender in each of her first three seasons, she figures to get at least that far again as a midfielder.

Midfielder – Samantha Mewis, North Carolina Courage — Zerboni’s partner in crime in the Courage midfield, Mewis has quickly developed into one of the best in the business. Her deceptive height makes her a force in the air but no one serves a better long pass on the ground than Mewis.

Forward – Marta, Orlando Pride — See above

Forward – Sam Kerr, Sky Blue FC — Kerr treated us to a memorable season by scoring 17 goals to set the league record. She also gave us two of the most memorable, one-game performances ever. First she had a 12-minute hat trick to turn a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 win. Six weeks later she became the first NWSL player to score four, the fourth being a header to beat the Reign who led 3-0 at halftime.

Forward — Megan Rapinoe, Seattle Reign FC — Midseason surge may have been the best Rapinoe has ever played as she outright dominated at least a few games from her position on the left flank. And when Rapinoe was rolling, the Reign were winning.

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