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The Lowdown: My 2016 NWSL Awards Ballot

Tobin Heath and the Thorns are looking for their second NWSL Championship. Heath also gets Dan Lauletta's 2016 MVP vote. (Photo Copyright Meg Linehan for The Equalizer)

Tobin Heath and the Thorns are looking for their second NWSL Championship. Heath also gets Dan Lauletta’s 2016 MVP vote. (Photo Copyright Meg Linehan for The Equalizer)

Here is my 2016 NWSL Awards ballot. This was a difficult season as I did not feel there were many standouts. So there will likely be even more disagreements than usual. I welcome them — but let’s keep it civil.

Here goes…

Most Valuable Player – Tobin Heath, Portland Thorns FC

Heath was the engine that helped the Thorns motor to the Shield. Building on a strong finish to 2015, Heath was a dominant force whether she was on the right side or the left. For the first time on a consistent basis she made good use of her dynamic possession skills by setting up teammates and being the key cog in a very good Thorns attack. Heath set the league record for assists with 10 despite missing a half dozen matches.

also considered – Danielle Colaprico, Jessica McDonald, Lynn Williams

Defender of the Year – Emily Menges, Portland Thorns FC

Third-year defender wasn’t even a given starter when the season opened but wound up on the field for all 1,800 minutes of the Thorns’ season. In Week 2 she was pressed into a move to center back after Kat Williamson was injured and weathered the Olympic break without Emily Sonnett. Menges keyed a dramatic, 1-0 win over the Reign with the Thorns missing six starters (seven including Williamson.) At the end of the day the Thorns not only won the Shield but conceded the fewest goals in NWSL and the breakthrough season from Menges was a big reason why.

also considered – Abby Dahlkemper, Christie Rampone, Casey Short

Goalkeeper of the Year – Alyssa Naeher, Chicago Red Stars

Finally playing behind a solid defense Naeher got right to work for the Red Stars and, after a rough opening night, reeled off four consecutive shutouts to set the tone for the Red Stars. She won two more clean sheets to share the league lead with Nicole Barnhart and it was the Red Stars’ defense and Naeher that kept the club in touch until their attack came around.

also considered – Nicole Barnhart, Ashlyn Harris

Coach of the Year – Mark Parsons, Portland Thorns FC

Sure, Parsons had the most raw talent of any coach in NWSL, but arriving in a new city with the weight of the world on his shoulders and a star-laden locker room, Parsons laid out a plan for success and the new-look Thorns bought in immediately and completely. But his best work may have come in managing the depth in the team allowing them to take four of a possible six points off the Reign in matches without U.S. internationals and a 2-2-1 overall mark with the core of the team ripped out.

also considered – Christy Holly, Paul Riley

Rookie of the Year – Rachel Daly, Houston Dash

Daly made an immediate impact with a goal and an assist in her debut and later scored in three straight matches over the summer. Though her productivity waned a bit amid some trips back and forth to England Daly added a level of sophistication to the Dash attack that should be felt for years to come and gets the nod in a less than overwhelming rookie group.

also considered – Makenzy Doniak, Erica Skroski

Best XI

Goalkeeper

Alyssa Naeher, Chicago Red Stars

See above

Defenders

Arin Gilliland, Chicago Red Stars
Emily Menges, Portland Thorns FC
Christie Rampone, Sky Blue FC
Casey Short, Chicago Red Stars

Gilliland continued her development as one of the most aggressive outside backs in the league and teamed with Casey Short to form a lethal tandem for the defensively integral Red Stars.

Rampone had knee surgery over the winter and turned 41 in June but did her best to hide both of those facts with her extraordinary play. All the former U.S. captain did was play every minute for Sky Blue and nurture a backline that had two rookies starting a bulk of the matches, one of whom was usually out of position. We can only hope she graces us with one more season.

Short finally made it to NWSL after missing two seasons injured and then a recovery season in Norway. She was well worth the wait, holding down the fort vacated by Taryn Hemmings and helping make the Red Stars one of the most difficult sides to break down. Short also made her share of aggressive runs forward even as her opposite-sided foil Gilliland also spent plenty of time in the attack.

See above for Menges.

just missed the cut – Stephanie Catley, Abby Dahlkemper

Midfielders

Danielle Colaprico, Chicago Red Stars
Vanessa DiBernardo, Chicago Red Stars
Tobin Heath, Portland Thorns FC

Colaprico staked her claim as the best defensive midfielder on these shores with a remarkable follow-up to her Rookie of the Year campaign. At any given point in the season Colaprico—who started all 20 for the second straight year—could be seen winning balls deep or springing teammates to jump start the attack. She cannot be far from the top of anyone’s list of NWSL players in need of an immediate call-up to the United States national team.

DiBernardo has played the other side of the midfield and done so extremely well. Despite a variety of specific roles over her three years in Chicago, DiBernardo continues to get better. This year was her best yet as she regularly carved up opposing defenses and cleared out space for her forwards to run into.

See above for Heath.

just missed the cut – Lindsey Horan, Tori Huster, Joanna Lohman

Strikers

Kealia Ohai, Houston Dash
Lynn Williams, Western New York Flash
Christine Sinclair, Portland Thorns FC

It has been an odd season for Ohai. Halfway through she had 0 goals and 1 assist and was a candidate for most disappointing player in the league. Once it clicked, beginning July 23, she went on an historic tear finishing with 11 goals in her last 10 games and 4 total assists to finish tied for the league lead in goals with Lynn Williams. This one took some thought as it is difficult to ignore either half of her season and I can’t help but wonder if my decision would have gone the other way had her halves been reversed.

Williams blossomed into the Flash’s most dangerous player this season, betting 11 goals and making part of a sophisticated partnership with Jessica McDonald. Known for her speed coming out of college, Williams showed this season that her game is much more than that. Her ability to make the right run or the right pass, as well as use her strength to get herself into scoring position helped land her as the co-league leader in goals and on this list.

Sinclair barely played in half the games this season and did not necessarily light up the score sheet, but it was a revitalizing season for Canada’s best. But she’s not here for being revitalized, she’s here because she remains as complete a player as there is in NWSL and her fingerprints are on so much of what went right for the Thorns in the games she was on the pitch.

just missed the cut – Jessica McDonald, Nadia Nadim, Christen Press

Attendance

Here are the attendance numbers for NWSL Week 19 plus season totals with comparisons to past seasons

SATURDAY
Orlando Pride – 7,454
Boston Breakers – 4,027
Chicago Red Stars – 3,712

SUNDAY
Sky Blue FC – 3,780
Houston Dash – 5,651

WEEK 19 TOTAL: 24,624
WEEK 18 AVERAGE: 4,925

TEAM AVERAGES AND COMPARISONS

1. Portland Thorns FC – 16,945
2016: 16,945
2015: 15,639
2014: 13,362
2013: 13,320

2. Orlando Pride
2016: 8,785

3. Houston Dash
2016: 5,696
2015: 6,413
2014: 4,650

4. Seattle Reign FC
2016: 4,602
2015: 4,060
2014: 3,666
2013: 2,306

5. Western New York Flash
2016: 3,868
2015: 2,860
2014: 3,177
2013: 4,485

6. Washington Spirit
2016: 3,782
2015: 4,087
2014: 3,335
2013: 3,625

7. Boston Breakers
2016: 3,570
2015: 2,863
2014: 2,437
2015: 2,427

8. FC Kansas City
2016: 3,162
2015: 3,091
2014: 2,018
2013: 4,626

9. Chicago Red Stars
2016: 3,005
2015: 4,210 (2,898 excluding doubleheader with Chicago Fire)
2014: 2,949
2013: 1,711

10. Sky Blue FC
2016: 2,162
2015: 2,189
2014: 1,656
2013: 1,666

NWSL AVERAGES
2016: 5,558
2015: 5,046
2014: 4,139
2013: 4,271

Free Kicks

-Here is my final Player of the Week ballot: 1) Lindsey Horan – Fine two-way performance to help the Thorns claim their first Shield, often keeping Sky Blue off balance by switching fields with precision passing; 2) Vanessa DiBernardo – Another solid performance commanding the midfield for the Red Stars in a 3-1 win that spoiled the Shield for the Spirit; 3) Heather O’Reilly – Showing no letdown from her farewell match with the USWNT, O’Reilly was as energetic as ever and a key cog in the Blues flipping a 1-0 halftime deficit into a 2-1 victory in Orlando.

-The following six players played every minute of the 2016 season: Nicole Barnhart (Kansas City), Abby Dahlkemper (Flash), Kassey Kallman (Breakers), Emily Menges (Thorns), Christie Rampone (Sky Blue), Brittany Taylor (Kansas City).

-Kallman did it for a second season in a row and is currently on a consecutive minutes streak of 3,600.

-Brittany Taylor also played every minute in 2014 and holds the league record for consecutive minutes at 3,690.

-Tobin Heath’s assist on Sunday was her 10th of the season to establish a league record.

-One codicil on that assist—Allie Long was easily offside. Check the stream to see how far out of position the assistant referee was at the moment Heath stepped into the ball.

-NWSL has chosen to recognize Lynn Williams as the Golden Boot winner because she had more assists than Kealia Ohai, who like Williams finished with 11 goals. That seems like a random tiebreaking method. I say goals are hard to come by. They both notched 11. A tie is good enough for me.

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