North Carolina Courage forward Kerolin Nicoli has been named the 2023 National Women’s Soccer League Most Valuable Player. A well-deserved honor that comes after Kerolin’s first selection to the NWSL’s Best XI first team, Kerolin was a total game-changer in her second season with the Courage.
Kerolin recorded a team-high 10 goals this season while also co-leading the team in assists with three. Those numbers also allowed Kerolin to stand out among all of the league’s goal-scorers. Kerolin scored the second-most goals in the league, only behind Portland Thorns forward Sophia Smith, who won the league’s Golden Boot.
Goals aside, Kerolin was undoubtedly the most crucial part of North Carolina’s attacking strategy. The Courage, who thrived this year with their newly established possession-oriented tactics under head coach Sean Nahas, relied on Kerolin’s on-ball talent to help them in the attacking third. One of the best dribblers in the NWSL, Kerolin led the entire league in progressive carries in 2023 (100), successful take-ons (67), and shot-creating actions (91).
Kerolin’s status as her team’s most valuable player was cemented long before news of this award. After Kerolin tore her ACL in the Courage’s final regular season game of the season, the team struggled to generate any attacking sequences in the NWSL quarterfinals against NJ/NY Gotham FC, and crashed out of the playoffs prematurely.
The Courage were limited to just four shots on target and only managed 12 touches in their opponent’s penalty area without Kerolin against Gotham. For reference, Kerolin averaged over 7 touches in the penalty area per game by herself, and also led North Carolina in final third touches in the regular season. There’s little doubt that the Courage would have been significantly more dangerous with Kerolin on the field in the playoffs.
After the Courage’s quarterfinal loss, captain Denise O’Sullivan acknowledged that the team missed Kerolin in their final match. On Kerolin’s absence, O’Sullivan said, “It impacted us massively. She’s an unbelievable player…When [Kerolin] gets on the ball, I think teams are scared. Automatically they’re just scared of her. She dribbles past teams, she can go in behind, she has the ball at her feet, she can do everything. And she scores goals as well.”
That said, Kerolin, the Courage’s best-attacking player who can ‘do everything,’ was the right pick for this year’s NWSL MVP award.
Data courtesy of FBRef.
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