NWSL Mid-Season Awards: McCall Zerboni deserves MVP

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PORTLAND, OR - MAY 30: North Carolina midfielder McCall Zerboni conducts the play marked by Portland Thorns defender Kelli Hubly in the last minutes of the North Carolina Courage 4-1 victory over the Portland Thorns on May 30, 2018, at Providence Park, Portland, OR. (Photo by Diego Diaz/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Editorial (July 13, 2018) – We’re halfway through the NWSL season just like that.

With a snap of the fingers, the NWSL has flown by. Huge trades have sent NWSL fans scrambling to get new jersey’s for their favorite players while coaches are starting to feel their seat getting hotter.

NWSL Mid-Season Awards: McCall Zerboni deserves MVP

Right now, there is a tight race for playoff spots two through four.

One seems wrapped up by the North Carolina Courage, who currently lead the league with 42 points in 17 matches. Currently, sitting in playoff spots behind North Carolina are the Seattle Reign FC, Orlando Pride, and Chicago Red Stars.

However, teams like the Portland Thorns FC, Utah Royals FC, and Houston Dash are creeping up the table.

Meanwhile, the Washington Spirit and Sky Blue FC are essentially ruled out of contention. Sky Blue is still looking for their first regular-season victory. Denise Reddy of Sky Blue and Jim Gabarra of Washington are feeling the heat.

However, other players and coaches are thriving in the league.

Here are my mid-season awards. The awards I will give out are actual NWSL awards, which include the Golden Boot, Coach of the Year, NWSL Shield Winner, Rookie of the Year, Goalkeeper of the Year, Defender of the Year and Most Valuable Player.

Let’s get started!

Golden Boot: Megan Rapinoe, Seattle Reign FC

The only reason that Samantha Kerr is ahead of everyone in the NWSL Golden Boot race is because of a hat-trick against her former club, Sky Blue FC. Meanwhile, tied for second-place in the race are Megan Rapinoe, Christine Sinclair, Crystal Dunn and Lindsey Horan.

I was tempted to pick Dunn. She has been a force to be reckoned with since joining the North Carolina Courage from Chelsea Ladies. However, Rapinoe has been bagging goals – and assists – like it’s nobody’s business. Her age of 33-years isn’t slowing her down and she always finds her name on the statistics sheet for the Seattle Reign FC.

Seattle has a tough schedule ahead to finish the season, including trips to Chicago, Orlando, and Portland. However, Rapinoe is a veteran and a proficient goal scorer. She’ll find a way to find the back of Alyssa Naeher, Ashlyn Harris, and Adrianna Franch’s nets.

Coach of the Year: Vlatko Andonvoski or Paul Riley

If North Carolina happens to claim the NWSL title, or even return to the championship game again, there’s no doubt that Paul Riley will win this award.

Riley knows that in order to win some, you have to lose some. He traded away Ashley Hatch and Taylor Smith during the offseason to bring in Dunn, and the results are paying off. It’s tough to watch two strong players like Smith and Hatch go to another team.

However, Riley understands that sacrifices are just part of the game. Also, losing is part of the game. After a massive 12-match unbeaten streak, North Carolina fell to the Utah Royals FC on June 16. However, there was no time to sulk and the Courage managed to jump back into their winning ways.

Since the loss, North Carolina is on a four-match winning streak. This is a team that now includes Heather O’Reilly, who was acquired via a trade with the Utah Royals (who owned her rights after O’Reilly signed overseas with Arsenal Ladies).

However, there is a chance that Vlatko Andonovski could win Coach of the Year. The case can be made for the Yugoslavian coach. After swapping teams with Laura Harvey – who went to the Utah Royals (formerly known as Andonovski’s FC Kansas City) – Andonovski has revitalized a team that failed to make the playoffs the last two seasons.

It’s a team that Andonovski knows well. When FC Kansas City won back-to-back NWSL championships with Andonovski at the helm, the competition was Seattle.

Now, Andonovski has led a formerly stuck fifth-place team to second place. Seattle climbed up the ladder and isn’t budging from the spot. The team is currently on a three-match unbeaten streak.

Both coaches are in high competition for the award. I would add Laura Harvey of the Utah Royals and Vera Pauw of the Houston Dash to the mix if they can somehow get their teams into the playoffs. But, as of right now, it’s between Riley and Andonovski.

NWSL Shield Winners: North Carolina Courage

There won’t be a big, long explanation for this one.

With 42 points, it would take a miracle and at least one million offerings to the “soccer gods” for any team to catch the Courage. After falling in the NWSL Championship against the Portland Thorns last year, North Carolina picked up where they left off.

Bringing in new faces like Dunn, O’Reilly and Merritt Mathias have tremendously helped this team. Also, Riley is lucky to have two, solid goalkeepers in Katelyn Rowland and Sabrina D’Angelo. He has no problem splitting matches between the two but has stuck with Rowland recently.

There’s no catching this team anytime soon.

Rookie of the Year: Veronica Latsko, Houston Dash

Didn’t expect that, huh?

Andi Sullivan, Savannah McCaskill and Rebecca Quinn are the big names in this year’s rookie class. However, Sullivan hasn’t produced as expected for the Washington Spirit. McCaskill is managing to score goals, but her team still doesn’t have a regular-season win.

That leaves Quinn.

The Canadian international has produced admirably for the Washington Spirit. She has a good relationship with her fellow midfielders, including Tori Huster, but, like McCaskill, isn’t on the radar too much due to a lackluster season.

Then, Veronica Latsko enters.

Selected by the Houston Dash with the No. 28 overall pick in the 2018 NWSL College Draft, Latsko joined the Dash from the University of Virginia. She has been a standout, and consistent player, for Vera Pauw.

Latsko regularly features for the Dash, appearing in three matches. Due to some injury concerns, she hasn’t started many matches, only three. However, in her 475 minutes, she has scored two goals and provided an assist.

McCaskill only has one goal above Latsko. Quinn and Sullivan don’t have any goals to their name. Now, I understand that goals aren’t the only indicator for Rookie of the Year. However, they do help.

Give Latsko more time this season. She’ll be a starter for Vera Pauw and start smashing more goals into opposing nets.

Goalkeeper of the Year: Katelyn Rowland or Aubrey Bledsoe

This one was tough.

The NWSL has one of the most talented goalkeeper pools of all time. But, let’s look away from the U.S. Women’s National Team goalkeepers, Ashlyn Harris and Alyssa Naeher.

Instead, let’s look at two goalkeepers who SHOULD be on the U.S. Women’s National Team, taking Harris and Naeher’s spots. Yes, you heard that right.

Jill Ellis, I hope you’re listening.

Rowland has never given up this season. She has been rotated through with Sabrina D’Angelo, but, just like last year, she won the permanent starting job. She has started every Courage match since May 12.

In her 11 starts (and appearances), Rowland has only allowed 11 goals behind her. She has three clean sheets to her name – and a winning record.

Now, her competition – in my opinion – for this award is Aubrey Bledsoe. While Bledsoe doesn’t have a winning record, she has made incredible saves this season. She has been the last string keeping the Washington Spirit together – arguably alongside Ashley Hatch and Tori Huster.

Bledsoe, who was acquired by the Spirit via a trade from the Orlando Pride during the offseason, has allowed 22 goals past her in 16 matches. She doesn’t have many clean sheets – only four to be exact – but has garnered Player of the Week and Save of the Week honors on numerous occasions.

There are other excellent goalkeepers in the league that had my attention, including Abby Smith of the Utah Royals, Adrianna Franch of the Portland Thorns and Michelle Betos of the Seattle Reign.

Betos would have gotten a larger write up if Andonovski wouldn’t have pulled her for Australian international Lydia Williams, but that’s another story for another day.

Defender of the Year: Abby Erceg, North Carolina Courage

The will to want to pick Ali Krieger was there.

But, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Krieger is a close second for this award in my eyes, especially since she played every minute of Orlando Pride action from her trade up until her injury sent her out early against the Chicago Red Stars on May 25.

However, Abby Erceg has just been a tad better.

Look at the clean sheets – which are crucial for a defender. Erceg and the North Carolina Courage have captured seven clean sheets in 17 matches, while Krieger and the Pride have only captured three in her 12 matches.

Erceg has started every single match for North Carolina this season. And, while scoring goals doesn’t count too much in this contest, Erceg has one goal and one assist to her name. Meanwhile, Krieger has only one assist.

Again, that doesn’t count much, but it’s still a statistic.

Just like Krieger, Erceg is used to seeing action on the pitch. She has played every single minute of every match this season for the Courage.

Other defenders that were thoughts in this category include Erceg’s teammate, Merritt Mathias, and Krieger’s teammate, Toni Pressley, Caprice Dydasco of the Washington Spirit, Megan Oyster and Lauren Barnes of the Seattle Reign and Samantha Johnson of the Utah Royals.

Most Valuable Player: McCall Zerboni, North Carolina Courage

If you don’t agree with this, then you haven’t watched a North Carolina Courage match this season – or throughout McCall Zerboni’s career.

The veteran midfielder was awarded for her hard work this year at the club level. She was called up, twice, for the U.S. Women’s National Team and surpassed 10,000 minutes played in NWSL action. She is the first player in the league to do so.

Zerboni is a tornado in the midfield.

She’s always on the pitch running around on offense or defense, leading her team and encouraging her fellow teammates. LifeTime recently ran a feature on Zerboni showing all of that and her positive attitude.

Being the Most Valuable Player isn’t just because you’re scoring goals. It’s because a certain player is becoming a leader and a positive one at that. Zerboni is the picture-perfect NWSL player. She’s aggressive, yet compassionate. She has a fire in her and she’s always looking to do better.

One title wasn’t enough for Zerboni. She wants another one.

Now, looking at statistics, she’s still good. Zerboni has scored three goals and provided one assist in 16 matches this season. She has started every match she has featured in, totaling 1,440 minutes this season.

Zerboni has not been substituted out of a match this season.

Others that were thought of for this title were Megan Rapinoe of the Seattle Reign, Alex Morgan of the Orlando Pride and Christine Sinclair of the Portland Thorns.

What do YOU think?

Do you agree with me? Chances are, you probably don’t. But, that’s okay! Tell me who your mid-season winners are for the 2018 NWSL season.

Here’s to a fun end of the 2018 season – and another post-season!

*All statistics were taken from the official website of the National Women’s Soccer League. Check them out by clicking a player’s name here and for the leader sheet here.

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