1. Sam Kerr (Sky Blue)
It’s hard to find a striker, for both club and country, that was in better goal scoring form in the 2017 calendar year than Sam Kerr. Her campaign for Sky Blue this past year saw her net 17 goals, breaking the NWSL single-season goal scoring record while setting records for most goals scored in a game and hat tricks in a season, and picked up the leagues’ MVP trophy as well. She was one of the catalysts that led Sky Blue’s unlikely push throughout the season in keeping them alive for a playoff spot late on in the season and often showcased a flair for the dramatic. Who could forget those battles against Seattle where she helped orchestrate a comeback after being down 4-0 with 30 minutes to go, including scoring a dramatic equalizer? Or the one a few weeks later when Seattle took a 3-0 lead at halftime at Yurcak Field before Kerr netted four goals in the second half, including the winner in the final moments of stoppage time, to vault Sky Blue to a 5-4 victory? If 2017 was any indication of what the next few years could be like, there is a real chance that she could stake her claim as the best player in the world.
2. Marta (Orlando Pride)
As the 2017 season was only days away from kicking off, there were many questions about the Orlando Pride. Would there be a turnaround from a poor first campaign in 2016? Where would the goals come from, especially with Alex Morgan in France until mid-season? Then, only days before the season kicked off, the Pride announced that the former five-time FIFA World Player of the Year would be suiting up for the team right in time for Opening Day. Due to the fact that she missed the entire preseason, it took her a couple matches to get going with her teammates, but as soon as the on-field understanding was there, along with Morgan arriving into the fold in the early summer, she was special to watch. The flair and charisma was prevalent week in, week out and she helped lead the Pride into the playoffs. And with 13 goals and six assists, she finished only second to Kerr in the Golden Boot race. Now with Marta set to be in the fold right from the start of preseason, it wouldn’t come as a shock if 2018 becomes a mirror image of her 2017 season and the Pride make another run at the postseason.
3. Sam Mewis (North Carolina Courage)
Classy and composed. Those are the terms you think of when talking about Sam Mewis. Her third season in the NWSL was her career defining one with the North Carolina Courage as she took charge of the middle of the field from the opening whistle of week one and was one of the driving forces in their run to the Championship game. Every time the team took to the field, you knew that she would be buzzing around the field for 90 minutes while constantly looking to unlock opponents back lines with a killer ball. Additionally what was nice to see this past year however was a more aggressive approach to her goal scoring. With the freedom to play a little higher up the field within their system, Mewis generated the second-highest shot total on the team (55) and netted a half-dozen goals, a new season high for her. Adding the goal-scoring component to her game, which already includes great technical ability and strong ball-winning capabilities, makes her even more deadly to defend.
4. Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars)
For the first year in Christen Press’ time in Chicago, she was available for selection for the entire season. And boy did the Red Stars benefit from that as of the teams’ 33 goals scored in the regular season, she accounted for 11 tallies and assisted on four others. With moving Julie Ertz up into an attacking midfielder role, Press was able to have less attention drawn to herself in the teams’ build up and service came a bit more frequently than in years past. Knowing how good the Red Stars’ defense and the strong possibility that opponents would not get very many chances on goal, that made Press even tougher to defend, because you knew she was going to get a couple of chances per match to make something happen. Plus, there is a consistency factor with Press as well. She has made 60 regular season appearances for the Red Stars in her three and a half seasons with the club and has scored 35 times, so the threat of a goal is always there.
5. Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride)
Question marks surrounded Alex Morgan after she came back in June from a stint with Lyon. She suffered a hamstring injury during the final few weeks of her loan period and lasted a grand total of 17 minutes of the UEFA Women’s Champions League Final before leaving the match due to re-aggravating the injury. She was forced to miss a few weeks of action when she returned stateside but once July came around, she went on a tear. In re-uniting with Marta, who together were absolutely scintillating to watch during the 2011 Western New York Flash WPS Championship run, the two clicked almost immediately. Goals started pouring in from all over and the Pride made a run to the NWSL semifinals backed by the dynamic duo. Morgan finished the campaign with nine goals and four assists in 13 matches and between her and Marta, they combined for half of the teams’ goals. To think, come 2018 when they have a full season to play together…that is going to be a tough tandem to stop.
6. Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars)
It was a big year for Julie Ertz in 2017. She got married right before the start of the NWSL and on opening day for the Chicago Red Stars, she wasn’t the Julie Johnston that you remembered at center-back. Oh no. The revamped Julie Ertz came out as a box-to-box midfielder that was given the freedom to attack, a throwback to her college days at Santa Clara. And boy did she excel at that role. It gave Rory Dames’ team a different dimension and created new challenges for their opponents. Not only was there speed up top with Press and Sofia Huerta along with their speedy outside backs in Casey Short and Arin Gilliland, you had a dynamic midfielder in Ertz also running at you, which opened up the passing lanes for Danielle Colaprico and Vanessa DiBernardo to play in that killer ball. 2017 was also the year that people really found out that Ertz has become the best corner kick aerial attacker in the world. Her willingness to do whatever it takes to be the first to win a ball in the air is something to behold and because of her strength and agility, she wins nearly every matchup inside the box off set pieces. It would not be surprising that in the offseason, Dames comes up with a few more designed set plays that can isolate Ertz against her mark because if that becomes the case, the Red Stars could be the most dangerous team off set pieces in the league.
7. Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign)
It was a turning into an epic battle between Megan Rapinoe and Sam Kerr for the NWSL Golden Boot. The pair went back and forth and put on some great shows in the process, with Rapinoe having a slight edge with 12 goals to Kerr’s 11 through the end of July. Unfortunately, that battle came to a sudden stop in early August when the Seattle Reign announced that Rapinoe underwent arthroscopic surgery on her left knee and was forced to miss the majority of the last few months of play. Her being out took it’s toll on the Reign as up until the point she had surgery, the team was in fourth place after 15 matches played and only four points behind first. But come seasons’ end, the Reign mustered just 10 points from their last nine matches and finished outside the top-four, missing the last playoff spot by five points. But the injury does not take away how big of a season she had this past year. There were times that you knew that something special was going to happen when Rapinoe had the ball. She scored from all over the park and was named the Player of the Month in July when she scored five goals in four matches, including a hat-trick in the 5-4 home win over Sky Blue. Plus the energy and emotion she displayed on the field was infectious to the rest of her team and if she can emulate that success come 2018, there is little doubt the Reign make it back to the playoffs after missing out the last two years.
8. Abby Dalhkemper (North Carolina Courage)
At just 24-years old, Abby Dahlkemper won the NWSL Defender of the Year and quite frankly, it was no contest. The former UCLA Bruin played every minute of the 2017 season, one of only four outfield players to do so, and led the North Carolina Courage backline in being one of the stingiest units to break down. The team posted 16 victories in the regular season along with 12 shutouts, seven of those coming by way of 1-0 victory. She was also a key part in not only breaking up attacks but also springing counter attacks, combining well with Sam Mewis in the midfield to then hit one of the Courages’ many forwards on the break. And her play on the field was noticeable enough that she started to get consistent starting nods within the US National Team. Additionally, Dalhkemper proved to be a worthy candidate at taking corners, something you don’t often see center backs doing. But the Courage were one of the more menacing teams from those set pieces and she was front and center in creating many of those chances. While the sting of not winning the NWSL Championship will linger, this was a season to remember for her as she continues to develop into possibly one of the best center backs in the world.
9. Adrianna Franch (Portland Thorns)
With Michelle Betos opting to not return to Portland for the 2017 season, the number one goalie shirt was placed in Adrianna Franch’s court, whom we haven’t seen as a number one since the inaugural NWSL season when she was the top ‘keeper with Western New York. So naturally there would be some questions in how good would she be this season, especially with a world-class lineup in front of her? But very quickly, those questions were answered. Franch posted one of the best seasons for any goalie in NWSL season as she recorded 11 clean sheets in the regular season, a new league record, allowed less than a goal per game with a save percentage at 80% and was one of two goalies to appear in all 24 matches (the other being Nicole Barnhart). So it only seemed fitting that she garnered the NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year award. You wonder as we turn to 2018, with World Cup Qualifiers due to take place in October, would another solid season for Franch net her an opportunity to get into the US squad for that tournament? Only time will tell.
10. Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns)
One of the key parts to the success of the Portland Thorns was the steady presence of Emily Sonnett in the back line. Often used as the lone center back in Mark Parsons’ three-back system, the former Virginia Cavalier was the last line of defense in front of Adrianna Franch in goal along with being the starting point in the Thorns’ possession-scheme. And Sonnett flourished in that role. In just her second professional season, she played every minute of every match and in addition to admirably performing her defensive roles, she was a key contributor in winning set pieces. Most notably, she scored off of a free kick in the NWSL semifinal for the second straight year, before emphatically celebrating in front of the Rose City Riveters. It is still a bit surprising how she hasn’t gotten many recalls to the National Team since serving as an alternate for the Rio Olympics but perhaps with similar consistent play come 2018, she will not be denied a roster spot come World Cup qualification.