There are just four weeks remaining in the 2023 NWSL regular season and several teams are in the midst of a playoff push. As clubs prepare to go down to the wire, front runners for annual end-of-the-year awards are emerging. The awards honor players and coaches for their accomplishments over the year with five categories, with a sixth honor -- the Golden Boot -- awarded to the top goal scorer of the season. So with just a month remaining in the regular season, who are the standout contenders in each category?
Let's take a look at each award:
Coach of the Year
Contenders: Sean Nahas (North Carolina Courage), Casey Stoney (San Diego Wave FC)
Dark Horses: Juan Carlos Amoros (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Mark Parsons (Washington Spirit)
Long shots: Becki Tweed (Angel City FC)
Casey Stoney earned the honors last season as San Diego was the first-ever natural expansion side to make the playoffs and despite some regular season skids, the team is in a strong position to return to the postseason. North Carolina head coach Sean Nahas leads managers this year in results on the pitch and is coming off a 2023 Challenge Cup title. Courage players have bought in and are executing the tactics and if they return back to the postseason, he's a front-runner for the accolade.
Gotham FC's Juan Carlos Amoros is in his first season with his roster, while the Spirit's Mark Parsons returned to Spirit (and NWSL) this year, and both coaches have their teams in playoff position. Angel City interim head coach Becki Tweed has only been in charge of the team since June, but the club is unbeaten in 10 games under her leadership and just two points shy of the playoff line.
Goalkeeper of the Year
Contenders: Kalien Sheridan (San Diego Wave FC), Abby Smith (NJ/NY Gotham FC)
Dark horses: Aubrey Kingsbury (Washington Spirit), Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage)
Long shots: Jane Campbell (Houston Dash), Katie Lund (Racing Louisville FC)
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The contenders for goalkeeping honors has a crowded field this year. Sheridan, Smith, Kingsbury and Murphy each have their teams in playoff contention this season. Canadian international Sheridan took home the honors last season and through 15 appearances for San Diego is in a good position to retake the award. She's tied for first with Campbell, Lund and Murphy with the most clean sheets (six) this season.
Houston and Louisville's struggles might work against them in terms of this award despite both keepers leading the league in save percentage with Campbell being No.1 in the league (81.5%) and Lund in second (80%). Smith has had a resurgence with a starting spot on Gotham, but injury might also play a role in earning the end-of-year honor despite sharing the top spot with Campbell in least goals conceded (15) through 17 weeks.
Defender of the Year
Contenders: Kaliegh Kurtz (North Carolina), Sam Staab (Washington Spirit), Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave FC)
Dark horses: Abby Erceg (Racing Louisville FC), Tara McKeown (Washington Spirit), Natalia Kuikka (Portland Thorns FC)
Long shots: Kaleigh Riehl (San Diego Wave FC), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars), Sarah Gorden (Angel City FC)
Reigning winner Naomi Girma has built another strong case this year amidst some time away at the World Cup. A late second-half surge and playoff push will firmly center her in the conversation again, but her center back partner, Riehl, has been a key fixture on San Diego's backline as well. Riehl is among the top three in the league for total clearances (73) with Washington's McKeown (100) as No. 1 and Chicago's Davidson (87) as No. 2.
If playoff positioning helps to boost the chances for players in the mix, Spirit defenders McKeown and Staab can rival San Diego's Girma and Reighl, while Kaliegh Kurtz has been the anchor for North Carolina this season. Kurtz and Staab are tied for third in shot blocks (19), behind Davidson (22) and league leader Erceg (27).
Rookie of the Year
Contenders: Messiah Bright (Orlando Pride), Jenna Nighswonger (NJ/NY Gotham FC)
Dark horses: Michelle Cooper (Kansas City), Alyssa Thompson (Angel City FC), Paige Metayer (Washington Spirit)
Long shots: Penelope Hocking (Chicago Red Stars), Emily Madril (Orlando Pride)
Last year's rookie class was full of talent for the individual award and this year is no different. Nighswonger has elevated her profile as an outside back this season and scored three goals. Cooper, Thompson, Metayer and Hocking all have three goals scored this season, but Bright leads all rookies with six goals through 18 weeks of play. While Thompson and Cooper went No. 1 and No. 2 overall in the draft, No. 3 draft pick Madril leads all rookies in minutes played.
Contenders: Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC), Kerolin (North Carolina Courage), Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit)
Dark horses: Lynn Williams (NJ/NY Gotham FC) Debinha (Kansas City Current), Morgan Weaver (Portland Thorns FC)
Long shots: Messiah Bright (Orlando Pride)
Smith leads the race with 11 goals but a recent "mild" MCL sprain will keep the forwardweek to week for the remainder of the season. Kerolin and Hatch have a chance to close the gap as each forward has nine goals each. Gotham's Williams has seven goals but has cooled off since her hot start to the season though there is still time to make the race interesting. Debinha, Weaver, and Bright are still in the hunt with six goals each.
Contenders: Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC), Kerolin (North Carolina Courage), Sam Coffey (Portland Thorns FC)
Dark horse: Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit)
Long shots: Bethany Balcer (OL Reign)
Plenty can change over the final four weeks of the regular season. There's no denying the level Smith brings to Portland, and her absence has already been felt by the team, but Coffey's stellar sophomore season has been another bright spot for the Thorns. She leads the league in assists (seven) this season and is third on the team in chances created (32).
Kerolin has also elevated her game, adding three assists to her nine goals, and she is second on the Courage in chances created (22). The Spirit are just a better team when Rodman is on the pitch. She's provided the spark for offensive attacks with four goals and two assists, but her effort to win the ball is unmatched as she leads the league in duals (255). Balcer is tied for first in most goals scored (five) on the Reign this season and is one of three Reign players to play 18 games.