Bold predictions for the 2022 NWSL season: Unlikely (but realistic) picks for MVP, Shield, Championship and more

It’s the start of a new NWSL regular season, and like most debuts, there’s excitement in all of the possibilities that lie ahead. Clubs come in with a blank slate; everyone is at zero points. The Challenge Cup has given us an idea of ​​how clubs are preparing to kick off, but as the league has been divided into regions it will be our first taste of real head-to-head competition.

Based on the little data we have and also the vibes, here are our bold predictions on how the 2022 season will unfold.

Shield Winners

Meg: Laura Harvey loves a shield, and I think OL reign are going to go back to their ways of winning the Shield in 2022. We really, really, really can’t ignore the impact all major international tournaments are going to have in July on NWSL rosters – the top two contenders of Reign and Spirit are going to be hit quite heavily by major CONCACAF qualifying losses , euros and everything else on the international calendar. But I like the Reign chance to further minimize the damage. Harvey knows the regular season routine well and how to navigate the chaos of the NWSL, and that’s a real intangible in this league.

Steph: If we are going to accumulate points consistently over the course of a season, I think I just have to follow the Washington’s Spirit again. If we’re thinking chaos scenarios, it’s Spirit, Courage, Reign and Thorns going head-to-head with a bunch of statistically unlikely 1-point ties and someone like Gotham stringing together just enough consecutive wins, maybe internationally breaks, to climb to first place. Voice of Dr. Ian Malcolm: Now, uh, it is Chaos theory.

Craziest result

Meg: The Washington Spirit never loses a game again. The unbeaten streak they are currently on, which spans 15 games since September 12 last year, already looks a bit impossible, even though they have only kept it alive with four draws and two Challenge Cup victories. We could find out early on whether this extremely audacious prediction comes true for me or not thanks to the back-to-back regular season opener/Challenge Cup semi-final they have this week against OL Reign. (That said, is there anything better than arguably the top two teams in the league, who already look pretty good, facing off like this so early in the season and starting the story of 2022? Not for me.)

Steph: San Diego Wave 6-3 Angel City FC. It’s honestly not the craziest prediction considering these two have had a rocky match against each other before. i just want After chaos. If we’re talking about the craziest result of the season, then it could be Houston Dash knocking out, say, Portland Thorns from playoff competition by winning their head-to-head series and robbing them of six or seven points in the process. necessary of a tight top- running table. This opens the door for the struggling Chicago Red Stars to fight their way to the semi-finals and then battle it out to ultimately win a championship.

Meg: Wait, I have another one. The North Carolina Courage drops 10 goals on someone. You know they can.

Rookie of the Year

Steph: This is the hardest category to guess, safe or daring, because we just haven’t seen much from the rookie pool. You might be tempted to point to Jaelin Howell or Naomi Girma given how central they have been to their respective clubs at Racing and Wave respectively. But a bolder prediction would be forward Elyse Bennett (KC) or Diana Ordoñez (NC Courage). Bennett is heavier because Current just aren’t as strong a club as Courage right now. Although conversely, it makes it “easier” for Bennett to stand out. Would love to see striker Tinaya Alexander find her footing with the Spirit – hard to do right now as the team’s offense looks pretty complete with their starters and it’s no small thing to be competitive for minutes with Trinity Rodman or Ashley Hatch.

Meg: I want to add another name to the mix here (although I really like Elyse Bennett’s choice): Amirah Ali (San Diego). She was an instant spark for the wave when she was on the court, but that could all come down to playing time for her when the voting rolls around. Right now, Girma feels like a very safe bet as the favorite for this one, and although the no. 1 draft pick might sound a bit boring, I wouldn’t mind a defender getting extra rewards at the end of the season.

MVP

Steph: Safe guesses: Trinity Rodman, Debinha or Jess Fishlock. The way I think about this one is to consider who is likely to be at the top of the table at the end of the season and work backwards from there. They’re all game-changers who can pull off outrageous team-carrying tricks in multiple games a season.

Bold guesses: Kristen Hamilton, Kailen Sheridan or Ifeoma Onumonu. For Hamilton, MVP is an outlier because it’s an award that’s tied directly to team performance, and the Current have a tough climb to contend with this season. But Hamilton looks set to activate his glutes and attack that hill, and it would be nice to see that rewarded. Sheridan as MVP would be if she really found the razor’s edge of form and helped push the wave to some sort of result in her first season. And for Onumonu, she’s such a lethal 9, but Gotham is also a club that just can’t quite pull it all together, and so her MVP chances could be dampened by poor overall club performance. (On that note, would it be nice to see Gotham finally get their midfield under control and hire Jennifer Cudjoe to the max of her abilities? Talk about an MVP candidate feeling good.)

Meg: Sophomore year tends to be a little tough for rookie of the year, but I don’t think that’s really going to be a factor for Trinity Rodman in 2022. I think she has a legitimate shot at being MVP if she keeps up his 2021 form, but i also think if i’m going to make a bold prediction here, i’m taking his teammate Spirit Ashley Sanchez. If she can pull all the strings for this Spirit midfielder, as well as bring her signature creativity to the mix? I have a feeling this is going to be real catnip for MVP voters.

Champions

Steph: Keep the best for last ! The sure prediction that the club will win the league is somewhere in the Washington Spirit/North Carolina Courage/OL Reign triangle, possibly with the Thorns. Winning the championship requires the combination of consistent performances throughout the season and more immediate and chaotic performances. survival mode of the semi-finals and the final. So looking at who can go the distance but can also be bet on a single big game, it’s probably Spirit or Courage right there… if we were only talking sure bets.

If you made a bold bet, which I am, I’d say San Diego Wave. This is a team that, if they can pull themselves together, could at least make someone else sweat a little. Casey Stoney spoke a lot about building a roster that can handle depth needs throughout the season, and with its focus on defense as a core trait, it gives a boost to the idea of ​​a team that can last a whole season. And on the front end, if they can just spin that midfield and really click with the forwards, that will also give them a boost in the ‘a big game’ column.

Meg: The real question for me is, do I care who the champions are if we get a Spirit-Reign final? While as clearly fascinated as I am to see these two teams go head-to-head this season, perhaps there’s a lesson here from 2021, where we had a very clear favorite in Portland…to end with a Chicago-Washington final. So if I ride a dark horse for the year, after the Challenge Cup, it has to be the Kansas City Current, despite losing Lynn Williams to a season-ending injury. Kristen Hamilton has been vastly underestimated throughout her NWSL career, but she’s already showing she can step up and be the team’s top scorer. Kansas City currently feels (sorry) like a pretty solid pick to make the playoffs — and all you have to do is peak at the right time to cause NWSL mayhem.

(Photo: Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports)

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