The world’s most beautiful game is finally starting to catch on here in America. There was once a time where people scoffed at the MLS let alone any professional women’s league.
Now, it couldn’t be more of the opposite. 2017 marks the fifth year of the NWSL, and after the league signed a big TV deal with Lifetime, it proves the NWSL has staying power. With that in mind, let’s take a stroll down memory lane and recap how the first five years of the league have played out.
Year One- 2013 NWSL Season
Golden Boot: Lauren Holiday (FC Kansas City, 12)
Most Assists: Lauren Holiday (FC Kansas City, 9)
Best Goalkeeper: Nicole Barnhart (FC Kansas City, 10 clean sheets)
MVP: Lauren Holiday (FC Kansas City)
Champions: Portland Thorns FC (1st Title)
2013 was a make it or break it scenario for the NWSL. If the league didn’t pull in the kind of ratings or attendance numbers required, then it’d probably be curtain time for another women’s soccer league. However, all eight teams did not disappoint, especially in front of goal. Six of the eight teams scored at least 30 goals, and three players managed to hit double digits for the season (Lauren Holiday, Sydney Leroux and Abby Wambach). Christine Sinclair and the Portland Thorns were a bit of an underdog, and they shocked the Western New York Flash 2-0 despite having Abby and Carli Lloyd on the roster. 2013 was the perfect year to get things started.
Year Two- 2014 NWSL Season
Golden Boot: Kim Little (Seattle Reign, 16)
Most Assists: Kim Little (Seattle Reign, 7)
Best Goalkeeper: Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars, 106 saves)
MVP: Kim Little (Seattle Reign)
Champions: FC Kansas City (1st Title)
When it came down to the regular season, the Seattle Reign was probably the greatest regular season team we’ve seen in the league’s existence so far. Thanks to Kim Little, Jessica Fishlock and Megan Rapinoe, the Reign finished 16-2-6 with 50 goals and 54 points, league records that still stand today. Yet somehow, the Reign would not end up as champions in the end. FC Kansas City would get a brace from Amy Rodriguez to clinch a 2-1 victory and spoil Seattle’s dream season. A Kansas City victory plus the addition of a ninth team (Houston Dash) meant the league was on the rise.
Year Three- 2015 NWSL Season
Golden Boot: Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit, 15)
Most Assists: Kim Little (Seattle Reign, 7)
Best Goalkeeper: Michelle Betos (Portland Thorns, 45 saves)
MVP: Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit)
Champions: FC Kansas City (2nd Title)
While Crystal Dunn put on a show and shredded the NWSL for 15 goals, Kim Little and the Seattle Reign were top dogs again in the regular season. They might not have been as prolific as the year before but they still won the NWSL shield. They also reached the 2015 final against none other FC Kansas City. Seattle had a chance to exact revenge, but they were foiled once again by Amy Rodriguez who won her second straight title game MVP. Kansas City really went back-to-back thanks to their defense, goalkeeping and timely goals.
Year Four- 2016 NWSL Season
Golden Boot: Lynn Williams (Western NY Flash), Kealia Ohai (Houston Dash) (11)
Most Assists: Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns, 10)
Best Goalkeeper: Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride, 62 saves)
MVP: Lynn Williams (Western NY Flash)
Champions: Western NY Flash (1st Title)
2016 was another huge year for the league as it expanded to 10 teams with the addition of the Orlando Pride. Through four seasons, the common theme became one thing. If you end up as the best regular season in the league, your luck runs out during the playoffs. This time around it was the last team to get in, the 4th seeded Western New York Flash. Lynn Williams was deserving of MVP as she and her team led the league in goals scored with 40. Williams scored multiple game-winners in the playoffs as well as the title clincher in the 124th minute. Yeah, I think everyone couldn’t wait for next year at this point.
Year Five- 2017 NWSL Season
Leading Goalscorer: Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign, 12)
Most Assists: Nahomi Kawasumi (Seattle Reign, 7)
Best Goalkeeper: Stephanie Labbe (Washington Spirit)
This season has been filled with ups and down, and we’re pretty much at the home stretch of it with the final third to go. North Carolina has looked like the best team all year, but not by much. Chicago and Portland are keeping pace with them so far, and Seattle could be a dark horse. We could be in for an amazing postseason soon. It is the league’s fifth year anniversary after all.