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Sounder at Heart Women’s Player of the Year: Bethany Balcer

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The second-year player had another excellent showing in a challenging year.

OL Reign v Utah Royals FC

Following up on her 2019 NWSL Rookie of the Year and Ride of the Valkyries 2019 Newcomer of the Year award-winning campaign, OL Reign forward Bethany Balcer is your 2020 Women’s Player of the Year. Balcer earned just over a third of the votes cast, slightly ahead of fullback Stephanie Cox with 29%.

Balcer appeared in all nine Reign matches in 2020, making seven starts and scoring three goals in all competitions to lead the team. She scored the match-winning goal in the NWSL Challenge Cup game against Utah Royals FC, and also showed she can take a mean penalty by burying her kick from the spot against Chicago in what was ultimately a losing effort in the Challenge Cup quarterfinals.

Notably, in the final Challenge Cup group-stage game against Portland, she had to sub off late in the first half after suffering breathing difficulties. Balcer later revealed that she had suffered an anxiety attack and was remarkably forthcoming about the mental health challenges facing athletes, particularly in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic led to extraordinary circumstances and challenges with league bubbles and social isolation. Her comments drew plaudits from many other athletes and mental health professionals for helping to destigmatize an issue that so many are facing, often in silence.

During the Fall Series, Balcer scored a goal in each of the first two matches, including a sublime team goal against Utah thanks to a pinpoint Stephanie Cox pass and an excellent dummy by Sofia Huerta.

Balcer capped off 2020 by getting called into the October USWNT camp, followed by a month-long trip to Lyon, France to train with Olympique Lyonnais along with Reign teammates Sofia Huerta and Celia Jimenez Delgado. She is currently under contract with the Tacoma club through 2022, with a team option for 2023.