With 2021 coming to a close, the Ride of the Valkyries team asked our community to vote on the top player performances of the year for OL Reign. Categories included Defender and Offensive Player of the Year, MVP, and Newcomer of the Year — and there sure were a lot of new faces on the squad this season.
Drumroll please, as we share the results from nearly 150 votes.
Defender of the Year
In the closest category of the survey, Alana Cook earned Defender of the Year honors — garnering 37.5% of all votes. The centerback, who was also nominated for the NWSL Defender of the Year award and named to the NWSL Best XI, stepped into the OL Reign backline immediately after transferring from Paris Saint-Germain in June. Since joining the team, Cook played every minute of the 19 matches in which she featured.
Cook averaged 4.5 clearances per game and 2 interceptions, while also winning 52% of her duels and 62% of her tackles. Cook was also an important part of OL Reign’s possession — averaging 53 passes per 90, with an 85% pass completion rate. According to FotMob, these stats put Cook seventh in the league in clearances per match and third in passes per match. On top of that, Cook conceded only eight fouls all season. After a chaotic start to the season with significant rotation on the backline, Cook helped bring order and make the Reign a truly difficult team to break down.
Coming up just one vote short of Cook was Sofia Huerta (36.7%), who moved to right back from the attacking line on August 29 — the day of the doubleheader at Lumen Field against Portland — and never looked back. It was from deeper on the right flank that Huerta really made her impact with OL Reign. In addition to settling into her defensive duties quickly, Huerta was a big spark on the offensive end. She led the league in assists, tallying six on the season — with four coming after her move to right back. Huerta completed 37 key passes and connected 81.8% of her passes. According to FotMob, Huerta also created the most “big chances” in the league. She was arguably the best right back to close out the season, and she impressed enough people to earn a spot on the NWSL Second XI squad and a well-deserved return to the U.S. Women’s National Team.
In addition to Cook and Huerta, captain Lauren Barnes earned 10.9% of your votes, defensive midfielder Quinn got 8.6%, and Kristen McNabb, Sarah Bouhaddi, Madison Hammond, and Sam Hiatt all got a few votes, as well.
Offensive Player of the Year
It wasn’t even close in this category. 2019 Rookie of the Year Bethany Balcer was named Offensive Player of the Year with 55% of the vote. The forward, who earned her first cap with the U.S. Women’s National Team in November, scored nine goals this season, ranking second in the NWSL Golden Boot race. She scored five goals with her head, often getting on the end of Huerta’s crosses. She did that without being a consistent starter for the squad. In fact, Balcer led the league in goals-per-minute, scoring a goal every 134 minutes.
The @OLReign crown another— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) August 11, 2021
Cheers in the chat for this week's @budweiserusa Player of the Week, @bethanybalcer pic.twitter.com/TtzCILmhsU
There’s really no other player like Balcer in the league, and in addition to her play on the field, she’s earned a lot of respect from fans for being so outspoken about mental health off the field. Balcer did not score in any substitute appearances, often needing time early to figure out how to get behind defenses and score. She has a real chance to get more minutes in 2022 — and could certainly be a contender for the Golden Boot yet again.
Eugénie Le Sommer earned 31% of the votes, while Jess Fishlock also got 11.6% of your votes. Megan Rapinoe and Huerta gathered a few votes, as well.
Earning a massive 68.4% of votes in this category, the NWSL MVP was also your OL Reign MVP. That, of course, would be Welsh Dragon Jess Fishlock. The midfielder tallied five goals and four assists, while also applying a lot of pressure in the midfield. After missing half of the 2019 and 2020 seasons with an ACL tear, Fishlock made sure everyone remembered just how good she was in her return to the NWSL. She completed 76.4% of her passes and provided 47 key passes across 23 games, averaging the eighth-most key passes per game.
1 part MBE ☑️— OL Reign (@OLReign) November 17, 2021
1 part MVP ✅
The stellar cocktail that makes @JessFishlock the @NWSL MVP is on display in this top shelf replay - ️ #olreign #bebold #MVP pic.twitter.com/VRaYDUu9NH
Fishlock, more importantly, represented what it means to play for the Reign on the field. Even when the team was struggling, she was hustling to get her squad back in the game. According to FotMob, Fishlock was fifth in the league in possession won in the final third — reminding everyone that we can stop using age as a talking point for players over 30. No matter the scenario, Fishlock was fighting to ensure her team didn’t lose. She hates losing. Case in point: when her goal-line save prevented the Reign from going down 3-0 to the Washington Spirit in the team’s final home match of the season. That’s our MVP, folks.
Huerta earned 14% of your MVP votes, while Le Sommer got 7% and both Balcer and Dzsenifer Marozsán garnered 3.5%. Cook, Barnes, Quinn, and Rose Lavelle also received a few nominations.
Newcomer of the Year
In a year where newcomers to the squad made a big impact, one name rose above the rest: France’s all-time leading goal-scorer Eugénie Le Sommer, who got 39.1% of all votes in this category. After arriving in June, it took her a few games to settle into the league and find her scoring spark. Once she did, however, she put the league on notice. And her first goal was a beauty — with devastating cuts that sent her defender to the ground.
Genie in a bottle ♀️— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) August 4, 2021
Drop a in the comments for the @budweiserusa Player of the Week, @ELS_9_FRANCE pic.twitter.com/E6OSDfWtTT
Scoring three braces this season, Le Sommer finished third in goal scoring in the NWSL. In addition to her eight goals, the French forward also provided three assists. Those stats helped her find a spot on the NWSL Best XI for the 2021 season. Le Sommer also made 20 key passes in the 18 games she played and was a big part of OL Reign’s press. In fact, she was second in the league in possession won in the final third.
Marozsán earned 25.8% of your votes, coming in second. While her excellence can often get overlooked, OL Reign fans definitely noticed her subtle brilliance. The German midfielder is often referenced as the player that teammates most like playing with. As Lavelle said earlier this year, “[Maro] is so fun to play with and I just feel like she reads your movement so well, she gets you the ball exactly where you want it, when you want it. She’s incredible.”
Speaking of Lavelle, she earned 16.4% of your votes, while Cook garnered 14.8%. You were also excited about the young talent that arrived, giving some votes to Ally Watt, Tziarra King, and Angelina.
Thank you to everyone for voting! Stay tuned as we unveil your OL Reign moment of the year for the 2021 season.