Previously we recapped the 2013 Reign season, both the bad half and the good half. So now I'll get on to doling out the first annual, totally official Sounder at Heart awards. With as active an offseason as the Reign and coach/GM Laura Harvey have had — by far the most active in the league — I guess we're fortunate that only one of the awarded players is no longer on the team..
Player of the Year: Jess Fishlock
There were only two realistic candidates for the 2013 Player of the Year. I think it's fair to say Megan Rapinoe had the biggest impact on a per-game basis. It's overstating things a little to say that the midseason turnaround for the Reign was entirely a result of her joining the team from Lyon (the schedule got much easier, the team stopped getting so unlucky, etc), but still she was a big factor. She absolutely dominated defenders from her left wing position, creating 5-10 good chances every game she started. So she deserves to be in the conversation.
But Jess Fishlock was here all season, through the bad times and the good. Even when the team was laboring under a horrendous start to the season, the Welsh international was a bright spot, literally and figuratively. If we couldn't look forward to victories, we could at least look forward to her terrorizing opposing midfields both as a ball-winner and a playmaker.
In defense, she was as ferocious a tackler as you'll find in the league and had the skill to get stuck in without endangering her opponents. And she also bore the brunt of the opponents' tackles, finishing the season as the most fouled player in the league with 44.
In offense her passing vision and touch meant she was one of the few creative sparks on the team. Though she didn't actually record any assists this season, her ability to push the ball through the midfield was the source of most of the team's offense before Rapinoe arrived. And due to the instability elsewhere on the team, she would end up playing significant minutes at holding midfield, advanced midfield, and even at target forward. That versatility allowed her to finish 3rd on the team in minutes despite a few minor injuries. And in the end her 4 goals ended up second on the team behind Rapinoe.
So for being in the heart and soul of the team through good times and bad, Fishlock earns the 2013 Sounder at Heart Player of the Year award.
Defender of the Year: Lauren Barnes
The defense of the 2013 Reign was. . problematic. We knew going into the season that it would be a weak spot on the team, but I think it turned out to be a bigger problem that we anticipated. Some of that was due to injury (particularly to Elli Reed and Kate Deines), but a lot was due to just not having enough enough pro level defenders on the team. Of the defensive line that started in the first match of the season — which included Barnes, Jenny Ruiz, Emily Zurrer, and Deines — only Barnes was considered a regular starter by season's end, and she moved from fullback to centerback during the year.
But through all of that, Barnes was a rock. . really the only rock the defense had. She was one of only two players to start all 22 matches and she lead the team in minutes. While one center back spot rotated through converted midfielders and Zurrer (who couldn't seem to hold down a starting spot), it was easy to pencil in Barnes for the other spot. And her dogged defending resulted in what had to be the defensive play of the year for the team, when at Starfire against FC Kansas City she ran down a shot that was chipped over Solo and was able to clear it off the line over her own crossbar. For that and more, Barnes is clearly deserving of the Defendersof the Year award.
First Year Pro of the Year: Christine Nairn
"Rookie" is a complicated concept in a global game. I'm sure we all remember Fredy Montero earning MLS 'newcomer of the year' despite having played professionally for years in Colombia. For that reason, I'm going with 'first year pro', which includes players who had never played professionally before this season. And by that standard, Nairn was easily the top rookie on the team. She scored the first goal in Reign history in the season opening 1-1 draw and she didn't stop contributing to the offense until the season was done. What offense wasn't brought by Fishlock and Rapinoe was brought by the Reign's first ever draft pick out of Penn State.
Nairn would finish the season as the team leader in assists with 5 (no one else had more than 2) and tied for 3rd with 3 goals (including a team-leading 2 game winning goals). In a very deep Reign midfield she demanded playing time even as a rookie, and she got it. She was the other player (along with Barnes) would started every game of the season and she finished second on the team in minutes.
It's a bittersweet honor, as Nairn was traded in the offseason to the Washington Spirit in exchange for the league rights to Scottish midfielder Kim Little. Even that is a testament to her ability, as Little is a world class talent. So we're looking forward to Christine being a solid player for the Spirit and for years to come.