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The NWSL Players Association teams up with league sponsor Ally for award highlighting leadership

Here is why that’s so important

NWSL Archive: OL Reign v Kansas City
Lauren Barnes (L) of OL was one of 12 players nominated for the inaugural Ally Award.
Amy Kontras/ via Imagn

Golden boot. Golden glove. Most Valuable Player. These are the individual awards that we have come to know in soccer, but this year, the National Women’s Soccer League Players Association (NWSLPA) has teamed up with league sponsor Ally to create a brand new honor - the Ally Award.

According to Ally and the NWSLPA, the award will be given to the athlete that “best embodies the idea of a teammate.” Each of the 12 NWSL teams nominated a player with the winner being voted on by the Players Association ahead of the postseason. The player selected for this honor will be recognized at the NWSL Championship game at the end of October.

“The Ally Award goes far beyond the typical quantifiable values such as goals, assists or saves,” said Meghann Burke, executive director of the NWSL Players Association. “The best teammates don’t always have the chance to fill up the stat sheet but their passion, drive and determination energizes the entire squad. These nominees represent the best of what our players have to offer, and we’re grateful for Ally’s continued support.”

According to a press release from Ally, the company worked directly with the NWSLPA to create this award. “Being a good teammate is not about the amount of goals scored, it’s about putting the team before yourself,” read the press release. “With this award, Ally is looking to highlight players who align with that idea.”

So why is this important?

On any given game day, 18 players make the roster, and 11 make the starting line-up. There will be goals scored and saves made, but at the end of the day, soccer is a team sport. Teams need leaders, those who are putting in the work behind the scenes and may not get recognized as frequently for their goals scored or shots stopped. For many around the league, giving recognition these individuals, the hidden engines of their organizations, provides a path to honor their teammates in a creative new way.

For Mal Pugh of the Chicago Red Stars, who nominated Zoe Morse for this honor, the creation of this award signifies the importance of the work and dedication of players around the league.

“I think it’s amazing. Ultimately, this award goes beyond MVP, golden boot, all of that, because it’s what you’re doing off the field and how you’re impacting the world around you,” Pugh said. “So, I think that this award is very special and I’m really happy that the league is is taking part in this.”

For Pugh, Morse’s nomination made perfect sense. “Zoe is overall just an amazing person,” Pugh said. “Obviously, she’s an amazing soccer player, but I think the work that she does off the field [is] very inspiring. I think it’s impactful to not only us as teammates, but to everyone around her.”

Katie Johnson of San Diego Wave FC, who nominated Jodie Taylor, applauded the NWSLPA and Ally for bringing an award that recognizes the work of teammates off the field.

“The idea of this award instead of just awards for [on-field] performance is great. I think there’s a lot of outside community work that brings recognition to the NWSL,” Johnson said. “It’s a great opportunity to showcase the players [that do the work].”

Naomi Girma of San Diego Wave FC echoed Johnson, and explained that the team nominated Taylor for this award for truly embodying the notion of being a great teammate. “[Jodie Taylor] has been incredible both on and off the field for us. Being a younger player myself, she, especially at the beginning, did a really good job of bringing in the rookies, showing us the ropes, and teaching us what we should expect and what we should be doing both on and off the field,” Girma said “She just has great energy, always brings people together, and is an awesome leader for us.”

For Denise O’Sullivan of the North Carolina Courage, who nominated Meredith Speck, having the Ally Award creates an important opportunity to recognize leaders around the NWSL.

“[The award] shows off these amazing women who do great things for their teams. I think having Meredith Speck as the person who represents us in the Courage is fantastic. She has been a leader on this team for many years now. She always puts the team first, it’s never about her, ever,” O’Sullivan explained. “She’s a very important player on this team. I really look up to her and what she does us for and this team. I’m really proud of her and I’m really happy that she has been nominated for this because it’s fully deserved.”

For more than just the title

The Ally Award comes with more than just bragging rights, but something that has historically been lacking in the league for the players: cash. The winner will take home $10,000, and the second- and third-place finishers in the voting will each receive $7,500.

“Our core belief is that everyone deserves an ally, and the inaugural nominees for this award display that ethos every day with their relentless preparation, inspiring play and indomitable spirit,” said Andrea Brimmer, chief marketing and public relations officer at Ally. “We’re honored not only to work directly with the Players Association to create this award, but also to recognize the achievements of such outstanding athletes. We look forward to seeing this award continue to support the players.”

With the league entering its 10th year, the work that goes on behind the scenes continues to be of monumental importance. As players have recounted over the years, even recently with the NWSLPA’s No More Side Hustles campaign, being a player in this league is not easy and comes with many unique challenges. To recognize the consistent leaders and longstanding athletes in the NWSL who have not only brought this league forward into its 10th year but provided leadership for players at all levels is an exceptional and creative idea that will hopefully continue for many years to come.

Here is the full list of nominees:

  • Ali Riley, Angel City
  • Zoe Morse, Chicago Red Stars
  • McCall Zerboni, Gotham FC
  • Jane Campbell, Houston Dash
  • Desiree Scott, Kansas City Current
  • Meredith Speck, North Carolina Courage
  • Lauren Barnes, OL Reign
  • Erin McLeod, Orlando Pride
  • Abby Smith, Portland Thorns
  • Nadia Nadim, Racing Louisville
  • Jodie Taylor, San Diego Wave
  • Anna Heilferty, Washington Spirit