US Soccer Announces Female Athlete of the Year Shortlist


US Soccer has announced the shortlist for the 2014 Female Athlete of the Year. The nominees include Lauren Holiday (FC Kansas City), Sydney Leroux (Seattle Reign FC), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), and Abby Wambach (Western New York Flash). For most who follow the women’s national team, few of these names will be a surprise. If anything, the absence of Alex Morgan may seem startling, but let’s not forget that she missed quite a bit of time this year recovering from lingering ankle issues. All players have been previously nominated for this award.

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I’m not sure that there is anyone more deserving of this than Carli Lloyd, based primarily on her stellar national team performance. No one played more completely for the US this year, and she was a dominant force at the CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers, winning a well-merited tournament Golden Ball. Balancing the second-most goals (10) with a USWNT-leading 8 assists, Lloyd is clearly rounding into career form as 2014 draws to a close. She has won this award once, back in 2008.

The other serious contender is Lauren Holiday. Despite being bizarrely under-utilized in her natural position, she has done well to facilitate out of the back-end of midfield. The Soccer Gods were not overstating things when they named her “the best, overshadowed”; she may be the best player in the women’s game, and her teams benefit immeasurably from her presence on the pitch (see that insane performance in the 2014 NWSL final for more evidence of this). But being overlooked is a natural consequence of being moved closer and closer to the back line, which minimizes her looks at the goal and her ability to rack up assists.1

Sydney Leroux has been one of the hardest-working strikers playing for the US, with nine goals so far this year, although she has struggled a bit with converting shots on goal. Nowhere was that more evident than in World Cup qualifiers, where it seemed like she couldn’t buy a goal to save her life until the second half of the final against Costa Rica. That said, Leroux is always a dangerous player to have on the field, loose or marked by defenders in the box; when she can’t score herself, she sets up her teammates well and has five assists for the US this year to show for her efforts.

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Christen Press didn’t miss a single game for the US this year, and managed to find the back of the net seven times.Her best contribution to the team might be her consistency and availability as a perennial scoring threat. Press also competed well in Champions League play for Swedish club Tyresö (Damallsvenskan) and in the domestic league for Chicago.

Ultimately, we can probably expect Abby Wambach to win this award based on her team-leading 14 goals, including the four she had off the bench during the CONCACAF finals match. She’s already exceeded her yearly average of 13.6 goals, and the US still has a few more games to play this calendar year. At 34, she continues to be a scoring machine, and undoubtedly the leader on a team that will soon be leaving her behind (I don’t think anyone expects her to still compete after the 2016 Olympics, if that long). If named Female Athlete of the Year, it will be the seventh time Wambach has done so since first appearing for the US senior team back in 2001.

The winner will be announced during the FOX Sports coverage of the 2015 Women’s World Cup Draw, to be broadcast live on Saturday, December 6 at 12pm (FOX Sports 1).

1: Despite the diminished “superficial” statistics, which can make it hard to explain how great she is to more casual fans, it’s not really that hard to see how vital Holiday is to the US attack.