NWSL MVP Tracker 2.0: Rodman on the rise, but who's No. 1?

Yes, it really is that time once again: We're 10 rounds of play into the 2024 NWSL season, which means we're updating our season-long NWSL MVP Tracker -- and a lot has changed.

A few red-hot players have been cooled by unfortunate injuries, while the arrival of Zambian forward Barbra Banda pushed the Orlando Pride from a very good team to a squad on a seven-game winning streak, which is tied for an NWSL record.

Portland Thorns forward and 2023 NWSL Golden Boot winner Sophia Smith has found her form since our first volume of MVP rankings, and she has helped the Thorns to a six-game winning streak ahead of Friday's big clash with Orlando. That match is an early-season showdown of the league's two hottest teams and top two goal-scorers.

Both players are firmly in the MVP race, but the award should be about more than goals. Fifteen players for an MVP list might seem like a lot, but we had to cut plenty of players who are putting together strong seasons.

Stream on ESPN+: NWSL, FA Cup, LaLiga & more (U.S.)

As a reminder, our methodology is a mix of advanced data and the eye test. Through TruMedia and Stats Perform, we dive through the advanced stats and filter metrics, and we also watch all the games every week. Combined, this approach helps us find the true standouts and weigh offensive achievements with strong defending.

Now, let's track some MVP candidates!

Kansas City Current logo 15. Bia Zaneratto, Kansas City Current forward (Previous: 1)

Our list leads off with the MVP front-runner from the first edition of this season's MVP Tracker, and the reason for the steep drop is simple: injury. Bia has not played in over a month due to a foot injury.

Why does she remain on this list at all, you ask? Because when she's on the field, she's still among the best players in the league. Despite her missed time, she still leads the league in chances created per 90 and ranks among the league leaders in goals (four) and assists (three) in just six games.

We're not impulsive, and thus we aren't dropping her off the radar entirely, but she needs to get back on the field to remain in the MVP race.

San Diego Wave logo 14. Ann-Katrin Berger, NJ/NY Gotham FC goalkeeper (Previous: N/A)

Speaking of small sample sizes with major impacts: How good is Berger in goal for Gotham? Glad you asked.

The defending champions are unbeaten in five games since the former Chelsea starter arrived in New Jersey. Berger leads the NWSL in average goals against (0.60) and save percentage, and her +4.6 post-shot expected goals minus goals allowed -- a measurement that helps inform the quality of a save, per FBRef -- is nearly twice as good as the next closest goalkeeper. She starts Gotham's attacks with quick throws and typically pulls off sensational saves.

Chicago Red Stars logo 13. Mallory Swanson, Chicago Red Stars attacking midfielder (Previous: 7)

Swanson remains one of the best singular talents in the NWSL, a player capable of changing a game on her own. Her production has dried up slightly over the past five games as the Red Stars have come back down from an early-season high, but Swanson remains the focal point of the team's attack in a No. 10 role.

She ranks sixth in the NWSL in expected goals, so the chances are coming, but the final product is understandably taking some time following a long-term knee injury.

Washington Spirit logo 12. Ouleye Sarr, Washington Spirit forward (Previous: N/A)

Say hello to the NWSL leader in expected goals. Some of the best finishes of the NWSL season have come from Sarr, including a close-range chip against Orlando that appeared to defy physics, and a gorgeous top-corner finish against Chicago. Sarr has emerged as a central threat for the Spirit in her second season in the NWSL, and she's giving defenses nightmares.

She appeared to suffer an ankle injury on Saturday and came off the field just before halftime. Washington's staff will be hopeful that the injury is not serious.

Ouleymata Sarr scores outrageous chip to equalize for Spirit

Check out this delightful scoop from Washington Spirit striker Ouleymata Sarr in the NWSL.

Orlando Pride logo 11. Emily Sams, Orlando Pride defender (Previous: N/A)

It's true, the Orlando Pride's attack is the envy of most teams right now, but don't lose sight of the team's back line. Orlando has conceded only nine goals in 10 games, which is tied for second best in the NWSL and a far cry from the days of being the league's worst defense. (The Pride's 53 goals conceded in 2019 remains the NWSL single-season record.)

Sams is, along with Kylie Strom, the focal point of that defensive unit. Sams is tied for the second most tackles in the defensive third leaguewide, and she has settled into her sophomore season by making far better, more consistent decisions on and off the ball.

Portland Thorns logo 10. Sam Coffey, Portland Thorns defensive midfielder (Previous: N/A)

Coffey is and has been the glue to the Thorns' midfield, and now things are starting to stick again in the Rose City. The Thorns are on a six-game winning streak under interim head coach Rob Gale, and Coffey is back to being a central figure in literal and figurative ways. She provides cover to a back line that has had a few ups and downs this year, and she leads the league in ball recoveries.

Coffey consistently ranks among the league leaders in passing attempts and accuracy, which speaks to her place as a focal point for one of the league's best teams.

Thorns race into an early 2-0 lead vs. Spirit

Goals from Sam Coffey and Christine Sinclair put the Portland Thorns 2-0 up in the first half.

Angel City FC logo 9. Claire Emslie, Angel City FC winger (Previous: 6)

Emslie is the spark to an Angel City team that can't quite find consistent footing. She ranks second in the NWSL in total chances created, and chances created per 90, per TruMedia, and her five goals has her tied for third in the league. Angel City, currently sitting ninth in the table with 10 points, would not be near the playoff line without Emslie's superlative set pieces and crafty ball skills in the open field.

Racing Louisville logo 8. Taylor Flint, Racing Louisville defensive midfielder (Previous: 5)

Flint continues to be a force in midfield for Racing Louisville and ranks among the league leaders in several categories on each side of the ball. She is still the league leader in tackles, interceptions and defensive interventions -- the latter being an aggregation of seven different metrics, per TruMedia. She is an irreplaceable asset on set pieces as a 6-foot force, and she is sharp on the ball. Louisville still has only one win despite a long unbeaten run, and Flint is a reason for the team's relative success.

North Carolina Courage logo 7. Ashley Sanchez, North Carolina Courage midfielder (Previous: 3)

Sanchez is tied with Washington Spirit midfielder Croix Bethune for the league lead in shot-creating actions, per FBRef. Sanchez ranks lower in goal-creating actions, but that is a product of a Courage team that has no obvious goal scorer to carry the team through tough stretches. (Bethune has several of those in Washington.) Watch the Courage play and everything runs through Sanchez, whether it ends up on a scoresheet in the end or not. She is one of the more creative players in the NWSL.

Washington Spirit logo 6. Trinity Rodman, Washington Spirit winger (Previous: 11)

So much of what Washington does is built around Rodman. The Spirit will purposefully build up their right side, as they did recently against Chicago to get Rodman on the ball, and if they hit any issues, they'll change the plan to suit her. On Saturday, Rodman lined up on the left side to go after Angel City's rookie fullback, Gisele Thompson. Rodman scored eight minutes into the match after a nice cutback move by Sarr.

When Thompson shifted to Angel City's left side following teammate Sarah Gorden's injury, Rodman followed. Angel City enjoyed brief success, but Rodman took over again, scoring her second goal 30 minutes into the match.

Rodman is tied for fifth in the league with teammate Croix Bethune in chances created, per TruMedia, and she ranks second in expected assists. She's exceptional at tracking back defensively on the wing, too.

Trinity Rodman scores first goal of season for Washington Spirit

Trinity Rodman slips in a goal off both posts to give the Washington Spirit a 1-0 lead vs. the Chicago Red Stars.

Kansas City Current logo 5. Vanessa DiBernardo, Kansas City Current attacking midfielder (Previous: 8)

It's a difficult task to pick one standout from a Kansas City attack setting scoring records, but it's hard to imagine where the Current would be without DiBernardo. Don't tell DiBernardo that a player who just turned 32 (as she did last week) can't be in her prime.

The 10-year NWSL veteran ranks fourth in the NWSL in chances created per 90, per TruMedia, and she has scored a couple stunning goals this season -- three total to go with five assists. DiBernardo is also a driving force of the team's high press and, in many ways, the Current's engine.

Washington Spirit logo 4. Croix Bethune, Washington Spirit attacking midfielder (Previous: 9)

Remove from your brain that Bethune is a rookie and that there might be some sort of unspoken rule against rookies winning MVP (Naomi Girma's 2022 campaign would disagree, for one): Bethune is arguably the best attacking midfielder in the NWSL right now. She is tied for the league lead in assists with six and, with the addition of her four goals scored, is tied for the second most goal contributions in the NWSL.

She's a crafty, audacious playmaker who, per FBRef, leads the NWSL in goal-creating actions, and her form is worthy of a USWNT call-up for next week's training camp as a training player.

Kansas City Current logo 3. Temwa Chawinga, Kansas City Current winger (Previous: 2)

We've entered the rare air part of the list, the one with special forwards who can change games without notice when given an inch. Chawinga might be the fastest player in the league, and she's also a quick thinker capable of playing an impromptu pass or taking a quick shot that catches a goalkeeper off guard.

Her production has dried up slightly in recent weeks but she is still one of the last players any opponent wants to see on the other side of the field, and one of the most entertaining in the NWSL.

Portland Thorns logo 2. Sophia Smith, Portland Thorns FC forward (Previous: 10)

We all knew it was coming. The 2022 NWSL MVP and 2023 Golden Boot winner is back to her old ways thanks to a newfound freedom in a hybrid wide role under interim head coach Rob Gale. Smith leads the NWSL with eight goals and shows no sign of slowing. She is brilliant on the ball and capable of scoring despite close pressure, and if defenses play her too tight, they will get burned over the top.

Smith is also tied for the league lead with six assists. Her 14 goal contributions are four more than any other player in the league. Smith remains one of the standard-setters in the NWSL.

Orlando Pride logo 1. Barbra Banda, Orlando Pride forward (Previous: N/A)

Yes, the current MVP leader was not even on the first version of this list, because she had not arrived in market yet. Since joining Orlando, Banda has taken the NWSL by storm as expected. Orlando was already talented without Banda; with her, the team is unstoppable.

The Pride have won all six games since Banda arrived, and the Zambian striker has six goals and two assists in those matches (five starts), the second-most goal contributions in a player's first six appearances in league history, per Opta. She leads the league in goals per 90, expected goals per 90, and total shots and shots on goal, per TruMedia, despite playing fewer minutes than many of her peers.

It is immediately clear that there is no stopping Banda; the best NWSL defenses can do is contain her to a few dangerous opportunities per match. The thing is, she is still likely to convert those more times than not.

Barbra Banda restores Orlando Pride lead

Barba Banda tucks home the loose ball to put the Orlando Pride up 3-2 vs. the Seattle Reign.

Dropped off the list from last time: Naomi Girma, Tess Boade, Uchenna Kanu, Natalia Kuikka, Angelina

Honorable mentions: Summer Yates, Tyler Lussi, Savannah DeMelo, Carson Pickett, Jaedyn Shaw, Malia Berkely