WSL end of year awards 2022: Goal of the year, moment of the year & more

Chelsea won the WSL title in 2022
Chelsea won the WSL title in 2022 / Catherine Ivill/GettyImages

As the curtain comes down on 2022, it's time to look back and reflect on what an entertaining, exciting and quite frankly chaotic year it has been in the WSL.

Chelsea won a record third straight title, Birmingham dropped out of the top flight for the first time since the WSL's inception, and some all-time greats retired.

From moments of individual brilliance, unlikely upsets and iconic moments, here are 90min's choice of WSL awards for 2022.

Goal of the year: Caroline Weir, Man City vs Man Utd (February 2022)

Caroline Weir's chip is a goal you cannot help but watch again and again, and is made even more special by the fact she had scored a near identical, similarly outrageous effort 12 months earlier in this exact fixture.

The 2022 goal was even more vital; the deciding moment in a 1-0 victory for City over a United side they were battling with for the WSL's final Champions League spot.

You catch your breath as you watch the ball float towards the top corner, thinking: 'surely she's not done it again??' The audacity to even attempt it, let alone the talent to execute it. Twice.

As Weir herself poetically put it: "Oh that's quite naughty."

Game of the year: Arsenal 2-3 Man Utd (November 2022)

Alessia Russo, Martha Thomas
Arsenal vs Manchester United was a superb football match / Harriet Lander/GettyImages

Arsenal vs Manchester United was an all-time WSL classic that had absolutely everything you could ever want from a game of football, not least because there were five goals and it wasn’t until stoppage time that it was finally decided.

United took the lead in the first half, before Frida Maanum and Laura Weinroither goals put Arsenal ahead with under 20 minutes left. But the Red Devils, previously guilty of lacking the hardened mentality of their main rivals, came roaring back late on through Millie Turner and Alessia Russo.

Adding to the dramatic pendulum-like and edge of your seat nature of the game was the fact that it was played in an electric atmosphere in front of 40,000 people at the Emirates Stadium. United were even granted a dedicated away section that their supporters packed out, and they were in raucous form following the last gasp winner.

Team comeback of the year: Reading 2-1 Leicester (October 2022)

Reading against Leicester in October was the very definition of a relegation six-pointer. The two sides occupied the bottom two spots in the WSL, and neither had collected a win or so much as a point between them. With just one relegation spot in the top flight and only 22 matches across the season, this head-to-head was going to be huge in determining who ultimately survives the drop.

Leicester found themselves 1-0 up as time ticked away and the Foxes headed towards a massive three points. But as the clock struck 90, Rachel Rowe scored straight from a corner to level the scores for Reading, before riding three Leicester challenges in stoppage time and arrowing a rasping effort from range into the bottom corner.

A sensational way to complete a dramatic turnaround when the stakes were that high.

Shock of the year: Birmingham 2-0 Arsenal (January 2022)

Veatriki Sarri
Birmingham stunned Arsenal in the WSL at the start of 2022 / Catherine Ivill/GettyImages

When top of the table Arsenal visited basement side Birmingham in the pair's first WSL outing of 2022, the outcome seemed a formality. The Gunners had not lost to anyone other than Manchester City, Chelsea or Manchester United since April 2018. Birmingham had been the team responsible back then, but that was a Blues side who would finish the season in fourth place and England striker Ellen White netted a hat-trick in the 3-0 victory.

There was no White in sight when Birmingham welcomed unbeaten Arsenal in January, and although the Gunners were injury hit, depleted and makeshift, no one would have predicted what unfolded.

Libby Smith gave Birmingham the lead inside three minutes, and a wonderful Veatriki Sarri strike doubled their advantage on the stroke of half time. The 2-0 victory was Birmingham's first league win since November 2020, and although they were relegated at the end of the season, their three points over Arsenal would end up costing the Gunners the title.

Player of the year: Sam Kerr (Chelsea)

Sam Kerr
Kerr has enjoyed a superb 2022 / Catherine Ivill/GettyImages

Sam Kerr was the queen of important goals for Chelsea in 2022, with her cutting edge in crucial moments in the home stretch of the 2021/22 season vital to the Blues securing a third successive WSL title.

Be it the last gasp winner against Aston Villa in March, the three goals in the space of four days in April that saw the Blues to a pair of hard fought wins over Tottenham, or the sublime brace against Manchester United on the final day of the season to ensure the title remained in west London, the Australian was pivotal.

“She knows she can cope with these situations and deliver when it really, really matters," Emma Hayes said of Kerr. "And, most importantly, have joy in what she’s doing.”

Young player of the year: Maya Le Tissier (Brighton, Manchester United)

Maya Le Tissier
Le Tissier has enjoyed an excellent 2022 / Gareth Copley/GettyImages

Maya Le Tissier was still a teenager at the start of 2022. Yet the Guernsey-born starlet was already a vital player for Brighton, having played every WSL game for the Seagulls in 2020/21 and also going on to repeat that feat in 2021/22.

Manchester United saw enough in Le Tissier to trigger a release clause in her Brighton contract and then put her straight into the starting lineup of a team determined to finish in the top three and qualify for the Champions League for the first time.

Not only that, the now 20-year-old has been a crucial part of her new club’s early success in the first half of 2022/23. She has also done it as a centre-back, keeping more established internationals on the bench, rather than the full-back role in which she initially made her name.

Manager of the year: Emma Hayes (Chelsea)

Emma Hayes
Hayes guided Chelsea to the double in 2022 / Catherine Ivill/GettyImages

Rehanne Skinner and Kelly Chambers have both worked wonders at either end of 2022 - Skinner at the start, to have Tottenham in contention for Champions League football for much of the 2021/22 campaign, and Chambers particularly towards the end of 2022, with a series of huge results to lift Reading clear of the drop zone.

But for sheer, unrelenting consistency across the 12 months, Emma Hayes takes it. Chelsea have lost just once in 23 WSL outings in 2022, winning 20, including a nine-game winning streak to claim the 2021/22 league title - an unprecedented third in a row.

Even when the Chelsea boss stepped away for six weeks in October to recover from an emergency hysterectomy, the systems she had already ensured were in place during her tenure meant that the Blues didn't miss a beat in her absence, winning six from six.

Signing of the year: Rachel Daly (Aston Villa)

Rachel Daly
Daly has instantly been among the goals for Villa / Naomi Baker/GettyImages

Aston Villa's summer business in 2022 was exceptional, with additions Dan Turner, Kenza Dali and Kirsty Hanson all hitting the ground running and enjoying hugely impressive first halves of the season.

But one signing really turned heads: the arrival of England international Rachel Daly. Having been crying out for a striker last season after netting just 13 WSL goals as a result, Villa bagged one of the NWSL's most prolific. Daly featured at left-back during England's Euro 2022, but when asked where she would feature for Villa, Carla Ward was quite clear.

"Listen, Rachel Daly's not a defender, not anywhere near Aston Villa. She's an out and out forward for us," Ward said.

The striker has netted eight goals in nine appearances - including an opening day brace to stun Manchester City, and a hat-trick against Reading. Villa have already matched their goalscoring tally for last season after just nine games.

Individual comeback of the year: Chloe Kelly (Man City)

Chloe Kelly
Chloe Kelly staged a remarkable comeback from injury in 2022 / Angel Martinez/GettyImages

While enjoying the season of her life, Chloe Kelly suffered an ACL injury in May 2021, robbing her of a place in Team GB's Tokyo Olympic squad.

The injury can take players over a year to recover from, and some struggle to hit the same heights as before. Kelly returned to action in April 2022, and was back in the starting XI by the end of the month.

"I remember during her first game back against West Ham, she went into a crunching tackle within 10 minutes of being on the pitch and I shouted at the TV: 'YES Chlo!' - that is the fearless mentality you need to have," Kelly's City teammate Esme Morgan wrote in her 90min column in July.

The winger finished the season with a goal and three assists in five WSL appearances, forcing herself into England's Euro 2022 squad and having a pretty important impact during the Wembley final. She continues to play with the same fearless belief that she was renowned for pre-ACL injury.

Record of the year: Arsenal (September 2022)

Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur - Barclays Women's Super League
Arsenal beat Tottenham in front of a record crowd at the Emirates / Clive Rose/GettyImages

Arsenal set a pair of huge WSL records in 2022, breaking the league's longest winning streak record by notching up 14 between March and November.

The Gunners also set a new all-time high WSL attendance, eclipsing the three-year long record that had been held by Tottenham. A crowd of 47,367 were in the stands at the Emirates to witness Arsenal run out 4-0 winners over Spurs, comfortably beating the previous record of 38,262 set by the north London pair at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in November 2019.

Arsenal boss Jonas Eidevall was keen to emphasise the importance of Arsenal selling the number of tickets they did for the fixture, as opposed to freebies being handed out, as has often been the case with women's football attendance records.

"I don't think we should compare attendance figures with giveaway tickets and sold tickets," said Eidevall. "I don't think it's fair when you're doing that comparison. If you giveaway tickets, it's something else. When you sell tickets, that's how you run a football club."

Moment of the year: Sam Kerr's sensational brace vs Man Utd (May 2022)

Chelsea were trailing 2-1 at half time to Manchester United on the final day of the 2021/22 season. Sam Kerr - renowned for her runs in behind and instinct in the penalty area - then scored not one, but two long-range goal of the season contenders to flip the game on its head and ultimately seal the WSL title for the Blues.

The first was a stunning, sweetly struck volley that soared into the top corner, and the second was a piece of individual brilliance, chesting, swivelling and then having the nerve to lob Mary Earps. Two incredible pieces of skill on the big stage when her team really needed her.

“The second one was world-class, it was outrageous, audacious,” said Hayes. “She’s the best for a reason and she stepped up once again for this football club."