Backflips, Bitmoji and baffling refs: Our unconventional NWSL awards show

It's award season, but we're not messing around with the usual bland categories when it comes to NWSL.

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Most Baffling Refereeing Decision

(aka The Kanye West Award for Performance Sabotage)

One of the biggest — and most consistent — complaints through the NWSL’s five years has been the quality of officiating in the league. On one hand, this isn’t something unique to the NWSL; fans of every sport constantly complain about the officiating, from an umpire with some kind of wacky strike zone to a ref awarding a penalty kick for something that was neither a handball nor inside the box. Questionable calls — or non-calls — are the one thing that unites fans across every team and sport.

Still, the officiating in the NWSL often reaches a certain level of ... let’s call it curiousness, that other leagues have long grown out of.

Among all of this season’s confusing decisions, none stands out more than referee Danielle Chesky opting not to give Portland’s Tobin Heath a yellow card for a hard foul from behind on North Carolina’s Taylor Smith just 90 seconds into the league championship game.

Smith, who landed hard on her right side, tried to continue playing, but she ultimately had to be subbed out in the 12th minute. Chesky did award the Courage a free kick on the play, but not pulling out a card early set the tone for an ugly game that went well beyond chippy.

Best Coach Bitmoji

(aka The Social Activation Award)

Orlando Pride head coach Tom Sermanni has cultivated a very specific Twitter personality. Since the beginning of 2017, Sermanni has been tweeting almost solely in Bitmojis, which, for the olds in the room, are essentially caricatures adorned with some kind of phrase that’s apparently how teens speak now.

Sermanni put his particular gray-haired, mustachioed, purple-polo-and-sunglasses-wearing Bitmoji into a few hilarious tweets this season.

Among the highlights: one where he is dabbing among a backdrop of fire; one that features the hashtag “blessed;” one congratulating fellow frequent Bitmoji tweeter Laura Harvey on her 100th game, which, in addition to featuring Bitmoji Tom Sermanni and the word “amazing” in some kind of font that looks like it was once part of a rejected advertising campaign for Nickelodeon, also contains in the actual tweet itself: “well done on reaching 100 NWSL games, and you don’t look a day over 94!”

There’s also one that congratulates North Carolina head coach Paul Riley for clinching a playoff spot, but instead of featuring Sermanni’s usual Bitmoji, the tweet has a bald, tuxedo-wearing man that’s ... I guess supposed to be Riley — who I definitely could see wearing a tux on the sideline — lighting a cigar with a handful of burning money, the words “no big deal” in the smoke.

His best effort, though, came on opening day. Then, Sermanni, who until that point had tweeted only with words and actual non-cartoon photos of himself, dropped the first of these little internet treasures. In it, Bitmoji Tom, who hasn’t yet acquired his sunglasses, is sitting in an easy chair, pipe in hand, the accompanying text reading “it’s lit fam.” Indeed, Tom. Indeed.

Best Quote

(aka The Will Ferrell "Kicking and Screaming" Award for Odd Motivational Tactics)

Though the Pride eventually ended up finishing third, Orlando’s year didn’t exactly start off in the most promising fashion. After dropping to 0-3-1 with a loss to North Carolina to close out the first month of the season, Orlando goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris sounded off. Among her thoughts on what, exactly, was the Pride’s problem, Harris, mentioned that the team needed “game changers.”

When asked if Marta, who’d just made her first start in what was only her second appearance with the club, didn’t fit that description, Harris responded with this:

“Yeah, she’s a game changer. But if she’s not putting the ball in the back of the net, she’s not doing much for me.”

Ultimately, Marta finished the 2017 season second in the league in scoring with 13 goals and six assists.

NEXT: Giving some dap to Sam and Sincy