NWSL preseason training camps are underway. The winter European transfer window is closed, and while intra-league trades are still possible, most teams already have the talent they’ll rely on at the start of the season in camp.
While it’s been a hectic offseason, with the league’s first-ever free agency period, plus an absurdly deep NWSL Draft, no team is infallible. This is part of what makes the NWSL the deepest, most competitive league in the world. So we’re going to identify one question that each team still has to answer.
Last year Angel City struggled to control matches in part because their midfield wasn’t set up to do so, in tactical approach or personnel. While some personnel have moved on, Angel City still haven’t bolstered the position in a substantive way. Head coach Freya Coombe would prefer to have control of matches, but if that is not an option yet again, can she find another tactic for the team besides suffering?
Yes this is a sort of patronizing and leading question, because the answer cannot possibly be “yes.” You don’t just replace Morgan Gautrat, Danielle Colaprico and Vanessa DiBernardo, all of whom Chicago lost in free agency. Still, it will be a win if the impact of their loss can be lessened by new acquisitions Julia Bianchi from Brazil and Cari Roccaro from Angel City.
The Dash’s strategy of hanging out and being the preferred destination for some of the most talented, young goalscorers in the league has paid off. When Louisville agreed to move on from Ebony Salmon, Houston was there with open arms. When Diana Ordone told the Courage she wanted to leave, mid-draft, the Dash once again spread their arms wide. Now the team has one of the most talented front lines in the league, the majority of which will likely not be away at the World Cup. If first-time head coach Sam Laity can get the team humming, they could make a deep playoff run.
There’s no question about who won the offseason, it’s the Kansas City Current. Despite being in the championship game at the end of last season, KC has been aggressive ahead of 2023, signing Morgan Gautrat, Vanessa DiBernardo and Debinha in free agency, and elite college attacker Michellle Cooper from the draft. Last year, KC played the role of fun underdog newcomer. This year, with a loaded roster, they already have a target, and will need to embrace a bit of villainy to cope with facing every team’s best shot.
Gotham needed an exciting rebuild and they managed to pull it off. They added USWNT stars Lynn Williams and Kelley O’Hara, exciting young attacker Yazmeen Ryan, versatile defender Kristen Edmonds, and highly rated attacking midfielder Jenna Nighswonger in the draft. New head coach Juan Carlos Amoros has a lot of talent to implement his style, so despite having fallen to the bottom of the league in 2022, Gotham are in a great position to pick themselves up.
The plan in North Carolina is gonna have to be a surprise to all of us outside of North Carolina, I hope. But losing half your goals in Debinha and Diana Ordonez’s departures, then half your starting defense in Abby Erceg and Carson Pickett’s trade to Louisville is a lot to make up.
In terms of player acquisition, OL Reign didn’t do a ton. They made two draft picks, smartly acquired Elyse Bennett from Kansas City, and that’s all. But that’s also enough. Reign’s first and only objective this offseason was to find the correct prayer or chant that would establish a direct line to the goal gods, so that when times are desperate, their prayers can finally be answered.
With the moves Orlando made in the offseason, the consensus is that they’ve finally found the correct approach to a rebuild, and that there’s a much higher probability that it’ll stick this time. What that means now, though, is that the Pride will be expected to perform, rather than accept pats on the back for good efforts or simply holding their own.
The Thorns were a final day of the season 3-3 result versus Gotham away from being just the second team to win the NWSL Shield and Championship in the same season (North Carolina, twice). Since then, there’s been nothing but turmoil. Their coach lost the locker room after reported consensual but inappropriate messaging with a player, owner Merritt Paulson finally put the team up for sale after having his negligence put under spotlight across multiple investigations, and the newly hired CEO happens to be Paulson’s lawyer, who acknowledged the need for systemic change while also praising one of the primary causes of systemic failure at the club (her boss, Merritt Paulson). What does all this have to do with on-the-field performance? I don’t know, it’s so hard to tell, but players are human, and at some point enough is enough, or enough is simply just exhausting.
To Louisville’s credit, they’ve backed their new coach, even to the tune of trading away the club’s highest scorer the year before, Ebony Salmon. Bjorkegren has shuffled formations and lineups, but with an offseason and a lot of player movement in and out, whatever he’s been trying to do should be more clear this season – and Louisville, which got rid of a lot of talent, better hope it works.
Alex Morgan scored 15 regular season goals for the 2022 Wave, which was one away from half their overall total. But this is a World Cup year, Morgan will log a lot of minutes in international play, and will miss a chunk of the Wave’s matches.
It seems weird that such a glaring hole in a squad has so far gone unaddressed without a surefire ‘ah, that’s the plan’ level acquisition. While Mark Parsons’ scheme has had great success in the NWSL, and Trinity Rodman, Ashley Sanchez and Ashley Hatch is a more than formidable attack, ask the 2022 North Carolina Courage how hard it is to make the playoffs with an unsettled defense.