Don’t look at the league table, we’re one match in and for reasons (a still ongoing preseason tournament), it’s more of a mirage than usual. Instead we’re going to look at where each team is trending heading into the season, lumped into three groups: hawt, nawt, and shrug emoji.
Last year’s NWSL Champions rode a strong defense, versatile midfield and two of the most talented young attacking players in the United States (Trinity Rodman and Ashley Sanchez) to an improbable title run. With Rodman and Sanchez’s continued growth and players returning from long-term injuries, the Spirit are due to add depth and dimensions that weren’t available last year. Real scary hours.
Head coach Laura Harvey has built a strong roster and culture in Seattle and many players are reaping the rewards. Right back Sofia Huerta performed so well under Harvey that she got back into the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) after a nearly four-year absence.
With Alana Cook, Rose Lavelle and Jess Fishlock thriving as well, if Harvey can work her magic to get consistent performances from striker Bethany Balcer and Ally Watt, Reign can dominate anyone in the league.
North Carolina Courage
Before the pandemic, the Courage boasted a roster with Crystal Dunn, Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams. Each of those players are now with different teams and first-time senior head coach Sean Nahas is at the helm, all of which made expectations uncertain.
However, they brought in young, exciting and hungry players who are already excelling in their high-intensity pressing structure and 4-2-2-2 formation. Also, the aforementioned uncertainty provided the drop of underdog fuel that can power North Carolina to the moon and back.
Kansas City Current
Don’t look at the table, AHT, stop that, stay focused. Kansas City finished bottom of the table in 2021, which wasn’t a true reflection of the team’s talent. They’ve since hired a new coach, made smart moves to bring in players to fill important gaps, and had a good college draft.
Two of the players they brought in, Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams, aren’t playing regular minutes yet the team still looks reborn. Williams is out for the season with a (*shudders*) detached hamstring, but Mewis’ recovery and return from knee surgery shouldn’t be too far away.
To be fair, it’s a rebuilding year. To be even fairer, the Pride lost Brazilian soccer GOAT Marta to a torn ACL and forward Sydney Leroux is managing a sore Achilles.
Houston has been a curious case ever since they won the inaugural Challenge Cup in 2020. They won with an intense pressing style and by being difficult to contain in transition. However, that hasn’t been fully embraced through tactical instruction or player recruitment.
Recently, head coach James Clarkson was suspended pending an investigation via the NWSL’s new policy against workplace discrimination, harassment and bullying. An interim coach is expected to be appointed soon.
Louisville is a young team with exciting pieces who don’t yet have the cohesion or team identity required to compete for a playoff spot.
Gotham has yet to discover their best avenues to attack or defend. Last year’s forcefield that kept near-certain goals out of the net has expired, and they haven’t been able to consistently get Midge Purce in favorable 1v1 matchups. Figuring out either can catapult them into the Shrug Emoji pool.
Sophia Smith already seems primed to burst into God Mode this season. If that continues, and new coach Rhian Wilkinson adds more adventure into their new back-three formation, they could easily join the cool kids in the hot group.
Chicago Red Stars
The Red Stars are another team that shifted to a back three, and their iteration is already seeming well-drilled and cohesive. But in attack they’re likely to be over-reliant on Mal Pugh. Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher is reminding everyone why she’s the USWNT’s clear #1, but they’ll need to develop or add another threat to escape this purgatory.
Expansion teams typically start with low expectations but that’s not how Los Angeles works, so Angel City acquired a couple cheat codes. They’re one of the first teams to enlist a data analyst to help build their roster, and they brought USWNT legend Christen Press home as their first signed player. Preseason injuries have kept them from fielding their best XI, but if they can get players back on the pitch, or if the allure of L.A. lures yet another star, they could rise.
San Diego Wave
Casey Stoney, constructor of Manchester United’s women’s team and now San Diego head coach, never shies away from a challenge. Stoney will have to adapt to a much more furious and harder-to-control style of play, but if she can get the midfield to click, the Wave have enough talent in their forward and back lines to put pressure on teams angling for a playoff spot.