Welcome to what could possibly be the biggest season yet for the NWSL! We are a few weeks away from kickoff!
2015 was a landmark year for women’s soccer in the United States. The FIFA Women’s World Cup brought widespread popularity to the women’s game all over the world- in the United States alone the U.S. National Team’s semifinal match was the most watched soccer game (ever!) for Fox. It’s safe to say that this year more than ever, people are paying attention. But what does this mean for the NWSL?
Last season ended with an exciting re-match of the 2014 FC Kansas City vs. Seattle Reign FC final, with a 78th minute Amy Rodriguez goal leading FC Kansas City to a second consecutive NWSL championship victory. This season we’re sure to see some great soccer happening between these two rivals.
Let’s talk about 2016. There have been a lot of changes in the NWSL over the last few months, from retirements to pregnancies to injuries to trades, but most drastic is the exciting addition of a new team into the mix! In October of last year, it was announced that the NWSL would be gaining an expansion team in Orlando, coached by former U.S. and Australian Women’s National Team head coach Tom Sermanni, and lead by United States forward Alex Morgan. Perhaps the most exhilarating part of the NWSL expansion was the consequent expansion draft, which resulted in a redistribution of the coveted national team players within the league.
On the pregnant, retired, and injured list we have players from all around the league: Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux, both of FC Kansas City, announced their pregnancies in early 2016, while Abby Wambach (Seattle), Lauren Holiday (Kansas City), Lori Chalupny (Chicago), Shannon Boxx (Chicago), Mariah Bullock (Seattle), Chantel Jones (Western New York), Stephanie Cox (Seattle), Leigh Ann Brown (Kansas City), Rachel Van Hollebeke (Portland), and Amy LePeilbet (Kansas City) among others announced their retirements after the 2015 season. It was recently announced via Sky Blue FC’s Twitter that defender Lindsi Cutshall will be out for the season due to injury, and it remains to be seen whether national team and Seattle Reign midfielder Megan Rapinoe is ready to resume competing after an ACL tear late last year. Rapinoe has been training full force with the Reign in preseason and seems to be ready to get back to the national team.
With less than three weeks until the first matches of the season, all ten teams are well into their preseason training, with National Team players trickling at different times to join in. In the past week almost every team has seen victory in their preseason matches – demonstrating that their players are working hard to optimize results. Just like last year, there is a major international tournament this summer – the Olympics. The NWSL is no stranger to its players being pulled away mid-season for National Team duties; this year the season will pause for most of August during the 2016 Olympics. Prior to then, however, the National Team players will be in and out of the season for various pre-Olympic matches and camps with their respective countries. Maybe next year with the major tournaments out of the way we’ll see an NWSL season in which all national team members can play a full season with their teams!
We don’t know yet what kind of TV deal we will see for the NWSL this season (or if we’ll see any at all), but the 2015 deal made with Fox Sports showed some promise. Nonetheless, for the sake of my sanity and the sanity of the thousands of NWSL fans out there, I hope we’ll be able to turn on our TVs to watch the NWSL! In addition to broadcasting promise, the league is seeing improvements in various other areas. For example, the Chicago Red Stars have had an upgrade in venue- they’ve moved from Benedictine University in Lisle Illinois (a small field with low crowd capacity about 40 minutes outside of Chicago) to Toyota Park, home of the MLS’ Chicago Fire. Similarly, Orlando Pride will be sharing Orlando City SC’s home stadium, the Orlando Citrus Bowl. Hopefully the league will continue to see the kinds of improvements that promote the growth of the NWSL and of the women’s game as an equal counterpart to MLS.
For now, though, all ten teams will continue their pre-season training. The U.S. National Team players who were named to coach Jill Ellis’ most recent roster will leave their teams this week for camp in Orlando ahead of their two matches against Colombia on April 6th and 10th. The NWSL kicks off Saturday April 16th with three matches: Washington Spirit vs. Boston Breakers at 7pm ET, Houston Dash vs. Chicago Red Stars at 8:30pm ET, and FC Kansas City vs. Western New York Flash at 8:30pm ET. Don’t forget to tune in!