Photo courtesy of the New York Times
2023 NWSL Season Preview
With the 2023 NWSL season starting soon, here is a recap of the offseason and my predictions for the upcoming season
March 24, 2023
When the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) season ended on October 29 last year, it came to an end with the Portland Thorns being crowned NWSL Champions after beating the Kansas City Current 2-0. Now, with the start of the 2023 season coming up on March 25th, the Thorns, as well as the 11 other teams in the league, are preparing to battle for the next championship.
To begin their preparations for the new season, teams first began to focus on free agency signings, trades, and the highly anticipated 2023 NWSL Draft. This year was the first year of free agency in the NWSL and many big-name players were on the market. Most notably, Kelley O’Hara and Megan Rapinoe, both members of the US Women’s National Soccer Team, as well as Marta and Debinha, very well-known members of the Brazilian Women’s National Team. As of right now, there have been 36 signings from free agency, and the period will continue through the start of the season. Of the names mentioned before, O’Hara made history as the first player in NWSL history to be signed during free agency, opting to switch teams from the Washington Spirit to NY/NJ Gotham FC. Debinha also chose to make a switch from the North Carolina Courage to last season’s runners-up, the Kansas City Current. Both Rapinoe and Marta extended their deals with their current teams, OL Reign and Orlando Pride.
As for trades that happened during this offseason, the top three most-notable ones have to be the three that occurred during the 2023 NWSL Draft. Firstly, US Women’s National Team Forward Lynn Williams got traded from the Kansas City Current to NY/NJ Gotham FC for the second overall pick in the draft. Next, Diana Ordonez, a forward for Mexico who had a breakout rookie season when she scored 11 goals, got traded from the North Carolina Courage to the Houston Dash. In exchange for Ordonez, the Courage received the number 8 pick in the 2023 draft, $100,000 in allocation money, an international spot for 2023, and Houston’s first-round pick in 2024. The third and final trade saw US Women’s National Team defender Emily Sonnett leaving the Washington Spirit to go to OL Reign for a first-round draft pick in 2024.
Along with important trades, the 2023 NWSL Draft also provided an opportunity for exciting and young new players to be brought into the league. This year’s first-overall pick was Alyssa Thompson, a forward who was drafted by Angel City FC. Thompson is an 18-year-old phenom who has already represented the US Women’s National Soccer Team at the senior level on two occasions. The next pick by the Kansas City Current went to Michelle Cooper, a forward from Duke University. After that was Emily Madril selected by the Orlando Pride, then Jenna Nighswonger picked by NY/NJ Gotham FC, and with the fifth pick in the draft, the Portland Thorns took Reyna Rayes. In total, 48 players were drafted throughout the four rounds by the 12 different NWSL teams.
After teams had selected their rosters, they began their preseason training camps. For some teams, preseason kicked off as early as January 23; however, some teams waited a little bit longer to have their first day back to training. The latest teams were allowed to start their training camps was February 6th. The length of preseason camp varied depending on the team and when they started training, but all of them were required to last between six to eight weeks. During preseason, teams did a lot of fitness to get their players back in shape, completing team-building drills, and of course, playing soccer. A lot of teams also had a preseason scrimmage or two to test out lineups and see how their players perform in a game before the actual season begins. Also during this time, NWSL teams are allowed to try out uncontracted players and players from their youth programs, as well as their senior players to figure out how to form their starting roster. By the beginning of March, teams had to cut their roster down to 32 players and finalize their 2023 season rosters consisting of 22-28 players by March 20.
With rosters finalized, here are my current predictions for the 2023 NWSL season. I think one of the top contenders to win the championship this season has to be the Kansas City Current. They finished second last year after finishing in last place the season before, and made it very clear that their improvements from the 2022 season were only the beginning. They also added even more high-profile players to their already loaded lineup during the offseason with the additions of Morgan Gautrat and Debhina. Another contender is the returning champs, the Portland Thorns. I know it’s an obvious and somewhat boring choice, but the Thorns are still a top team. Their frontline with Sophia Smith, Christine Sinclair, and Morgan Weaver is unmatched within the league and they were the major reason the Thorns scored more goals than any other team in 2022. Their midfield also has Raquel Rodriguez and Sam Coffey who complement each other perfectly. Rodriguez has great attacking and shooting ability while Coffey always makes the most methodical decisions and has perfect passes. To finish out their incredible lineup, their backline includes Becky Sauerbrunn, Crystal Dunn, and Kelli Hubly who are always a solid, defensive wall in front of their goal. My pick for a dark horse goes to NY/NJ Gotham FC. They finished in last place last season so they are definitely not on people’s radars, but I think they should be. Firstly, they fired their coach towards the end of the season last year and have signed a new one, which can completely change the team, hopefully positively. Also, they picked up so many veteran star players during the offseason that it was hard to keep track, but the signings of Kelley O’Hara and Kristen Edmonds will certainly make a difference. Finally, it is totally possible for Gotham FC to finish at the top of the table this season because going from last to the top is exactly what happened one season ago with the Kansas City Current. And finally, I of course have to mention my home team, San Diego Wave FC. Last season was their inaugural season and they finished in third place, higher than any other team ever has in their first season. Not to mention, they also made it to the semi-finals of the playoffs. The Wave showed great promise in their first season in the league and I am certain it will continue into their second. The team made great draft picks and signed veteran players from other top NWSL teams that will be excellent compliments to an already great roster that includes US Women’s National Team stars like Taylor Kornieck, Naomi Girma, and Alex Morgan.
The 2023 NWSL season starts March 25 when the North Carolina Courage takes on the Kansas City Current at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina.