What is NWSL? What You’ll Want to Know
The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) is a professional soccer league that is based in the United States. It was founded in 2012 and is currently the top professional women’s soccer league in the country. The league is made up of twelve teams from across the U.S. with more on the way.
The NWSL has been growing in popularity in recent years, with more fans tuning in to watch their favorite teams and players compete. The league has also been attracting top talent from around the world, with players from countries such as Brazil, Canada, and Australia joining NWSL teams.
Personally speaking, I didn’t really care for the NWSL but after watching the most recent Women’s World Cup, it is fun to watch. The games are fast and exciting with some possession ball mixed in. The way American soccer should be.
The league has also been working to improve the quality of play, with a focus on developing young talent (especially from ECNL and Girls Academy) and providing opportunities for players to improve their skills.
Let’s take a look at what the National Women’s Soccer League is all about!
What is NWSL?
The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) is a top-tier U.S. professional soccer league for women.
The NWSL is headquartered in New York City, and it is owned by the teams. Until 2020, the league was under a management contract with the United States Soccer Federation. The league operates on a single-entity structure, which means that the league owns all the teams and the players are contracted to the league rather than individual teams.
The NWSL season usually starts in April and ends in early November, with each team playing a set amount of regular season games to try to qualify for the playoffs. Each playoff team is ultimately looking to bring home the NWSL championship back to their city.
History of NWSL
Founding of NWSL
The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) was founded as the successor to Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) which was active from 2007 to 2012. WPS was itself the successor to the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) which was active from 2001 to 2003.
The NWSL began its operations in 2013 with eight teams, four of which were former members of WPS:
- Boston Breakers
- Chicago Red Stars
- Sky Blue FC
- Western New York Flash
In its short history, the NWSL has achieved several major milestones. In 2013, the league’s first season, FC Kansas City won the inaugural NWSL championship. In 2015, the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) won the FIFA Women’s World Cup, with several players from the NWSL on the roster.
In 2016, the league expanded to 10 teams with the addition of the Orlando Pride and the Boston Breakers’ return to the league. In 2017, the North Carolina Courage won the NWSL championship after finishing the regular season with a record-breaking 16 wins.
The league continued to grow in 2018 with the addition of the Utah Royals FC and the return of the Seattle Reign FC. In 2019, the league announced a landmark partnership with A+E Networks, which provided increased national television coverage for the league’s games.
The league also expanded its partnership with CBS Sports, which will broadcast select games on CBS and CBS Sports Network. Now there are multiple platforms where you can watch a live game.
Today, the fan base continues to become more dedicated, and players like Trinity Rodman make noise in women’s soccer.
Structure and Format of NWSL
The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) is a professional women’s soccer league in the United States.
As of 2023, there are 12 teams in the league, each with a unique name and location. The teams are as follows:
|Chicago Red Stars||Chicago, Illinois|
|Houston Dash||Houston, Texas|
|Kansas City Current||Kansas City, Missouri|
|Louisville Racing Louisville FC||Louisville, Kentucky|
|North Carolina Courage||Cary, North Carolina|
|OL Reign||Tacoma, Washington|
|Orlando Pride||Orlando, Florida|
|Portland Thorns FC||Portland, Oregon|
|Racing Louisville FC||Louisville, Kentucky|
|San Diego Wave FC||San Diego, California|
|Sky Blue FC||Harrison, New Jersey|
|Washington Spirit||Leesburg, Virginia|
Season & Playoff Format
The NWSL season typically runs from April to November, with each team playing 24 regular season games. The teams with the best season record (the NWSL Shield winner) and the second-best record receive a first-round bye in the playoffs, which begin in November. The top six teams in the final standings at the end of the regular season qualify for the playoffs and are seeded in order of their record.
The playoffs consist of three rounds: quarterfinals, semifinals, and the championship game. The better-seeded team hosts each match until the championship, which is also hosted by the higher seed. In the championship game, the winner is awarded the NWSL Championship Trophy.
Players to Watch in the NWSL
The NWSL is home to some of the best soccer players in the world, and there are many talented athletes to keep an eye on. Here are ten players to watch in the upcoming season:
- Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns) – A midfielder for the Portland Thorns and the USWNT, Horan is a versatile player who can both score goals and set them up for her teammates.
- Crystal Dunn (North Carolina Courage) – A forward for the North Carolina Courage and the USWNT, Dunn is a speedy and dynamic player who can play multiple positions and is known for her ability to create scoring opportunities.
- Rose Lavelle (OL Reign) – A midfielder for OL Reign and the USWNT, Lavelle is a creative playmaker with excellent vision and passing skills, as well as the ability to score goals from distance.
- Abby Dahlkemper (North Carolina Courage) – A defender for the North Carolina Courage and the USWNT, Dahlkemper is a rock-solid center back known for her strong tackling, aerial ability, and leadership on the field.
- Kealia Watt (Houston Dash) – A forward for the Houston Dash and the USWNT, Watt is a speedy and athletic player who can play multiple positions and is known for her ability to score goals both with her feet and her head.
- Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit) – A forward for the Washington Spirit, Rodman is a rising star in the NWSL and the daughter of NBA legend Dennis Rodman. She made her professional debut in 2021 and has already shown a knack for scoring goals and creating chances for her teammates.
- Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns) – A forward for the Portland Thorns and the USWNT, Smith is one of the most promising young players in the NWSL. She was the number one overall pick in the 2020 NWSL Draft and has already made a big impact with her speed, skill, and scoring ability.
- Olivia Moultrie (Portland Thorns) – A midfielder for the Portland Thorns, Moultrie is one of the youngest players in the NWSL, having signed with the team at just 13 years old! She is a talented playmaker with excellent vision and passing skills, and has already shown that she can compete at the highest level.
- Jaelin Howell (North Carolina Courage) – A midfielder for the North Carolina Courage and the USWNT, Howell is another rising star in the NWSL. She was the number four overall pick in the 2021 NWSL Draft and has already made an impact with her defensive skills and her ability to control the midfield.
- Catarina Macario (Orlando Pride) – A midfielder for the Orlando Pride and the USWNT, Macario is a highly-touted young player who signed with the NWSL in 2021 after a successful college career at Stanford. She is known for her technical ability, her passing skills, and her ability to score goals from distance.
The list above includes some vets and some rising stars. I have a good feeling there will be more stars to keep a keen eye on.
Future of NWSL
There’s no doubt that the future of the NWSL is looking bright, with plans for expansion and increased media coverage. The league has already announced an expansion process, with the addition of two new teams planned for the 2024 season.
The NWSL has also secured new four-year media deals with CBS, ESPN, Amazon, and Scripps for a combined value of $240 million. This is a significant increase from the previous media deals and will provide greater exposure for the league. The championship game of the 2023 season was aired in primetime on CBS and Paramount+ and was the second most-watched game, to date, in NWSL history. Btw, congrats to Gotham FC on winning the 2023 Championship!
The league has also made efforts to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within the league. The NWSL announced the Beyond DEI Summit, which was held in November 2023, as part of its events slate leading up to the 2023 NWSL Championship presented by Bud Light. The summit aimed to facilitate conversations around DEI in soccer and create actionable steps for the league to take.
Overall, the NWSL is on an upward trajectory, with plans for expansion and increased media coverage, as well as a commitment to DEI initiatives. These efforts will help to grow the league and make it more accessible to fans, players, and sponsors alike.
We are excited to continue to follow the NWSL! We’ll definitely be writing more about the upcoming season so stay tuned.