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2023 NWSL Season Preview

NWSL: NWSL Preseason-Racing Louisville at Portland Thorns FC as Sophia Smith Is in the NWSL Season Preview

This week marks the return of NWSL, the top flight of professional women’s soccer in the United States. The season kicks off March 25th at 2 pm ET when the North Carolina Courage takes on the Kansas City Current. With a mix of new and familiar faces to analyze for this upcoming year, here is the 2023 NWSL season preview. Find out which players you should be watching this year, where your favorite club will finish in the standings, and who will lift the trophy in 2023.

The 2023 NWSL Season Preview of Every Team

Angel City FC – 2022 NWSL Finish (Eighth, Missed Playoffs)

2023 Off-Season Moves

In:  F Alyssa Thompson (Draft), GK Angelina Anderson (Draft), D Merritt Mathias, F Katie Johnson

Out: M Hope Breslin, F Miri Taylor, M Katie Cousins, GK Almuth Schult, M Stefany Ferrer Van Ginkel, GK Maria Perez, M Cari Roccaro

2023 Player to Watch – Alyssa Thompson

When Angel City traded up to the number one pick in this year’s draft they had one player in mind. That player was Thompson. Thompson was still in high school and had committed to play at Stanford. Despite not having even registered for the draft, Thompson eventually decided to go pro and became the first overall pick of the 2023 draft class.

The 18-year-old has already made 2 appearances for the national team and is part of the future of attack for the United States. There will be a lot of pressure to live up to the hype not only set by her team’s decision to draft her but also by her presence on the international stage.

2023 Prediction – Sixth, Lose in First Round

Angel City’s debut last season did not have a Hollywood ending. Injuries to stars like Christen Press saw the Los Angeles team miss the playoffs in their first year. However, even if the press doesn’t recover in time for 2023 (which is still a possibility), the promise of rookie Alyssa Thompson and veteran Sydney Leroux upfront will bolster the attack. Angel City’s supporting cast is strong enough to maintain winning ways through the season. But, an early playoff exit should be expected.

Chicago Red Stars – 2022 NWSL Finish (Sixth, Lost in First Round)

2023 Offseason Moves

In: M Addie McCain, F Jenna Bike, F Penelope Hocking (Draft), M Grace Yochum (Draft), F Ally Schlegel (Draft), M Sophie Jones (Draft), M Julia Bianchi

Out: M Channing Foster, D Mikenna McManus, M Sarah Woldmoe, F Sarah Luebbert, M Cari Roccaro

2023 Player to Watch – Mallory Swanson

Mallory Swanson’s 2023 season is already off to a flying start. She has already scored seven goals through five appearances this calendrer year. Swanson was a nominee for MVP last season after scoring 11 goals and six assists and leading the Red Stars to the playoffs. Her offseason performance along with her domestic dominance has almost assured her a spot on the world cup squad. And, an MVP this year shouldn’t be out of the question either.

2023 Prediction – Seventh, Miss Playoffs

The Red Stars just squeaked out the final playoff spot last season. This year could have them back in the playoff hunt. Their defensive play is solid including national team goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher as the last line of defense. However, there is a sense that they will have to rely on goals from Mallory Swanson to succeed in the attack. Because of this, Chicago will most likely finish one spot shy of a playoff birth.

Houston Dash- 2022 NWSL Finish (Fourth, Lost in First Round)

2023 Offseason Moves

In: GK Devon Kerr, M Havana Saloun, F Dianna Ordonez, M Sophie Hirst (Draft), D Jylissa Harris (Draft), D Lindsi Jennings (Draft), D Madelyn Desiano (Draft), D Courtney Peterson

Out: F Valerie Gauvin, F Cali Farquharson, M Elizabeth Eddy, D Julia Ashley

2023 Player to Watch – Diana Ordonez

The Dash’s biggest offseason acquisition came in the form of Mexican international Diana Ordonez. The 21-year-old’s rookie season saw her break the NWSL rookie record for scoring 11 goals. Ordonez is a big threat inside the box and will come as a much-needed attacking force for a Houston team that emphasizes defense.

2023 Prediction – Fifth, Lose in Semifinal

Houston has one of the more balanced squads in NWSL. Diana Ordonez and Ebony Salmon lead the young attack. Meanwhile, the midfield and defense have the veteran presence of players like Sophie Schmidt and Katie Lind. This with US International Jane Campbell in net should see the Dash make a return to the playoffs. Despite bowing out in the first round last year, expect a potential playoff run once the spot is secured.

Kansas City Current – 2022 NWSL Finish (Fifth, Lost in Final)

2023 Offseason Moves

In: M Vanessa DiBernardo, M Morgan Gautrat, D Kate Del Fava, F Mimi Larsson, F Marianna Larroquette, M Debinha, D Alex Loera, F Michelle Cooper (Draft), D Gabrielle Robinson (Draft), GK Jordan Silkowitz (Draft) D Mykiaa Minniss (Draft), D Ella Shamburger (Draft) F Alexa Spaanstra (Draft), M Rylan Childers (Draft), GK Ashley Orkus (Draft), M Desiree Scott, D Hanna Glas

Out: F Jaycie Johnson, GK Sydney Schneider, D Taylor Leach, M Addie McCain, F Elyse Bennett, F Lynn Williams

2023 Player to Watch – Debinha

Since 2017, Brazilian midfielder Debinha had been a key to the dominance of the North Carolina Courage. Last year her 12 goals were third-best in the league. This year, Debinha became the key signing in a very busy offseason for the Kansas City Current. already joining a talented roster, Debinha might be the goal scorer needed to win a title.

2023 Prediction – Fourth, Lose in First Round

The Current, more than any team, made the most of this year’s offseason. From free agents like Debinha and Desiree Scott to grabbing college soccer player of the year Michelle Cooper in the draft, Kansas City is all in. These names alongside a squad that made a run to the final last year should make them one of the favorites entering 2023. However, some holes in the defense could end up costing them come playoff time and lead to an early exit.

NJ/NY Gotham FC- 2022 NWSL Finish (12th, Missed Playoffs)

READ MORE: Gotham FC Dominate Free Agency

2023 Offseason Moves

In: D Kelley O’Hara, GK Abby Smith, M Kristen Edmunds, D Nealy Martin, M Yazmeen Ryan, GK Amanda Haught, F Lynn Williams, M Jenna Nighswonger (Draft), M Ilianna Hocking (Draft), F Svava Rós Guðmundsdóttir

Out: M Domi Richardson, GK Ashyln Harris, F Paige Monaghan, F Cameron Tucker, D Kelly Anne Livingstone

2023 Player to Watch – Kelley O’Hara

When the inaugural free agency period began this offseason, the very first player signed was a familiar name for American soccer fans. Kelley O’Hara spent five seasons playing for Sky Blue FC, the former name of Gotham FC. Now, the 34-year-old World Cup Champion returns to the club where she had the most success and brings a much-needed veteran presence to the struggling Gotham.

2023 Prediction- Ninth, Miss Playoffs

Gotham FC could be in the running for the most improved team this season. They were the first team to utilize free agency this off-season. Now they are on their way to being a competitive side after firing their manager mid-season and finishing in last place in 2022. there are still a few holes to fill and there isn’t a singular superstar on the squad, but the trajectory appears to be upward, whether they make the playoffs or not.

North Carolina Courage – 2022 NWSL Finish (Seventh, Missed Playoffs)

2023 Offseason Moves

In: D Estelle Johnson, F Olivia Wingate (Draft), M Clara Robbins (Draft), F Haley Hopkins (Draft), F Tyler Lussi, F Millie Gejl Jensen, D Emily Fox, M Narumi Miura

Out: F Diana Ordonez, D Jaelene Daniels, F Rylee Baisden, D Kate Bowen, D Merritt Mathias, D Carson Pickett, D Abby Erceg, M Debinha

2023 Player to Watch – Denise O’Sullivan

Denise O’Sullivan has been a mainstay in North Carolina since 2017. The Irish international midfielder has played in 107 matches for the courage and was a key part of their titles in 2018 and 2019. O’Sullivan was voted team MVP for both championship seasons. If North Carolina makes an impact this year, it will most likely have a great deal to do with O’Sullivan’s leadership.

2023 Prediction – 11th, Miss Playoffs

It’s going to be a rebuilding year for the Courage. They let go of a lot of the pieces that helped their late-season push last year. That’s not to say there isn’t top-level talent in North Carolina. Veterans like defender Emily Fox and Goalkeeper Casey Murphy lead a solid defense. But, the lack of any attacking quality leads many to believe 2023 will be a forgettable year for the Courage.

OL Reign – 2022 NWSL Finish (First, Lost in Semifinal)

2023 Offseason Moves

In: F Elyse Bennett, D Emily Ann Sonnett, D Shea Holmes (Draft), M Natalie Viggiano (Draft)

Out: D Sinclaire Miramontez, D Jodi Ulkekul

2023 Player to Watch – Rose Lavelle

Rose Lavelle has long been one of the standout players internationally for the United States. Last year saw one of her most prolific domestic campaigns with OL Reign. Her five goals over 18 appearances helped the Reign capture the NWSL Shield. Lavelle is one of the many talented attackers on the Reign squad in 2023.

2023 Prediction – Third, Lose in Semifinal

The Reign is coming off a season that saw them win the shield as the top team of the regular season. Despite this, the team ended up bowing out in the semifinal. This year should be championship or bust for the team from Seattle. However, without any significant offseason moves, they will most likely perform well during the season and then once again fall short in the playoffs.

Orlando Pride – 2022 NWSL Finish (Tenth, Missed Playoffs)

2023 Offseason Moves

In: D Emily Madril (Draft), F Messiah Bright (Draft), D Tori Hansen (Draft), M Summer Yates (Draft), F Kristen Scott (Draft), F Adrianna

Out: M Thais Reiss, M Parker Roberts, M Chelsee Washington, F Darian Jenkins, D Courtney Petersen

2023 Player to Watch – Marta

Marta missed the entire regular season campaign after tearing her ACL in the 2022 Challenge Cup. Now she is fully healthy heading into this year’s season. The Brazilian legend has earned many accolades over her career including being Brazil’s highest goal scorer of any gender and one of three, male or female, to score in five different World Cups. At 37, Marta will captain the Pride and look to win her first NWSL title.

2023 Prediction – 12th, Miss Playoffs

Orlando didn’t do much to address the problems that led them to dwell toward the bottom of the table last season. The return of Marta and the acquisition of her Brazilian counterpart Adrianna will surely boost the attack. However, there is not enough talent to see them finish anywhere other than at the bottom once again.

Portland Thorns FC – 2022 NWSL Finish (Second, Champions)

2023 Offseason Moves

In: D Reyna Reyes (Draft), F Izzy D’Aquila (Draft), F Lauren DeBeau (Draft), GK Lauren Kozal (Draft),

Out: F Marissa Everett, M Yazmeen Ryan

2023 Player to Watch – Sophia Smith

Last year was a career year for Sophia Smith. Her 14 goals and three assists earned her an MVP for the regular season and her goal at the playoff final saw her win the championship MVP. Internationally, Smith was also named 2022 US Player of the Year. Smith will be the centerpiece of a Portland team that will look to repeat in 2023.

2023 Prediction – Second, Champions

The Thorns are looking to be the first team to repeat as champions since North Carolina did in 2019. Portland has plenty of talent in the starting eleven as well as depth in the roster. They retained almost all of their 2022 championship squad led by the likes of Christine Sinclair, Crystal Dunn, and Becky Sauerbrunn. And with MVP Sophia Smith up top, there is little doubt they can repeat in 2023.

Racing Louisville FC- 2022 NWSL Finish (Ninth, Missed Playoffs)

2023 Offseason Moves

In: D Elli Pikkujämsä, F Ary Borges, F Kayla Fischer (Draft), D Brianna Martinez (Draft), M Jaydyn Edwards (Draft), F Riley Parker (Draft), F Paige Monaghan, D Carson Pickett, D Abby Erceg, F Uchenna Kanu

Out: D Gemma Bonner, D Emily Fox,

2023 Player to Watch – Carson Pickett

Last season was a breakout year for Carson Pickett. After racking up a goal and six assists, Pickett was nominated for Defender of the Year. As a result of her domestic success, she made two appearances with the national team in June. Now, Pickett is the leader of a new crop of talent headed to Louisville this season.

2023 Prediction – Tenth, Miss Playoffs

Louisville made several additions this offseason while exporting very little talent. Players like Pickett and Abby Erceg help fill some much-needed spots on the backline. But at their core, Louisville wasn’t talented enough to compete for a playoff spot last year. The offense isn’t as dynamic as it could be. Until that is addressed, they will once again find themselves at home this postseason.

San Diego Wave FC – 2022 NWSL Finish (Third, Lost in Semifinal)

2023 Offseason Moves

In: F Rachel Hill, M Danielle Colaprico, M Meggie Dougherty Howard, M Sierra Enge (Draft), GK Lauren Brzykcy (Draft), M Giovanna DeMarco (Draft)

Out: D Kayla Bruster, F Marleen Schimmer

2023 Player to Watch – Naomi Girma

Last year’s number-one pick made quite an impact. Naomi Girma captained the Wave to the playoffs in their first year. Her consistency on the pitch saw her recognized as both rookie and defender of the year for 2022. The 22-year-old has already made 14 appearances with the national team. Girma will look to finish her sophomore season with San Diego’s first-ever title.

2023 Prediction – First, Lose in Final

The Wave had a very successful inaugural season. On and off the field they built a winning culture almost immediately. Now, they will have a full season at their new home stadium that saw an NWSL record crowd. San Diego also boasts one of the more well-rounded starting lineups in the league. Plus, they have arguably the most depth of any club in the league. All this means they should end the regular season with a shield to add to the trophy case. However, the likes of Portland may keep them away from a championship come playoff time.

Washington Spirit – 2022 NWSL Finish (11th, Missed Playoffs)

READ MORE: EA Adds NWSL to FIFA 23

2023 Offseason Moves

In: M Marissa Sheva, D Tori Huster, D Gabrielle Carle, D Camryn Biegalski, D Amber Brooks, GK Nicolle Barnhart, F Nicole Douglas (Draft), GK Lyza Bosselmann (Draft), F Riley Tanner (Draft), F Lena Silano (Draft), F Civana Kuhlmann (Draft), D Delaney Graham (Draft), M Ines Juarena, M Chloe Ricketts

Out: M Taylor Aylmer, D Alia Martin, D Emily Ann Sonnett,

2023 Player to Watch – Trinity Rodman

Trinity Rodman is entering her third season at just 20 years old. The former number-one pick and rookie of the year have become the face of the Spirit. Outside of NWSL, Rodman is seen as a favorite to make the upcoming World Cup squad for the US.

2023 Prediction – Eighth, Miss Playoffs

Last year was a disappointing campaign for the Spirit. But, 2023 has the potential to improve on an 11th-place finish last year. Washington drafted well and already has a crop of young talent that will compete for years to come. However, they are still a few pieces away from being able to make the playoffs this season.

Lastly, this will prove to be a big year as this is the year the NWSL will be in FIFA 23, meaning the possibility of more viewers watching the league in the U.S. and in the world (source: NWSL’s media press release).

 

Photo Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports on March 12, 2023, of a Sophia Smith Headshot.

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