The NWSL season kicks off this weekend with 2 new teams

Thu, Mar 14, 2024
Soccer News (AP)

The NWSL season kicks off this weekend with 2 new teams

BAY FC

2023 FINISH: Expansion team for 2024.

COACH: Albertin Montoya.

KEY PLAYERS: Deyna Castellanos, Racheal Kundananji, Asisat Oshoala.

OUTLOOK: Bay FC went on a spending spree heading into its first season and if coach Albertin Montoya can get all the parts on the same page, the San Francisco Bay Area team should do well. Zambia forward Racheal Kundananji commanded the largest transfer fee ever in women's soccer when Bay FC paid $788,000 to Madrid CFF. Deyna Castellnos, who won a national championship with Florida State in 2018, came to Bay FC from Manchester City. And Asisat Oshoala, a six-time African player of the year, arrived from Barcelona.

UTAH ROYALS

2023 FINISH: Expansion team for 2024.

COACH: Amy Rodriguez.

KEY PLAYERS: Michele Vasconcelos, Imani Dorsey, Ifeoma Onumonu.

OUTLOOK: Former U.S. women's national team defender Amy Rodriguez is making her debut as a head coach for the Royals. Utah comes back in 2024 after what was essentially a hiatus for three years. The Royals were part of the NWSL from 2018 to 2020, an incarnation of founding club FC Kansas City, which folded in 2017. Former Orlando Pride midfielder and Utah native Mikayla Cluff was the team's first signing. Imani Dorsey took last season off to focus on her mental health after spending her first five seasons with Gotham. Fellow Gotham forward Ifeoma Onumonu joins her on the Royals.

GOTHAM FC

2023 FINISH: 8-7-7, NWSL champions.

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COACH: Juan Carlos Amoros.

KEY PLAYERS: Rose Lavelle, Crystal Dunn, Lynn Williams.

OUTLOOK: After winning the league championship as a sixth seed, Gotham essentially assembled a super team, bringing in Crystal Dunn from Portland, Rose Lavelle and Emily Sonnett from Seattle and Tierna Davidson from the Chicago Red Stars. Those new players complemented an already stellar roster that included Lynn Williams, Midge Purce and Jenna Nighswonger, last year's NWSL Rookie of the Year. With the NWSL championship, Gotham pulled off a massive turnaround for a team that finished last in the NWSL in 2022 with 17 losses.

SEATTLE REIGN

2023 FINISH: 9-8-5, Fourth.

COACH: Laura Harvey.

KEY PLAYERS: Jess Fishlock, Jordyn Huitema, Quinn.

OUTLOOK: The Reign played in the NWSL championship game last season, falling to Gotham 2-1. The team lost two key players from that squad in the offseason, Rose Lavelle and Emily Sonnett, who both went to Gotham FC. Megan Rapinoe retired from soccer after tearing her ACL moments into the final. Laura Harvey's squad is still talented, with Canadians Jordyn Huitema and Quinn, and defenders Sofia Huerta and Alana Cook. The team also has two of the league's originals: Jess Fishlock and Lu Barnes have played for the Reign since the league was founded in 2013.

ORLANDO PRIDE

2023 FINISH 10-11-1, Seventh.

COACH: Seb Hines.

KEY PLAYERS: Marta, Barbra Banda, Adriana.

OUTLOOK: After a slow start, Orlando finished just outside the playoffs last season. The Pride made a splash in the offseason by signing Zambia forward Barbra Banda for the second-highest transfer fee ever. Banda is remembered for her back-to-back hat tricks at the Tokyo Olympics. The Pride got some disappointing news in the preseason when Simone Charley ruptured her Achilles tendon during training. The team still has Marta, as well as fellow Brazilians Adriana, Angelina and Rafaelle.

WASHINGTON SPIRIT

2023 FINISH: 7-6-9, Eighth.

COACH: Jonatan Giraldez Costas (Adrian Gonzalez interim).

KEY PLAYERS: Trinity Rodman, Ashley Hatch, Casey Krueger.

OUTLOOK: Barcelona coach Jonatan Giraldez Costas is due to take over the team in June after he wraps up the season. The Spaniard led Barcelona to the Champions League title last year. He'll take over a team that appeared to underperform last season under Mark Parsons, former coach of the Portland Thorns. The team traded away Ashley Sanchez to the Courage and Sam Staab to the Red Stars, but added Casey Krueger. The team's top scoring options are Trinity Rodman and Ashley Hatch.

CHICAGO RED STARS

2023 FINISH: 7-12-3, 12th.

COACH: Lorne Donaldson.

KEY PLAYERS: Alyssa Naeher, Mallory Swanson, Sam Staab.

OUTLOOK: After a last-place finish in the league last season, the Red Stars have a new coach in Lorne Donaldson, who led Jamaica to the round of 16 at last year's Women's World Cup. Donaldson is well respected, having coached players including Mallory Swanson and Sophia Smith at the elite youth level. Swanson, one of Chicago's marquee players, is coming off a patellar tendon injury in April that sidelined her for the rest of the season and kept her off the U.S. squad for the World Cup. The Red Stars also have veteran goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. Tierna Davidson and Casey Krueger departed in the offseason.

KANSAS CITY CURRENT

2023 FINISH: 8-12-2, 11th.

COACH: Vlatko Andonovski.

KEY PLAYERS: Debinha, A.D. Franch, Lo'eau LaBonta.

OUTLOOK: Coach Vlatko Andonovski is back where it all started after a stint with the U.S. national team. Andonovski was the coach at FC Kansas City, one of the league's founding teams, from 2013 to 2017, when the team folded. He also coached two seasons with the Reign before taking over the United States from Jill Ellis. He parted ways with the national team following the U.S. exit at the World Cup last year. This is a defining season for the Current, who open the country's first stadium dedicated to women's pro soccer.

SAN DIEGO WAVE

2023 FINISH: 11-7-4, First.

COACH: Casey Stoney.

KEY PLAYERS: Alex Morgan, Jaedyn Shaw, Naomi Girma.

OUTLOOK: The Wave won the Supporters Shield last season, vaulting above the Portland Thorns. The team is loaded with talent, including veteran forward Alex Morgan, U.S. Soccer Player of the Year Naomi Girma, and teenager Jaedyn Shaw, who is emerging as a national team star with four goals in her first four starts for the United States. The Wave brought in Savannah McCaskill from rival Angel City and Hanna Lundvist from Sweden to shore up a talented roster.

ANGEL CITY

2023 FINISH: 8-7-7, Fifth.

COACH: Becki Tweed.

KEY PLAYERS: Alyssa Thompson, Ali Riley, Melissa Bright.

OUTLOOK: Angel City took a hit in the offseason when Jun Endo was lost for the upcoming season with an ACL injury. The team signed Giselle Thompson, Alyssa's younger sister, and added Casey Phair, who became the youngest woman to play in a World Cup last year when she played for South Korea. Melissa Bright scored six goals in 22 games with the Orlando Pride last season - and was a Rookie of the Year nominee - but requested a trade for personal reasons. Savannah McCaskill, who led the team with six goals in the regular season and Challenge Cup, departed the team for rival San Diego.

PORTLAND THORNS

2023 FINISH: 10-7-5, Second.

COACH: Mike Norris.

KEY PLAYERS: Sophia Smith, Sam Coffey, Christine Sinclair.

OUTLOOK: Crystal Dunn was the most notable offseason departure but Portland remains loaded with talent, including national team regulars in Sophia Smith, Sam Coffey, Becky Sauerbrunn and promising young star Olivia Moultrie. They also have forward Christine Sinclair and brought in fellow Canadian Jessie Fleming. The Thorns were vying for the Supporters' Shield last season on Decision Day but lost to Angel City 5-1. The Bhathal Family, investors in the NBA's Sacramento Kings, finalized the deal to buy the team in early January, ending a year-long effort to sell the club.

RACING LOUISVILLE

2023 FINISH: 6-7-9, Ninth.

COACH: Bev Yanez.

KEY PLAYERS: Savannah DeMelo, Jaelin Howell, Taylor Flint.

OUTLOOK: Last season was the third straight year that Racing has finished in ninth. Looking to take the next step, Racing hired coach Bev Yanez in the offseason. Racing lost Nadia Nadim, now with AC Milan, and Thembi Kgatlana, who was acquired by Tigres in Liga MX for a transfer fee. But they added Taylor (Kornieck) Flint from the Wave and brought Arin Wright home via a trade with the Chicago Red Stars. In all, Louisville is bringing back 16 players from last season. Savannah DeMelo stood out last season and won a spot on the U.S. team that went to the Women's World Cup.

HOUSTON DASH

2023 FINISH: 6-8-8, Tenth.

COACH: Fran Alonso.

KEY PLAYERS: Maria Sanchez, Cece Kizer, Jane Campbell.

OUTLOOK: The team brought in coach Fran Alonso from Celtic FC, which won Scottish Cup titles in both 2022 and '23, as well as the Scottish Premier League Cup in 2021. The team also re-signed 28-year-old forward Maria Sanchez to a three-year deal with a mutual option for a fourth, making her among the highest-paid players in the league. The team also acquired winger CeCe Kizer in a trade with the Current. Jane Campbell was named the league's Goalkeeper of the Year for last season.

NORTH CAROLINA COURAGE

2023 FINISH: 9-7-6, Third.

COACH: Sean Nahas.

KEY PLAYERS: Ashley Sanchez, Casey Murphy, Tyler Lussi.

OUTLOOK: The Courage defied expectations and finished third last season in the standings, but just like the Portland Thorns they were knocked out of the playoffs by eventual champion Gotham FC. Brazil forward Kerolin is out after tearing her ACL in the regular-season finale last year, and Emily Fox departed for Arsenal. But the Courage added Ashley Sanchez in a draft day trade from the Washington Spirit. The Courage also added Germany defender Felicitas Rauch. The Courage were the top team in possession last season.

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