The NWSL is without a doubt one of the most competitive leagues out there. Every team is always in contention to rise to the top or fall to the bottom. Ahead of the NWSL season kicking off, here are the Women's Sports Exchange team power rankings.
1. OL Reign - The winningest coach in the NWSL isn’t looking to take steps backward this season and settle for anything less than another shield win. Laura Harvey’s roster was locked in last season, and keeping her team as stable as possible was the best off-season move for the Reign. Their biggest move was adding just a touch more attacking power with Elyse Bennett. Naming their most talented players would include most of the roster, but here are a few notable names who play for Seattle: Megan Rapinoe, Rose Lavelle, Jordyn Hueitma, Jess Fishlock, Sofia Huerta, Alana Cook, and Phallon-Tullis Joyce. With a history of success and a team full of legends, it’d be hard to envision the Reign being anything but victorious.
2. Kansas City Current - The Kansas City Current are back this season to avenge their 2022 NWSL championship loss to the Portland Thorns, and they certainly have the roster to do it. After completely flipping the narrative by moving from the bottom of the table in 2021 to the top in 2022, Kansas City now has the chemistry and confidence to continue its chase for a trophy. With an already superb young roster, the Current have now added Debinha, Morgan Gautrat, Vanessa DiBernardo, and Hanna Glas, all of whom bring major skill and experience to the table. A top player in the league, Debinha boasts two Challenge Cup MVP awards and is known for her technique and creative flair on the ball. The combination of her in the midfield with Gautraut promises a balance between composure and cheekiness, which will be especially important with Sam Mewis still out due to injury. Despite losing key forwards Lynn Williams and Elyse Bennett, the Current is still looking to be as dangerous as last year.
3. San Diego Wave - After San Diego Wave’s third overall finish in the regular season in their inaugural season, they are looking for more in the 2023 season. Casey Stoney and her coaching staff are returning for their second season and along with them is their core roster from last season, including Kailen Sheridan, Naomi Girma, Taylor Kornieck, and the 2022 NWSL top goal scorer Alex Morgan. Adding to an already strong roster, in the offseason, the Wave signed fifteen-year-old Melanie Barcenas, NWSL Draftees Lauren Brzykcy (UCLA), Giovanna DeMarco (Wake Forest), and Sierra Enge (Stanford), along with players with NWSL experience in Megan Dougherty Howard (Orlando Pride), Danielle Colaprico (Chicago Red Stars), and Rachel Hill (Chicago Red Stars). For every team, missing players for the World Cup is going to be a challenge, but with the depth of San Diego’s roster, they should have no difficulty staying at the top of the standings throughout the season and challenging for the championship.
4. Portland Thorns -The Portland Thorns are the reigning NWSL Champions. They are a team full of winners with one big problem, Sophia Smith. It is no secret Sophia Smith had arguably the best soccer season of her career. Her use of space down the wings in combination with her sharp finishing touches, there was no defender slowing her down. However, this is a FIFA Women’s World Cup year and Sophia Smith is favored to be on her national team’s roster. Combine this huge loss with other international players such as Janine Beckie, Christine Sinclair, Crystal Dunn, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Rocky Rodriguez, the Portland Thorns will struggle to find a rhythm in their starting lineup. Pressure will fall to the likes of Sam Coffey, Morgan Weaver, Izzy D’Aquila, and a new head coaching staff that recently lost to the reigning shield winner OL Reign during their preseason tournament. NWSL is a competitive league with no room to lose any points on the road. So far it looks like the Thorns could win a few games, but the lack of depth in consistent scoring ability will let this team down. Sam Coffey will be this team’s biggest spark. She has one of the greatest visions of the game in the league and outstanding passing ability. It will be a challenge to break the Thorns down, but if Coffey gets injured it will be a tall mountain to climb to the top of the standings. Quality is still an accurate description of Portland with its solid backline and great team comradery. A playoff spot is always on their radar and this season could be no different.
5. Houston Dash - With new head coach Sam Laity at the helm, Houston will look to top last year’s performance, their first-ever postseason appearance. Their biggest offseason move was the acquisition of forward Diana Ordóñez, who last year set the NWSL record for most goals scored by a rookie. Combined with Ebony Salmon and María Sánchez, the Dash’s attack will be formidable. The experienced Katie Lind (Naughton) will combine with Allysha Chapman and Caprice Dydasco to hold it down on the backline. While the Dash were able to bring back the majority of their roster from last year, including anchoring midfielder Sophie Schmidt, their new teammates may be just the spark needed to reach the next level.
6. Orlando Pride: After a couple of underwhelming seasons and the departures of many main players plus superstar Marta being out due to an ACL injury, the Orlando Pride scrapped by placing 10th in the 2022 season. With Marta back and hungry to win, the new draftee signings of Messiah Bright, Summer Yates, and Emily Madrid, plus the addition of Adriana and Carly Nelson the Pride have built up a team that is hopeful to have a winning season and make it to the playoffs for the first time since 2017. With the Women’s World Cup just around the corner many teams will be losing their main players to the tournament, the Pride will only be potentially missing Marta and her Brazilian Teammate Adriana. During this time the Pride can play to their strengths of having an almost full squad and get ahead of other teams who may be struggling with missing players.
7. NJ/NY Gotham: After the rough end of the season and losing some critical players over the off-season it was like Gotham was unsure of its identity. This season is a huge test of who they are. Losing players like fan favorites Estelle Johnson and Paige Monaghan has fans worried but some signings and draft picks have changed those feelings. New signings Lynn Williams, Kristen Edmonds, Abby Smith, Yazmeen Ryan, Nealy Martin, and Kelley O’Hara will be crucial additions to the team. International signing Svava Rós Guðmundsdóttir is another major addition to the Gotham side. With Allie Long back after having twins last season, the midfield will be stronger. The addition of Sinead Farrelly, returning back to the league after eight years away, continues to improve the Gotham FC off-season signings. Midfielder Taryn Torres, unfortunately, tore her ACL in pre-season sidelining her. Rookie Jenna Nighswonger was signed to the Gotham roster and will be a great new addition to the team. With a new head coach, a reinvigorated midfield, and defenders ready to hold it down, Gotham is bound to do well this season.
8. Racing Louisville: Racing has an amazing off-season in terms of signings and matches. They participated in a preseason tournament beating the Reign and falling to Portland during the match series. With additional signings like Paige Monaghan, defender pair Carson Pickett and Abby Erceg, and international Elli Pikkujämsä, Uchenna Kanu, and Thembi Kgatlana they are bound to do well. Rookie Kayla Fischer was effective in pre-season scoring twice and making a good demonstration of her as a player. Overall, they are definitely going to improve from last season but there are some kinks that still need to be worked out and it will be a major test to see these new players work together.
9. Chicago Red Stars: This season marks a significant shift for the Chicago Red Stars. They have lost several key players this offseason, including Vanessa DiBernardo, Danielle Colaprico, and Morgan Gautrat. This begs the question of what the Red Stars' midfield would look like. To compensate, the Red Stars signed Julia Bianchi, a Brazilian defensive midfielder, and Cari Rocarro from Angel City FC. This pair will aid the attackers up top, including Mallory Swanson and Yuki Nagasto. In addition, the Chicago Red Stars signed Penelope Hocking, Ally Schlegel, and Sophie Jones, who were drafted in the 2023 NWSL. In addition, the players returning from injury and pregnancy would greatly benefit Chicago's defense. Tierna Davidson is expected to be available for the Red Stars' season opener, and Casey Krueger will make her return after missing the 2022 season due to pregnancy. Kayla Sharples, meanwhile, is expected to return soon this season. This season's team will be new and different, but it will be exciting to watch and see what they can do.
10. Angel City FC Angel City did not have the inaugural season they were hoping for. Finishing in 8th place and missing the playoffs by 4 points. Being plagued with injuries all season and losing their star forward Christen Press so early on made for a difficult season. Now heading into the new season they’ve got some new signings like Katie Johnson, Merrit Mathias, and drafting 18-year-old Alyssa Thompson, becoming the first high schooler in league history to be drafted. They have lots of players returning from injury in Sydney Leroux, Christen Press, and Sarah Gorden to bring more depth and experience back to the starting lineup. With Haračić commanding the backline and Weaterholt controlling the midfield and feeding the ball to Charley up front. Angel City is gonna be a side to watch out for this season
11. Washington Spirit - Even though Washington’s infrastructure is rapidly improving (such as the excellent hire of Senior Performance Director Dawn Scott), their offseason was generally baffling. Several defenders, such as veterans Emily Sonnett and Kelley O’Hara, were traded or transferred. Instead of drafting defenders or scouring the transfer market, however, new Head Coach Mark Parsons decided to convert forwards Maddy Elwell and Tara McKeown and midfielder Dorian Bailey to defenders. Time will tell whether this strategy is a prudent one. Despite Washington’s defensive woes, the attacking prowess of Trinity Rodman, Ashley Sanchez, and Ashley Hatch could be enough to win some games. Overall, the identity crisis the Spirit is experiencing with regard to their team branding is a larger reflection of a team that seems to be struggling with their identity on the field.
12. North Carolina Courage: An unfortunate offseason for the Courage puts them in the last spot. Losing stars Debinha, Carson Pickett, Abby Erceg, and youngster Diana Ordonez, the Courage will look to rebuild this year. Head coach, Sean Nahas, is entering his second full season as head coach and that consistency will help the Courage throughout the season. They picked up USWNT defender Emily Fox but had a few questionable draft picks, taking Olivia Wingate sixth overall. While Wingate scored in one of the Courage’s preseason games, the pick is still confusing to many as there were other more prolific strikers left on the board. Luckily for North Carolina, they still have Kerolin who tore up defenses last year but their midfield isn’t overall as strong as it used to be. They won’t be as affected as many teams will be with the Women’s World Cup but depth and consistency will be key for this Courage squad.