NWSL Season Preview 2023: Everything you need to know to start watching

Oct 29, 2022; Washington, D.C., USA; Portland Thorns FC players celebrate with the trophy after defeating the Kansas City Current in the NWSL championship game at Audi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 29, 2022; Washington, D.C., USA; Portland Thorns FC players celebrate with the trophy after defeating the Kansas City Current in the NWSL championship game at Audi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports /

If you’re searching for brilliant soccer in the United States, the NWSL might just have all the goal-scoring, last-minute, overtime save action you’ve been looking for. But what is the NWSL? This is a comprehensive breakdown of everything you need to know before you tune in to your first match. 

NWSL is the acronym for the National Women’s Soccer League which is celebrating its 11th season this year. The league is a Division I women’s professional soccer league in the United States and attracts players from all around the world. Jessica Berman is the current league commissioner, appointed in March of 2022 after the league was rocked by reports of systemic abuse and the fallout of the Yates report.

Since the reports have been released, the league has dedicated itself to doing better for the players and has committed to making changes for future seasons. The NWSL currently airs on Paramount Plus, Twitch, and CBS Sports, changing platforms from match to match. Although streaming details haven’t been released for the upcoming season yet, it’s expected they will be soon.

Teams in the NWSL

The league started with eight teams in 2013 and has since expanded to 12 teams that will compete in the upcoming 2023 season. The current teams in the league include the Angel City FC, Chicago Red Stars, Houston Dash, Kansas City Current, NJ/NY Gotham FC, North Carolina Courage, Orlando Pride, Portland Thorns FC, OL Reign, Racing Louisville FC, San Diego Wave, and Washington Spirit.

The league is planning on expanding even further, with plans to add two more teams by the start of the 2024 season. It was recently announced that the Utah Royals will be one of those expansion teams. The Royals were part of the league from 2018-2020 before folding and relocating to Kansas City. They’ll be welcomed back to the league in 2024.

Who are the most successful NWSL teams?

The Portland thorns are the most successful NWSL team, winning the championship three times including most recently in 2022. The North Carolina Courage won it back-to-back from 2018 to 2019. The Washington Spirit have also won the championship in 2021. But that’s not to say other teams haven’t had success. Although the championship alludes them, OL Reign have finished top of the table three times, earning them the NWSL Shield in 2014, 2015 and 2022. Expansion teams Angel City FC and the San Diego Wave impressed in their inaugural seasons last year as well, with San Diego becoming the first expansion team to make the playoffs in their first season.

Who are the most impressive NWSL players?

The NWSL attracts some of the best players in the world to its teams. Many US Women’s National team players play in the league, including Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Rose Lavelle, Mallory Swanson, and Sophia Smith.

But the league also is home to players from many other countries. British international Ebony Salmon plays for the Houston Dash along with Mexican team internationals Diana Ordóñez and María Sánchez.

Canadian legend Christine Sinclair plays for the Portland Thorns while her Canadian teammates Jordyn Huitema and Quinn play a little further north in Seattle for OL Reign, and Canadian goalkeeping star Kailen Sheridan plays for the San Diego Wave.

Brazilian international superstar Debinha plays for the Kansas City Current while her legendary teammate Marta plays for the Orlando Pride. The league is overflowing with talent, making it one of the most entertaining leagues in the United States.

What is The Challenge Cup?

Another element of the NWSL season is the Challenge Cup. Introduced in 2020, the Challenge Cup was the league’s return to sport during lockdown. It made the NWSL the first professional league to return to play during the pandemic in June 2020.

The Challenge Cup was a month long, and a resounding success with zero covid cases. Since its conception, the Challenge Cup has become a part of the NWSL season. Previously it was the warmup for the season, taking place entirely before the season began. But it was announced that the Challenge Cup will take place during the regular NWSL season this year, mostly during the summer when the national team players will be in Australia and New Zealand for the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

The National Women’s Soccer League is going through a period of tremendous growth, with viewership rising like never before. The NWSL championship aired on primetime last year and broke records for viewership. The NWSL is a blast to watch and promises chaotic ups and downs during the season as every team is strong enough to make the playoffs. There was a point last season where it was possible for seven teams to tie for first place. If you’re looking for fun and exciting soccer in the United States, look no further than the ups and downs of the NWSL.

Check out our NWSL hub page for more news, analysis, opinion and unique women’s soccer coverage. And don’t forget to follow FOR(E) on Twitter, FanSided’s home for women’s sports.