NWSL schedule: 3 storylines to follow as the regular season resumes

In the midst of the last few Women's World Cup matches, the NWSL returned and with just six weeks left of the regular season, there is a lot to keep an eye on.
North Carolina Courage v Portland Thorns FC
North Carolina Courage v Portland Thorns FC / Amanda Loman/GettyImages
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The beauty of the sport of women’s football is the fact that it does not stop, even following a major tournament like the World Cup. Internationals are beginning to transition back to club play, making the run-up to the postseason one that no fan will want to miss. Last season, just one point was the difference between a postseason spot and an extended vacation. That theme is bound to continue in 2023. Thirty-six contests remain to decide the six competitors within a tournament-style playoff beginning on Oct. 22. 

From the top of the table to the basement, the intrigue is everywhere. Some of them more enticing than others. Here are three things to keep in mind heading into week 17 and beyond within one of the most competitive professional sports leagues around the world.

Storylines to follow over the rest of the NWSL schedule:

3. Are Orlando Pride capable of sealing a postseason spot?

On Sunday evening at Exploria Stadium, Seb Hines’ Orlando Pride was flying. With its World Cup players back into the team and the acquisitions of talented individuals like Rafaelle Souza and Mariana Larroquette, Orlando knifed through the Chicago Red Stars. 

As it stands with nine points in their last three games, the Pride are just two points behind San Diego Wave for the final postseason spot. On Friday, the Florida outfit encounter Casey Stoney’s Wave at home with a chance to jump them in the standings. The previous meeting in southern California was one that San Diego would rather forget. 

No team currently has a longer regular season win streak than Hines’ side. With six goals in 12 starts, former TCU striker Messiah Bright has been a force in the frontline. Whenever given the opportunity up top, the week 15 NWSL Player of the Week knows how to finish her chances. Three of her four shots on Sunday forced Alyssa Naeher into action. A lot of attention tends to be attracted to Adriana, leaving room for Bright and Julie Doyle to generate chances. Marta's world-class ball to the rookie with the outside of her boot was one of the highlight plays of week 16. She may be 37 years old, but the Brazilian is still extremely influential in build-up play. 

Rafaelle brings even more stability to the defense while adding a set-piece threat that every opponent needs to be aware of. She enters into a backline with standout rookie center back Emily Madril and Anna Moorhouse between the sticks. No opposition has converted a chance in the last three league games against the Purple and Black. 

This season has been filled with numerous ups and downs for the Pride, but that performance against the Red Stars was a true culmination of how dangerous this side can be. Some will say it was the poor Chicago defense. The goals that Orlando produced say differently. That quality is undeniable. The upcoming schedule is unfavorable with matchups against OL Reign and North Carolina Courage following the battle with Stoney’s Wave. Even with that in mind, this reinvigorated team no doubt has what it takes to shatter many pre-season predictions.