NWSL Season Preview 2024: Everything you need to know to start watching

It's nearly upon us. Whether you're new to the NWSL or just need a refresher ahead of the 2024 campaign, here's what you'll need to know before you turn on that television.

2023 NWSL Championship - Skills Challenge
2023 NWSL Championship - Skills Challenge / Meg Oliphant/GettyImages

There is no better time to hop on the train that is the National Women's Soccer League. Record attendances. Barrier-breaking moments. Enthralling athlete performances. The trajectory is frankly through the roof. An additional women's football top-flight league is set to join in August, hopefully bringing the popularity of the game in the United States to an all-time high.

In 2023, the total fan attendance was greater than 1.2 million, an increase of 26 percent compared to the campaign prior. If you need any early evidence that another jump will occur, the 2024 season tickets for Kansas City Current were already sold out back in early December even before the expansion draft.

We've endured a long road to get here, two drafts, in fact. Now that opening whistle to kick off the 2024 NWSL campaign is right around the corner. Here is everything you'll need in your back pocket in order to be equipped to watch the world's most competitive women's football league in the world this year.

How many teams are in the NWSL?

In 2013, we started with eight. Women's football around the United States is growing exponentially, and the growth of this league has mirrored that. Heading into 2024, 14 clubs make up the league with two more reportedly joining in 2026. Utah Royals FC and Bay FC officially joined the NWSL this offseason. One is a revival of a former outfit while the other looks to make a name for itself within a dynamic sports market.

One addition we know for sure two years from now is Boston, a city that was home to the Breakers, a club that competed in the NWSL from 2013-2017 before it folded in January 2018. One thing to note about the Boston franchise as we await the name is that it is led by Boston Unity Soccer Partners, an all-female ownership group. The other site is yet to be decided. Cleveland, Denver, and St. Louis are cities to watch.

Who are the best players in the NWSL?

Talent is in abundant supply this season. Since the introduction of free agency, we have not only seen movement within the league, but quality players taking their talents from abroad into the NWSL. Keep an eye out in the coming weeks for a list of newcomers to watch out for. Until then, you should know which players bring the most excitement to this league.

Up top, the Chicago Red Stars' main target Mallory Swanson is set to return from injury with her eyes on leading the club's rebuild under new leader Lorne Donaldson. In 2022, the Colorado native finished second in total goal contributions, behind only Alex Morgan. In Portland, Sophia Smith is a highlight waiting to happen, and the quality of the Thorns' midfield including Sam Coffey makes them a contender once again. Kerolin, North Carolina's superstar and defending league MVP is out for a significant majority of the 2024 season due to an ACL injury she suffered just before the 2023 postseason. Don't worry, Brazil is still going to be well-represented around the league. Debinha will begin her second season in Kansas City while Marta and Orlando aim to break through after barely missing out on the playoffs in 2023.

The two favorites to lift the championship title, Gotham and San Diego are loaded with class. Rose Lavelle, Crystal Dunn, and Emily Sonnett are set to captain New York/New Jersey's midfield with Lynn Williams, Midge Purce, Ella Stevens, and 2023 World Cup winner Esther González up front. In southern California, Jaedyn Shaw is must-see TV, a dynamic, versatile attacker with tricks for days. Don't forget about Trinity Rodman in Washington, she and Shaw are without question the future faces of the USWNT attack.

Defensively, it's all about players who demonstrate rock-solid consistency like Naomi Girma, Abby Erceg, Sam Staab, and Angel City's Sarah Gorden. Between the sticks, Jane Campbell was a force for Houston throughout the last campaign. If you're looking for show-stopping saves, though, Katie Lund, Abby Smith, and Kailen Sheridan never seem to disappoint.

Who are the best teams in the NWSL?

As the league has displayed, especially last season, competitiveness is what makes it so special. Just six points separated the 2023 Shield winners and the last club that missed the postseason. We'll have to see what happens to the chaos with two ambitious expansion clubs joining the fold.

The defending champions NJ/NY Gotham FC will head opening weekend as the odds on favorites due to its superhero-type talent accompanied by an eventful offseason. San Diego Wave FC has to be considered a championship contender just behind the champions. Led by newly extended leader Casey Stoney, the southern California outfit had quite the productive offseason, acquiring even more creative talent going forward in Elyse Bennett, and Savannah McCaskill. Mike Norris' Portland Thorns FC is still among the elite despite losing some quality to free agency and trades. Bringing in Canadian national team captain Jessie Fleming has to make Portland's midfield the league's most dangerous.

Keep an eye on talented well-coached clubs like Angel City FC, North Carolina Courage, Racing Louisville FC, and Orlando Pride. ACFC and NC Courage are looking for back-to-back postseason appearances while Racing and Seb Hines' Pride seek to sneak in with the now-expanded field. Bay FC is not going to be a slouch either despite it being its first campaign. The ambition of the ownership has allowed it to capture some of the world's best talent in attack.

How and where can I watch the NWSL?

It is never been easier to tune into this league's action than right now. In early November, the league announced the signing of a domestic broadcast rights deal worth $240 million split between Amazon, CBS, ESPN, and Scripps. 121 matches throughout the 2024 campaign can be seen on those four platforms with the rest being shown live on NWSL+, a free streaming service the league provides. We'll break it down for you.

Every Friday night, Amazon Prime will host a fixture followed by Saturday night doubleheaders on Scripps' ION network. Per the league, Scripps Sports, who broadcasted the 2024 NWSL College Draft will also host a pre-match show leading up to the doubleheader on Saturday. Each week, the two Saturday matchups are slated to kick off at 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. EST. In total, Amazon will have 27 NWSL matches including one quarterfinal, seven more than ESPN/ABC who own the right to 17 regular season games and three postseason fixtures.

CBS and Paramount+ head into their fourth year of partnership with the league and are set to air at least 18 regular season games per season over the next four campaigns. You will also be able to see three postseason fixtures on CBS's networks including the NWSL Championship.

If you want the full schedule, here's a link to it, including all games from March until November.

What is the NWSL Challenge Cup?

If you haven't read our NWSL Challenge Cup information piece, click the link to get everything you need to know before it kicks off in just a few weeks. We'll run through the basics, though. This year is the league's fifth iteration of the Challenge Cup, a competition brought into the picture in a return to action from the COVID-19 pandemic. Jessica Berman opted to alter the format we've begun to get used to for this competition. With expansion, it just made sense. Gone is the pre-season style, and the in-season tournament we saw last year.

It's the defending NWSL champions vs. the reigning NWSL Shield winners on March 15 at 8:00 p.m. EST at Red Bull Arena. Amazon Prime Video is the place to be if you want to stream the match live. The super team that is Gotham FC vs. Stoney's San Diego Wave. It is a perfect way to introduce the new season in style, featuring superstars of today and some of the future faces of the league.

Stay up to date with everything throughout the NWSL season right here on FanSided's NWSL home page. Make sure you follow @FanSided_Fore on all social platforms.