So, i'm not going to lie to you, before we made the decision to launch a new season of our Podcast I hadn't really focused much of my attention on the American NWSL (National Womens Soccer (ew) League) other than to research the Women's World Cup players - of which there were TONNES. Recently I've watched and read up on it as much as I can before the WSL, Premier League, Div1 Femenine etc launches up again. I'm actually quite enjoying it!!
The NWSL was only established in 2013 and since it's inception there have been FOUR different league winners - so slightly more exciting than the Premier League in that sense! The league also has a bit of a weird schedule as it runs from April to October. Not ideal when you align it with pretty much any sporting event on the planet. Most of the World looks to International events in June/July (Football World Cup, Euros, Olympics etc) which doesn't seem like the most ideal marketing decision from those at NWSL HQ... Another weird but very cool fact about this league is that their player salaries are capped. This means that there isn't a team which owns every single top player (*cough* Lyon *cough*) and most of the USA national team are spread across the league! Also, that cap has gone up and up since the leagues inception - good to see! The maximum salaries are sh** though... around $30,000 a year. Some of these women are literally the USA's most successful athletes. I have no words for how annoyed this makes me.
So here's the League from 9th place to 1st (as of 26th July 2019) and some of their big players to help you with your first taste of NWSL:
9th Place: Sky Blue FC - 8 points on the board after 13 games isn't ideal but don't worry - there is no relegation prospect. This league is all about the winning and finishing in the top 4 to be in with a chance of a playoff trophy! Sky Blue has one star player who our presenter Tamsin reckons is the best striker in the World... Carli Lloyd. This season she's only played 4 games! She scored 2 goals so not too bad for Tamsin's main lady!
8th Place: Orlando Pride - It's not looking too good for Orlando either who have that other famous USA striker in their ranks: the tea sipping Alex Morgan. In fact, this team is full of legends. Marta and Ali Krieger also wear the famous purple kit! They also recently signed one of our favourites Claire Emslie who lit up the World Cup with her performances for Scotland - if she keeps it up then she's a sure fire call up for Team GB in the Olympics! With 11 points on the board and 16 goals in 14 games they may need to re-think their "buy the best strikers on the planet" idea though.
7th Place: Houston Dash - England player Rachel Daly is currently playing for "The Dash" and they even utilised the fact she's clearly gifted in more than one position! She plays as a striker with 3 goals in 7 apps. She arrived a defender a few years back! We absolutely loved Rachel's performances in the WWC2019 so thanks Houston, you can keep taking care of her.
6th Place: Utah Royals FC - The team everyone must hate visiting. All the way over on the West Coast (most other teams are scattered in the East-ish), Utah Royals have two USA World Cup winners in their squad: Kelly O'Hara and Christen Press. Their coach (Laura Harvey) is probably the most impressive acquisition though... Laura hails from
Nuneaton in England and has a pretty impressive CV. Treble winner with Arsenal, coach of the year 2011 (WSL) as well as coach of the year (NWSL) 2014 AND 2015! Utah Royals were only estbalished in 2017 so maybe this is her biggest project yet! They finished 5th in their first season in the league. Not a bad couple of years for the Utah Royals and maybe they can make their geography work for them? No-one likes a 6 hour flight to play footie!
5th Place: Reign FC - This is the team you want to support if you love a bit of international flair. The team is full of it! Firstly, England's Jodie Taylor plays upfront (sometimes) although she hasn't had the greatest start in blue with 5 games and only 1 goal. They also have Jess Fishlock (Wales), Celia Jimene Delgado (Spain) and Rumi Utsugi (Japan) representing the rest of the world. Oh... and there's a couple of other famous names... Allie Long (USA) and probably the most famous female player on the planet at the moment: Megan Rapinoe. I've decided this is my team - their kit is quite cool too so i'm trying to get my hands on one! Slight side note: can you imagine Rapinoe and Long playing in a mid-table team if this was the premier league? It's probably the most fantastic aspect of the capped salaries rule - every team has a stab at the championship it seems!
Here's where we get into the championship spots!
4th Place: Chicago Red Stars - In my opinion the coolest squad in the league. Firstly, they have the leagues top goalscorer and fan favourite Sam Kerr from Australia. Sam Kerr has scored 64 goals in 104 appearances in NWSL. She's well ahead of the rest - Canada's Christine Sinclair is 2nd place with 46 goals in 114 apps... turns out Kerr isn't all that bad at footie eh!
Red Stars also have the athlete that basically won them the WWC2019 - Alyssa Naeher. She's a pretty fierce Goalkeeper. Her saves at crucial times were (in my opinion) more influential than anything Rapinoe or Morgan could've produced. Smooth as anything and really calm in the most tense situations. Julie Ertz (USA) is also in this team. All in all, a pretty scary prospect for any opposition with their front-woman, their midfield and that Alyssa Neuer... I mean Naeher.
3rd Place: Washington Spirit - Another famous Australian pops up in this roster. Chloe Logarzo: you may remember her for the goal against Brazil in the WWC19. She's pretty cool. Also, Rose Lavelle plays for Washington. I reckon this team are the future. So many young future prospects and top 4 ain't bad when you look at some of the players in the squads below them in the league!
2nd Place: North Carolina Courage - Probably the most recognisable team in the league to anyone who "kind of" follows the NWSL. This team have taken the title in 2017 and 2018 and they're currently 1 point behind the leaders. It'll be a tight race to the finish line but this squad have all the attributes to snatch it. Looking at goalkeepers again for a second, our presenter Tamsin's favourite Stephanie Labbe wears the gloves. Stephanie has a bit of a cool back story. She played for a mens pro team and was only removed from the squad because of rules and regulations. The squad loved her, the coach loved her but the rules hate her. She now kicks ass in the NWSL and is a major factor in the NCC's success.
You can't deny the power of Heather O'Reilly and Crystal Dunn (both USA) as playing a part in the success of this team either though. Crystal is a winger on a mission. She scored 4 goals in 5 games so far this season. Some English fans might remember her brief year at Chelsea in 2017 where she scored within 12 minutes of her debut.
1st Place: Portland Thorns FC - As punchy as their name, this is the most badass team in the league. The leading ladies are almost all yanks and the ones that lit up the world cup play a central role. I think as an English person the two most irritating players to play against (No, I couldn't give a hoot about a pathetic celebration) were Tobin Heath and Lindsey Horan. I've watched a fair few videos of them scrapping, giving no f**ks and generally causing frustration to opposition. They quite literally are the thorn in the side of any opposition.
I think Tobin Heath is one of the top 3 players in the world. She's so understated in her stature in that USA squad and I've even heard her say "I don't usually like to be the one that stands up and talks because I like to do the talking with my feet" which kind of sums it up. It reminds me of someone like Harry Kane who keeps himself to himself and doesn't really stand up and speak out (despite his fame) but he's undeniably class.
Canada's El' Capitano Christine Sinclair is also a Thorn. She's less "thorny" as Horan an Heath but she's as frustrating in front of goal: 7 matches and 6 goals in 2019! Not bad considering you jumped on a plane in June to captain your country!
From what i've seen, this team are out there to out-score any opposition. They've scored 30 goals in 14 games.
So, sum it up:
From what I can see, it's a really open competition but it looks like its between Portland and North Carolina for the 2019 championship. Chicago have had a bit of a topsy turvy few weeks and Washington even more so! Washington can't seem to win games and have had a couple of last minute losses so 3rd and 4th are falling away from the pack. It's game on up at the top though!
All in all, this league is brill. I can fully recommend following it if you're a football fan! I've whacked in a few cons which hopefully will give you a fair perspective of where i'm at...
1. It's so hard to follow! There is literally no coverage anywhere, it's all on social media and you have to watch clip by clip. BBC Sport etc don't update the scores and you really have to hunt down the up to date table after games. My advice: hit up twitter NWSL page and the individual teams pages as most of them eventually post a 3-4 min video of the best bits.
On top of this, it's impossible to buy kits or merchandise in The UK or really get into a team because their website content is a bit pants and their socials are delayed. I like to follow whats going on live.
2. It's just soooooo American! Anyone who listens to our Pod will know I can get a little bit irritated by American-isms but almost every squad is 90%+ USA players which I think is a bit of a shame. We speak a lot on our Podcast about how players seem to adopt their nations style (Eg Germany are usually very clinical, South Americans have flair etc) and it makes the league a bit same-y. There are a few none-yanks in the ranks though and hopefully there'll be a bit more variance as the league develops.
3. The league is young. The league was only established in 2013 and teams have already come and gone. Some of the current teams were only established in the last few years so it's still very much finding it's feet in that sense.
I'm hoping that we can find a way for Brits to enjoy the league and maybe even start getting into it as much as WSL / European Footie. I'll start putting my feelers out there, but for now you'll just have to tune into our weekly pod "Two Girls Talk Balls" to listen to the updates on all things NWSL.
By Helen Hardy