So there we have ladies and gentlefolk, the sun has set on another NWSL *spoiler alert* but Portland have been crowned as champions after a nail-biting final against Kansas City.
OL Reign take the shield for coming in first in the regular season. Which if you have listened to my podcast (The woso show, available every Wednesday) you will know that this makes no sense to my British sensibilities.
So now it’s all over what kind of season has it been? You would think based on the two silverware winners it had been a typical season. But you have no idea the fun has only just begun.
Let’s go back to the beginning which feels so long ago. We started this season with two new teams in Angel City and San Diego Wave.
Casey Stoney making the jump to the Wave after three fairly successful years at Manchester United. Angel City was the brainchild of a group of successful women, from actors to sports stars to those who just knew business.
There was intrigue from the off about these two teams and how they were going to do in this league. Known for being one of the most fixed in terms of positioning whilst simultaneously being unpredictable in actual gameplay and results.
At the bottom this year, saw Gotham FC now the unfortunate holders of the record of most games lost in a row. For a team who could score goals certainly leaked a few. With a goal difference of -30, a look at the defensive back line and the keeper is something the skipper is going to have to look at. Having been on the up the last few years it’s a shame to see such a fall for grace. Houston’s interim coach, Juan Carlos Amorós, will be taking over next season as has already proved that he can fix a sinking ship.
Last year’s wooden spoon winner Orlando Pride managed to bounce themselves up two places. Despite losing key players through the draft and injury. Getting 4 points out of 6 against San Diego must be a highlight for them. Something to build on, the future is looking bright for the purples.
The biggest shock at the bottom of the league was last year’s Champions Washington Spirit. Despite a spirited comeback at the end of the season. They have some of the most impressive players, both in upcoming talent in Trinity Rodman and Ashley Hatch as well as established talent in Kelley O’Hara and Emily Sonnett. Then again their decline could be predictable as they are consistently inconsistent over the last few years. Their start to the season had been golden getting to the final of the challenge cup, a double edge sword as both Teams who got to the final, had less than stellar league positioning.
Middle of the pack teams up next who had the type of season you would expect. Racing Louisville, the ones with the most interesting kit became the draw Queens of the season. Often last ditch goals to gain points or more commonly snatching a defeat out of the jaws of victory. A mass exodus of players however is going to make next season make or break for them.
If you take Angel City’s position of eighth on their first season at face value you would be happy as a fan. However, they were soaring so much higher until the last three games. A triple loss cost them that all-important play-off place which is gutting to say the least. With the marquee signing Christen Press out for the foreseeable with an ACL injury.
Recruitment has to be the top priority for next season if they wish to build up on what they have already started.
Next is North Carolina courage, frankly who actually cares about them, so I shall waste precious few words on them. They lost some key matches, won the challenge cup and resigned everyone’s ‘favourite player Jaenele Daniels formally known as Hinkle. It was a meh season for Courage but once again no one cares about the Courage so they can do what they want to do.
Now we are into the top six teams who qualify for that inanely pointless mini tournament the playoffs which essentially make the season obsolete as a team who coasted to 6th can actually be declared champions. Crazy!
Squeaking in due to a win in the last games of the season, the perennial runners-up Chicago Red Stars claimed the final spot. Again a Team whose fortunes have been so mixed due to a run of injuries and having a squad that is so pared down to the bone. To even qualify was an achievement and when fully fit they are a tour de force. A bit more discipline amongst the players and they will be back. They were not considered play off contenders until the last quarter of the season. This is a team to keep an eye on.
We are going to jump up to 4th with Houston Dash. Another team who nearly came unstuck by their inconsistent performances throughout the season. Coming close actually claiming top spot and grabbing the shield, they slipped against some of the lower-half teams. Then pulled some stonking performances against the top teams. The interim manager pulled them out of their prevailing bad habits and made them an entertaining team to watch,
Losing Rach Daly was a massive loss to them first through her participation in the Euros and then permanently to Aston Villa. They picked up a huge talent in Maria Sanchez who had been at trailblazing in La Liga Mx.
Having won the inaugural challenge cup, they have shown they have the want and desire to win silverware. There is no shame in losing their play off game, especially with the goal Sophie Schmidt scored. The future is bright, the future is orange.
Now on to our semi-finalists, starting with shield winners OL Reign. As previously mentioned I find it, as a Brit, strange that you can come top of the League and still not be the official champions. OL reign had a slow start but managed to really pull it out in the last half of the season. Laura Harvey (one of the best Managers in the NWSL in my humble opinion) has become the queen of game and player management. With names such as Megan Rapinoe, Jess Fishlock and Quinn this is a team of incomparable talent.
Failed by the bye week and international break they were given, tired they just did not turn up to their semi-final. Being shut out by Kansas city was a rare moment of defeat in such a stellar season.
San Diego Wave had a phenomenal inaugural season. Smart recruitment both in players and in coach Casey Stoney has allowed this team to fly. The pairing up front of Alex Morgan (love her or loathe her) and Taylor Korineck made for some of the most magical football. Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan is another piece that fits so perfectly into this puzzle. San Diego showed what happens when you mix experience and new talent and managed a 3rd place finish and the semi-finals of the play offs is probably the best start you could hope for.
Finally, to our finalists starting with runners up Kansas City Current. At the beginning of this season you would be forgiven thinking they had no hope of getting anywhere. Big-name signings Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams are both out for the foreseeable. Lots of new players who seemed to be green about the gills. Lucky there is no relegation in this league right? Wrong. The Current proved everyone wrong quite quickly. Shout out to Kristen Hamilton who was probably the most slept on player in league. Not any more folks. What a run she had along with defender Hallie mace, midfielder Desiree Scott and goalkeeper AD Franch. They were just outplayed by a team that has been one of the most prolific teams in recent history. KC need to hold their heads high next season with a little smart recruitment watch out next year.
We are here folks to the champions Portland Thorns who though coming second in the league beat both San Diego and Kansas to claim their third title. Portland has some of the biggest legends in the North American game. With Crystal Dunn, Becky Sauerbrunn and Christine Sinclair, they also have some of the most beloved. Granted they were the favourites for the final they quickly established their form. Very few slips up in the league, fewer in the play offs. There is a reason these are returning champions, Best moment for them, was Rocky Rodriguez’s absolute rocket in their semi-finals. Worthy winners all round.
It would be remiss of me if we did not mention the ugly side that has come of the NWSL this season. Long-standing abuse has finally been made public. Authority figures have been ousted and hopefully charges can be brought against them. Never may they darken the door of sport again.
This season has been a rough one for fans and players alike. It’s hard to support institutions that have turned blind eyes to some of the most horrific sexist, racist and homophobic abuse. Not just that sexual assault and abuse of power were seemingly ignored as long there were results on the pitch.
What becomes of the NWSL is yet to be seen, whether it is gutted, burned down and a Phoenix rises. Or if we see a patching job of an already sinking ship.
This season has been for the fans and the players. For bravery and solidarity, honesty and justice. Its occasions where we have to remove the players from the institutions they play for. On paper, it is hard to congratulate the thorns as their organization kept the biggest predator on their books in Paul Riley but as previously mentioned, their players are some of the most beloved in the league.
So we cheer on the players and hope that everything goes in an upward trajectory and the rot is cut out. For there is no day but today and today is about those on the pitch. Here’s to 2023!