It is funny how much things can change in a year. This time last year the National Women’s Soccer League was a growing, but still relatively unknown league looking to make its mark in the footballing landscape. Thanks to an incredible Women’s World Cup interest in the league spiked with sold out stadiums, massive television deals, and major sponsors finally giving the league a chance.
With the league entering year number eight now’s the perfect opportunity to catch-up on everything that transpired around the league in 2019
The Courage Are Still The Champions
If there has been one constant in the NWSL it has been the play of the North Carolina Courage. The side formerly known as the Western New York Flash has won three NWSL Championships, four NWSL Shields, and an ICC title making it the most dominant side in women’s soccer. Head Coach Paul Riley, whose tenure with the club dates back to their time with the Flash, has developed a side through the years that can score at will (53 goals last year-most in the NWSL) and a near suffocating defense (23 goals allowed-lowest in the NWSL). With dynamic forwards Crystal Dunn and Lynn Williams leading the charge the Courage are looking like they will once again find themselves at the top of the NWSL.
Can the Red Stars replace Kerr?
For the past three seasons Sam Kerr has dominated the scoring charts in the NWSL finishing first each year and netting 51 goals during that time frame. With Kerr off to Chelsea that leaves a big hole up top for the Chicago Red Stars, who made it all the way to the NWSL Championship last year. Red Stars Head Coach Rory Dames relied heavily on Yuki Nagasoto in Kerr’s absence last year and it paid off in the form of eight goals. Look for her to have another strong season for the fledgling side.
A New Golden Boot and MVP Will Be Crowned
Kerr’s departure will not just felt in the Windy City as her departure means that the league will not only have a new Golden Boot winner, but also a new MVP. It is fair to say that whomever ends up with the most goals will likely win the MVP. Since 2013 the player that has won the Golden Boot award has also won the MVP award six out of seven times (Lindsay Horan of the Portland Thorns in 2017 is the lone exception). Williams (NC Courage), Christine Sinclair (Portland Thorns), Carli Lloyd (Sky Blue FC), and Jessica McDonald (NC Courage) are all strong candidates to take both awards but keep an eye on Kristen Hamilton of the Courage who scored nine goals in her first season.
Christine Sinclair will continue to be a Thorn for opponents
In the ever-changing world of women’s soccer Christine Sinclair has been one of the few constants throughout. Now entering her 19thseason in professional soccer and seventh with the Portland Thorns she has been a major driving force for the development of the women’s game. The league’s second all-time leading goal scorer has shown no signs of letting up scoring eight goals last year for the Thorns. Her partnership up top with Margaret Purce has given the Thorns more flexibility up top and made the side much more difficult to defend. At 37, Sinclair has shown no signs of slowing which is great news for her Rose City supporters and bad news for everyone else.
More exposure and more opportunities
Last year was definitely the summer of women’s soccer with the NWSL finally capitalizing on the success of the United States Women’s National Team and the Women’s World Cup. While the average attendance across the league was 7,337 last year attendance was up by 21 percent a huge leap from the previous year. As opposed to previous post-World Cup years teams are doing everything they can to build their audiences. The two biggest changes are in the Northeast with Sky Blue FC and the Washington Spirit. Sky Blue will be moving into Red Bull Arena after years of playing in substandard conditions across New Jersey. Meanwhile the Spirit will be starting the process of leaving the Maryland SoccerPlex (maximum capacity: 5,000) and into Audi Field, home of D.C. United. Increased exposure in the Northeast will undoubtedly help the league grow and further court large sponsors and additional revenue.
A Full Season Of The Best Players In The World
While the World Cup certainly helps the league in marketing their players it does hurt that their players are not always available due to international duty. Players such as Sinclair (Canada), Rose Lavelle (USA), Mallory Pugh (USA), Julie Ertz (USA), and Marta (Brazil) automatically bring the league respect because of their skill level but the league often did itself a disservice by scheduling games against the international calendar. That seems to be changing with reports that games will not be played during the Summer Olympics and during the FIFA international break windows.