With just one day to go until the NWSL season kicks off, NWSL Media’s Meg Linehan helps us look ahead to the 2018 NWSL season.
This NWSL offseason has had everything: new clubs, returning stars and big moves.
But all of this offseason moving and shaking will only give way to what might be one of the most exciting editions of the league. We spoke with Meg Linehan, the Social Media Manager at NWSL Media, about what to know and what to keep your eyes on.
Crystal Dunn is back in the States, returning for the Carolina Courage after a stint with the Chelsea Ladies. And she’s returning with a Women’s Super Leagues Spring Series title under her belt, and after scoring on both her FA Cup and WSL debuts.
Courage fans can definitely expect a similar impact. Says Linehan, “I covered Dunn’s 2015 season with the Washington Spirit, which was just one of those next-level seasons where she would just take on four defenders and beat them at will. She’s still super fun to watch, and I’m so curious to see what she brings to North Carolina, especially with another former MVP, Lynn Williams.
“Plus, she’s just fun to watch on and off the field; she has a confidence and swagger and joy that she brings to the game.”
There are also last year’s big names — like Orlando Pride’s Marta and Sam Kerr, who won both the Golden Boot and MVP awards last season — to look out for once again.
“I think sometimes people take [Marta] for granted, but we do have a five-time FIFA World Player of the Year in this league who is still playing at a ridiculous level.” says Linehan. “She still has a staggering ability to surprise me every game.”
As for Sam Kerr? Despite a snub from both the Women’s World Player of the Year final three and the FIFPRO World XI, Kerr is undoubtedly one of the best in the world.
And next year she’ll be proving that for the Chicago Red Stars, following a very high profile three-way trade involving Christen Press moving from the Red Stars to the Houston Dash and Carli Lloyd ultimately moving from the Dash to the Sky Blue.
“We’ve never had back-to-back MVP/Golden Boot winners in the league, but I think if anyone has a chance to set that record, it will be Kerr,” says Linehan. “Between Kerr and Julie Ertz, who won U.S. Soccer’s 2017 Female Player of the Year award, the Red Stars have two insanely good players at the center of their system.”
(It’s no wonder, then, that April 14th’s clash between the Utah Royals and the Chicago Red Stars at Rio Tinto Stadium is the game Linehan is most looking forward to.)
But every fanbase has something to be excited about. What stands out to Linehan is “the new influx of South African talent at the Houston Dash – forward Thembi Kgatlana earned MVP honors at the Cyprus Cup — [as well as] that Dunn and Williams combo in North Carolina [and] a full season of Alex Morgan and Marta in Orlando.”
Additionally, Linehan “can’t wait to see what Andressinha does in Portland, the Allie Long trade to Seattle Reign FC brings such a new fun spiciness to the Portland-Seattle rivalry, Amy Rodriguez working her way back for Utah Royals FC. And the new core of youth for the Washington Spirit is crazy stacked [with] Mal Pugh, Rose Lavelle, And Sullivan, Taylor Smith, and our 2017 Rookie of the Year Ashley Hatch.”
Beyond Amy Rodriguez, the Utah Royals in general are one to look out for — which is especially good to see, considering they were all but the phoenix that arose from FC Kansas City’s ashes. But the Real Salt Lake community have welcomed the women’s team with open arms, and they’re heading into their inaugural season ready to make a splash under former Seattle Reign head coach Laura Harvey.
Laura Harvey’s appointment also signals a larger positive trend within the league: the increasing number of women in powerful roles.
“We went from one woman head coach to three in the league: Denise Reddy is taking over at Sky Blue FC, and Vera Pauw (and Lisa Cole as an assistant coach) in Houston” in addition to Harvey, says Linehan.
“It’s definitely a step in the right direction for the league, and I hope as the league grows and roles shift across front offices, more women of color are hired as well. There’s a lot of talk about expansion in 2019, and that’s an opportunity for us to bring in new talent and new viewpoints for the NWSL.”
Continuing to speak about hopes for expansion in future years and beyond is a luxury the NWSL has what most other iterations of women’s soccer in the United States have not had; after all, the NWSL is the first women’s league in the country to reach four seasons, let alone six.
That is partly because answers to the questions about stability and sustainability — questions that have constantly plagued leagues in the past — were built into the foundation of this one, everything from the federations being directly involved financially to the front office appointments.
Linehan remembers: “As someone who was an intern during WUSA [Women’s United Soccer Association] days, the approach to the NWSL has just been an entirely different approach from day one. From day one, the NWSL was about being here for four seasons, for ten seasons, for twenty. Building in a sustainable way isn’t the most attractive story sometimes, but we’re here in year six and we’ve had some really big wins. Not to sugarcoat things, we’ve had losses as well. But the NWSL is overall in a solid place for 2018, and 2019 looks even better. There are more people who want to get in while we’re still building things.
“Bringing in owners like Dell Loy Hanson in Utah is probably the best indication the NWSL has had that the needle is pointing in the right direction,” she continues. “He’s taking care of the details and helping to push the NWSL in the right direction by walking the walk.”
You can find the full NWSL season schedule here.