After a glimpse of the teams and their new players in the NWSL Challenge Cup, the NWSL regular season is upon us. If you’re new here or someone who’s been following the league for a long time, this will hopefully be a great little discussion for you all to enjoy and flame us for later on (please don’t).
Helping me out on the roundtable are Sophie Lawson, Jason Anderson, Sylvia Bullock, Andre Carlisle, Jenna Tonelli and Theo Lloyd-Hughes.
So without any more preamble, we at AllForXI have put together a little roundtable for you to read over and enjoy just before the 2022 NWSL regular season starts.
Kudzi: Okay, first up: go big or go home! Who’s going to win the NWSL Shield and the NWSL Championship?
Sophie: The Washington Spirit for the Shield, and the NC Courage Courage (again) are probably going to beat OL Reign again because it will never happen for OL. That’s the real curse.
Jenna: OL Reign will win the Shield (I really think it’s their year!) and the NWSL Championship will be NJ/NY Gotham FC (don’t @ me!!!)
Theo: OL Reign and OL Reign for both. I agree with Jenna on the Seattle love. I know it’s a boring choice but I reckon, with their depth, they can endure the CONCACAF players leaving better than some other top teams, which could be the difference for the Shield. I also foresee their home form being extra impressive this year, and enough to take them all the way to the final. Once there, Phallon Tullis-Joyce will then win a penalty shootout for them and they’ll claim the crown.
Sylvia: I’ve done a lot of saging [for them] and I think OL get both this season. I think the depth and the rise of Tullis-Joyce will be the difference.
Jason: The Spirit are the best team in the league, but as Theo said, qualifying is going to drain them more than most since Vlatko Andonovski’s rosters are just porting the Spirit over for the USWNT. The Reign are extremely deep and I think they hang on to the Shield in a race that goes to the wire.
The Championship? Like I said, the Spirit are the best team in the league and they’re going to show it in the playoffs. 3-1 final win over the Reign.
Andre: West Lyon aka OL Reign for both. Laura Harvey worked her magic with Alana Cook, Jess Fishlock and Sofia Huerta last season, if she does the same with Ally Watt and Bethany Balcer this season? Issa wrap!
A wild Jake Catanese appears: Boston Breakers FTW!
Kudzi: *pours one out for the Breakers*
Moving on, who is your dark horse pick?
Sophie: Not a dark horse pick really but KC Current. I just like that roster and think they’re going to give teams problems.
Jenna: Nor sure if I have one but I’ll echo Sophie on KC. I think they’re going to surprise a lot of people with how well they do this season!
Theo: San Diego Wave FC. I would’ve had them down as a 10th-12th place finish before the Sippy Cup [aka the NWSL Challenge Cup] started but I’ve been impressed with Casey Stoney’s use of a squad that looked imbalanced on paper. If they snatch a top six spot, maybe Stoney can make an unlikely run at the Championship with some superior game planning. They could be this year’s Chicago Red Stars.
Sylvia: My biggest concern is depth with San Diego and that not-young attack. It feels like the 2nd year at [Manchester] United. Good team but everything will have to go right. I think they have good pieces though.
My dark horse pick is the Red Stars. I don’t know, I really like their pieces and I think Tierna Davidson being out means people are off of them. I’m not, and I think Mal Pugh gets them 3-5 wins they shouldn’t get.
Jason: I’m going to throw in with the folks backing the Current, who were not as bad as their record indicated last year, and are being counted out again due to Lynn Williams’ unfortunate injury costing her the year. However, this team has been a problem in the Challenge Cup, and that’s without Sam Mewis. Once her knee gets right, KC’s a playoff-calibre team thanks to the clarity of their tactical vision and the rapid development of some young players.
Andre: The eternal “underdogs” - the North Carolina Courage. Their system is super hard to cope with and they have players who can wreck 1-on-1. It’ll be interesting to see if they can sustain it throughout the season but they also won’t have a ton of key internationals missing throughout the season either. That could be a real boost.
Kudzi: Next up, which player are you most looking forward to watching?
Sophie: Ack, horrible question, can I just jive on the whole Washington attack? Or Midge Purce and Ify Onumonu when they find each other on the pitch? Also Maria Sánchez and Hina Sugita and…..ack! Clearly, too many!
Jenna: Paige Monaghan for Gotham. I think she’s going to have the breakout season she deserves. Also looking forward to watching Amirah Ali for San Diego. She has Rookie of the Year qualities.
Theo: Kerolin, NC Courage. It’s really hard to pick just one (honourable mention to Elyse Bennett) but I think the Brazilian rookie will be the most fun to watch. Players like Kerolin are worth the price of admission all on their own. You’ll see so many people get off their seat in the stadium or sofa at home when she attacks. A daring player who could become a household name in front of our eyes.
Sylvia: Kerolin and Sánchez. Endo is edging closer though. On my own team, I am an Ally Watt truther.
Jason: The real answer is Ashley Sanchez but I’m going to bring her up in another category. Honourable mention? I’m really fascinated by what Naomi Girma can achieve this season, given her early play and a ceiling that should see her starting for the USWNT for a long time.
Andre: Christen Press, obvs! If Angel City FC gets their midfield working then Press should have plenty of opportunities to change games. There’s so much potential in her link up play with Simone Charley as well.
Maria Sánchez as well. She already has the largest collection of souls stolen in the Challenge Cup, I expect her haul to increase exponentially.
Kudzi: Cool, cool, cool, cool, cool.
Now for the not so nice question: which team do you think won’t amount to much this season?
Sophie: Orlando Pride. Sorry Pride fam, I just think this is more of a rebuilding year for you and you’ve got to go all the way back to basics and start from there.
Jenna: This is a tough one. I think it might be a tough year again for Orlando too, especially with Marta on SEI but I hope they prove me wrong! They’ve got a really interesting squad, definitely in a rebuild, and I’d like to see them succeed on the pitch.
Theo: I agree with Jenna that Orlando would probably be the pick right now. Amanda Cromwell rotated more than some in the Sippy Cup, so maybe that counts for something. It feels like it’s always Orlando down at the bottom though.
Sylvia: I think I’m going to end this season mad that Racing Louisville isn’t better than they are. I think this is the team they should’ve built last season. They have good pieces but Euro 2022 will hurt them
(Note from Kudzi: I’d like the records to show that I agree with Sylvia.)
Jason: The Pride are doing a necessary rebuild but rebuilds are rocky. Unfortunately, Year One is just disassembly and Marta’s ACL injury means that they’ve lost by far their most ball-dominant player and chance creator. I quite like some of Orlando’s individual players but the pieces don’t fit together right now. I can’t see them finishing above 11th.
Andre: Damn, this one is brutal but I think the universal answer is Orlando.
Sylvia: Yeah, I agree. Pride fans will find joy in Year 3, though they’ll improve next season. If they can’t convince Deanne Rose to come though…….
Kudzi: Let’s leave it at that then because Orlando not getting Rose or an equivalent player? Not great Bob, not great!
Which team will be the surprise package?
Sophie: I feel like the expansion teams will be the surprises. It might all gloriously come together and surprise people, or it will be a struggle all season and their final standing will be a surprise. Both could be jazzy, or a car crash. It just feels like with all the eyes on them, someone is going to be surprised.
Andre: Even though they probably shouldn’t be a surprise to people, Kansas City.
Jenna: KC! And San Diego Wave too!
Sylvia: I still think a healthy Angel City FC can sneak the 6th spot but I guess if KC is still a sleeper team for people, they’re my pick. They could get a first round bye.
Theo: KC and San Diego for me too. They definitely look ready to turn some heads. A first round bye would mean a lot of success for KC. I’d probably say KC are chasing 5th/6th in the league.
Chicago could be an outsider in this category too. The CONCACAF qualifiers will hurt them but on their day, they could beat anyone with Pugh and Alyssa Naeher. The Red Stars are playing one of the most interesting formations in the league right now.
Jason: Taking an opposite tact here. I think people are going to be surprised by Gotham’s struggles this year. (Kudzi: Big call Jason but I’m with you on this……why are you booing us? We’re right.). They haven’t convinced in any of their Challenge Cup games in my book, with the Gotham Force Field™ appearing to have vanished and games being played on their opponents’ terms, not theirs. There are some wonderful players on this team, they’re the NWSL’s Vibes Team™, but over the long haul I’m not sure the pieces all fit together. They won’t be outright bad but I think they’re going to miss the playoffs, and that to me is going to be a major surprise league-wide.
Kudzi: We’re getting spicy here! Go on then, give us your playoff predictions.
Jenna: Again echoing Sophie: CHAOS!!!
I’m pretty sure we’ll see the Spirit, OL Reign, the Courage and Portland Thorns FC in there - got to throw in Gotham for good measure of course - but there’s six spots and 12 teams. Can’t wait to see how that shakes out.
Sylvia: I have the Reign, Courage, Spirit, KC, probably Portland and then I have the Red Stars, Gotham and Angel City fighting for the sixth spot.
Theo: Portland and the Reign’s depth will help them in the long run. I could see a repeat of last year’s top two. The Spirit could finish 1st or 4th depending on how they manage the group.
Overall, I’ll take a punt on the Reign, Portland, the Courage, Spirit, Wave and KC.
Jason: In the following order/league standings: Reign, Spirit, North Carolina, Portland, KC and Chicago.
Andre: Oh heavens! 1) Reign; 2) Spirit; 3) North Carolina; 4) Portland; 5) Kansas City; 6) Chicago
Kudzi: This should be fun. Name your Coach of the Year (COTY), Rookie of the Year (ROTY), Defender of the Year (DOTY) and Most Valuable Player (MVP).
Andre: MVP - Jess Fishlock. COTY - Laura Harvey. ROTY - Elyse Bennett. DOTY - Alana Cook, or if wingbacks count, Natalia Kuikka. MVP - Trinity Rodman.
Theo: COTY - Casey Stoney. ROTY - Elyse Bennett. DOTY - Alana Cook. GOTY - Phallon Tullis-Joyce. MVP - Ashley Sanchez.
Andre: Ooo Sanchez. I like that choice! Put me down for Tullis-Joyce as GOTY too.
Sophie: MVP - Jess Fishlock (or Ashley Sanchez). ROTY - Amirah Ali. DOTY - Carson Pickett. GKOTY - Kailen Sheridan. COTY - Kris Ward.
Sylvia: MVP - Sam Mewis comeback season baby! Also think Jess MacDonald and Press are dark horses. ROTY - Elyse Bennett. Girma won’t get it because no one gives awards to defenders. DOTY - Alana Cook. I agree that Carson Pickett is a viable choice here as well. COTY - If Harvey wins all three competitions, it’s hers otherwise it’s going to Sean Nahas.
Jenna: MVP - Andi Sullivan. ROTY - Amirah Ali. DOTY - Caprice Dydasco (BACK TO BACK LET”S GO!). GKOTY - Phallon Tullis-Joyce. COTY - Scott Parkinson.
Jason: MVP - Ashley Sanchez…or Trinity Rodman. Both? Can we pick both? (Kudzi: Yes you can Jason). ROTY - Elyse Bennett. DOTY- Kelley O’Hara is in the club form of her life. If the Spirit make a PR push, she wins this (Kudzi: Again, Jason and I are in total agreement). If not, Sofia Huerta thanks to putting up goals and assists on a top team. GOTY - Another weird and inexplicable split vote like last year’s. With Aubrey Kingsbury getting Best XI this time and Tullis-Joyce getting the big award. COTY - Sean Nahas.
Kudzi: Okay, let’s wrap it up before people get bored. Anything else you want to add before the madness descends with the opening game of the season?
Sophie: Attacks >> defences, CHAOS!, etc.
Did we mention that Sophia Smith is a baby-faced assassin?
Jenna: Can’t wait to see how wrong I am in October!
Andre: HI READER! GO TO AS MANY GAMES AS YOU CAN!
Kudzi: Here, here!
Catch all the NWSL regular season games and the playoffs on CBS, CBSSN, Paramount+ and Twitch.