Just as the autumn follows summer, so does the NWSL follow the W-League.
Last W-League season more NWSL players than ever headed down to the Australian shores. This means that there is plenty of interest for W-League followers as the fifth season of the US National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) kicks off this weekend.
With the NWSL signing a new broadcasting deal, it means that this season international supporters will have a new way to watch the matches on NWSLSoccer.com.
Here is our quick guide to the NWSL.
Coach: Matt Beard
2016 Record: (W-D-L) 3-15-2. The Breakers were once again the last placed team of the NWSL and missed out on the playoffs for the fourth straight year.
Overview and Notable Players: Boston never really got going and spent the majority of the season in the basement of the league standings.
The 2017 preseason was promising for the Breakers who won all three of their matches against local colleges. The Breakers will be happy to see that they outscored their opponents 16-2 in the matches. Those 16 goals were more than the Breakers scored all last season (14).
The goal scoring could be attributed to the trades and draft picks the Breakers picked up this off season. Boston has added a league high 14 new faces to their roster. They have signed the newly minted USWNT phenom of Rose Lavelle and acquired three other international veterans Emilie Haavi (Norway), Rosie White (New Zealand) and Adriana Leon (Canada).
The Breakers hope the new faces will create a new winning atmosphere at the club and try and finally get back to the playoffs. The question will be do the Breakers have enough time together to create a cohesive team.
Australian Notes: For the first time in four seasons Kyah Simon will not be on the Breakers roster. Simon cited she is staying home in Australia to train and recover from shoulder surgery.
1/2 I’m saddened to announce I will not be returning to the Breakers for the 2017 NWSL season. I'd like 2 wish Matt & the girls all the best https://t.co/L6kte9FqW5
— Kyah Simon (@KyahSimon) January 16, 2017
2/2 for the upcoming season. Thank you to the the club, all my teammates and fans for making Boston my home away from home. Forever grateful
— Kyah Simon (@KyahSimon) January 16, 2017
W League Notes:
- Natasha Dowie (Melbourne Victory) headed back to the W-League for a full season and finished third in the golden boot race with nine goals.
- Megan Oyster returned to the Newcastle Jets and was a staple in the team’s lineup.
- Former W-League players include Angela Salem (Newcastle Jets), Brooke Elby (Melbourne Victory)
Chicago Red Stars
Head Coach: Rory Dames
2016 Record: (W-D-L) 9-5-6 Another strong campaign saw the Red Stars make the playoffs, but were defeated in the semi-finals by the Washington Spirit 2-1.
Overview and Notable Players: With their 2016 success the Red Stars returned the core of their roster, only adding three new players. The Red Stars will be led by the USWNT trio of goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, defender Julie Ertz (nee Johnston), and forward Christen Press.
The Red Stars are the only NWSL team to have no international players on their roster. The Red Stars will look to finally break through during the playoffs and win the NWSL championship. Consistency and chemistry will be the Red Stars’ biggest assets.
Australian Notes: No Australian players.
- Vanessa Di Bernardo was once again a key player for Perth Glory with six goals and two assists for the W-League finalists. DiBernardo was joined at Glory by Alyssia Mautz who also proved a strong part of the finalists midfield puzzle.
- Sophia Huerta proved to be a great addition to Adelaide United as she notched the third most assists in the league with five and had the second most goals on her team with eight. Danielle Colaprico and Katie Naughton were also regulars for Adelaide United in their first season down under.
- Jen Hoy and Arin Gilliland were both on the Newcastle Jets squad during this last season. They ranked second and third for goals scored for the Jets respectively.
- Defender Sam Johnson returned to the W-League for a 2016/17 with Melbourne Victory. Johnson was the anchor for a young and inexperienced Victory defence in tough season.
FC Kansas City
Head Coach: Vlatko Andonovski
2016 Record: (W-D-L) 7-8-5 The 2015 NWSL Champions saw an off year finishing the season in 6th and out of the playoffs. Player absences from retirement and maternity leave left holes in the roster that FCKC was unable to fill.
Overview and Notable Players: FC Kansas City is happy to have Sydney Leroux and Amy Rodriguez who return from maternity leave. They will join fellow UWSNT player Becky Sauerbrunn, arguably the best defender in the world. FC Kansas City will be without Heather O’Reilly until June as she is playing in England with Arsenal.
FCKC has a roster full of veteran players and only one rookie. They hope that their experience will be able get their team back to being atop the NWSL and in contention for another championship.
Australian Notes: No current players
W League Notes:
- Erika Tymrak joined Melbourne City and helped the team to another W League Championship. On a star studded team Tymrak made her mark with a team leading assists of two and third highest goals scored with two.
- Alex Arlitt was a fixture in the lineup for the Western Sydney Wanderers early on the season but game time was more limited in the back end of the W-League.
Head Coach: Randy Waldrum
2016 Record: (W-D-L) 6-10-4 High hopes for last season were for naught as the team finished below .500 and in the bottom half of the standings.
Overview and Notable Players: The Dash may have the most experienced international players on their team with 12 players who have all played for their respective senior national teams. Led by the reigning 2-time player of the year with Carli Lloyd, Matilda’s Lydia Williams, Brazilian Andressa, and American Morgan Brian. The Dash will be looking to take their star powered lineup and live up to the expectations of making the playoffs.
Australian Notes: Lydia Williams rejoins the Dash for the 2017 season. Williams had a stellar 2016 campaign in both the NWSL, W-League and international play. Williams will look to continue her play and have the Dash push for a playoff run.
W League Notes:
- Stephanie Ochs rejoined Canberra United for the 2016-17 W-League season who helped the team win the regular season championship.
North Carolina Courage
Head Coach: Paul Riley
2016 Record: (W-D-L) 9-6-5. This is the first season for the NC Courage who was previously the Western New York Flash. The Courage inherited the Flash’s 2016 NWSL Championship and will look to repeat as champions in the upcoming season.
Overview and Notable Players: The Courage have kept many of their players from last year’s Flash team. Most notably is reigning the NWSL MVP, Lynn Williams. Williams is also joined by USWNT up and coming players of Sam Mewis, Jalene Hinkle, and Jessica McDonald. The Courage also have New Zealand native, Abby Erceg, their captain from last season who will help to hold down the defense and keep the NWSL second best goal difference from last season of 14.
Australian Notes: No Current Players
W League Notes:
- Former W-League players include Jessica McDonald (Melbourne Victory) and Abby Dahlkemper (Adelaide United)
Coach: Tom Sermanni
2016 Record (W-D-L): 6-1-13. Finished 9th in their debut season.
Overview and Notable Players: Orlando’s debut season started promisingly with their opening third of matches seeing them notch up 4 wins and just two losses. However that promise didn’t hold as they struggled with inconsistent results in the middle part of the season before the tail end fell away badly picking up just 1 point in the last 8 games.
For Orlando to improve on their last season they will be hoping for more leadership from their host of national team players. There is the newly acquired and very experienced Ali Krieger, 2016 NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year Ashlyn Harris (who managed 1.33 GAA, 62 saves), the Matildas defensive trio of Steph Catley, Laura Alleway and the newly traded Alanna Kennedy and Brazilians led by the big off-season signing and 5x World Player of the Year Marta and her teammate Monica.
Australian notes: One of the best full backs in the world Steph Catley returns for a second season and 4th NWSL season. Catley’s W-League teammate Laura Alleway returns for her second NWSL season as does Alanna Kennedy. Kennedy moves south after a strong first NWSL season which saw her a key piece of the WNY Flash championship winning defence.
W-League notes/ alumni:
- Jasymne Spencer spent her third off-season in W-League with Canberra United. While it was an up and down season for Spencer personally, the striker was part of the side that claimed a third W-League Premiership.
- Midfielder Maddy Evans had her first taste of the endless summer as she headed to the Brisbane Roar. Evans was key to the Roar’s push for a finals place although they ultimately fell short.
- Defender Monica was a regular in the Adelaide United defence in her first W-League season
Coach: Mark Parsons
2016 Record (W-D-L): 12-5-3. The Thorns claimed their first Premiers’ Plate after being the most consistent team in the league. In a see-sawing semi-final match they lost out to eventual champions WNY Flash (now NC Courage)
Overview and Notable Players: With so many big names there was plenty of pressure on the Thorns to perform in 2016 and for the most part they did.
Under new coach Mark Parsons, the Thorns combined an attacking style of football (finishing second on goals) with a solid defensive game (best defensive record). It was those foundations that propelled them to a 12 game unbeaten streak at the start of the season and eventually led to their first Premiership.
Portland certainly have the big names from around the world starting with their decorated Canadian captain Christine Sinclair, USWNT stalwart Tobin Heath, French star Amandine Henry, 2016 Denmark Player of the Year Nadia Nadim, to the newly signed Ashleigh Sykes.
- After being a last minute signing in 2016, Hayley Raso proved her worth for the Thorns throughout the season with her strong work ethic and ability to unsettle defences. In a third NWSL season, Raso will be looking to push for a look in at the starting line up.
- After a season in Japan in 2016, Ash Sykes has made the big move for her first season in the NWSL. Sykes comes with some big W-League credentials with 3 Premierships, 2 Championships, the 2015 W-League Julie Dolan Winner for Player of the Year and 2016 W-League Golden Boot.
- Chasing game time, midfielder Celeste Boureille joined Hayley Raso at Canberra United where she slotted easily into the starting line up. Boureille earned the appreciation of United fans for her hard working style anchoring of the middle of the park, helping Canberra to the 2016/17 Premiership
- Other former W-League players include Kendall Johnson (Western Sydney Wanderers) and Katherine Reynolds (Newcastle Jets)
Coach: Laura Harvey
2015 Record (W-D-L): 8-6-6. Finished fifth and two points away from the finals. After claiming back to back Premiers’ Plates in 2014 and 2015, the Reign missed the finals for the first time since 2013.
Overview and Notable Players: After a number of spectacular season, the Reign’s 2016 was more average and Laura Harvey’s side never really got on a roll.
An opening day loss was followed by two wins but after that it wasn’t until the end of the season that they could string together back to back wins. While always in finals contention, 2016 saw the Reign return back to the middle of the pack.
Very few sides have been consistent in their personnel quite like Seattle. 2017 co-captains Lauren Barnes and Jess Fishlock are two such players that have been there since day one. That is the strength of the Reign, the familiarity of the players with Harvey and her systems. This year more than ever Seattle’s success should be built on the collective unit more than an individual player. In saying that a fit and healthy Megan Rapinoe would be a big boost as would Nahomi Kawasumi and a consistent season from attacking midfielder Christine Nairn.
Australian notes: 2015 W-League Golden Boot and Young Player of the Year winner Larissa Crummer has been signed up by the Reign on her first professional contract. Crummer had an injury interrupted 2016 season but at her best is a mobile target forward who is a proven finisher.
- Jess Fishlock continued her love affair with Melbourne as she became the first Player / Manager to win a W-League championship. Fishlock led City in goalscoring and her influence was underscored by winner her second Player of the Match award in the 2017 Grand Final.
- Defender Lauren Barnes headed to Melbourne for a third W-League season and the 2016 NWSL Defender of the Year was a pivotal member of the strongest defence in the league.
- Bev Yanez joined her Reign teammates at Melbourne City and after a slow start, the forward found herself at home in the City attack, scoring the second goal in the W-League Grand Final.
- The City / Reign theme continues with newly signed defence Rebekah Stott. The NZ international is set for her first NWSL season but has previously played professionally in the Swedish league.
- At the other end of the spectrum Christine Nairn battled valiantly to captain a Melbourne Victory side that struggled for a second season. Nairn’s class and experience was evident throughout season 2016/17.
Sky Blue FC
Coach: Christy Holly
2016 Record (W-D-L): 7-5-8. Finished 7th. An improvement of one place from 2015 but still missed the finals for the third season.
Overview and Notable Players: Sky Blue were always there or there abouts in the 2016 season.
While their attack managed to produce goals at regular intervals, unfortunately their defence leaked goals at a higher rate. Sky Blue is a solid team. Solid in attack, solid in the midfield but for 2017 to be a breakout season, solid won’t be enough for Christy Holly.
Australian notes: In her 5th season, forward Sam Kerr is an NWSL veteran and currently 4th on the all time top goalscorers table. She was again the key to the Sky Blue FC attack last season and after a strong season the W-League – second in the Golden Boot – Jersey fans will be hoping that form translates to the American summer.
- Midfielder Nikki Stanton‘s second season with Perth Glory proved much more fruitful. Stanton played 13 of a possible 14 matches and was one of the midfield foundations for Bobby Despotovski.
- Former W-League players include Sarah Killon (Adelaide United)
Coach: Jim Gabarra
2015 Record (W-D-L): 12-3-5, Finished 2nd in the regular season before losing the Championship match on penalties.
Overview and Notable Players: The Washington Spirit continued to build on their recent seasons with strong opening to the season.
One of the best balanced teams in the competition, the Spirit were equally consistent in their results which led to their first appearance at a NWSL Championship. Unfortunately for their supporters it in ended in penalty shootout heartbreak.
That heartbreak continued in an off-season of turmoil where the Spirit lost a host of their best players including 2015 NWSL MVP Crystal Dunn, Ali Krieger, Megan Oyster, Diana Matheson, Christine Nairn and Kelsey Wys (ACL injury).
For the Spirit this season it will be about the veterans holding together the club if they are to even consider pushing for a third straight finals series. Tori Huster, Joanna Lohmann, Estelle Johnson are going to be those key players. Defensively they will look to bronze medal winning Canadian duo Shelina Zardosky and Stephanie Labbe to pull together what will be a young defence.
Australian notes: No current players
- Nigerian international Francesca Ordega headed to Sydney FC for her first Australian season. Ordega entered the Sky Blues mid-season and while there were glimpses of what she could produce, the forward never quite found her feet.
- Former W-League players include Caprice Dydasco (Newcastle Jets), Tori Huster (Newcastle Jets and the Western Sydney Wanderers), Shelina Zadorsky (Perth Glory), Estelle Johnson (Sydney FC)
Additional reporting by Ann Odong