Angel City FC and the San Diego Wave will face off Saturday in the latest edition of their cross-California rivalry match.

San Diego holds a 1-0 edge this season and a 3-1-1 advantage overall after their 2-0 win over Angel City in April. Their most recent meeting in San Diego last September drew an NWSL record 32,000 fans to Snapdragon Stadium. The Wave (6-3-2) enter the game in first place in the NWSL standings, Angel City (2-6-3) in 11th place and with an interim head coach after the club parted ways with Freya Coombe on Thursday.

While this marks the final regular-season match between the teams in 2023, two Challenge Cup games await, in Los Angeles on June 28 and in San Diego on Aug. 5.

Angel City vs. San Diego: How to watch

The rivalry game will take place at 4 p.m. ET (1 p.m. local time) on Saturday, June 17. It will air on CBS and also stream online via CBS Sports.

Key players

Alyssa Thompson, Angel City FC

Thompson’s pro career has gotten off to a strong start. The 2023 No. 1 draft pick has created the second-most chances for Angel City, with 18 total shots so far this season. She’s also scored three goals, tied for the most on the team with Claire Emslie. Wherever she is on the field, San Diego should have eyes on Thompson, as letting the speedy 18-year-old go unchecked could lead to danger for the visiting team.

Didi Haračić, Angel City FC

In order for Angel City to have a shot against top-of-the-table San Diego, goalkeeper Haračić will need to be lights out against the likes of Jaedyn Shaw, Alex Morgan and Sofia Jakobsson. While she has allowed 21 goals this season, she has faced 59 shots on target and registered a 71.2% save percentage. Angel City, currently in 11th place on the NWSL table, could use an outstanding performance from Haračić. She has kept her team in games of late, with their three most recent losses ending in a one-goal difference.

Jaedyn Shaw, San Diego Wave

Shaw’s passing abilities and goal-scoring prowess make her a rising star for San Diego. Her three goals are the second-most on the team behind Alex Morgan, and she’s been a key fixture in creating chances for her team when she’s not the one scoring. Head coach Casey Stoney called the 18-year-old’s vision among the best she has seen. Shaw could be a sleeper pick for a USWNT World Cup spot this summer and a future national team mainstay.

Naomi Girma, San Diego Wave

The reigning NWSL Rookie and Defender of the Year, Naomi Girma comes into the game with a brand-new contract that will keep her in San Diego through 2026. The reasons for that contract are clear: Girma is one of the best players the Wave have in their arsenal of talent. (And that is not a knock on the Wave but a credit to Girma — after all, San Diego features Alex Morgan, Sofia Jakobsson and other stars on its roster.) The future of the USWNT defense, Girma is an elite passer (with an astounding 86.2% completion rate, good for third in the league) and a lockdown defender (with 5.0 clearances per 90, also third in the league).


Angel City FC

Control the transitional attack and maintain possession. Angel City has had good ball possession this season — they just haven’t managed to put together all of the pieces. Despite 36 shots on target, they’ve scored just 13 goals. They’ve also put up 149 total shots and, at some point, need them to find the back of the net. San Diego’s stats look fairly similar, with 16 goals on 44 shots on target. Can Angel City finally find an offensive breakthrough?

San Diego Wave

Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan is tied for the league lead with five clean sheets. She’s had help from a strong defense, but those shutouts are also just the sign of a good goalie. Their offensive stars similarly have helped propel them to the top of the league, led by Alex Morgan’s five goals. But when they lose, they tend to lose big. Limiting Angel City’s attack will be key if San Diego wants to walk away with the win.

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The latest episode of the NWSL’s SoCal rivalry kicks off this Saturday, June 17, when the San Diego Wave host Angel City FC at Snapdragon Stadium. San Diego, unbeaten in five straight matches, currently leads the NWSL standings. Meanwhile, Angel City is looking for a statement win after hitting a midseason rough patch, going winless in their last five regular season matches.

Ahead of the game, here is a brief overview of the history of the rivalry and what’s at stake.

Angel City vs. San Diego: How they got here

Angel City FC made waves when it was first announced as an NWSL expansion franchise in July 2020.

From the start, the club sought to shake up traditional ownership structures, launching with a majority female ownership group and a long list of celebrity investors. That group is led by actress Natalie Portman, entrepreneur Julie Uhrman and venture capitalists Kara Nortman and Alexis Ohanian. Other founding team members include tennis legend Serena Williams, WNBA star Candace Parker, actresses Jennifer Garner and Jessica Chastain, and former U.S. women’s national team players Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Abby Wambach.

San Diego Wave FC first came into the mix in June 2021, when the NWSL announced the southern California city as the location for an expansion team owned by Ron Burkle. It didn’t take long for the team to make a few high-profile additions, appointing two-time World Cup champion coach Jill Ellis as club president, hiring Casey Stoney as head coach and acquiring USWNT stars Abby Dahlkemper and Alex Morgan.

In 2022, the Wave had the most successful inaugural season for an expansion team in NWSL history. They were not only the first expansion team to make the playoffs in their first year after finishing third in the regular-season standings, but also the first to host and win a playoff game. In addition, San Diego nearly swept the end-of-season individual awards: Stoney was named Coach of the Year, Kailen earned Sheridan Goalkeeper of the Year and Naomi Girma took home Defender of the Year and Rookie of the Year. Morgan also finished first in the Golden Boot race with 15 goals.

Alex Morgan leads San Diego in goals scored this season with five. (Orlando Ramirez/USA TODAY Sports)

Head-to-head results

Since San Diego and Angel City began play in the NWSL in 2022, the two sides have met five times total, including three times during the regular season. Here is their head-to-head history:

  • March 19, 2022 (Challenge Cup): 1-1 draw
  • April 2, 2022 (Challenge Cup): San Diego won 4-2
  • July 9, 2022: Angel City won 2-1
  • September 17, 2022: San Diego won 1-0
  • April 23, 2023: San Diego won 2-0

San Diego and Angel City have drawn huge crowds for their rivalry games. San Diego broke the NWSL attendance record in the team’s debut game at Snapdragon Stadium in September 2022 when 32,000 fans packed the stands to watch the Wave win 1-0. Sellout crowds of 22,000 fans also attended both of the Angel City-hosted games at BMO Stadium.

What they’ve said about the rivalry

After the teams’ first meeting of the year, a 2-0 win for San Diego in April, players and coaches spoke about the budding rivalry and its importance in the women’s soccer landscape. Julie Ertz made her debut with Angel City in that game after signing with the club on April 17. On Saturday, the USWNT midfielder will be more game-ready after having played in six matches across all competitions.

Wave head coach Casey Stoney: “I think the rivalry is fantastic. I love it. It’s amazing to have this derby, the fact we don’t have to go on a plane and it’s a local derby, I think the fans really get behind it. I think it’s exciting for the players. It adds a little bit of an edge.”

Wave defender Naomi Girma: “I think it’s always good to win a rivalry (game). It’s only our second year in the league, us and L.A. (Angel City), but I think this has already become one of the biggest rivalries in the league, so it’s a really good feeling to come to this stadium, great atmosphere, great fans and to come away with the win.”

Angel City midfielder Savannah McCaskill: “It’s exciting that we have another SoCal team because we can create this derby effect. Rivalry games are fun, it’s something that you step up to the plate for.

Alyssa Thompson has been a revelation for Angel City after being drafted No. 1 overall. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports)

2023 Women’s World Cup Preview

The 2023 Women’s World Cup is just around the corner and this will be one of the last chances for U.S. players to make a case for selection before USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski names his roster later this month.

From San Diego, American players in contention include defender Naomi Girma, midfielder Taylor Kornieck, forward Alex Morgan, and forward/midfielder Jaedyn Shaw, while Angel City’s top hopefuls include midfielder Julie Ertz and forward Alyssa Thompson.

Meanwhile, San Diego goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan has already been named to Canada’s World Cup roster.

How to watch Angel City vs. San Diego Wave

If you won’t be watching in-person at Snapdragon Stadium on Saturday, you can catch the game on CBS (1 p.m. PT / 4 p.m. ET).

The best college softball teams in the country competed at the 2023 NCAA Women’s College World Series at the USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, and for the third straight year, the Oklahoma Sooners came out on top.

No. 1 Oklahoma won its third consecutive NCAA title — and ended the season on a historic winning streak. Competition began on June 1 and continued through June 8.

Just Women’s Sports kept tabs on the action as it unfolds. See below for the full game schedule, and an explainer on how the Women’s College World Series bracket works.

Which teams are competing at the 2023 Women’s College World Series?

Sixty-four teams competed in the NCAA softball championship this spring, with eight ultimately qualifying for this week’s Women’s College World Series (WCWS).

In order to qualify for the WCWS, each team had to first make it through a four-team regional competition (featuring a double-elimination bracket), followed by a two-team super regional championship (featuring a best-of-three format).

These are the eight teams that qualified for the 2023 WCWS:

  • No. 1 Oklahoma
  • No. 3 Florida State
  • No. 4 Tennessee
  • No. 5 Alabama
  • No. 6 Oklahoma State
  • No. 7 Washington
  • No. 9 Stanford
  • No. 15 Utah

How does the bracket work at the Women’s College World Series?

The Women’s College World Series uses a double elimination bracket for the first stage, followed by a best-of-3 championship series.

Competition begins with the eight teams competing in a bracket. When a team loses its first game, it will be sent to the elimination bracket with a chance to play its way back into the main bracket. But when a team loses its second game, it is eliminated from contention.

The winner from each side of the bracket meets in the best-of-three championship series.

2023 Women’s College World Series — Schedule and Results

The Women’s College World Series began June 1 and continued through June 8. See below for a full schedule. All games were available on ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC — in addition to streaming on ESPN+.

In the semifinals, Stanford faced off against Oklahoma and nearly pulled off a Game 1 upset. Stanford freshman sensation NiJaree Canady was lights out against the Sooner batters in their WCWS opener and pushed them to the brink again Monday, but Oklahoma won 4-2 in nine innings to advance to their fourth straight championship series.

Florida State also had entered the championship series undefeated, defeating Tennessee 5-1 in Monday’s other semifinal game. But FSU lost its only regular season meeting with Oklahoma, falling 5-4 on March 14.

In the opening game of the WCWS finals, Oklahoma claimed a dominant 5-0 win against FSU, led by pitcher Jordy Bahl’s complete game shutout. The Sooners closed out their third straight title with a 3-1 win, in which Bahl recorded a three-inning save.

June 1:

  • Game 1: Tennessee 10, Alabama 5
  • Game 2: Oklahoma 2, Stanford 0
  • Game 3: Florida State 8, Oklahoma State 0

June 2:

  • Game 4: Washington 4, Utah 1
    • Note: Originally scheduled for June 1, but postponed due to weather
  • Game 5: Stanford 2, Alabama 0
  • Game 6: Oklahoma State 8, Utah 0

June 3:

  • Game 7: Oklahoma 9, Tennessee 0
  • Game 8: Florida State 3, Washington 1

June 4:

  • Game 9: Stanford 1, Washington 0
  • Game 10: Tennessee 3, Oklahoma State 1

June 5:

  • Game 11: Oklahoma 4, Stanford 2 (9 innings)
    • Game 12 not needed after Stanford elimination
  • Game 13: Florida State 5, Tennessee 1
    • Game 14 not needed after Tennessee elimination

Championship Finals (Best of 3)
No. 1 Oklahoma vs. No. 3 Florida State

The Washington Spirit’s controversial 1-0 win against Angel City headlined this week’s NWSL action.

The lone goal in the match came on a penalty kick during stoppage time. After a handball was called against Angel City defender M.A. Vignola — and then confirmed by VAR — Washington Spirit forward Ashley Hatch converted the penalty.

Following the game, the referee addressed the handball, noting that “although the ball struck the body of the defender first, there was a secondary motion of the arm.” The referee also noted that Vignola’s body was “unnaturally bigger” because of her arm being raised “at/above the shoulder,” which gave her an advantage.

Angel City head coach Freya Coombe, though, took issue with the call.

“I’m still confused as to why that that would be a penalty shout and, yeah, the positioning of the arm,” Coombe said. “I don’t know where we are expected to put one’s arm when the elbow’s tucked into the sides and you’re turning your back as you’re clearing a ball.”

Spirit head coach Mark Parsons, on the other hand, defended the referee’s decision.

“We just saw one replay in the stadium, and I mean the hand was up,” Parsons said. “I haven’t seen a great look. They missed some handballs around the middle of the pitch, kept bouncing off hands and they weren’t calling it. … We’ve been educated on the rules. It’s hard for defenders to defend with their hands by their side, you can’t run as well. But we know, we know the rules.”

With the win, the Spirit moved into first place in the NWSL standings. Check out the complete NWSL standings here, and the results from all six of this week’s NWSL games below.

NWSL Results and Scores: Friday, May 12

Racing Louisville 3, Chicago Red Stars 0

Racing Louisville won its first game of the 2023 NWSL regular season Friday night, defeating the Chicago Red Stars at Lynn Family Stadium. Savannah DeMelo and Wang Shuang both converted penalties in the first half, while Parker Goins added a third tally in the 89th minute. The 3-0 victory is Racing Louisville’s largest margin of victory since joining the NWSL in 2021.

Houston Dash 2, Portland Thorns 1

The Portland Thorns lost their first game of the regular season Friday night, falling 2-1 to the Houston Dash. Portland got on the board first with a goal in the 34th minute from Rocky Rodríguez, but the Dash came back with two goals of their own in the second half (Joelle Anderson, Ebony Salmon).

NWSL Results: Saturday, May 13

Angel City FC 0,  Washington Spirit 1

The Washington Spirit kept their undefeated streak alive with their 1-0 win against Angel City FC. The Spirit have four wins and three draws so far in the regular season, good for 15 points in the standings.

NWSL Results: Sunday, May 14

North Carolina Courage 1, OL Reign 0

The Courage were bolstered by Tyler Lussi’s lone goal of the game Sunday to take a 1-0 win over OL Reign and move up to sixth place in league standings.

NJ/NY Gotham FC 0, Orlando Pride 0

There wasn’t a goal to be found Sunday in the match between Gotham and Orlando.  Gotham FC now sits third in the standings, while Orlando remains in 10th.

Kansas City Current 0, San Diego Wave FC 2

An AD Franch own goal (assisted by Alex Morgan) and a tally by Belle Briede helped lift San Diego Wave over the Current. San Diego now sits fifth in the league, while 2022 NWSL runner-up Kansas City has slipped to 11th.

Angel City FC’s first season in the NWSL was a rousing success by almost every metric off the pitch. The team hosted sold-out crowds, sold sponsorships, connected with the community and more.

On the field, the results were slightly less conclusive, as a number of key players suffered injuries and the team’s plans hit bumps in the road. An expansion team taking some time to find its footing in its inaugural season is understandable, but the Los Angeles club will need to take steps forward on the pitch in 2023 to keep pace with the rest of the league.

2022 Review: Baby steps

Angel City made a handful of splashy moves prior to their inaugural season. The team swapped their first-round draft pick for USWNT superstar Christen Press and benefitted from smart deals and player wishes to compile what looked like a competitive starting XI.

The team’s best-laid plans never quite came to fruition, in part due to an influx of injuries. Angel City lost center-back Sarah Gorden for the year with an ACL tear as well as star striker Christen Press to an ACL tear in June. After trading for Orlando’s Sydney Leroux later in June, the forward’s availability was limited the rest of the season. Winger Simone Charley dealt with lingering Achilles issues in the latter half of the summer, and midfielder Julie Ertz took time away from the sport entirely after the club acquired her rights before the season.

Angel City’s availability issues made it difficult to gauge their roster construction. The team became a gritty unit of starters who withstood the ebbs and flows of possession to try to grind out results. Angel City’s depth was put under a microscope by necessity, and the toll at the end of the season showed as the expansion side faded to eighth after a season-ending loss to the Chicago Red Stars.

Christen Press has been slowly working her way back from an ACL injury suffered last season. (Katharine Lotze/Getty Images for Angel City FC)

Offseason moves: Betting on the future

After an inaugural season involving many factors outside the club’s control, Angel City took the two-pronged approach of running it back and planning for the future. The club traded for the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NWSL draft, selecting local teenage talent Alyssa Thompson. Thompson will get significant minutes in her first year as a pro as Press and Leroux continue to work their way back from injuries.

The assets L.A. dealt to acquire Thompson, in addition to the assets used to pick up Press and others in 2022, left the club with little room for more moves. As a result, Angel City needs to rely on their current team taking steps forward in 2023. Canada international Vanessa Gilles remains on loan to Olympique Lyon, but Gorden has made a full recovery and appears ready to run the backline in 2023.

“We didn’t necessarily get where we were looking to in the first season but were able to establish a foundation and a training facility,” general manager Angela Hucles Mangano said at the beginning of preseason. “We are looking at how we’re rounding out our entire roster, for the immediate and long term. We really want to make sure that we can provide depth in different positions. That is where you see how those players can be additive.”

While Angel City eagerly awaits the returns of Press and Leroux, the club made no moves to shore up the frontline that will likely be commanded by Thompson and Charley. Former North Carolina outside back Merritt Mathias should walk into a defensive role if she’s available, and former San Diego Wave forward Katie Johnson can also connect the attack to the midfield with her connective passing.

Savannah McCaskill led Angel City with seven goals in 2022. (Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

2023 outlook: Patience for the payoff

It’s difficult to gauge how head coach Freya Coombe plans to manage Thompson’s high ceiling while also getting the most out of the rest of her squad. A preseason friendly against Club América showed both the strengths and the weaknesses in Angel City’s roster construction.

While Thompson showed off her electric speed and poise to score her debut goal, the team started defender Madison Hammond at defensive midfielder and center back Paige Nielsen at outside back. Angel City never quite addressed the positional needs in the offseason that would allow the club to control the pace of play without requiring as much off-the-ball defending to pick up points. Jun Endo and Savannah McCaskill’s playmaking will be the key toward unlocking opposing defenses, and reliability at the less flashy positions might be what Angel City needs more than a brand-new star.

Angel City could be one of the biggest boom-or-bust propositions in the NWSL. They have the on-the-ball quality and speed of play to put opponents on their heels, but they might find that living dangerously gets in their way during a punishing regular season.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

Since joining the NWSL in 2017, the Orlando Pride have had a tenuous foothold on the NWSL standings. Despite initially fielding a splashy lineup featuring players like Alex Morgan, Ashlyn Harris and Marta, Orlando could never quite get the results to match the potential of its assembled roster.

A high coaching turnover rate affected consistency, and the team slid toward the bottom of the table, finishing last in 2019. In the years since, Orlando has had stretches of positive results but has still struggled to compete by the end of a punishing NWSL season.

Recently, Orlando’s philosophy toward roster-building has shown a marked change from the top-heavy investment of the team’s early years. Under new head coach Seb Hines, the Pride have compiled a young core of developing players through the draft and free agency, allowing the club to put roots down before beginning to grow into a playoff contender. The question in 2023 is whether the team can contend this year, or if they’re stuck building for the next version of the future.

2022 review: Getting stuck in

Despite renewed expectations, Orlando’s 2022 season started with middling results, as the occasional attacking fireworks couldn’t quite make up for their struggles on defense. The Pride would gut out a win one weekend, and then give up four or five goals to their next opponent.

The inconsistencies weren’t relegated to on-field performances. Head coach Amanda Cromwell was suspended in June (and later expelled from the league) amid an investigation for possible retaliation, and Hines was given interim control of the team midway through the 2022 season.

Despite adversity, the Pride also proved themselves resilient in the second half of the season. Orlando pulled together a five-game unbeaten streak in June after Cromwell’s suspension, becoming a stuck-in group that was very difficult for opponents to break down. While the Pride didn’t always play the prettiest soccer, they did stop the bleeding that plagued them at the beginning of the season.

But working primarily without the ball has its costs, and at the end of the season, fatigue set in and the club struggled to implement tactics that went further than stopping the opposition. A few multi-goal losses to opponents at the top of the table, like OL Reign and Portland, firmly ended Orlando’s dream of a playoff surge and relegated the club to a 10th-place finish in the 2022 standings.

Last year, Orlando became more of a proof of concept than a fully realized soccer team, defined more by how they could frustrate other teams than the strengths they brought to a match themselves.

Second-round pick Messiah Bright could end up being the steal of the 2023 NWSL Draft. (Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports)

Offseason moves: Building a new future

After a season of ups and downs, Hines began to further compile the young group the Pride believe can carry the team for years to come. Orlando was reportedly in the running for top free agent Debinha, but even after losing out to the Kansas City Current, the Pride front office continued to look for ways to solidify their core.

Orlando targeted talent in the draft, bringing in Emily Madril (No. 3) to partner with Megan Montefusco in the central defense and picking up underrated playmaking talent in the later rounds. Midfielder Summer Yates (No. 39) can create havoc in an NWSL midfield, and forward Messiah Bright (No. 21) could be the steal of the draft after Orlando grabbed her late in the second round. In free agency, the Pride signed Brazil forward Adriana to add extra firepower to the attack.

The Pride will also benefit from the return of legendary Brazilian playmaker Marta, who missed almost all of the 2022 season with an ACL tear. Marta brings both quality to the attack and veteran experience that will help Orlando’s young group learn the standards of the professional league. She will help make up for the loss of forward Darian Jenkins, who announced her retirement in January.

Seb Hines begins his first season as Orlando's permanent head coach. (Courtesy of the Orlando Pride)

2023 outlook: Don’t overthink it

Perhaps for the first time, Orlando appears to be building a real foundation for the future, but their success this year will depend on how the coaching staff adapts to the team’s skill set. The midfield is still unbalanced, with more attacking midfielders than players who excel at off-the-ball defensive positioning. Mikayla Cluff is ready for greater midfield responsibilities, but she’s a forward-pushing midfielder, as is rookie Yates. The Pride can’t spend too much time trying to possess through the middle of the pitch if they want to find immediate success.

The good news for Orlando is that they don’t necessarily have to aspire to possession-based soccer when it makes more sense to play direct. With a number of quality options along the frontline, the Pride can play through their forwards while providing a level of defensive coverage they might not have had before.

Orlando’s ceiling will depend on the team’s ability to move the ball quickly and to absorb pressure. Madril and Montefusco will have to build chemistry quickly, with the hope that players like Ally Watt and Julia Doyle will be able to pounce on quick-trigger opportunities on the other end.

Ultimately, the Pride could be written off as a work in progress for the future. But many great clubs in the NWSL’s history have found ways to turn positive play into results by not overcomplicating the task at hand, and a little confidence for a team in transition could go a very long way.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

OL Reign’s 2022 season could be described as a rollercoaster full of highs and lows. The team won their third NWSL Shield and earned a No. 1 seed in the NWSL playoffs, reflecting the consistent excellence the club has come to be known for since the early days of the league.

But once again, they failed to win the biggest honor of all, falling in their second consecutive semifinal after finishing in the top two in the league standings, this time to the Kansas City Current. The Reign have always represented the dichotomy of the difficult task in front of NWSL clubs: Sometimes the consistency that gives you a season-long edge becomes exploitable in the win-or-go-home playoffs.

The Reign have yet to hoist the NWSL trophy at the end of the postseason despite having one of the most talented rosters in the league. Is this the year the original Reign trio of Megan Rapinoe, Lauren Barnes and Jess Fishlock finish a season on a win?

2022 review: All about the timing

Part of what made the Reign’s inability to reach the finish line in 2022 so confounding is they appeared to be peaking at exactly the right time. The team’s Shield win was less a reflection of complete season dominance, and more an opportunity seized at the last minute.

Portland was in pole position for a back-to-back Shield title before dropping crucial points in the final weekend of the regular season. OL Reign, with momentum behind them, grabbed the chance to finish at the top of the table and looked like they had more in the tank for a postseason run.

But then, the same issues that have plagued the Reign for years popped up in their semifinal matchup against the Current. The Reign are experts at moving the ball, controlling games through possession and finding clinical ways to create chances on goal. They arguably are the golden standard for possessive-style football in the NWSL, with a consistency underlined by talent and experience.

Despite the strong build-up play, the Reign had a hard time finishing those chances. The club hit the woodwork more than any other NWSL team in 2022, and while the addition of Canada forward Jordyn Huitema midseason helped, they came up short again in the knockout game. The Reign out-shot, out-passed, out-possessed and held a huge advantage on set pieces in their semifinal, and still saw their season disappear in a disappointing 2-0 loss to Kansas City.

“It’s so tough because you look back on the year, and we had a really good year,” midfielder Rose Lavelle told reporters in preseason. “We won the Shield and that’s hard. That’s like a product of the whole season. But then I think to finish on that last game hurt us all.”

The Reign acquired forward Elyse Bennett and defender Emily Sonnett in the offseason. (Amy Kontras/USA TODAY Sports)

Offseason moves: Staying the course

Despite the disappointing finish, the Reign’s approach to the 2023 offseason was about consistency. Top free agents Rapinoe and Barnes both decided to re-sign with the club — ”It would have taken a catastrophe, most likely, for me to actually leave,” Rapinoe said — and head coach Laura Harvey made strategic additions elsewhere.

“Having the group predominantly back together again was a priority,” Harvey said. As a result, the Reign head into the 2023 season looking very similar to their Shield-winning squad.

The Reign did take the opportunity to sign USWNT defender Emily Sonnett on draft day, after the Washington Spirit offered her in a trade. They also picked up second-year forward Elyse Bennett from Kansas City, bolstering a frontline that will need dynamicism when players are away for the 2023 World Cup.

“Adding someone of [Sonnett’s] quality and experience and knowing how to win in this league could be really vital for us, and adding some depth in our frontline was also a priority to us and obviously [Bennett] fits that mold,” said Harvey. The coach noted that the team didn’t bring in rookies in large numbers, instead focusing on players with track records and the ability to acclimate to the Reign’s style of play.

Harvey also has the ebbs and flows of the international calendar in mind: “We’re constantly looking at, is this the roster that we have for the whole year? Is this something that we can take through to the World Cup, and then we have to manipulate the roster a little bit during the World Cup? And then, what does it look like after the World Cup?

“I sort of think, in World Cup years, you’ve always got those things going around in your mind. But it all started with making sure that we kept the majority of the group together from last year.”

Coach Laura Harvey is a three-time NWSL Coach of the Year with the Reign. (Stephen Brashear/USA TODAY Sports)

2023 Outlook: Finishing the job

The goal in 2023 remains the same as in past years: The Reign expect to compete for an NWSL championship.

“We have just such a talented, young squad. We kind of have all the pieces in place to be really good for a very long time and I think with the foundation of our culture and just how we are here, it could be one of the most attractive places in the world, not just the NWSL,” Rapinoe said.

“But we need to keep building and keep pushing and keep striving and making sure that everything off the pitch is just as good as what’s on the pitch.”

The Reign played preseason games in California, heading to warmer weather as many other clubs did before the season, and will be training at Starfire Sports in 2023 and beyond. While the group has always had a strong locker-room culture, upgrades in resources have proven to be key during a grueling NWSL season, and the Reign are taking steps to keep up with the top clubs in the league.

On the field, the squad is leaning into what’s worked for them in the past, with the intention of making the final push when it matters most.

“The vibes are always so good, and I think I’ve never been on a team like this that it’s just so good and wholesome,” Lavelle said. “It’s such a great group, and I think it makes it so easy to come in and get the job done. I think we’re all on the same page with everything and it’s fun.”

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

It’s been a long, eventful offseason, but it’s finally time for NWSL games to begin. After weathering the COVID-19 pandemic and the unveiling of wider systemic issues in 2021 and 2022, the league is ready to start a new chapter and era of growth.

No one can predict the future, but a few overarching questions linger as the 2023 season gets set to kick off, with storylines reaching far beyond the league itself.

Bring on VAR

In what is possibly the biggest upgrade to NWSL game operations in the league’s history, the NWSL is following through on its commitment to implement Video Assisted Refereeing into every match in 2023. The move comes in response to league-wide calls for officiating quality to improve as the league pushes to keep pace with the rising standard of play.

Alongside VAR itself — which will check for card-worthy fouls, offside calls and handballs — the league has committed resources to making sure every broadcast has five camera angles for both internal and broadcast use. The lack of production variety has resulted in some old NWSL broadcasts looking washed out and flat, with 2023 hopefully setting a new standard for what fans can expect in their living rooms.

VAR hasn’t arrived without controversy at the international and domestic levels, even in the men’s game, but if the NWSL can find the right balance of letting referees do their job without missing the big calls, the league could enter the modern era in a real way.

Slowing down the coaching carousel

For another year, the NWSL’s coaching positions have changed dramatically, as teams look for the right fit both on and off the field. Gotham, Washington, Portland, Houston and Orlando will all have head coaches make their debuts with their new clubs this season. While a certain amount of turnover is expected in the pros, a number of those clubs could benefit from security behind the scenes.

As the NWSL attempts to move forward from an era of toxicity and abuse that went uncovered for years, coaching dismissals have had as much to do with investigations into misconduct off the field as the product on the field. Poor results warrant action every year, but stability should stem from a respectful working environment that puts players in the best positions possible to succeed. The NWSL will make progress if all decisions can be made about the quality of play rather than the exploitation of power imbalances.

The NWSL will be without Alex Morgan and other national team players during the World Cup this summer. (Ira L. Black - Corbis/Getty Images)

Getting ready for the big stage

The NWSL is unique on the global stage in their summer schedule, which can be taxing on players but also gives the league a platform to promote the game before this year’s World Cup. Almost every player likely to be selected for the USWNT plays in the NWSL, as does a strong contingent of players from top soccer countries like Brazil, Japan and Canada. Reigning NWSL MVP Sophia Smith, Golden Boot winner Alex Morgan, Defender of the Year Naomi Girma and Goalkeeper of the Year Kailen Sheridan will all return and look to peak at exactly the right time before the World Cup starts in June.

This dynamic does create a double-edged sword for the league, which will lose star power to Australia and New Zealand in the middle of the regular season. To offset the roster attrition, the NWSL has made the Challenge Cup an in-season tournament. That will allow the league to avoid playing too many league games with its stars away, but availability after major international tournaments is never a guarantee. The NWSL enjoyed the biggest attendance bumps in league history after the USWNT’s 2019 World Cup win, and it will hope for similar returns in 2023.

Who will be poised to finish the job?

In recent years, the expanded NWSL playoff format has favored the hot hand, with the upstart Washington Spirit taking the 2021 trophy and the Kansas City Current riding their underdog status all the way to the 2022 final. And while the NWSL Shield is a prestigious accomplishment, you only get a star over your jersey’s crest for winning the championship at the end of the grueling season.

The greatest victim to the NWSL’s postseason format has long been OL Reign, three-time Shield winners who haven’t made a championship game since 2015. The Reign are a long-standing pillar of the league who still have the core group of original signings Megan Rapinoe, Lauren Barnes and Jess Fishlock alongside original coach Laura Harvey. Their ability to put the whole package together at the end of the season will determine whether they can cement an already established legacy.

The league also went through its first-ever round of free agency this offseason, which showed that players want to be in positions to win. The Current are the prime example of an ambitious club that might take time to figure out how to work together as a team but has the star power to finish the season on top.

Calm before the expansion storm

Competition in 2023 will be fierce, but in an ever-changing league, all teams will also have to have one eye on the future. The NWSL is expecting another round of two-team expansion in 2024, with the Utah Royals already announced and a new team in the Bay Area expected to arrive soon. While teams fighting for titles in 2023 are compiling elite talent and depth, expansion will affect those rosters after this season.

Some teams’ approaches to roster-building with expansion on the horizon can appear conservative, as in the current case of the Washington Spirit, but balancing player assets can keep a team competitive in the long run. Other teams that are leaning into short-term prospects and high-profile transfers will have a trickier time retaining talent in a league rife with parity rules and another round of free agency.

In some ways, a win-now approach and a process of steady roster control both make sense. The teams that might struggle the most are the ones that accomplish neither. As the season plays out, expect more moves to come.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

After finishing in last place in their inaugural season in 2021, Kansas City rode the underdog mindset in 2022. Head coach Matt Potter and general manager Cami Levin Ashton made a few important tweaks to a young group in order to peak at the right time and make it all the way to the NWSL Championship.

In 2023, the underdog label is far behind the Current, who signed some of the NWSL’s biggest free agents in the offseason. With full buy-in from ambitious ownership, the Current have become one of the premier destinations for professional women’s soccer players in the U.S. in only three years. But after a successful 2022 season, how will the team’s chemistry withstand all the new additions?

2022 review: Underdog energy

The Kansas City Current of 2022 played a cohesive, sometimes chaotic style of soccer that other teams found difficult to break down. While they weren’t immune to conceding first, they almost always found a way to come back to challenge for a result.

The team played in an expansive 3-5-2 formation, with three center-backs behind a high-flying midfield that moved the ball quickly and found space for their attackers. A number of young and relatively inexperienced players helped reset the team’s culture, with key veterans like Lo’eau Labonta and AD Franch setting the tone.

The team committed to the grind of the NWSL season early on with a preseason process they’re using again this year. Labonta told reporters in February that the heavy lift days the team holds in Florida in the preseason are a “rite of passage” and that the time spent in camp set them in the right direction in 2022.

“Matt [Potter] has actually given credit to us being here and grinding here for why we’re able to make it so far in the league last year,” Labonta said. “I think it’s true.”

The Current ultimately finished fourth in the regular-season standings, a vast improvement from their league-worst finish in 2021. Their style of play proved perfect for the NWSL’s knockout playoffs, as they advanced past the Houston Dash and then Shield winners OL Reign. A collective never-say-die attitude took them all the way to the 2022 NWSL final, where their inexperience showed in a 2-0 defeat to a Portland Thorns team ready for the big moment.

The Current made the biggest splash of free agency, signing midfielder Debinha. (Jaylynn Nash/USA TODAY Sports)

Offseason moves: Building a superteam

Rather than running it back with the benefit of hard-earned experience, the Current appeared unsatisfied with being runner-up. In the offseason, Levin Ashton took a clinical approach to push the roster to the next level, re-negotiating Sam Mewis’ contract as she continues to rehab her knee and abruptly sending Lynn Williams to Gotham FC in order to make room for other players.

The Current signed Vanessa DiBernardo and Morgan Gautrat away from Chicago, traded up for No. 2 draft pick Michelle Cooper and, most crucially, won the bidding war for Brazilian superstar Debinha. They’ve since also signed top Swedish outside back Hanna Glas.

Players have noted the club’s resources and facilities as some of the best in the world. But the decision to move Williams, in a trade the USWNT forward called “shocking,” also showcased the ruthlessness the team feels is necessary to improve in the long term.

Potter said he declined to bring non-roster invitees into Kansas City’s 2023 camp — reversing a common practice among NWSL teams — because making the 28-player roster (24 first-team and four supplemental) is going to be difficult enough for draft picks and other acquisitions.

“To be perfectly honest, there was an opportunity to bring in more players, but it would only be false hope for them,” he said. “Because the reality is to make this roster even with the players that we have here, it’s going to be super competitive.”

Early in preseason, Labonta wasn’t worried about the locker room being disrupted by big-name players.

“I actually had a meeting with Matt yesterday, and I was just saying that this team already, we have great human beings,” she said. “There’s not one bad person on this team.”

As for team rules, they’re keeping it simple: “Don’t be late, don’t leave your gear around. That’s literally it. That’s all that we have to enforce,” Labonta said.

Lo'eau Labonta and the Current thrived on their team chemistry last season. (Amy Kontras/USA TODAY Sports)

2023 Outlook: Keeping the culture

While spirits are high in Kansas City, ambitious offseasons also present challenges in player management. Some players who carried the load last year were waived or traded in the offseason, and others who remain are going to see their roles on the team reduced when the roster is at full strength.

Even Labonta, one of the team’s breakout stars of 2022, has a new level of competition at her position.

“I think a lot of the people saw in the offseason signings, we signed about 12,000 midfielders — that’s my position — but it only makes it so much more competitive,” she said.

The team does have positional imbalances, having loaded up on central midfielders and wide defenders in the offseason. They lost defender Kristen Edmonds to free agency and will have to control games through the prowess of the midfield so they don’t get into high-risk shootouts. The Current should be well-positioned for the World Cup period — when they will be without Glas, Debinha and likely Franch — thanks to an influx of players who are used to participating in other teams’ systems and can get up to speed quickly.

No matter what, Kansas City players will be in fierce competition for playing time, with the hope that their deep midfield can score enough goals to compensate for vulnerabilities in the central defense.

“We talk often about competition being about striving together,” Potter said. “How can we, whoever’s out there, take the mantle of what we have as a team identity and express that for something bigger than ourselves?”

The NWSL has a history of the best team on paper not always being the squad that hoists the trophy at the end of the season. The Current are taking a very different approach than what worked for them last year, but if they can get the balance right, they might become unbeatable once the playoffs roll around.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

The NCAA Tournament bracket is set, and the first games tip off Wednesday. From now until April 2, it’s all about college basketball.

Whether you’re a diehard fan or watching for the first time, Just Women’s Sports has everything you need to know about March Madness.

Who will win it all?

This is a season where the favorite has separated itself from the rest of the 68-team field. Of course, March is mad for a reason, so anything can happen. But South Carolina has all the tools to repeat as champions.

The Gamecocks are 32-0 heading into the tournament, and they have answered every test they have faced this season. Led by Aliyah Boston, the reigning POY, DPOY and Final Four Most Outstanding Player, South Carolina has talent and experience. Four of five starters from last year’s squad are back to chase another title.

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Who could play Cinderella?

The best thing about Cinderella teams is that they usually come out of nowhere, so don’t be surprised when someone outside of these selections makes a run. That being said, UNLV, Middle Tennessee, Gonzaga and Princeton all have a create chaos.


The Rebels are seeded at No. 11 because of their conference (Mountain West) and their poor strength of schedule. But if you watch UNLV, the talent is clear. All five players can create their own shots, they run the floor well, and can overwhelm opponents with athleticism.

Middle Tennessee

This team has a tough matchup in the first round with sixth-seeded Colorado, but the 11th-seeded Blue Raiders know how to win big games. They topped Louisville earlier this year and took care of business in Conference USA, winning 18 games. Middle Tennessee is dangerous because of the way the team shares the ball. Six players contribute at least 7 points per game, and four of them average double-digits.


The Zags makes a point to schedule tough opponents outside of conference play. This year, they played Louisville, Marquette, Tennessee and Stanford, so they won’t be rattled by big-name opponents. Plus, they are experienced, with a starting five made up of all juniors and seniors.


The Tigers made a splash last season when they beat Kentucky in the first round and then nearly knocked off Indiana. This time around, Princeton is missing Abby Meyers, who transferred to Maryland, but this team still has the goods to surprise its opponents. Kaitlyn Chen, the Ivy League POY, will lead the charge. She’s averaging 15.9 points, 3.9 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game.

Five players you might not know, but should

Desi-Rae Young, UNLV

The Las Vegas native is a problem in the paint, averaging 18.2 points and 10.2 rebounds while shooting 59.7 percent from the field. She anchors a talented UNLV team with strength, athleticism and excellent footwork inside. Young can also face up and take opponents off the dribble, making her a potential mismatch for defenders.

Jaylyn Sherrod, Colorado

The Buffs have had an excellent season thus far in no small part because of their point guard. Sherrod is one of the toughest players in the country. She will attack anyone off the dribble, play through injuries and has a motor that never quits.

Katie Dinnebier, Drake

The sophomore and former Miss Iowa Basketball has a habit of coming up big for her team in the most crucial moments. In the MVC Tournament quarterfinal, when Drake trailed by 8 points in the fourth, Dinnebier went on a scoring rampage, pouring in 13 of her 19 points in the final four minutes and 30 seconds.

Yarden Garzon, Indiana

Despite playing for one of the top teams in the country, Garzon has managed to stay under the radar all season. The 6-3 freshman is a complete player who does a bit of everything for the Hoosiers. She averages 11.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3 assists per game. Garzon has also been a starter all season, and despite being thrust into a big role, her youth never showed.

Gianna Kneepkens, Utah

In high school, Kneepkens scored 3,704 points, an insane number. She took her scoring prowess to college, where she puts up 15.4 points per game for one of the country’s best offensive teams. The sophomore has a true scorer’s mentality and is always hunting her shot. She can score from long range or off the bounce at the rim.

Six teams to watch, and why

Who to watch if you love scoring: Utah

The Utes are fourth in the country in points per game with 83.5, and they score in a variety of ways. Utah is a fun offensive team because it features both posts and guards who can score. Everyone can shoot 3s, and everyone can attack off the dribble. Who could forget the 124 points the Utes dropped on Oklahoma earlier this season?

Who to watch it you love efficiency: Indiana

Indiana just plays good basketball. Things start inside with Mackenzie Holmes, who shoots 68.8 percent from the field (second in the country) and scores 22.3 points per game. But the efficiency doesn’t stop with Holmes. As a team, Indiana shoots 49.8% from the field (also second in the country) and has a 1.42 assist to turnover ratio (seventh in the country).

Who to watch if you love 3-pointers: Florida Gulf Coast

The Eagles make 11.7 3-pointers per game, which is first in the country. The closest another NCAA Tournament team comes to that mark is Creighton, which makes nearly two less a contest at 9.8.

Who to watch if you love star power: Iowa

Between her overall talent and the way she interacts with the crowd, Caitlin Clark is a bonafide star. Tune in to watch her shoot from the logo, throw full-court passes and put up triple-doubles. In her last outing, Clark led Iowa to the Big Ten title with 30 points, 17 assets and 10 rebounds.

Who to watch if you love a favorite: South Carolina

The Gamecocks won last year’s national title, and they are favored to do the same this season. They enter the tournament with an undefeated 32-0 record, and are beating their opponents by an average of 30.3 points (first in the country).