Jeremy Reper/ISI Photos

I’m biased. I don’t care. I’m also REALLY excited to watch the NWSL this year. As a former player who usually got some extra reps during those World Cup/Olympic seasons, I selfishly love these “interrupted” years even more (sorry if that it’s bad for marketing or whatever). With the national teamers away, the rest of the league gets to show what it can do. And when the season kicks off this weekend, this is who I’ve got an eye on from each team.

Portland Thorns: Morgan Weaver

Not to be the most dramatic, but this feels like a bit of a make or break year for the former No. 2 pick, who will absolutely get minutes while Crystal Dunn and crew are fighting the good fight over in Europe. Will she fall into the category of just adding to Portland’s “depth,” or could Weaver herself be thrown into the USWNT convo next cycle? This Portland team needs the latter, especially with so many players set to miss games during the Olympics. 

OL Reign: Dani Weatherholt

I already said I’m biased and I don’t care, but I think Dani is the enforcer the Reign need and they should try to find ways to get her on the pitch. They’ve got some incredibly tactical players, but they missed a little bit of bite at times last year. I think Dani can be that player as someone who is effective on both sides of the ball.

Houston Dash: Shea Groom

Houston seemed to finally piece it together last season, and Groom was a huge reason why. She was the missing piece that perfectly linked together the talents of Kristie Mewis, Rachel Daly and Sophie Schmidt. If those three all find themselves on Olympic rosters, Groom’s role will get even bigger. 

Washington Spirit: TBH, I don’t know

Maybe Ashley Hatch? Ashley Sanchez? The Spirit are year-over-year fairly consistent, and the big Emily Sonnett and Kelley O’Hara signings will shore up their defense. But if they’re really going to make a title run, they need to score more, and I’m as eager as everyone else is to see who will do it.

Gotham FC: Sodam Lee

I mean… did you see THAT preseason goal? C’mon.

NC Courage: Merritt Mathias

Last season, between COVID opt-outs and injuries, the typically stout North Carolina defense looked unusually leaky. Mathias’ absence and slow return from knee surgery was a big reason why. Not only did the Courage miss their back four partnership, they desperately missed Mathias’ attacking power and crosses into the box. With her back this season (and no Jaelene Daniels (Hinkle)), Mathias will be called on even more in a rebound year for the Courage.

Chicago Red Stars: Mal Pugh

Chicago’s move to acquire Mal made it clear they felt they still needed to fill the void left first by Sam Kerr (now in England) and then Yuki Nagasato (now in Louisville). When healthy, Pugh is undoubtedly one of the world’s best forwards. And this year, she’ll be motivated to have a strong NWSL season in order to get herself back into the USWNT conversation. With an incredibly strong team behind her, Chicago should again make a top of the table push if they score more consistently. Pugh will have a chance to shine. 

Orlando Pride: Marisa Viggiano

I really mean this. Marisa is GOOD GOOD. In a team of stars, I believe Viggiano’s ability to connect lines will be key for the Pride if this team is going to find a way for its big-name players to share the fame field.  She’s crafty, plays smart and always seems to find herself in the right pockets of space.

Kansas City Woso: Darian Jenkins

The swap that sent Darian Jenkins and Tziarra King to new surroundings could end up being crucial for both sides. Both are extremely talented (Darian is a bit more experienced), but neither quite found a goal-scoring groove last season. Jenkins has the raw tools to replace Christen Press and team up with A-Rod on the attack. If KC is going to be successful year one (or whatever we’re calling this), solidifying that pairing will be a huge reason why. 

Louisville FC: Michelle Betos

Louisville had a mission to make Betos their #1 keeper, and they made that clear in the expansion draft. She’s truly one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met in any area of life, and it’s great to see her have a team put their full faith in her proven abilities (and winning record). An extremely young Louisville side will need her voice just as much as her shot stopping. If she can stay healthy, expect Betos to be a big reason for Louisville’s growth this season. 

 

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