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NWSL 2022 regular season preview: New and old rivalries in Season 10

Alex Morgan leads the San Diego Wave, one of two NWSL expansion teams, into the regular season. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

After six weeks of preseason and 36 Challenge Cup matches, the NWSL’s 2022 regular season has arrived.

In chaotic NWSL fashion, the season kicks off Friday night between Angel City FC and the North Carolina Courage while the Challenge Cup knockout stage is still ongoing. The game, aired on CBS Sports, is followed by an opening weekend in which every team will compete.

A longer Challenge Cup, two expansion teams and a new commissioner have certainly given the NWSL a new look this year. Jessica Berman will be in just her ninth day on the job as commissioner when the league opens play Friday. Almost every team has undergone change on the field, too, after an expansion draft and numerous offseason trades.

Let’s take a look at the league structure, storylines and rivalries to follow as the NWSL’s 10th season gets underway.

Format

The NWSL’s 12 teams will each compete in 22 matches during the regular season — 11 home and 11 away. Starting this year, the league has scheduled fewer games during the FIFA windows so that national team players can avoid scheduling conflicts between club and country. That change, however, did not account for a few major contests, such as the Women’s Euros this summer.

The regular season concludes Oct. 2, followed by a six-team playoff with the top two seeds receiving first-round byes. My top-six predictions for the 2022 playoffs closely reflect my preseason power rankings: OL Reign, North Carolina Courage, Kansas City Current, NJ/NY Gotham FC, defending Challenge Cup champions Portland Thorns and 2021 NWSL champions Washington Spirit.

The championship takes place on Oct. 29, with the playoff bonus pool once again financed by Ally’s Player Impact Fund.

What we learned from the Challenge Cup

The Spring of quick goals and yellow cards

The record for the three fastest goals in NWSL history was set twice over three days. The Reign netted each of theirs by the 11th minute in a 3-1 win over San Diego Wave FC on April 14, only to be bested by the Courage scoring three by the ninth minute on April 16 against the Orlando Pride. Four of the other five matches that week featured goals scored in six minutes or fewer.

When not scoring, players have also been setting records without the ball. Across five and a half weeks, NWSL referees have already handed out over a hundred yellow cards. To put that in perspective, there were 43 doled out in the 2021 Challenge Cup and 34 in 2020.

Kansas City ready for a breakout season

In just their second year since relocating from Utah and rebranding as the Current, Kansas City is in the Challenge Cup semifinals. They have the fourth-most amount of goals in the tournament, led by Kristen Hamilton’s four goals and Elyse Bennett’s four assists. And with four wins through six matches, they already have more victories than they had all of last year.

North Carolina back in the game

The Courage dropped down the standings into sixth place last season after their head coach, Paul Riley, was fired following bombshell allegations of sexual coercion and emotional abuse. Led this year by former assistant coach Sean Nahas, and feature new talent such as Brianna Pinto and Kerolin Nicoli, North Carolina has gone undefeated in the Challenge Cup. The Courage could be on their way to rediscovering the dominance they became known for during their run to three consecutive NWSL Shields from 2017-19.

OL, once again, on the brink of reigning

A consistently solid team that has never won a trophy, OL Reign has lost in the NWSL semifinals the past three seasons. In 2014 and 2015, they advanced to the championship game, losing by one goal in each contest. This year, their sneaky assists across the box in the attack and standout goaltending from Phallon Tullis-Joyce give them a strong case for championship contention. Finishing ahead of rival Portland in the standings for the just the second time since 2015, they’re off to a promising start.

Top rivalries

Angel City FC vs. San Diego Wave FC

When two expansion teams based in southern California debut the same year, of course there’s going to be a rivalry. The Wave had the slight edge over Angel City coming out of the Challenge Cup, going 1-3-2 compared to Angel City’s 1-4-1. Head to head, they tied in their first matchup, and San Diego won 4-2 in the second.

OL Reign vs. Portland Thorns

The original West Coast rivalry has been highly anticipated this year after strong showings from both sides in 2021. Though Portland won the NWSL Shield, the Reign got the better of the Thorns in two of their three matchups, the last one being a draw. The Reign were also the stronger side in the 2022 Challenge Cup, defeating Portland 1-0 after a 1-1 draw in their opener.

Kansas City Current vs. Racing Louisville FC

The two new clubs last season, Kansas City and Louisville are coming out stronger this year. The Current look like the stronger team coming out of the Challenge Cup, but when they play each other, it’s anyone’s game. They drew 1-1 in their first matchup of the Challenge Cup before Louisville rolled over Kansas City 3-0 in the Current’s only loss of the tournament.

North Carolina Courage vs. Washington Spirit

If the East Division proved anything in the 2022 Challenge Cup, it’s that a Courage-Spirit matchup is as entertaining as they come. Each of their meetings resulted in 2-2 draws, a contrast from the three wins and a draw that Washington grabbed from North Carolina last season. The Courage, though, are a different team this year, and neither club has lost an NWSL match yet in 2022.

How to watch

CBS will air two regular season matches and the championship game. Those games are also viewable on Paramount+. CBS Sports will broadcast 11 regular season games, one quarterfinal and both semifinals. The other 96 regular season matches can be streamed exclusively on Paramount+, and all games can be accessed internationally on Twitch.

CBS (all times ET)

June 19 – NJ/NY Gotham FC vs. San Diego Wave FC at 4 p.m.
Sept. 10 – Washington Spirit vs. San Diego Wave FC at 1 p.m.
Oct. 29 – NWSL Championship

CBS Sports (all times ET)

April 29 – Angel City vs. North Carolina Courage at 10:30 p.m.
May 13 – Portland Thorns FC vs. OL Reign at 10:30 p.m.
May 27 – Orlando Pride vs. Washington Spirit at 7 p.m.
June 8 – San Diego Wave FC vs. Portland Thorns FC at 10 p.m.
July 2 – Orlando Pride vs. Racing Louisville FC at 7 p.m.
Aug. 5 – Portland Thorns FC vs. North Carolina Courage at 10:30 p.m.
Aug. 14 – Angel City FC vs. Chicago Red Stars at 8 p.m.
Aug. 17 – Houston Dash vs. NJ/NY Gotham FC at 8:30 p.m.
Aug. 19 – Kansas City Current vs. Angel City FC at 8 p.m.
Sept. 11 – NJ/NY Gotham FC vs. Kansas City Current at 6 p.m.
Sept. 21 – Angel City FC vs. Washington Spirit at 10:30 p.m.
Oct. 16 – Quarterfinal
Oct. 23 — Semifinal 1 and 2

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.

Midge Purce-Backed Docuseries ‘The Offseason’ to Drop This Summer

cast of the offseason nwsl reality series
'The Offseason' follows a group of NWSL stars as they prepare for preseason play. (The Offseason)

The Offseason, a reality series created by Gotham and USWNT star Midge Purce, has officially confirmed its streaming debut, Purce announced in Cannes on Tuesday.

The six-episode, half-hour docuseries will stream this summer on X, though a specific premiere date hasn't yet been set.

The Offseason was filmed in Miami, two weeks before the NWSL preseason. It's a crucial time for athletes, a period where they prepare to join their respective teams and compete for both starting and roster spots. Production designed all the facilities, bringing in top-tier trainers, masseuses, chefs, and gym equipment to create a high-level training environment, ensuring the players were in peak condition, per the show's release. Throughout filming, athletes lived together in one house — a reality TV conceit rife for entertainment.

The series follows a number of NWSL stars, including Purce (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Maria Sanchez (Houston Dash), Lo’eau LaBonta (Kansas City Current), Michelle Alozie (Houston Dash), Taylor Smith (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Nikki Stanton (OL Reign), Ally Watt (Orlando Pride), Taryn Torres (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Paige Nielsen (Angel City FC), and Ify Onumonu (Utah Royals).

"We wanted to create a series that truly captures the essence of what it means to be a professional athlete," said Purce. "This series has always been about more than just sports — it's about the human experience behind the athlete, as well."

The show promises a behind-the-scenes look at professional women's sports, teasing major life decisions, on-field tensions, and players taking stock of the environments they'll be entering once their preseason trip is over. The series delves into the real-life challenges faced by the athletes, including club trades, contract negotiations, burnout, and the relentless pressure from outsiders commenting on the players' personal lives.

The Offseason's official trailer, released on Tuesday, shows snippets of Hubly contemplating retirement, Sanchez joining the group after signing a high-profile contract, and a healthy amount of banter about on-field achievements.

The spirit of the series is reflected in its producers: Box To Box Films is known for their sports content (Drive to Survive, Break Point, Full Swing), whereas 32 Flavors is the creative force behind Vanderpump Rules and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. The series was funded by Seven Seven Six, and executive produced by Purce.

Lilia Vu adds Meijer LPGA Classic to tour wins record

Lilia Vu won in her first tournament in two months. (Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Lilia Vu won her fifth LPGA Tour event on Sunday, taking home the Meijer LPGA Classic title in her first tournament since March. 

The world No. 2 had been sidelined with a back injury, but returned with a vengeance. She began the day eight shots back of leader Grace Kim, and survived a three-hole playoff against Kim and former champion Lexi Thompson to take the title. 

“I think this is the most meaningful win,” said Vu, “because there was a time two months ago where I was just crying on the range not being sure if I would ever play a tournament again without pain.”

A two-time major champion, Vu hadn’t before won the Meijer LPGA Classic, but a birdie on the third playoff hole helped secure it. She’s now 2-for-3 in LPGA Tour playoffs. 

She said on Sunday that being unable to defend her title at the Chevron Championship was the “breaking point” in her season.

“Not being able to compete there really killed me,” she said. “I feel like I thought I was taking the steps in the right direction, but I’m glad that I was able to take a couple months off and reevaluate my body, let it recover, do what I needed to do to get back out here again.

“And we did the right thing and took two months off. I think it hurt me not to play competitive golf because I literally live for competitive golf, but we did the right thing and that’s why I’m here today.”

Top tennis players pull out of Olympics citing health reasons

Aryna Sabalenka will not play in the Olympics. (Photo by ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images)

Ons Jabeur and Aryna Sabalenka joined a growing list of tennis stars opting out of the Olympics on Monday.

Sabalenka, the reigning Australian Open champion and world No. 3, told reporters in Berlin that she was looking after her health while citing WTA tournament participation requirements. The Belarusian had struggled with a stomach bug during the French Open, where she lost in the semifinals of a major for the first time since 2022. 

“Especially with all the struggles I was having last month, I feel like I need to take care of my health. … It’s too much with the scheduling,” Sabalenka said. “It’s just too much. I made the decision to take care of my health.”

Similarly, Jabeur cited the health risks that come with the change of surface. The world No. 10 has been battling knee injuries this season, and lost in the French Open quarterfinals to Coco Gauff. 

Players will spend the next few weeks playing on grass in the lead-up to Wimbledon, while the Olympics will be played at Roland-Garros and be held on clay. 

“After consulting with my medical team regarding attending the Olympics in Paris, we have decided that the quick change of surface and the body’s adaptation required would put my knee at risk and jeopardize the rest of my season,” Jabeur posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Unfortunately, I will not be able to participate in the 2024 Paris Olympics. I have always loved representing my country in any competition, However, I must listen to my body and follow my medical team’s advice.”

The two join Emma Raducanu in opting out of the Olympics. Raducanu – who has dealt with a number of injuries since her US Open win in 2021 – cited the changing surface as “not worth the risk.”

Jaedyn Shaw Breaks NWSL Record for Most Goals Scored as a Teenager

Jaedyn Shaw of the san diego wave
Jaedyn Shaw is now holds the record for most NWSL goals as a teenager. (Julia Kapros-USA TODAY Sports)

Jaedyn Shaw continues to make NWSL history, surpassing Trinity Rodman for the most NWSL goals by a teenager on Saturday. 

She did it in a game against Rodman's Washington Spirit in the 20th minute of the 1-1 draw. It brings her total to 13 league goals, after making her NWSL debut at 17 years old in July 2022. 

The goal is her third this season. Shaw currently leads Wave alongside Makenzy Doniak. 

Shaw has also been a member of the USWNT, alongside Rodman, netting seven goals over 14 national team appearances. If she gets called up to this summer’s Olympics under Emma Hayes, it will mark her first official tournament with the USWNT.

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