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NWSL 2023 preseason power rankings: OL Reign back for more

Megan Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle lead reigning Shield winners OL Reign into the 2023 NWSL season. (Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports)

With the release of Week 1 rosters, the NWSL offseason is almost behind us. The league’s 10th regular season kicks off with a doubleheader on Saturday and many teams looking different than when the 2022 season ended thanks to roster movement through trades, the draft and the NWSL’s first free-agency period.

The race for the Shield and the six playoff spots was tighter than ever in 2022. As the 2023 season begins, let’s evaluate where every team stands in the preseason power rankings now that rosters are nearly settled.

1. OL Reign

2022 regular-season finish: 1st

The Reign didn’t have to do much in the offseason after winning the NWSL Shield in 2022 and returning one of the most balanced rosters in the league. The midfield of Rose Lavelle, Jess Fishlock and Quinn remains one of the most formidable in the NWSL. The team also added more defensive depth with the acquisition of Emily Sonnett and attacking firepower with the trade for second-year forward Elyse Bennett.

The Reign’s biggest question mark comes during the World Cup period, when they lose multiple players to their national teams. But longtime manager Laura Harvey has proven to have a remarkably steady hand during a regular-season campaign.

2. San Diego Wave

2022 regular-season finish: 3rd

The Wave are poised for another excellent year after exceeding all expectations in their inaugural season. They balanced their midfield with the free-agency acquisition of Danny Colaprico, and they return a number of top internationals that will make them difficult to break down throughout the regular season.

San Diego will deal with World Cup absences, but the team’s depth has also improved, giving them the opportunity to stay in the Shield race until World Cup performers return.

3. Kansas City Current

2022 regular-season finish: 5th

The Current had arguably the most ambitious offseason in the NWSL, acquiring more midfield assets and a few defensive reinforcements. If new signee Debinha is ready and available for much of the season before the World Cup, Kansas City could be at the forefront of the Shield race by July.

They will, however, have to contend with slight roster imbalance. Sweden international Hanna Glas will shore up the defense, but the team targeted the backline less than other areas in the offseason. The Current’s formation might help them compensate for getting their strongest signings on the pitch together, but it will be a delicate balance for head coach Matt Potter.

Sophia Smith returns to Portland in 2023 after a breakout year for club and country. (Craig Mitchelldyer/USA TODAY Sports)

4. Portland Thorns

2022 regular-season finish: 2nd

The Thorns rival the Reign for steadiness in their roster construction with top performers at every position, led by 2022 NWSL MVP and Final MVP Sophia Smith. While the Thorns will lose a number of key contributors during the World Cup, their depth will be formidable, just as it was in 2019.

The only question lingering for the Thorns is the new coaching staff. After the departures of Mark Parsons and one-year manager Rhian Wilkinson, former assistant Mike Norris now leads the club. Even if he is a revelation in his first year, the inconsistency at the top might slow down the reigning champions.

5. Houston Dash

2022 regular-season finish: 4th

The Dash had a slightly less flashy offseason than their 2022 quarterfinal opponent, Kansas City, but they go into 2023 as solid as ever. New manager Sam Laity brought in record-breaking rookie scorer Diana Ordoñez from North Carolina to pair with rising England forward Ebony Salmon on the frontline, and the perennially underrated Katie Lind (neé Naughton) will continue to anchor Houston’s defense.

6. Orlando Pride

2022 regular-season finish: 10th

The Pride made a number of savvy business moves in the offseason and, as a result, could significantly improve upon their 10th-place finish in 2022. The team is going young, with No. 3 draft pick Emily Madril likely starting at center back and other rookies getting serious time in the attack during preseason. Under new permanent head coach Seb Hines, the Pride appear to be forging a new identity on the field, and they could surprise more than one opponent this year.

No. 1 draft pick Alyssa Thompson scored in her Angel City preseason debut this month. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)

7. Angel City FC

2022 regular-season finish: 8th

Angel City could be one of the biggest boom-or-bust projects in the NWSL. They still appear to be without star forwards Christen Press and Sydney Leroux, and their preseason friendly against Club América showed a lack of depth at outside back and in the defensive midfield. On the other hand, No. 1 draft pick Alyssa Thompson should be electric, center-back Sarah Gorden returns from an ACL tear, and other reinforcements during the season could create just the right mix in Los Angeles.

8. Chicago Red Stars

2022 regular-season finish: 6th

The player departures from Chicago at the beginning of the offseason were jarring, as the team lost the core of its midfield to free agency. To compensate, the Red Stars drafted well, picked up quality talent on the waiver wire and made a key addition with the signing of Brazil midfielder Julia Bianchi. Tierna Davidson and Casey Krueger should return to bolster the starting defense, and breakout star Mallory Swanson is good enough to push the team up the standings on her own.

9. Racing Louisville

2022 regular-season finish: 9th

Don’t be surprised if Racing Louisville is in the playoff hunt for the first time in team history in 2023. The additions of Carson Pickett and Abby Erceg immediately upgraded the defense, and former Tigres forward Uchenna Kenu has the ability to shine in the NWSL. New players join an already balanced midfield, and Racing will be losing fewer players to the World Cup than some other clubs.

10. Gotham FC

2022 regular-season finish: 12th

There’s no doubt that Gotham will be better in 2023 than they were in 2022, but to what extent depends on their ability to find enough cohesion to overtake the teams in front of them. Lynn Williams will be the key to new manager Juan Carlos Amorós’ style of play, and the additions of Yazmeen Ryan and rookie Jenna Nighswonger should greatly improve the team’s midfield. The Gotham of 2022 looked better than their record on paper showed, so progress may just be a matter of gelling on the field.

Trinity Rodman scored four goals for the Spirit last season after winning 2021 Rookie of the Year. (Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports)

11. Washington Spirit

2022 regular-season finish: 11th

Washington’s attack is still one of the most talented in the NWSL, with Ashley Hatch and Trinity Rodman backed by key playmaker Ashley Sanchez. Those mainstays struggled in 2022 as managerial dysfunction and a punishing schedule set the Spirit adrift. New head coach Mark Parson made some bold moves in the offseason, but his approach to the draft and Washington’s defense makes it seem like the team is preparing to contend in 2024 rather than immediately.

12. North Carolina Courage

2022 regular-season finish: 7th

Never count out the Courage, but based on their offseason alone, they have a lot of work to do to contend for championships again. The loss of Debinha will loom large over the early part of the season, while new pick-up Emily Fox will need to do a lot of heavy lifting on defense to make up for the departures of Abby Erceg and Carson Pickett. North Carolina seemed to go against common wisdom with a hyper-specific draft approach, and now the pressure lies with head coach Sean Nahas to forge a new team.

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