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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.

Barcelona to Face Lyon in Champions League Rematch This Weekend

UEFA Women's Champions League Final"Barcelona FC - Olympique Lyonnais"
Saturday's game will be the third UWCL final meeting for Barcelona and Lyon, having previously gone up against each other in 2019 and 2022. (ANP via Getty Images)

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off in Bilbao on Saturday, with a couple of familiar foes set to face off for the trophy.

Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, making its 11th final appearance since 2010, will go head to head with a Barcelona side making its fourth final appearance in a row.

This will be the third time these two teams meet in the UWCL title game, having previously appeared in the 2019 and 2022 finals. Lyon won both of those prior games against Barcelona, alongside a total of eight Champions League trophies. That’s double that of any other club, with Eintracht Frankfurt coming in a distant second with four. 

Should Barcelona win, this would be the team's third title — breaking a tie for the third in the UWCL total titles race. 

But as these teams return to the UWCL final, it also marks the end of an era for both clubs. The game will be the last for both club managers, as Barcelona’s Jonatan Giráldez and Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor depart for new jobs after the season's end.

Giráldez is set to leave for the NWSL's Washington Spirit, while Bompastor will take over for incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes at Chelsea. Both coaches have earned one UWCL trophy during their tenures, while Bompastor also brought two Champions League trophies to Lyon as a player. She was the first coach to win a UWCL trophy as both a coach and player.

This season, Barcelona is looking for its first quadruple, having won a fifth Liga F title alongside the Copa de La Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. 

"We hope he can go out with the four trophies because we know how competitive and ambitious he is," Barcelona midfielder Patri Guijarro told ESPN. "It has been a winning era with him in charge and for him to go out with all four trophies would be historic and incredible."

But Lyon's Damaris Egurrola is excited about her team's chances of overcoming Barcelona once again — and to do it in front of family and friends.

"Lyon have something special," she told Forbes ahead of the weekend's final. "We have a great team and we have the players with enough talent to win any match."

The game will be a homecoming for Egurrola, who began her professional career with Athletic Bilbao.

"I’ve been thinking of this day and night," she said. "I’ve been dreaming of playing this match. Having the opportunity to play in San Mames is amazing. This is where it all started for me."

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off Saturday, May 25th at 12 PM ET and is free to stream on DAZN.

World No. 1 Iga Swiatek Headlines a Stacked 2024 French Open

Iga Swiatek serves against Coco Gauff during the group stage of the 2023 WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico
Iga Swiatek serves against Coco Gauff during the group stage of the 2023 WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico. (Robert Prange/Getty Images)

The 2024 French Open starts on Sunday, with a match schedule that promises to wrap the short clay court season up in style.

Looking for her fourth title at the major is three-time Roland Garros champion and World No. 1 Iga Swiatek, considered the favorite to win the whole Slam. Three of her four major titles have come at the French tournament. 

Swiatek's career record at the French Open is a dominating 28-2, and she's currently on a 16-game winning streak fueled by victories at tune-up tournaments in Madrid and Rome.

But that doesn't mean she won't face some serious challengers along the way. Get to know some of the Polish tennis champ's strongest competitors.

Aryna Sabalenka

Sabalenka is ranked No. 2 in the world and faced Swiatek in the finals at both Madrid and Rome. She lost in three sets in Madrid, which included a close third-set tiebreak, before losing in straight sets at the Italian Open. 

She enters the French Open having won the Australian Open in January, successfully defending her title in the first Slam of the season. At last year’s French Open, Sabalenka reached the semifinals — a career best — before being ousted by Karolina Muchová in three sets.

Season record: 25-7

Coco Gauff

Currently sitting at No. 3 in the world, the highest-ranked American on the schedule is none other than Coco Gauff. Gauff won her first major at the US Open last year, and reached the semifinals of this year’s Australian Open. She faced Swiatek in the semifinals of the Italian Open last week, losing in straight sets. 

But her first major final came at the French Open in 2022, before being ousted by Swiatek in the quarterfinals at last year’s French Open. The two are on a crash course for a meeting before the finals, as Gauff anchors the other quadrant on Swiatek’s side of the draw, should they both advance deep into the competition.

Season record: 25-8

Chicago Sky Upset New York to End Liberty’s Unbeaten Streak

chicago sky's angel reese on the court against new york liberty
Angel Reese registered a near double-double against a strong Liberty side. (Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Liberty’s unbeaten streak came to an end on Thursday as Angel Reese and the Chicago Sky got the upset win over New York with a final score of 90-81. 

Angel Reese stood out with a near double-double, registering 13 points and nine rebounds. She’s currently the only rookie this season to exceed 10 points in her first three games, and the first player in Sky history to begin their career with three consecutive double-digit scoring games, per ESPN Stats & Info.

The outcome may not have come as a surprise to Liberty stars Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones, who sung Reese’s praises ahead of the game.

"She’s a workhorse," Stewart told The Post. "She doesn’t stop. She’s tough, she’s strong, she’s tough to box out and good at cleaning up for her team offensively and defensively."

"I feel like she’s an energizer bunny," Jones added. "She doesn’t stop moving, she doesn’t stop crashing the boards. Just someone that is gonna be relentless in her approach to getting to the glass and playing tough."

It was the first time Chicago has met New York this season. The game was especially meaningful for new Chicago head coach Teresa Weatherspoon, who led the Liberty for seven years as a player and joined the team's Ring of Honor in 2011.

"This place means a lot to me... I played in that jersey, I adored that jersey, I adored every player that I had an opportunity to play with. The love that I received even today was overwhelming," Weatherspoon reflected after the game.

Following the win, Sky guard Dana Evans had some kind words for her coach.

"I mean, it's just special. She's special," Evans said. "She just breeds confidence in each and every one of us. We love her. We just wanted to go so hard and play hard for her, and I feel like this one was really for her. We really wanted this for her more than anything."

Thursday's victory brings Chicago's record to 2-1, a somewhat unlikely feat given that their offseason featured starter Kahleah Copper getting traded to Phoenix. The Connecticut Sun are now the only undefeated team left in the league this season, and will formidable foes for the Sky as they take their winning streak on the road to Chicago this weekend.

New USWNT Coach Emma Hayes Embracing the Challenge

United States Women's Head Coach Emma Hayes
The ex-Chelsea skipper has officially arrived in the US — now it's time to get down to business. (USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Emma Hayes has officially begun her tenure as USWNT manager ahead of the team’s June friendlies.

Hayes made the rounds on Thursday, appearing on the Today Show and speaking with select media about her goals and underlying principles with the team. It’s a quick turnaround for the decorated coach, who just won the WSL with Chelsea last weekend.

One thing that she won’t do, however, is shy away from the high expectations that come with managing the US. The squad is looking to reinstate its winning reputation at the Paris Olympics this summer following a disappointing World Cup in 2023. 

"I know the challenge ahead of me. There is no denying there is a gap between the US and the rest of the world," she told ESPN. "We have to acknowledge that winning at the highest level isn't what it was 10 years ago. It's a completely different landscape. And my focus is going to be on getting the performances required to play at a high level against the very best nations in the world."

While Hayes was formally hired six months ago to lead the USWNT, her deal stipulated that she remain with Chelsea through the conclusion of their season. In her stead, Twila Kilgore has led the team, with the coach "drip feeding subliminal messages" to the roster on Hayes’s behalf.

"It's a bit ass-upwards," Hayes joked to reporters. "I know about the staff, and the team, and the structure behind it. We got all of that. Now it's time, I need to be with the team."

With Olympics now just two months away, Hayes dropped hints this week regarding her thought process behind building the roster, saying there’s still time for players to make their case.

"You can't go to an Olympics with a completely inexperienced squad. We need our experienced players, but getting that composition right, that's my job between now and June 16th," she said on the Today Show.

"What I can say from my time [in the US] is, I've always loved the attitude towards performance and the expectation to give everything you've got," she later affirmed to reporters.

And as for winning gold?

"I'm never gonna tell anyone to not dream about winning," she added. "But… we have to go step by step, and focus on all the little processes that need to happen so we can perform at our best level.

"I will give it absolutely everything I've got to make sure I uphold the traditions of this team."

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