Five weeks of NWSL preseason down, two to go.
Teams have been scrimmaging with colleges and other NWSL teams and are beginning to get a better feel for how their squads will look on the pitch when the Challenge Cup begins March 18.
Across training camps, players are returning from injury, teams are changing their formations, while fresh faces are getting a chance to explore their new cities.
Here’s what’s been happening for Louisville, Portland and Angel City this week in NWSL camp.
Nadia Nadim is — kind of, almost — back.
The Louisville star scored three goals and grabbed an assist in eight games last season before tearing her ACL in September. Ironically, in January, amidst her recovery process, she became a doctor. Naturally, she’s executed a recovery process that puts her exactly where she needs to be at this point.
This week, she returned to training without any contact. She hopes to play in matches by May.
“My knee has responded amazingly,” she said.
The next step is to work on gaining the muscle she lost over the last few months. A lot of time is being spent at the gym and doing individual cardio and strength exercises.
“I’m going to do everything to be ready as soon as possible,” the 34-year-old said.
While itching to get back into games, she’s also been content in the Florida sunshine, finally free of the studying and exams that she was consumed with while becoming a doctor. These days, she sleeps “very well.”
“The last three months, I’m going to be honest, were very, very tough,” she said with a laugh. “I’m not a person who gets stressed, but I think that was stress.” She later added, “It shows what humans are capable of. You can always push that wall a tiny bit more.”
Nadim has only been training with the young Louisville team for a couple weeks, but she reports that, “Everyone’s very willing to learn.”
Louisville is coming off a debut season which saw the club finish ninth in the league. Coach Christy Holly was fired “for cause” in August, with the details of his dismissal remaining under wraps.
Under new head coach Kim Björkegren, Racing plans to play a possession style that is direct in nature. Most recently leading Cyprus’ Apollon Ladies FC to an undefeated season, Björkegren prefers to base his systems of play off the players he has, rather than coming in with a predetermined philosophy.
“He’s going to be amazing for us, and I can’t wait for these players to grow,” said Nadim.
Perfect timing or just @nadia_nadim? 🤔You decide. 🦖 pic.twitter.com/wuXaF82vVR— Racing Louisville FC (@RacingLouFC) February 27, 2022
Perfect timing or just @nadia_nadim? 🤔You decide. 🦖 pic.twitter.com/wuXaF82vVR
The Portland Thorns will have a different shape on the field this year. Head coach Rhian Wilkinson hasn’t spilled the specifics, but she says it won’t stray too far from former coach Mark Parsons’ 4-diamond-2.
Wilkinson likes to use width, so the changes have a lot to do with stretching the field side to side for “possession with real purpose,” as she puts it. How players look and play in certain positions will also look different.
Defender Kelli Hubly told reporters Friday she’s excited about the change.
“I think personnel-wise, it fits us better this year with who we have,” she said. “Definitely some growing pains at times with everyone figuring out their new role, but I think overall, once it’s going to click, it’s going to work really well for us, and I think we’re all really excited to play this and looking forward to getting some games in and playing with each other.”
Wilkinson, who was just inducted into the Canada Soccer Hall of Fame, is described as a laid-back coach by her players.
“It’s different but it’s good,” said Hubly. “I like it. I think we’re all really excited to get to know her more and her style.”
Today, our own @rhirhi8 was inducted into the @CS_HallofFame. And we got to celebrate that moment with her as she learned about the honor. Congrats, Rhian!DETAILS | https://t.co/Amq5YzK9ZW #BAONPDX #CANWNT pic.twitter.com/QBV8s9tPZH— Portland Thorns FC (@ThornsFC) March 2, 2022
Today, our own @rhirhi8 was inducted into the @CS_HallofFame. And we got to celebrate that moment with her as she learned about the honor. Congrats, Rhian!DETAILS | https://t.co/Amq5YzK9ZW #BAONPDX #CANWNT pic.twitter.com/QBV8s9tPZH
While a lot of teams from further north have had to train through February in southern states, Angel City has had the opportunity to settle right into their new home of Los Angeles.
With players getting to hang in their own backyard, head coach Freya Coombe said she was interested in knowing what they got up to in their off days. So we decided to ask a few ACFC players directly.
Midfielder Dani Weatherholt, who grew up near LA in Capistrano Beach, Calif., has spent most of her weekends hiking with her dog, Nora. Usually the pair can be found in the Malibu Canyon.
“It’s absolutely beautiful out there,” she said.
When she’s not under the sunshine and enjoying the mountains, she’s trying new restaurants in the city.
“The fans have been doing a great job of letting us know where to go,” she said.
Forward Jasmyne Spencer has tried to do a new thing every weekend. Recently, she visited the Broad Museum, where she picked up some inspiration for how to decorate her new apartment.
“[It] was really cool,” she said. “Got to see some really cool art.”
Angel City will begin their inaugural season on March 19th when they face off against the NWSL’s other expansion team, the San Diego Wave.
Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.