Only a few weeks into the regular season, the NWSL is already switching gears. The 2023 Challenge Cup kicks off with five games on Wednesday as the league gets set to debut a new Cup format in its fourth year of existence.

Instead of a preseason tournament, the Challenge Cup will run as an in-season campaign with games interspersed throughout the league’s regular season. To accommodate players competing in the World Cup this summer, the league will play only Challenge Cup games from July 10 to Aug. 17. The top four teams at the end of the Cup round-robin stage will advance to single-elimination semifinals on Sept. 6, and the final will be played on Sept. 9.

With more prize money available than ever before, players will be greatly incentivized to compete for the trophy. What can fans expect from this year’s version of the Challenge Cup? Let’s dig in.

Why the schedule change matters

The NWSL’s decision to turn the Challenge Cup into an in-season competition is rooted in recent history. In 2020, the Challenge Cup functioned as a mini-tournament replacing the regular season, as professional sports reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2021 and 2022, the Challenge Cup became a preseason tournament, where teams played out the group stages before the regular season began. The scheduling was both a blessing and a curse as teams rotated depth and showed a varied commitment to immediate results versus long-term process.

For example, the NWSL’s two new California expansion sides in 2022, the San Diego Wave and Angel City FC, used Challenge Cup to test brand-new rosters ahead of the regular season. The Washington Spirit and North Carolina Courage, meanwhile, played competitively all the way to the Challenge Cup final and then suffered in the regular season after a taxing Cup championship game.

Turning the Cup into a regular season competition should help teams stay sharp, and UKG’s commitment of $1 million in prize money — equitable to the winnings of the 2020 MLS is Back Tournament — will keep players engaged. While coaches will be tasked with keeping their squads fresh for the regular season matches on either side of their midweek Cup games, players will give their all with the opportunity to win bonuses that rival some of the highest in women’s soccer.

With rookie Michelle Cooper and other veterans, Kansas City has the depth to sustain World Cup absences. (William Purnell/USA TODAY Sports)

Which teams are set up best to compete?

The Challenge Cup is a depth game, so the teams that have the ability to rotate without sacrificing quality will have the best chance at winning it all by the end of the year. Fitness and player absences for the 2023 Women’s World Cup in July and August will force some teams into greater challenges than others.

Historically, the Challenge Cup has rewarded scrappy sides who ride momentum and punch above their weight. In 2023, however, the stretched-out schedule could tip the scales back in favor of the NWSL Shield contenders. OL Reign, the Portland Thorns and the Kansas City Current boast the highest levels of depth in the NWSL.

While the Current’s injury bug could hold them back in the early stages of the competition, they have the reinforcements to power through the World Cup period of the Cup, including a number of top midfielders and attackers who will not be leaving for any period of time. Another team to watch out for is 2020 Challenge Cup champion Houston Dash, who have a frontline of red-hot talent that will not be leaving for Australia and New Zealand in July.

Other teams with the potential to hit their stride as the Cup progresses are Racing Louisville, the Chicago Red Stars and Angel City. All three of those clubs have shallow areas on their rosters, but due to their roster construction, could have more players available during the World Cup than a number of the league’s heavy-hitters.

Top players to watch: Check the midfield

In past Challenge Cups, strong midfields that can generate goal-scoring opportunities have held an advantage in later rounds, and this year might be no different.

Houston’s attacking trio of Diana Ordoñez, María Sánchez and Ebony Salmon have already been putting opponents under pressure in the early going of the regular season, and it’s possible all three will be available throughout the Cup (Salmon theoretically could still be called up to England).

The Current could find themselves heavily reliant on their non-World Cup talent, including rookie attacker Michelle Cooper and veteran midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo, while hoping Morgan Gautrat and Kristen Hamilton return from injury. Racing Louisville will also rely on a growing midfield, as Jaelin Howell and Savannah McCaskill try to stake their claim as the next generation of the USWNT midfield player pool.

OL Reign and Portland will similarly turn to their stacked midfields. The Thorns boast rising U.S. talent Olivia Moultrie as an attacking midfield option, while the Reign have already gotten quality minutes from midfielder Olivia van der Jagt, who will likely combine with longtime veteran Jess Fishlock while World Cup players are away.

Outside of the hidden gems, expect the league’s top stars to show out before they leave for the international stage. Sophia Smith currently leads the regular season Golden Boot race with four goals and two assists, followed by Washington Spirit forward Ashley Hatch with three goals. Gotham winger Midge Purce has two goals and two assists as she battles for a spot on the USWNT’s World Cup squad.

Diana Ordoñez leads a dangerous Houston Dash frontline through the Challenge Cup. (Soobum Im/USA TODAY Sports)


Challenge Cup champion

Portland Thorns over Houston Dash

The Dash have the defensive tenacity and attacking firepower to advance all the way to the Cup final. But given the length of this year’s Challenge Cup, the deepest and steadiest team should have just enough to emerge victorious.

Challenge Cup MVP

Sam Coffey, M, Portland Thorns

Midfield options will be critical throughout the Challenge Cup, and Portland’s could be the difference in the quest for the trophy and $1 million prize pool. Coffey has been growing into her role as a midfield maestro for Portland, and the team doesn’t have an obvious rotation replacement that would pull minutes from the 24-year-old.

Challenge Cup Golden Boot

Diana Ordoñez, F, Houston Dash

Ordoñez is the focal point of Houston’s front three, with the ability to score both with her feet and her head. The Dash have the potential to make one of the strongest runs during the World Cup period as the chemistry between Mexico teammates María Sánchez and Ordoñez builds with every game.

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

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — As Mexico’s first-ever match against the Chicago Red Stars neared the hour mark on Saturday, Diana Ordoñez saw the ball in the back of the net before the Red Stars could even react. Taking two steps in front of the penalty area, Ordoñez found acres of space with which to line up a golazo from distance, giving Mexico their fourth goal in an eventual 5-2 win, on a day when the best of the sport were on display.

The MexTour has been a wildly successful endeavor on the men’s side for years, as the Mexico men’s national team connects with fans in the U.S. who might not have the opportunity to travel and watch them in their home country. The men’s team most recently visited Chicago last June for a pre-World Cup friendly against Ecuador in front of 60,000 people at Soldier Field, solidifying the team as one of the most popular in the city and arguably the entire country.

The women’s national team is working on building that kind of following in the inaugural year of MexTour W after a few rocky years on the international stage. Mexico has missed the last two Women’s World Cups with performances during Concacaf qualifying tournaments that don’t reflect the growth in talent in the region in recent years. But Saturday was all about the future, as Mexico drew more than 6,000 fans out to SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, the Red Stars’ home venue.

“When I heard Mexico was coming to play, I was like man, this crowd is going to be rowdy. So I was excited,” said Chicago defender and acting captain Arin Wright, happily sporting a Mexico jersey after the match ended.

The Red Stars were undoubtedly the away team in their home stadium on Saturday, with boos accompanying yellow card challenges and raucous cheers for every Mexico goal-scoring opportunity.

The crowd didn’t leave empty-handed. Mexico found spaces in and around a short-handed Red Stars defense to score five total goals, including a number of strikes from distance complemented by quality footwork in the penalty area. Ordoñez and Maria Sanchez led the charge, each scoring against Chicago just a week after doing the same for the Houston Dash in the NWSL.

“I felt like it was a great day for people that are football people,” said Red Stars head coach Christ Petrucelli. “It’s probably the first time we’ve ever been booed in our own stadium. But it’s OK, it was part of the fun.”

After a number of years when Mexican talent fell outside the NWSL talent pipeline, the door to more overlap between the U.S. and Mexico is appearing to open. Sanchez, Ordoñez, Katie Johnson and Scarlett Camberos are the highest-profile Mexican-American players to rise through the NCAA system and eventually find their way to the NWSL, while American talent is increasingly finding a home in Liga MX Femenil. Most notably, UCLA product and USWNT prospect Mia Fishel is on a goal-scoring tear for Tigres Femenil.

“I think there should be more Mexican players in our league,” Wright said after the game. “I mean, watching this game right there, it shows that they can keep up and that they bring a lot of different talent that we don’t have here in this league. And I think our league could thrive having a little bit more of their technical ability.”

Red Stars midfielder Jill Aguilera, who plays for the Puerto Rico national team, agrees that more opportunities for cross-competition are only good for the region. Saturday’s game was a quick turnaround for Aguilera, as Puerto Rico will play their own version of a club friendly against Liga MX Femenil side Tijuana in California early this week.

“I played Mexico a year ago, somewhat close to today,” she said. “So I was definitely used to the crowd, I knew that it would feel somewhat like an away game. I expected that.”

While the Red Stars did their best to quiet the Mexico crowd, most emphatically with Julia Bianchi’s Olimpico goal off a corner kick, they were also open about their desire to see many of the fans return, perhaps sporting their club colors next time around. The Red Stars’ home outside of Chicago’s city limits has long been a topic of conversation, as the team attempts to connect with the vibrant community northeast of the quiet suburb where they play.

“I think that we struggle a bit, everyone knows, to get fans out here to SeatGeek. So we were really excited to have them come in and have our players really experience that atmosphere that Mexico can bring,” said Wright.

“Overall, we’re just grateful to have as many people as we did out here, and the more we can get fans like this to our regular season games, the better for everyone,” echoed Aguilera.

Wright believes the way to draw crowds back is to continue being active with outreach, and the scheduling of international friendlies is an easy way to make the Red Stars a relevant part of the footballing conversation in the greater Chicagoland community.

“Chicago is a melting pot. It’s so diverse, it has so many different cultures,” she says. “So can we get more games against other countries? That’s how you get more fans is more visibility, and reaching different countries and different fan bases.”

Despite the result, the Red Stars relished the opportunity to be a part of the global game, and Wright is eager for more opportunities.

“The players are gonna be happy to do it,” she said. “Ask us to go to Mexico, twist our arm, we’ll be there.”

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

Of the many trades conducted on the night of the 2023 NWSL Draft, Diana Ordóñez to the Houston Dash stands out as one of the more surprising moves.

The 21-year-old forward was sent to the Dash along with the No. 30 overall pick, while the North Carolina Courage received the No. 8 overall pick. With that pick, they chose defender Sydney Collins out of California. The Courage also received an international slot in 2023, as well as Houston’s natural first-round pick in 2024 and $100,000 in allocation money.

The trade was met with mixed reactions Thursday night, even from the Courage themselves.

“We still suck at trades in 2023,” team captain Abby Erceg wrote of the trade on Twitter, implying that the Dash got the better end of the deal.

Courage head coach Sean Nahas told reporters at the draft that Ordóñez herself and not the Courage prompted the trade, as she wanted to be closer to family.

“To be honest, it wasn’t easy, but there’s more to it than trading Diana,” Nahas told The Equalizer. “There were back-and-forth conversations and certain things she was looking for that she expressed to us. So, at the end of the day, we need to make a decision and we wanted to make sure we took care of her, as well, for the efforts and work that she put in for our club.

“She’s a family person, so I think that was a big thing for her. We thanked her for everything that she did. It’s not easy, we had a great relationship with her.”

Sam Laity, who was hired in December as head coach of the Dash, said the trade came together right before the draft began. But Ordóñez had been on his radar since he took the job.

“She was the first person, the first player that I targeted when I took the job,” Laity said. “We had initial discussions about it when I became the head coach… Ordóñez was a player we aligned with from a club perspective and a personal perspective. She has every attribute that you would need to be successful in the league.”

A Rookie of the Year candidate in 2022, Ordóñez was one of the best players on the field, scoring 11 goals to set the rookie record and starting in 17 of 19 games. Houston is coming off its first-ever playoff appearance, and the club will look to build on that in 2023.

The 2023 NWSL Draft started at 6 p.m. ET Thursday, but teams did not wait until then to kick off the action.

The 24 hours leading up to the draft brought a flurry of trades, and even more came during the draft itself. Just Women’s Sports keeps track of everything that has happened so far.

Jan. 12 — Washington Spirit make several moves in third round

First, the Spirit sent $75,000 in allocation money to the Orlando Pride in exchange for the No. 29 and No. 34 picks.

Next, the Spirit swapped third-round picks with Racing Louisville, receiving the No. 28 pick in exchange for the No. 29 pick and $30,000 in allocation money. Then the Spirit sent the No. 44 pick and an additional $30,000 in allocation money to the Houston Dash to jump to the No. 30 pick.

The biggest trade of the bunch came last: Washington received the No. 32 pick in this year’s draft and OL Reign’s natural first-round pick in 2024 in exchange for a player to be named later, rumored to be U.S. women’s national team defender Emily Sonnett.

Jan. 12 — Portland Thorns and Houston Dash exchange picks

The clubs swapped third-round picks. The Thorns received the No. 32 pick, while the Dash received the No. 36 pick and $20,000 in allocation money.

Jan. 12 — OL Reign and Chicago Red Stars exchange picks

The clubs swapped second-round picks. OL Reign received the No. 19 pick, which they used to select Washington defender Shae Holmes. The Red Stars received the No. 23 pick, which they used to grab South Carolina defender Jyllissa Harris, as well as an international slot for 2023 and OL Reign’s third-round pick in 2024.

Jan. 12 — Houston Dash acquire Diana Ordóñez from North Carolina

The Dash snagged the Rookie of the Year runner-up and the No. 30 overall pick from the Courage. Ordóñez scored 11 goals as a rookie in North Carolina, and she’ll look to build on that in her second season.

In exchange, the Courage received the No. 8 pick in the draft, an international slot for 2023, the Dash’s natural first-round pick in 2024 and $100,000 in allocation money.

Jan. 12 — Gotham FC swap No. 2 pick for Lynn Williams

The USWNT forward is headed to Gotham FC. The club flipped its No. 2 pick for Williams. The Kansas City Current lose the 29-year-old star but gain Duke forward Michelle Cooper, whom they selected second overall.

Jan. 12 — Gotham FC receive No. 4 pick from Racing Louisville

Gotham FC acquired the No. 4 overall pick from Racing Louisville in exchange for $150,000 in allocation money, the rights to forward Paige Monaghan and one international slot for the 2023 season.

Monaghan, 26, appeared in all 22 of Gotham’s matches in 2022. The No. 10 pick in the 2019 draft, she scored three goals in 2022 and had six across her three seasons for the New York City-area franchise.

With the trade, Gotham FC hold the No. 2 and No. 4 picks in the draft.

Jan. 12 — San Diego Wave receive No. 13 pick from Gotham FC

Gotham FC dealt the first pick of the second round to the San Diego Wave in exchange for $100,000 in allocation money.

The Wave hold three picks heading into the draft: No. 13, No. 33 and No. 45.

Jan. 11 — OL Reign acquire Elyse Bennett from Kansas City Current

The Seattle-based club picked up the 23-year-old forward and the No. 23 pick in this year’s draft from the Current in exchange for $150,000 in allocation money.

Kansas City selected Bennett with the No. 7 pick in the 2022 draft. She appeared in 24 games last season as the Current made a run to the NWSL championship match, scoring three goals and contributing two assists.

“We’re really excited to have Elyse joining the team,” OL Reign general manager Nick Perera said in a statement. “We believe she’s a player that has a unique skillset and after an impressive rookie season, we look forward to watching her develop even further.”

With the trade, OL Reign hold three picks heading into Thursday night’s draft: No. 23, No. 32 and No. 46.

For the second-to-last time this season, Just Women’s Sports is naming a monthly NWSL Best XI honoring the best players at every position in that period of time.

August was a particularly competitive month for forwards. With a month left in regular season, three attackers — Alex Morgan, Sophia Smith and Diana Ordoñez — already have scored as many or more goals than last year’s Golden Boot winner, Washington Spirit forward Ashley Hatch.

Seven of the league’s 12 teams are represented in JWS’ August lineup. North Carolina, Chicago, Kansas City and Angel City each have two players on the Best XI, while OL Reign, Houston and Louisville have one player each. Just two players have made one of JWS’ previous Best XIs this season.


Diana Ordoñez, North Carolina Courage

The 2022 sixth overall pick scored in three straight games in August, extending her streak to five consecutive matches with a goal. Her five goals this month have moved her into second in the Golden Boot race and made her a top candidate for Rookie of the Year.

Megan Rapinoe, OL Reign

With a goal or an assist in every match in August, the U.S. women’s national team forward is in her best form of the season. Throughout the month, she recorded a total of four goals, three assists and one stoppage-time winner. On the other side of the ball, her tackle success rate is a jaw-dropping 89.5 percent.

Mallory Pugh, Chicago Red Stars

Pugh is back from a minor injury and playing at an NWSL MVP level. With a two-goal performance against Racing Louisville on Aug. 27, the 24-year-old sits in fourth in the Golden Boot race. She also had two assists in that match, improving her overall tally to three across her three games played in August.


Sophie Schmidt, Houston Dash

The Canadian national team midfielder has been a staple for the Dash all season. Across her five starts and 441 minutes played in August, she notched a goal and her first assist of the season while staying consistent in the middle of the park with a 75.4 percent passing accuracy.

Lo’eau Labonta, Kansas City Current

Currently on a 12-game unbeaten streak, the second-longest in NWSL history, the Current have been riding players like Lo’eau Labonta, who’s controlling the midfield with a 78 percent passing success rate. Tallying three goals and an assist in August, she also leads her team in assists and big chances created.

Hailie Mace, Kansas City Current

Playing on the left side of the midfield, Mace has been heavily involved in the Current’s game-winning goals. She scored the decider in a 2-1 victory over the first-place San Diego Wave on Aug. 7 and set up the play that secured Kansas City a 3-2 win over the North Carolina Courage on Sunday.


Carson Pickett, North Carolina Courage

Leading the NWSL in assists with five, Pickett recorded two of those helpers in the Courage’s two wins in August, helping her team rise from last place in the standings to ninth. Pickett also leads North Carolina in big chances created.

Tatumn Milazzo, Chicago Red Stars

Milazzo has been a weapon in all areas for the Red Stars, averaging a 78 percent passing success rate, a 67 percent tackle success rate and a 63 percent win rate in duels. She’s contributed just as well to the attack, scoring a goal in Chicago’s first game of August, a 2-0 win over Gotham FC.

Ali Riley, Angel City FC

The Angel City captain had an impressive month defensively and offensively, recording a 73 percent tackle success rate and 71 percent passing accuracy in August. Most notably, the fullback contributed a goal and an assist to Angel City’s undefeated month.

Tyler Lussi, Angel City FC

A firecracker for Angel City this year, Lussi was remarkably consistent in August, playing all but one stoppage time. Leading the NWSL in interceptions, she improved upon her average of 2.8 with three or more in every match of the month. She had six interceptions against the Orlando Pride on Aug. 7, a game in which she also won 91 percent of her ground duels.


Katie Lund, Racing Louisville

On the watchlist for the U.S. women’s national team, Lund leads the NWSL with 79 saves after a heroic month in goal for Racing Louisville. Averaging a 75 percent save percentage this season, she earned a shutout against the Houston Dash with nine saves and set an NWSL single-game record with 12 saves on 25 shots in a 1-1 draw with OL Reign on Aug. 25.

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

Ally Watt made an impression in her Orlando Pride debut, while Ebony Salmon and Diana Ordóñez surged in the Golden Boot race.

Just Women’s Sports breaks down the top plays from the past week of NWSL action.

NWSL Plays of the Week

Ally Watt’s debut Pride goal

Ally Watt knows how to make an entrance. The 25-year-old forward scored less than 10 minutes into her first game with the Pride.

After receiving a ball from Meggie Dougherty-Howard, Watt surged past her defender before burying a low shot into the far post.

“We needed one percent more, and what you had seen with Meggie’s one percent more resulted in a goal for Ally Watt,” said Pride coach Seb Hines following Orlando’s 2-1 win Saturday over Gotham FC.

Watt joined the Pride via an August trade with OL Reign after starting in three of her 14 matches with the Seattle club this season.

Ebony Salmon’s rocket

Ebony Salmon is on a tear, scoring eight goals in her eight starts with the Houston Dash.

Saturday’s match against the San Diego Wave proved no different, with the English striker launching a crafty shot to put the Dash ahead early. Trapping a stray ball at the top of the box, Salmon let off a screamer to the far post, adding to her goals tally, though the Dash eventually fell 3-1 to the Wave.

In her brief tenure with Houston, Salmon has proven to be a clinical finisher with extraordinary talent on the ball and in space.

Diana Ordóñez’s Brace

Diana Ordóñez is unstoppable, racking up a staggering 10 goals through 11 games. She has shattered the NWSL’s rookie scoring record (7 goals) and is challenging Alex Morgan for the league’s Golden Boot trophy.

On Saturday, the 20-year-old helped the Courage to an empathic 4-0 shutout over the Chicago Red Stars, logging two goals in the contest.

Ordóñez’s first came in the 10th minute, as she nodded in a corner kick for the go-ahead goal.

Then, in the 74th minute, Ordóñez doubled her tally, expertly shaking off a defender before slotting home the finish with poise.

The NWSL Golden Boot race is heating up, with this season’s goals tally already surpassing last year’s winning mark of ten goals.

Alex Morgan has held onto her spot atop the league goal scorers list, adding another finish to her haul Saturday, firing home a banger for her 12th goal of the season. The Taylor-Kornieck assisted finish also marked Morgan’s 50th regular-season NWSL goal.

The USWNT veteran isn’t alone in her quest for Golden Boot glory, though, with a group of young talent challenging Morgan for the top spot.

North Carolina’s Diana Ordonez has obliterated the NWSL rookie goals record this season, notching her ninth and tenth in the Courage’s 4-0 win over Chicago on Saturday. Her brace marks Ordonez’s tenth goal in 11 games, propelling her to third in the Golden Boot race behind Morgan and Sophia Smith, who sits in second with 11 goals.

Houston’s Ebony Salmon is also red-hot, notching her eighth goal of the 2022 campaign in the Dash’s loss to San Diego Saturday. The 21-year-old has alone outscored seven NWSL teams since July 16, going on a tear since being traded from Racing Louisville to Houston.

The English striker played just 75 minutes for Louisville this season before joining the Dash.

“I’m taking my anger from not playing in Louisville and I’m going to show what I can do here when I get on the pitch,” Salmon told The Striker Texas after her trade to Houston was announced. Salmon has undoubtedly shown what she is capable of, cementing herself as one of the most dangerous forwards in the NWSL right now.

The Golden Boot Race continues, with second-place Smith and third-place Ordonez facing off Wednesday in Portland’s matchup against North Carolina.

Diana Ordóñez is enjoying a breakout NWSL season, injecting life into the North Carolina Courage’s attack.

The 20-year-old was drafted sixth overall by the Courage in the 2022 draft. She decided to make the jump to the professional ranks after a prolific three years at the University of Virginia.

Ordóñez’s hot streak in the NWSL comes as no surprise to those who followed her tenure as a Cavalier. At Virginia, she tied for the third-most goals in program history.

With a seamless transition to the NWSL, Ordóñez quickly made her impact on the Courage’s front line. She scored her first professional goal to help North Carolina to the Challenge Cup title in early May.

“I am so proud of her,” teammate Carson Pickett said of Ordóñez following the team’s Challenge Cup semifinal victory. “She works so hard day in, day out, and coming in as a rookie, it’s hard enough, and coming into a big semifinal game, I am just so proud of her.”

Ordóñez has continued to shine during the regular season, leading all Courage scorers with seven goals through nine matches played. The rookie striker has scored in the Courage’s last three games, including impressive back-to-back braces.

Her goals haul, which includes one left-footed goal, three right-footed shots and three headers, puts Ordóñez in the NWSL Golden Boot race with USWNT stars Sophia Smith (11), Alex Morgan (11) and Mallory Pugh (6).

Ordóñez’s seven goals tie the league’s all-time rookie goal record, placing her in contention for Rookie of the Year honors.

Diana Ordoñez is used to being the young one.

The 2021 ACC leading scorer is projected to be a top-10 pick in the 2022 NWSL College Draft after deciding to leave the University of Virginia a year early. She found herself in a similar situation three years earlier when she graduated high school a semester ahead of her peers, despite already being young for her grade, and arrived at UVA as a 17-year-old.

“I don’t really think about my age too much because before I did, and it would kind of hinder me from a lot of things,” Ordoñez said. “But now, I mean, I’m just doing what everybody else is doing — it doesn’t really matter how old I am.”

Sitting in front of neatly organized shelves during a Zoom call on Thursday, Ordoñez explained the carefully thought-out academic plan she had made at the start of the summer for her junior year, just in case turning pro and graduating college at the age of 20 became a reality.

“[My parents] were really supportive,” said Ordoñez. “They obviously guided me through pros and cons and things like that, but at the end of the day, they were like, ‘We support your decision if you want to go back to school. And if you want to go pro, then you go do that.’”

Finishing her 2021 season as an All-American and MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist, the timing seemed right to declare for the NWSL draft.

If her production hadn’t been where she wanted it, Ordoñez would have waited another year. But the forward scored 18 goals during the season, which was first in the ACC and second in the nation. She also finished her collegiate career tied for third on UVA’s all-time goal-scoring list with 45 and sixth on the program’s all-time points list with 102.

Coming into season knowing it was potentially her last, Ordoñez focused on refining the small, technical details of her game, like first touch and execution in front of goal.

“No matter how good my finishing is, I always say that I can work on my finishing,” said the ACC Offensive Player of the Year. “Especially being the nine, someone who is expected to produce and score goals, that’s something I will never stop working on. No matter how good you are at it, I just don’t think there’s anything you can just kind of be like, ‘OK, check that off, I’m good at that,’ and then move on.”

Her goal-scoring technique will be under even more acute scrutiny at the next level, but Ordoñez embraces the challenges that come with being a pro, referring to the NWSL as a “whole different beast.”

“At the end of the day, I’m a rookie,” she said. “That’s the reality of my first season.

“No matter where I go, chances are there’s going to be a world-class person starting in my position already, and to me that’s really, really exciting. Even if I don’t necessarily get as many minutes as I want in the beginning, I can just soak up everything that environment has to offer.”

Jessa Braun is an editorial intern for Just Women’s Sports. She is also the Head of North American Content for the Women’s Sports Alliance. You can find her on Twitter @jessabraun.