The NWSL Players’ Association released the official list of prospective 2024 free agents last week, naming the restricted and unrestricted free agents now allowed to take conversations with teams across the league.

This year’s free agency period is complicated by two expansion clubs in Utah and the Bay Area joining the NWSL in 2024. With the expansion process on the horizon, teams will have to both pursue players out of contract and look to strike deals with those on their roster who are still under contract.

A number of stars grace the free agency shortlist, and it’s clear that some NWSL clubs have a tougher negotiation period ahead of them than others. Here are a few clubs in danger of letting some of the biggest names in the sport walk elsewhere this winter.

Chicago Red Stars

Unrestricted: Tierna Davidson, D; Casey Krueger, D; Mallory Swanson, F; Yuki Nagasato, M

When the old U.S. national allocation status went away in 2021, the Red Stars made sure to lock down their four players who fell under that status to two-year contracts: Tierna Davidson, Casey Krueger, Mallory Swanson and Alyssa Naeher.

Entering the 2024 free agency period, the only player of that four who has signed onto an additional year with the club is Naeher. The Red Stars have a significant amount of rebuilding to do both on and off the field under new ownership, and retaining the other three players of their long-standing USWNT foursome will likely be at the top of the priority list. Standout midfielder Yuki Nagasato has also not yet signed her mutual team option, leaving Chicago facing the possible loss of veteran leadership and available talent.

Swanson has indicated that she’d like to stay in Chicago (where her husband Dansby plays for the Cubs of the MLB), and Krueger is similarly settled in the Midwest. Davidson, however, might be a difficult player for the Red Stars to retain. With expansion approaching, the center-back is looking to get back into the USWNT roster conversation and might seek out a change of scenery in the process.

Meghan Klingenberg has been a steady force for Portland at outside back. (Stephen Brashear/USA TODAY Sports)

Portland Thorns

Unrestricted: Crystal Dunn, M; Meghan Klingenberg, D; Becky Sauerbrunn, D; Christine Sinclair, F

The Thorns similarly have major talent to retain if they want to avoid a major overhaul in 2024. Crystal Dunn, Meghan Klingenberg, Becky Sauerbrunn and Christine Sinclair have all played consistently for the club this year, excluding Sauerbrunn’s foot injury that left the two-time world champion off the USWNT roster for this year’s World Cup.

Of the four star players entering unrestricted free agency this year, Sinclair and Sauerbrunn might consider hanging up their boots entirely, but they are still a big part of Portland’s race to the NWSL Shield in 2023. Dunn has been a revelation while playing in a more advanced position following the injury to Golden Boot leader Sophia Smith, showcasing the versatility that makes her one of the most valuable NWSL players of all time.

Klingenberg has also quietly been one of the most consistent performers in the league in the years since her USWNT career ended. A key locker room presence for Portland, she has adjusted her game to retain her effectiveness into her mid-30s. While the Thorns do a good job bringing in young talent to shore up positions, it’s hard to imagine what the team would look like without any of these free agents.

Rose Lavelle has missed time with the Reign due to multiple injuries in recent years. (Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports)

OL Reign

Unrestricted: Emily Sonnett, M/D; Rose Lavelle, M
Restricted: Tziarra King, F; Angelina, M

Portland’s longtime rivals also have some work to do to maintain a through-line between their longtime stars and up-and-coming talent. Megan Rapinoe, who has played for the Reign since their inception in 2013, will be retiring at the end of the season. Jess Fishlock, another member of the Reign’s original three alongside defender Lauren Barnes, has signed an extension through next season.

Beyond the true veterans, the Reign have a number of starters with the opportunity to turn elsewhere after this season. Rose Lavelle has had her moments of being unstoppable for Seattle since her unexpected trade from the Spirit in 2020, but she’s also been plagued by injury in recent years.

Emily Sonnett became one of the team’s starting defensive midfielders after another surprise trade from Washington earlier this year. If the Reign are in the process of parting with their longtime culture-setters in their locker room, they at least might want to focus on holding onto USWNT mainstays like Lavelle and Sonnett.

The Reign also have a few young contributors up for restricted free agency — meaning that if they do not receive a qualifying offer from their current team, they can negotiate with other teams. Tziarra King and Angelina have both been skillful additions to the Reign’s roster, and with head coach Laura Harvery likely having to reshape the concept of her starting XI, they provide depth the club might be reluctant to lose.

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

OL Reign and the Portland Thorns will face off at 10:30 p.m. ET Saturday in the 38th meeting of the NWSL’s fiercest rivalry.

Each team has a win against the other this year, with Portland winning 2-0 on June 3, then falling 1-0 on June 28. The most recent meeting, though, ended in a 0-0 draw on Aug. 6. The two most recent matches were part of the 2023 Challenge Cup tournament.

Portland’s regular-season win against OL Reign marked their first on the road in Seattle since 2017. And the Reign will be looking to return the favor in Saturday’s matchup on their home turf. Even more is at stake this time around, with four matches left in the regular season. Portland sits second in the NWSL with 29 points, while the Reign are fourth with 27 points.

Both teams are missing key players: The Thorns are without Sophia Smith due to an MCL sprain, while goalkeeper Phallon Tullis-Joyce recently was whisked away by Manchester United.

OL Reign vs. Portland Thorns: How to watch

The Cascadia Cup match will take place on Saturday, Sept. 16, at 10:30 p.m. ET (7:30 p.m. local time). Viewers can watch the rivalry match on Paramount+.

Keys to the game: OL Reign

Give the ball to Jordyn Huitema. The 22-year-old forward has seven goals across all NWSL competitions this season, leading the Reign. She’s also been among the best in the league in blocks (1.50 per 90), clearances (1.22 per 90) and tackles (1.50 per 90). Her 5.1 xG per game ranks eighth in the NWSL, and her 46 aerials won ranks third in the league. In short: Huitema has been all over the field for the Reign this season, and they’ve reaped the rewards.

The loss of Tullis-Joyce certainly will be felt, although Claudia Dickey has come into her own over the last two matches, having played in place of the former starting keeper. She’s allowed just two goals during those two games, one win and one loss. She’ll face arguably the biggest test of her career Saturday, and it’ll be a good indicator of where the Reign stand in net from here on out.

Defensively, the Reign will want to be better than they have been against a team that is one of the best in the league at shot creation. The Thorns’ 31.06 shot-creating actions per 90 ranks first in the NWSL, far ahead of any other team in the league (Louisville is second with 24.67 shot-creating actions per 90). If the Reign want to get the win on the road, they’ll have to find a way to keep the Thorns from doing what they do best.

One other thing to manage? The crowd. OL Reign are no stranger to the animosity they face from Portland fans, who can often act as a sixth man.

“What I love so much is that [the fans] truly hate Seattle as much as we all do,” Meghan Klingenberg told Just Women’s Sports earlier this week. “And I feel like it’s this grudge that the city holds against Seattle as a bigger, more well-known city. But we love it, we have a blast playing into that story.

“Every time Seattle shows up here, it’s always extra fun because I know the fans are going to be super loud and I can barely communicate to the people next to me. That’s how crazy it is.”

Megan Rapinoe is preparing to play her final regular-season match against Portland. Perhaps goal would be a fitting send-off for one of the game’s best in one of its fiercest rivalries.

Keys to the game: Portland Thorns

Let Christine Sinclair cook.

The 40-year-old forward, who is also the Thorns’ captain, has been the driving force behind this rivalry, and she has scored 11 goals in her 31 all-time matches against the Reign. Eight of those goals have come since the beginning of 2020. In that time, the only player with more goals against a single opponent is Washington Spirit forward Ashley Hatch, who has nine goals against North Carolina.

She also knows what the rivalry means, having been part of it long before stepping on the field for the Thorns. The hatred runs so deep, she punctuated the Thorns’ championship celebration last November with a hearty: “F–k Seattle!”

The Thorns will be without Smith, who remains sidelined with an MCL sprain. They’ve felt her absence, with a 1-1 draw against Washington and a 2-1 loss to Racing Louisville in their last two outings. Facing their rival, they’ll need to be on top of their game offensively. Luckily, they’re one of the best teams in the league when it comes to offense, having outscored opponents by 13 goals this season. That goal differential is nearly double that of any other team.

Portland is the second-best passing team in the league, with a 75.7% completion rate. And the Thorns’ 38.7% shots on target percentage is first in the league. On paper, they blow the Reign out of the water offensively. But reality could be another story. On Saturday, they’ll need to lean into what has made them one of the best teams in the league this season if they want to get back-to-back regular-season wins against the Reign.

When facing a fierce rival in the midst of one of the tightest NWSL playoff races in recent memory, Portland Thorns defender Meghan Klingenberg is in favor of keeping things simple. The Thorns are currently in second place in the league table with four games left in the regular season, only one point behind the first-place San Diego Wave. And while the stakes are high, they are taking things one game at a time.

The next match on the schedule happens to be a massive opportunity against Cascadia rivals OL Reign on Saturday, but Klingenberg has the veteran knowledge to know that sometimes larger narratives can get in the way of the task at hand.

“I feel like there’s a story that people like to tell, because it’s a good story,” she wryly tells Just Women’s Sports. “But no, we take every team seriously. And as much as we love rivalry games, and as fun as they are, we approach them the exact same way that we would approach any other match.”

In professional sports, players can write themselves into history by not getting swept away by the moment, but the heightened emotions surrounding events like the Cascadia rivalry are also impossible to ignore.

While she’s keeping things in balance, Klingenberg knows no one heightens the moment quite like Portland fans, who will again pack Providence Park on Saturday. The 35-year-old has played in a number of iterations of the matchup since joining the Thorns in 2016 and making the city of Portland home.

“What I love so much is that [the fans] truly hate Seattle as much as we all do,” Klingenberg says. “And I feel like it’s this grudge that the city holds against Seattle as a bigger, more well-known city. But we love it, we have a blast playing into that story.

“Every time Seattle shows up here, it’s always extra fun because I know the fans are going to be super loud and I can barely communicate to the people next to me. That’s how crazy it is.”

The Thorns successfully handled that pressure earlier this year, taking a 2-0 win at Lumen Field in Seattle to earn their first away victory over the Reign in five years. Klingenberg has started all 16 matches she’s played in this season, registering three assists and leading a defense that has contributed to the Thorns’ league-leading +13 goal differential.

“I think once we start putting pressure on ourselves, we play tight, we play a little bit scared, and I don’t want our team to play that way,” the 2015 World Cup champion says. “I want our team to play free, I want them to have fun, play with joy, and when we do that, we play at our best.

“I think sometimes people like to — from the outside — like to make it feel like it’s a bigger deal than it really is,” she goes on. “But when it comes down to it, it’s 11 players vs. 11 players on the same size pitch, with the same refs, with the same ball every single game. And the only thing that changes about it is how you think about it.”

Even when focused on the task at hand, Klingenberg still enjoys the larger storytelling involved. Part of the history of the Cascadia rivalry, beyond regional grudges, is a story of two clubs consistently battling for trophies. The Reign are the current owners of the NWSL Shield and the Thorns are the reigning NWSL champions, and both clubs have had larger-than-life icons of the game pass through their organizations over the years.

“I think something that’s very overlooked in this league is that we have kept the core of our players together over the eight years that I’ve been here,” says Klingenberg, also crediting the Reign, who famously have their own trio of original players from the NWSL’s inaugural season. “I think that type of chemistry and those types of cultures get overlooked in a league that is always just looking for results and always just looking for the next best thing.”

While the benefits of a steady approach have paid clear dividends on the field for both teams, it also strengthens the connection fans feel toward each team and to the intensity with which they play against each other.

“If it’s a different crop of players every year that we play Seattle, who really cares?” Klingenberg says. “Because you’re not creating any villains, you’re not creating any heroes, and I think that definitely plays into the storytelling big time for the fans and for the media.”

The Thorns have their own titans of the rivalry, most notably Christine Sinclair, who has been with Portland since the team’s inception and who scored the game-clincher against the Reign earlier this season. There’s also Reign and U.S. women’s national team legend Megan Rapinoe, enters Saturday’s showdown only a handful of games away from retirement.

In the mind of a Thorns player, even that of a close friend like Klingenberg, Rapinoe will be just another rival player they’ll seek to neutralize.

“From a significance point of a friend, I’m incredibly proud and happy for Pinoe to have this type of sendoff, and I hope we really f—k it up this weekend,” she says. From that perspective: “We don’t give a f—k that Megan Rapinoe is coming to town and it’s her last game.”

Klingenberg and Rapinoe are longtime friends, USWNT teammates and NWSL rivals. (Michael Thomas Shroyer/USA TODAY Sports)

In the same sentence, Klingenberg likens her longtime friend to players like Colin Kaepernick and Muhammad Ali, as an athlete who has transcended her sport and will continue to influence all genders for years to come.

“We haven’t had a player like [that] in the league or on the national team before,” she says.

It’s with the respect of a rival that Klingenberg considers the boos and jeers a part of the passion for the game, and she imagines Rapinoe will feel the same.

“I also hope that she enjoys the amount of jeering and the energy that everybody’s going to bring to this,” she says.

When the first whistle blows on Saturday, Klingenberg isn’t going to be thinking about boos or cheers, or even about wanting to beat a close rival.

“It’s more just a total feeling of gratefulness and being totally content,” she says. “And just being like, ‘This is it, this is why I play, this is so much fun. I get to be out here in a big game with my teammates, with people I really, truly care about and love, and get to do something that I’m incredibly passionate about in front of fans that are just as passionate as I am.’

“I mean, that’s a moment, that’s the moment to look around and just be like, ‘Wow, this is what I’m doing. I can’t believe I’m still doing this, and I get to do this again.’”

True to form, the message for her teammates isn’t going to be the same as it is for the fans. And when she’s asked for a tagline for Portland’s raucous crowd, Klingenberg keeps it short.

“F—k Seattle.”

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

It was a big night for Portland Thorns defender Reyna Reyes.

During Friday night’s NWSL battle between the Portland Thorns and San Diego Wave, the rookie played her first full 90 minutes and then — in the 90th minute — scored her first ever pro goal.

“When it went in, I didn’t even believe it,” Reyes said of her header goal, which secured a 1-1 draw for Portland in front of 18,130 fans at Snapdragon Stadium.

Reyes, who was drafted fifth overall by the Thorns in the 2023 NWSL Draft, said she normally hangs further back during corner kicks. But when she heard Thorns goalkeeper Bella Bixby yelling at players get in the box, “I was like, this could be it, who knows!”

The Alabama alum got the start on Friday after Thorns teammate Meghan Klingenberg was sidelined with a thigh injury.

“Reyna stepped in terrifically well, didn’t look out of place, in possession or out of possession,” said Thorns head coach Mike Norris. “I thought she brought out her identity and who she is. Obviously a massive a goal, but her first pro 90 minutes is a huge step and was a good 90 at that.”

San Diego’s goal also came in the closing moments of the game, with Sofia Jakobsson finding the back of the net in the 86th minute.

Angel City FC has partnered with star forward Christen Press’ brand re–inc on a new apparel line, set to be released Friday.

Press founded the lifestyle clothing brand in 2019 with teammates Tobin Heath, Megan Rapinoe and Meghan Klingenberg, and now she’s bringing the brand to her NWSL club.

The collection, titled the “New Everyone Club,” will include “gender-free” T-shirts, sweatshirts, shorts and socks, Angel City FC announced Thursday. The clothes are meant to celebrate and embrace underrepresented groups, the club said in its news release.

“I’m so proud to bring the ‘New Everyone Club’ to life with both my team and my business,” Press said. “This is about creating a new and inclusive way forward, bucking the old norms, and disrupting the status quo. Angel City and re—inc have such beautiful and diverse communities, and with the ‘New Everyone Club,’ we celebrate what’s at our very core: reimagination.”

Of the proceeds from the collection, 10 percent will be donated to the Downtown Women’s Center in Los Angeles. The partnership also includes Klarna, an online payment-processing company which will match whatever amount is donated. The Downtown Women’s Center works to serve and empower women experiencing homelessness and formerly homeless women.

“Angel City and re—inc are both mission driven brands that were fundamentally built to create a positive social impact,” Angel City co-founder and president Julie Uhrman said. “Working alongside Christen and the re—inc team is something we have been discussing for a long time, and we are excited that it has come to fruition.”

Meghan Klingenberg of the Portland Thorns was the last player interviewed Wednesday night after an evening of three NWSL games, the first ones played since Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim shared their stories about Paul Riley in The Athletic last week.

In front of an online audience of media members, Klingenberg sat calmly in a black folding chair, wearing a casual jean jacket, as she would for any normal postgame press conference. But this evening, in the midst of a league-wide reckoning over a power structure that enabled alleged abusers like Riley, was anything but normal.

The simplest question — “How are you?” — took the longest to answer.

“I feel sad,” she said. “I feel angry. I think it depends on what I feel, depending what time of the day it is. I feel a little bit of guilt … so yeah, I feel a wide range of emotions.”

If there had to be four words to sum up the entirety of Wednesday night, it would be that phrase: “wide range of emotions.”

The evening began with NJ/NY Gotham FC and Washington Spirit taking the pitch at Subaru Park in Philadelphia. At the six-minute mark, both teams’ players and coaching staffs gathered at the center of the field to link arms for one minute in solidarity with Farrelly, Shim, Kaiya McCullough and others who’ve been silenced over the years.

As the teams congregated, the NWSL Players Association released a statement on social media that included a list of demands for the league.

Commentator Kaylyn Kyle’s voice shook on the Paramount+ broadcast of the second game Wednesday night as players came together at midfield.

“If this isn’t a shut-up-and-listen to these players moment, I don’t really know what is,” said Kyle, who played in the NWSL from 2013 to 2016. “I’m devastated, disgusted, but I’m not shocked and that’s the problem. I played in this league where this was normalized. That’s not OK … These players that are on the pitch tonight, I genuinely don’t know how they’re doing it.”

The players formed the circle in the sixth minute to symbolize the six years it took for Farrelly and Shim to have their stories heard.

‘This is a league of strong, strong women’

Half an hour after the demonstration in Philadelphia, Racing Louisville FC and the North Carolina Courage — Riley’s team before he was terminated in the hours after The Athletic report came out — took the same action of solidarity at the sixth minute of their own game.

Later, Portland Thorns FC and the Houston Dash did the same.

Originally, the NWSL Players Association had wanted teams to stand for six minutes to illustrate how long six minutes feels and compare it to six years of being silenced about sexual abuse.

“That was what our movement was about,” said Louisville goalkeeper Michelle Betos. “We honestly decided not to go with a full six minutes because players didn’t think emotionally they can handle it. You may not see it in the way teams are playing right now, because this is a league of strong, strong women, but people are hurting.”

Even though four teams playing Wednesday night had coaches and general managers who were fired this season for violations of the NWSL’s anti-harassment policy, the night was strictly about supporting Farrelly, Shim, McCullough and others. Spirit midfielder and NWSLPA president Tori Huster made that clear to reporters after their game, a 0-0 draw with Gotham.

“What they did was some of the bravest things I’ve ever seen,” she said. “They went through a lot and we are happy to support them. Honestly, all our love to them. They helped. Whether they’re the catalysts of the change that’s needed in this league or not, we are on our way to that change and we’re trying to take this league back and push it in the right direction.”

‘My greatest hope for them was to play like they were kids again’

For probably the first time in NWSL history, all six coaches approached the night with the same game plan. The last week of training was similar for everyone, too.

Players’ well-being was the focus; soccer was the distraction. Training sessions and meetings were optional. When players needed to talk, the coaches were there. If players requested to end the drill early, the coaches did it.

“If they want to watch video, we’re there to provide that, but we’re not demanding that at the moment because there’s so many other things going on,” Spirit interim coach Kris Ward said. “It’s just trying to listen. That’s a big part of it — just giving them the ability to speak and then being ready to listen.”

Multiple teams are fighting for a playoff spot as the NWSL enters the last month of regular season. For now, though, soccer is meant to provide an escape.

None of the players in Wednesday’s postgame press conferences dwelled on the results. That included Gotham FC, who were celebrating Carli Lloyd’s homecoming game before she retires at the end of the season.

“Tonight when I was hyping the team up, I told them my greatest hope for them was to play like they were kids again,” said Klingenberg. “To remember what it felt like when you were on the schoolyard or on the streets or in your backyard, and play with that type of passion and joy.”

“I think when you’ve got 10,000 fans out there, and it’s the GOAT’s last game, and them going through what this group has been through, it’s a pretty easy talk,” Gotham coach Scott Parkinson said. “It’s, ‘Let’s go out there and enjoy this for 90 minutes.’”

‘I hope and wish that this is a huge reset for this league’

Lloyd grew up just 20 minutes outside of Philadelphia in Delran, N.J. Gotham moved Wednesday night’s game to Subaru Park from their usual home at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. to make it easier for Lloyd’s family and friends to attend.

The crowd of about 10,000 was three times bigger than Gotham’s average attendance size, and more than the average of every NWSL team besides the Portland Thorns.

Lloyd, the two-time FIFA Player of the Year, has played at Subaru Park with the United States women’s national team, but Wednesday marked her first-ever professional club match at a Philadelphia pro sports venue.

“Tonight was an amazing atmosphere,” the star forward said. “This team and the league deserve to play in front of so many fans. So, I think for the team and the league, for Gotham, for the union, for the NWSL to have this little farewell game for me was truly special.”

While showing her gratitude for the celebration, the 39-year-old also described the night as part of “one of the worst weeks this league has ever seen.” She told the Philadelphia Inquirer ahead of Wednesday’s game: “We need to speak out and demand better for ourselves and the generations after us. They deserve it. We all deserve it.”

The farewell of one of the best to ever play the game on a night heavy with emotion seemed to symbolize a turning point — the end of one age and the start of something new.

“I hope and wish that this is a huge reset for this league to just start doing things right from the top down,” Lloyd said. “I think that’s the most important thing. We as players deserve the best. I’m going to be leaving this sport and all of these women deserve to have the best — to be playing on the best playing surfaces, to have the best coaches, to have the best owners. So I am hopeful that will happen.”

As Klingenberg addressed the room late into the night, gathering her “wide range of emotions” while sitting in her black folding chair, she perked up a bit.

“I also feel joy,” she said. “That things are starting to change and there’s discussion, and maybe we can see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

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.

Portland Thorns defender Meghan Klingenberg has had enough.

On Wednesday, reports surfaced detailing numerous accounts of verbal abuse by former Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke. At the same time, it was revealed that Burke had been fired and not reassigned to the front office as the team had originally announced on Tuesday. Burke has since been placed on leave pending an investigation.

Later on Tuedsay, it was reported that another Washington Spirit coach, former assistant Tom Torres, left last summer due to inappropriate conduct.

On Thursday afternoon, Klingenberg addressed the situation and its broader context on Twitter.

“I’m so f—- tired of this bullshit,” she wrote, demanding that the NWSL, owners and general managers “keep players safe.”

“It’s devastating hearing about abuse of young women chasing down their dreams,” Klingenberg said. “As a victim of emotional and verbal harassment by an owner in a previous league, I know how draining and traumatizing it is dealing with the abuse.”

Klingenberg has spent the past seven years in the NWSL. Prior to that, she played with Tyreso FF in Sweden’s Damallsvenskan for two seasons and for three teams in the Women’s Professional Soccer league.

“It’s not ok to just let an organizational member resign and sweep things under the rug,” Klingenberg continued.

“This isn’t just something that has happened at one club. This is systemic and we need accountability. These abusers often have direct influence over our livelihoods and our dreams. No player should ever have to choose between their livelihood and their safety/wellbeing.”