NWSL Preseason Power Rankings

By: Ashley Buschhorn, COO of More Than Just Balls

1. Portland Thorns

Following their Challenge Cup Championship, the Portland Thorns look more than ready to be this year’s shield and championship winners. The Thorns, although losing Tobin Heath, still have Cristine Sinclair, Lindsay Horan, and Becky Sauerbrunn to lock down a solid offense and defense this season. The addition of Crystal Dunn has also transformed an already strong midfield and backline as she is one of the most dynamic players in the league which allows for the Thorns to design many different formations this season. Although we are predicting that it will be an ultra-competitive season the Thorns have what it takes to eek out the other teams.

Storylines to follow:

  • Will the Thorns regret getting rid of Tobin? Can Tyler Lussi fill her boots?

  • What’s the next step for Lindsay Horan?

  • Where will Crystal Dunn fit best in the Thorns system?

2. Houston Dash

Kristie Mewis has looked better than ever and the reigning Challenge Cup Champions look extremely competitive this year. From Mewis to Daly and Latsko the Dash have a very skilled attack. That along with goalkeeper Jane Campbell and centerbacks Katie Naughton and Megan Oyster the Dash are looking good on both sides of the ball. Head Coach James Clarkson will still have a lot of work to do this year but with the talent, they have in the aforementioned players and Shea Groom, if they can stay consistent, they have a real shot at a championship.

Storylines to follow:

  • Has Kristie Mewis done enough to make the Olympic roster?

  • Veronica Latsko comes up big

  • Who takes over for Rachel Daly and potentially Kristie Mewis during the Olympics?

3. NY/NJ Gotham FC

After a close loss in the Challenge Cup Final on penalty kicks, the newly rebranded NY/NJ Gotham FC have some great momentum coming into the season. The rebrand is not just a name change but based on the challenge cup performance it looks like it’s been a change in culture as well. The club has appeared to somewhat move beyond the Carli Lloyd club and into a new form of players led by Jennifer Cudjoe, Paige Monahan, Margaret Purce, Ifeoma Onumonu, and new addition Allie Long. The team will have more freedom this year with so much talent and with limited exits during the Olympics they should have a very successful season.

Storylines to follow:

  • What’s happening with Carli Lloyd?

  • Harcic vs Sheridan: who wins out?

  • Can Purce impress enough to get back into the National Team spotlight?

4. OL Reign

This year the merge with Olympique Lyonnais is evident as ever with the Reign acquiring Sarah Bouhaddi, Dzsenifer Marozsán, and Eugene Le Sommer all on loan from OL. These impressive talents matched with the returns of Jess Fishlock and Megan Rapinoe will make the Reign lethal on the offensive end. Especially with France losing an Olympic spot the loans of Bouhaddi and Le Sommer will be incredibly important for the Reign’s success. The team could also acquire Rose Lavelle if she chooses to return from Manchester City as the Reign currently hold the NWSL rights to Lavelle. If the Reign can put together all the pieces they have a good shot at winning a championship this season.

Storylines to follow:

  • Return of Jess Fishlock, Megan Rapinoe

  • Who gets the backline spot: Barnes or McNabb?

  • How do Marozsán, Bouhaddi, and Le Sommer match up with the team?

5. Chicago Red Stars

The potent attack of Kealia Watt and new addition Mal Pugh matched with the midfield of Julie Ertz, Morgan Gautrat, and Danielle Colaprico with Sarah Gorden, Casey Krueger, and goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher backing up Chicago has the makings of a championship team. Head Coach Rory Dames may struggle during the Olympics with Ertz and Naeher almost certainly being out with the USWNT. Chicago’s Achilles heal in the past has been consistency. If Chicago can find scoring and stay strong defensively they have real shots at the playoffs.

Storylines to follow:

  • Where does Mal Pugh fit in at Chicago?

  • Who steps up in Ertz and Naeher’s absence?

  • Can Chicago find the consistency in scoring they have lacked?

6. North Carolina Courage

This year’s North Carolina Courage team looks very different and very similar to past championship teams. With Jess McDonald and Lynn Williams leading the offense with Debinha’s ability to hit from beyond the box, the Courage will continue to have a dangerous offense. Sam Mewis could potentially return added a much-needed piece to the midfield. The Courage still have some impressive pieces but the Courage have seemed to slip below the high standards the other teams have set.

Storylines to follow:

  • Will Sam Mewis return?

  • Where does Paul Riley stand?

  • How will new goalkeeper Casey Murphy control her defensive line?

7. Orlando Pride

The Orlando Pride still appear to be the mystery team of the NWSL. The team is stacked on the offensive end with Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux, and Marta with the defense to back it up with Ali Riley, Ali Krieger, and Ashlyn Harris. This could be the year the Pride take a leap to a more competitive stance within the league as they have a deeper bench and a powerful captain in Harris. Coach Mark Skinner will struggle during the Olympic period with the suspected losses of Morgan, Harris, Riley, Marta, and potentially Krieger. The bench and young players will have to step up in order for Orlando to compete with the top teams.

Storylines to follow:

  • Gunny on the backline or back to midfield?

  • Courtney Peterson vs Taylor Kornieck in the midfield

  • Ashlyn Harris Goalkeeper of the Year?

8. Washington Spirit

The Spirit will have a solid backline with defenders Kelley O’Hara and Emily Sonnett supporting goalkeeper Audrey Bledsoe, but with both O’Hara and Sonnett expected to be out during the Olympics the Spirit have quite some work to do to have a deeper bench on defense. However, longtime vets Tori Huster and Andi Sullivan have a great leadership of the team and should be able to create an impressive comradery. But newcomer Trinity Rodman may be the most impressive player on the Spirit today. If the next generation of the Spirit is built around her, they will be fighting for a championship soon.

Storylines to follow:

  • Trinity Rodman ROY?

  • Who fills in for Sonnett and O’Hara?

  • How does Head Coach Richie Burke stay consistent throughout the season?

9. Racing Louisville FC

The newest addition to the league has impressive talent in their first season. The potential additions of Tobin Heath and Christen Press, should they return to the NWSL, could create a powerhouse in Louisville. However, this season Head Coach Christy Holly will have to focus on building a culture and style for the Louisville team. Cece Kizer, Savannah McCaskill, and Yuki Nagasota have the ability to take this team to a high level, but they may need a couple of years to get all the pieces in place.

Storylines to follow:

  • Can breakout star Cece Kizer keep her momentum

  • What is their identity?

  • Tobin Heath, Christen Press debut?

10. Kansas City FC

The newly moved Kansas City FC has a lot of work to do to be able to compete with the top teams. Forward Amy Rodriquez provides impressive scoring ability but beyond her, there does not appear to be much depth for this Kansas City team. There are dynamic players such as Kristen Edmonds, Rachel Corsie, and Lo’eau LaBonta that can provide a boost to the team, but without the bench presence, the team will struggle. As they undergo a rebuild in a new market this season will be more of a learning year than a championship-winning year.

Storylines to follow:

  • Can they leave the tribulations of Salt Lake behind?

  • After sitting out the Challenge Cup what impact can Darian Jenkins make?

  • What impact can new Head Coach Huw Williams make on the club?

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