On Saturday, March 24, the National Women’s Soccer League kicks off its sixth season. Following the successful launch of a new partnership with Lifetime last year, 2018 brings the introduction of a new team and is highlighted by a slew of young U.S. Women’s National Team players looking to make their marks on the league.
Here are five things to know about this upcoming season:
Welcome, Utah Royals FC
With the continued investment by U.S. Soccer and the league’s owners, the NWSL continues to establish itself as the best and most competitive women’s league in the world.
In 2018, the NWSL welcomes a new market into the league with the addition of Utah Royals FC, the NWSL side owned by Real Salt Lake of Major League Soccer. The addition brings the total number of clubs to nine – four associated with MLS organizations – for the 2018 season after original member Boston Breakers ceased operations in January and FC Kansas City ceased operations late last year, with its roster being transferred to Utah.
That meant that Utah will have the services of U.S. WNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Amy Rodriguez, who both won two NWSL titles with FCKC, and goalkeeper Abby Smith, picked up in the Dispersal Draft from the Breakers. The Royals also acquired WNT veteran Kelley O’Hara through a trade with Sky Blue FC.
The National Women’s Soccer League’s nine teams are: the Chicago Red Stars, Houston Dash, North Carolina Courage, Orlando Pride, Portland Thorns FC, Seattle Reign FC, Sky Blue FC, Utah Royals FC and Washington Spirit.
Big Names Move Clubs
Earlier this year, several U.S. WNT players were involved in trades. The Washington Spirit, which also took U.S. WNT midfielder Andi Sullivan as the number one pick in the 2018 NWSL College Draft, acquired Taylor Smith and 2017 NWSL Rookie of the Year Ashley Hatch from North Carolina, and with the top pick in the Dispersal Draft, took midfielder Rose Lavelle. The four players will now join Mallory Pugh to make up a sensational core of young players ready to carry the Spirit forward after a last place finish last season.
In exchange for their two players, the Courage acquired the rights to former league MVP Crystal Dunn from the Spirit. Dunn has returned to the U.S. following a year-long stint in England with Chelsea Ladies.
Sky Blue FC acquired home state hero Carli Lloyd from Houston and traded Kelley O’Hara to Utah, while Allie Long was traded to the Seattle Reign from the reigning NWSL champions Portland Thorns. Long had been with Portland for five seasons where she scored 30 goals and recorded 13 assists while helping the club to two NWSL title. The Dash acquired the rights to Christen Press in January.
Andi Goes #1, Savannah #2
On Thursday, January 18, 2018, a new chapter began in the lives of U.S. WNT midfielder Andi Sullivan and midfielder/forward Savannah McCaskill when their names were called at the top of the 2018 NWSL College Draft in Philadelphia.
The 22-year-old Sullivan, who led Stanford University to the 2017 NCAA title, became the fifth consecutive No. 1 overall pick to be drafted while concurrently participating in a WNT’s January Camp. The Lorton, Virginia native was taken by her home area Washington Spirit. Sullivan follows in the footsteps of former NWSL No. 1 picks and USA teammates – Crystal Dunn (2014), Morgan Brian (2015), Emily Sonnett (2016) and Rose Lavelle (2017).
The Stanford product is coming off a phenomenal senior year for the Cardinal, after which she won the MAC Hermann Trophy, awarded to the top college player in the country.
McCaskill, who has earned her first four caps with the senior team in 2018, became the No. 2 selection after a stellar senior year at South Carolina, where she scored eight goals with nine assists in 2017 and led the Gamecocks to their first NCAA College Cup appearance in school history.
A strong and powerful attacker, McCaskill, was an All-American and MAC Hermann Trophy finalist in 2017 while at South Carolina. She was originally drafted by the Boston Breakers but after the team ceased operations, she was taken by Sky Blue FC with the 2nd pick in the Dispersal Draft.
NWSL on Lifetime
After a successful launch in 2017, the NWSL and Lifetime continue their partnership in 2018 with a game being broadcast on television every weekend of the season. The NWSL and A+E Networks entered the historic partnership on Feb. 2, 2017, making Lifetime an official sponsor and broadcast partner of the league in a three-year deal. The strategic investment was accompanied by the creation of a new joint venture, NWSL Media, which acts as the media and commercial arm of the league. In addition, it manages all digital assets for the NWSL including NWSLSoccer.com.
Fans across the country can watch the NWSL Game of the Week on Lifetime every Saturday with a pre-game show starting 30 minutes prior to each broadcast. The NWSL will play a 24-game regular-season schedule, with each team playing 12 home and 12 away games.
The complete 2018 NWSL Schedule can be found here: http://www.nwslsoccer.com/schedule
NWSL fans can also enjoy games this season by watching livestreams of matches on the go90 app and website in the U.S., while international fans will be able to watch all of the games on the NWSL app and NWSLsoccer.com.
Championship Rematch Kicks Off ’18 Season on Lifetime
In a rematch of last year’s championship game, the NWSL Shield Winners North Carolina Courage will welcome the NWSL Champion Portland Thorns to Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park on Saturday, March 24 to kick off the 2018 season. The Lifetime Game of the Week will air at 3:30 p.m. ET.