The 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup isn’t over yet, but the 2022 NWSL regular season is upon us. While four teams still compete for the first trophy of the season, expansion club Angel City FC hosts the N.C. Courage at 10:30 p.m. ET on Friday night (live on CBSSN) to open what is sure to be an enthralling campaign. That means it’s time for some NWSL predictions.
The 2022 season will be the league’s 10th, a landmark occasion for the league after its two predecessors couldn’t last more than five years. The league welcomes two new clubs to the fold, finally giving California not one but two teams to root for and increasing the number of clubs to 12. Angel City in Los Angeles and San Diego Wave FC a little further south hope to hit the ground running and will be aided by some astute offseason moves, including signing two of the nation’s biggest stars.
In addition to bringing in two teams in the nation’s most populous state, the NWSL will hope the 2022 campaign allows women’s soccer to turn the page after a 2021 that was rocked by horrifying allegations of abuse committed by coaches across the league.
Since the 2020 season ended, nine of the 10 teams that were around in 2021 had a coach or administrator fired or resign under allegations of abuse toward players. The more damning allegations came against former N.C. Courage and Portland Thorns coach Paul Riley and Chicago Red Stars coach Rory Dames, both accused of sexual coercion/abuse. Just this week before the season began, Houston Dash coach and general manager James Clarkson, the only NWSL head coach who had been around since the start of 2020, was suspended amid the league’s investigation into abuse, once again casting a long shadow over the NWSL.
Almost every NWSL club has been embroiled in some sort of scandal in the last two years, and new commissioner Jessica Berman will hope 2022 the worst is in the past, though that may be wishful thinking. After the Courage fired Riley, they signed an openly homophobic player, once again infuriating fans and then making it worse with a failed attempt at an apology.
In better off-field news, the NWSL and the players agreed to their first ever Collective Bargaining Agreement in February, finally guaranteeing players a living wage. A day later, 2021 NWSL Rookie of the Year Trinity Rodman signed the richest deal in league history.
In major offseason transactions, Christen Press joined Angel City while Alex Morgan and Abby Dahlkemper moved to San Diego Wave, Ali Kreiger and Ashlyn Harris left Orlando for Gotham FC, Julie Ertz’s rights were sent to Angel City, though she’ll miss the 2022 season while pregnant, Lynn Williams and Sam Mewis left North Carolina for the KC Current, Jessica McDonald joined Racing Louisville’s attack and the Houston Dash for once signed an interesting player, bringing in María Sánchez from Tigres. Meanwhile, Tobin Heath is likely returning to the States soon after a couple of years abroad; Racing Louisville owns her NWSL rights, but they might work out a trade to send Heath elsewhere as they did with Christen Press last year.
A few notable players missing from the 2022 NWSL season will be Lindsey Horan (on loan to Lyon), Marta (injured), Crystal Dunn (pregnant), Tierna Davidson (injured), Lynn Williams (injured), Sarah Gorden (injured) Allie Long (pregnant) and No. 5 draft pick Mia Fishel, who decided she’d rather play in Mexico for Tigres than for Orlando. And yes, that does seem like a lot of injuries; some have suggested the Challenge Cup be amended to prevent so many preseason injuries and I would agree with those sentiments. Now might be the time to turn the Challenge Cup into the women’s version of the U.S. Open Cup, allowing teams from other divisions compete against the NWSL.
As for the action on the field, it should be an entertaining season. While two new clubs may dilute the talent pool a bit, every team will think it has a chance to make the playoffs, which will include six of the 12 clubs.
The defending champions Washington Spirit were able to keep their core together and will again be favorites. The likely challengers to Washington’s throne will be the Courage, Thorns and Reign, but don’t sleep on Gotham FC or the Current. I expect the expansion teams will start slowly, but both have enough top talent to challenge for a playoff spot. The only teams I don’t see contending for a playoff spot are the Orlando Pride and Houston Dash, the latter of whom have never made the playoffs and probably won’t until major changes are made.
How To Watch NWSL In 2022
- TV: CBS, CBSSN
- Streaming: Paramount+, Twitch
For fans wanting to watch from home, the NWSL will have two regular-season matches live on CBS, 11 more on CBSSN and 96 streamed exclusively on Paramount+ in the U.S. International viewers can watch every match live on Twitch, which will also stream 24 matches exclusively in the U.S.
Additionally, the NWSL Championship on Oct. 29 will air on CBS, with three of the remaining four playoff games shown on CBSSN. For the full 2022 NWSL TV schedule, click here.
One of the biggest games to watch out for this season is a unique showdown between Orlando and Racing Louisville at Daytona International Speedway on July 2, which will be broadcast on CBSSN.
The 2022 season will kick off in grand style with the league’s first Season Kickoff Show airing 30 minutes prior to the Angel City-Courage match at Banc of California Stadium on CBSSN. The pregame show will include Pink Carpet VIP entrance coverage, and anyone who knows NWSL knows that’s not to be missed. Additionally, Angel City is planning to unfurl the largest tifo in NWSL history, so your Friday plans should involve being in front of a TV if you can’t make it to the match in LA.
And if that’s not enough, the Challenge Cup will include two more nationally televised games. The OL Reign-Spirit game on May 4 will be on CBSSN at 8 p.m. ET while the Challenge Cup final on May 7 will be on CBS at 1 p.m. ET. The Reign were to host the Spirit but Seattle’s Lumen Field is in use for the Concacaf Champions League final that night, so the match was moved to Washington’s Audi Field.
2022 NWSL Predictions
How will the season turn out?
I have to pick the Spirit to repeat as champions. Rodman, Ashley Hatch and Ashley Sanchez make up arguably the most entertaining attacking trident in the league, while Kelley O’Hara, Emily Sonnett and Andi Sullivan provide veteran leadership and USWNT quality in defense and midfield. I know the team is fairly young up front (the average age of the Rodman-Hatch-Sanchez trio is 23) and there’s the risk of a sophomore slump, but few teams have the balance the Spirit boast.
As for the rest of my 2022 NWSL predictions, see below. Here’s to a fun season and hopefully an end to the systemic abuse of players.
2022 NWSL Predictions
- Golden Boot — Ashley Hatch, Washington Spirit
- Coach of the Year — Casey Stoney, San Diego Wave
- Rookie of the Year — Jaelin Howell, Racing Louisville
- Goalkeeper of the Year — Casey Murphy, N.C. Courage
- Defender of the Year — Emily Fox, Racing Louisville
- Most Valuable Player — Debinha, N.C. Courage
- Team most likely to have the next abuse scandal — Orlando Pride
- Team you can’t not watch — Washington Spirit
- Best regular-season game to watch — Racing Louisville vs. Orlando Pride at Daytona International Speedway, July 2
- Team with the best fashion — Gotham FC
- Team most likely to sign Tobin Heath — Angel City FC
- Challenge Cup Champion — N.C. Courage
- NWSL Shield — Washington Spirit
- Playoff Teams — Washington Spirit, N.C. Courage, Portland Thorns, OL Reign, KC Current, Gotham FC
- NWSL Champion — Washington Spirit