NWSL - Match ball

NWSL – National Women’s Soccer League

It feels like, over the last few years, women’s soccer has sprinted from the halfway line to score a hat-trick. At one point in time, broadcasters and sponsors overlooked the female game, citing that there wasn’t enough interest from fans. But in 2022, US clubs have reported commercial revenue growth of 33% , with 77% of leagues now with a title sponsor – which is 11% up from 2021.  

The funny thing is, this growth is precisely because of the interest that exists within the women’s game. Just recently, a friendly between England and the US in Wembley attracted up to 78,000 fans, with the venue selling out in just 24 hours. 

Even at the club level, the game is building. At the moment, one of the most popular football leagues in the US is the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League), with 2022 seeing a record attendance of more than 1 million fans – the first time in its history that the league has reached that milestone.

The NWSL, similarly, shows exactly what’s great about the women’s game right now. The skills on display are spectacular, the competition is fierce, and the star power of the athletes – and the legacy they are working towards – make it almost impossible not to become invested. 

So how did the NWSL get to this point, and what should you know before watching the 2023 season? Well, for anyone wanting a more detailed look at the NWSL’s meteoric rise, below is a run-through of the league’s history, as well as a detailed look at all the facts and figures that have made it such a spectacle in 2023. Starting with the 101:   

NWSL – The 101

  • The NWSL is the first-division women’s professional soccer league in the US. It consists of twelve teams: Angel City FC, Chicago Red Stars, Houston Dash, Kansas City Current, NJ/NY Gotham FC, North Carolina Courage, Orlando Pride, Portland Thorns FC, OL Reign, Racing Louisville FC, San Diego Wave FC and Washington Spirit. 
  • It is a closed league, which means there are no promotions or relegations. The 12 teams remain the same every year.
  • In a regular season, every team plays each other twice, home and away.
  • At the end of the season, the team who has the most points wins the coveted NWSL shield. 
  • A team wins points by either winning the game or drawing – three points for a win, one for a draw – as it is with the international standard.
  • The top 6 teams also advance to the league playoffs. These are a series of knockout games, with the winner recognised as the ultimate NWSL champion.

A Fiery History Of NWSL

2012

So how did all of this get started? Well, the first chapter of the NWSL’s story begins in April 2012. It was then that the US Soccer Federation announced a roundtable to discuss the possibility of a professional soccer league for women – to take over from the WPS, which began in 2007 and was itself a successor to the Women’s United Soccer Association, which ran from 2001 to 2003. Later that year, it was announced that there would be a new women’s soccer league consisting of eight teams and national team players who would be subsidised by US Soccer, the CSA and the FMF. 

2013

The first game was held in April 2013; one year after the first roundtable took place. It didn’t exactly take off immediately, however. The 2013 season saw a season attendance average of around 4,270, which was nearly 15,000 less than its counterpart, MLS. But this didn’t stop the league from expanding. Following on from the 2013 season, the addition of Houston Dash made the league become the first to reach nine teams in women’s soccer, further sparking interest across the country and particularly from MLS and USL teams. 

2016 -2020

In 2016, the league became the first women’s league in the US to play more than just three seasons. This then led to a further three teams being added to the league, each of which were spread across the United States. In 2020, the outbreak of the pandemic threatened to derail the NWSL’s progress, but instead of playing out their regular season, instead, the league placed a special competition in Salt Lake City, named the NWSL Challenge Cup. Despite having no spectators at the event, the television ratings went up even further, signifying a change in the tide that is still being felt today. 

2022 

As well as this, competitions such as the Women’s World Cup and even the Women’s Euro Championships helped to spike interest, with more and more people tuning in to watch not just in the US but around the world. In 2022, the NWSL hit a new milestone when 915,000 people tuned in to watch the Portland Thorns’ win over Kansas City Current – a 71% increase from the year before. The league attendance also averaged 15,002 fans, proving just how rapidly the league had grown since its first season back in 2013. 

2023 – Onwards

In the future, the NWSL looks set to grow even more, with an expansion announced earlier this year to add a 14th franchise to an investment group –the new club is set to play in the 2024 season. With more enthusiasm growing year-on-year, the NWSL has proved that it is not only here to stay, but it is also here to set the world alight and – perhaps one day –overtake the WSL as the biggest and best women’s football league in the world.

NWSL: DAZN Bet’s Pop Quiz

Before we let you go, we promised we would tell you what you need to know before watching the league today. Well, to give you a bit of context, below are five of the top NWSL facts to take with you into the 2023 season: 

Q: Who Is The Most Successful Team In NWSL History?

A: The most successful team in NWSL history is undoubtedly Portland Thorns FC, who have won it three times since its inauguration – in 2013, 2017 and 2022. Hot on their heels, however, are Kansas City – who won in 2014 and 2015 – and North Carolina Courage – who won in 2018 and 2019. 

Q: Has Any Team Won The Shield But Lost The Championship?

A:  Yes! This happens a lot more often than you would think. In 2013, Western New York Flash won the shield but lost in the playoffs. In 2014 and 2015, Seattle Reign FC won the shield but lost in the playoffs. In 2016 and 2021, Portland Thorns FC won the shield but lost in the playoffs. In 2017, North Carolina Courage won the shield but lost in the playoffs, and, lastly, in 2022, OL Reign won the shield but lost in the playoffs. Hey, it’s a tough ol’ league out there!

Q: Who Was The Top Scoring Player Of 2022?

A: In 2022, Alex Morgan was the top-scoring goal scorer in the championship, with 15 goals for San Diego Wave FC. Hot on her heels was Sophia Smith, who scored 14 for Portland Thorns.

Q: What Is The Fiercest Rivalry In NWSL?

A: Like any other great league, the NWSL has many fierce rivalries. One of the most fiery, however, has to be the Californian derby between Angel City FC and San Diego Waves FC. Recently, this has only been spiced up further by the clash between Alex Morgan – an established US soccer legend – and Alyssa Thompson – a new US legend in the making. In terms of the 2023 season, this is a game you simply cannot miss

Q: Who Is Most Likely To Win The 2023 NWSL Season?

A: Once again, this is almost impossible to answer – such is the fierce competition in this league. Here at DAZN Bet, however, we like to think outside of the box and take a few risks. For this reason, we’re going for… Angel City FC as the biggest dark horse! They have a number of fantastic players, not least a young prospect in Alyssa Thompson, and they will certainly have the hunger to make a mark and state their claim. Failing this, we’ll go for Portland Thorns FC. They’re good. Very good. But we’ll all have to tune in to find out!