The top scorer in World Cup history plays in Orlando. So does the American icon known for her tea-sipping celebration (and for being an overall badass). The Golden Boot and Golden Ball winner plays in Seattle.
Just because the Women’s World Cup ended doesn’t mean there isn’t more women’s soccer to watch. The National Women’s Soccer League season is in full swing.
And now the stars are coming back.
Fresh off their fourth Women’s World Cup title, the U.S. women’s national team members returned home to a ticker-tape parade down the Canyon of Heroes in New York and to a hero’s welcome at the ESPYS.
What’s next? They’ll keep playing.
Players such as Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Rose Lavelle have become household names thanks to big World Cup performances. But all 23 USWNT players compete in the NWSL.
In fact, 58 NWSL players made World Cup rosters this summer. That includes international stars like Marta (Orlando Pride), Christine Sinclair (Portland Thorns FC) and Sam Kerr (Chicago Red Stars).
Here’s a guide so you can locate the World Cup players and their respective NWSL teams (and perhaps pick a favorite team if you haven’t already).
Chicago Red Stars: Julie Ertz (USA), Alyssa Naeher (USA), Tierna Davidson (USA), Morgan Brian (USA), Sam Kerr (Australia)
Houston Dash: Clare Polkinghorne (Australia), Lindsay Agnew (Canada), Allysha Chapman (Canada), Nichelle Prince (Canada), Sophie Schmidt (Canada), Rachel Daly (England)
North Carolina Courage: Abby Dahlkemper (USA), Crystal Dunn (USA), Samantha Mewis (USA), Jessica McDonald (USA), Debinha (Brazil), Stephanie Labbé (Canada), Abby Erceg (New Zealand)
Orlando Pride: Ashlyn Harris (USA), Ali Krieger (USA), Alex Morgan (USA), Camila (Brazil), Marta (Brazil), Shelina Zadorsky (Canada), Claire Emslie (Scotland)
Portland Thorns FC: Adrianna Franch (USA), Tobin Heath (USA), Lindsey Horan (USA), Emily Sonnett (USA), Ellie Carpenter (Australia), Caitlin Foord (Australia), Hayley Raso (Australia), Andressinha (Brazil), Christine Sinclair (Canada)
Reign FC: Allie Long (USA), Megan Rapinoe (USA), Steph Catley (Australia), Elise Kellond-Knight (Australia), Lydia Williams (Australia), Jodie Taylor (England), Rumi Utsugi (Japan), Celia Jiménez Delgado (Spain)
Sky Blue FC: Carli Lloyd (USA), Estelle Johnson (Cameroon), Kailen Sheridan (Canada)
Utah Royals FC: Kelley O’Hara (USA), Christen Press (USA), Becky Sauerbrunn (USA), Desiree Scott (Canada), Katie Bowen (New Zealand), Rachel Corsie (Scotland)
Washington Spirit: Rose Lavelle (USA), Mallory Pugh (USA), Amy Harrison (Australia), Chloe Logarzo (Australia), Cheyna Matthews (Jamaica)
How to watch
The USWNT brought a record audience to the table. For example, Sunday’s Women’s World Cup final averaged 14.27 million viewers on Fox, which is 22% more than last year’s men’s World Cup final (11.44 million).
Can the NWSL capitalize on the USWNT’s momentum?
The NWSL and ESPN announced an agreement that would televise 11 regular-season games and all three playoff games for the remainder of the year, beginning with Sunday’s Orlando Pride-Portland Thorns matchup (ESPNews, 3 p.m. ET). It’s a game that pits Alex Morgan, Ali Krieger and Marta against Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan and Christine Sinclair.
Reminder! Our new TV schedule starts on July 14.@ESPN will broadcast 14 games on ESPNEWS and ESPN2, beginning with #PORvORL on July 14. Every game of the #NWSLPlayoffs and the #NWSLChampionship will be on ESPN2.
Full ? schedule, details: https://t.co/ikZEObOLLR pic.twitter.com/JGgS0FwysS
— NWSL (@NWSL) July 6, 2019
Prior to the season, games could only be streamed online.
“I was pretty annoyed that we didn’t have a deal at the beginning of the year, and it almost felt like we were going backwards,” Horan said. “So, I think this should have come a while ago, but I am very happy that it did.”
And the morning of the World Cup final, Budweiser announced it signed a multiyear sponsorship deal with the NWSL. It will have naming rights to the playoffs, the championship and the MVP trophy, and the company will work with players in a sports business training program in the offseason.
When they made the announcement, their ad featured the hashtag #WontStopWatching.
What’s next for the U.S. women’s national team?
The USWNT’s victory tour begins Aug. 3 with a matchup against Ireland at the Rose Bowl. There are four more dates on the schedule (Aug. 29, Sept. 3, Oct. 3, Oct. 6), with opponents and venues yet to be determined.
Of course, the team the U.S. puts together could look very different from the Starting XI it used in France.
Check out the best of two time World Cup winner Alex Morgan’s Orlando Pride career, and catch the NWSL on ESPN starting July 14.
Rapinoe and Lavelle, who both scored in the 2-0 final win over the Netherlands, had been dealing with hamstring injuries. And while none of the players have said they are looking to retire, the U.S. has a core group of players all 30 or older, including Rapinoe, Morgan, Lloyd, O’Hara, Heath and Sauerbrunn.
Plus, coach Jill Ellis’ contract expires at the end of the month, and she told the Los Angeles Times she wasn’t sure if she would accept an option to return.
“I can’t even think about that right now,” she told the Times on Monday.
And who knows how long their actual celebrations will last? (Ashlyn Harris, please never stop posting Instagram stories.)
The NWSL race
Maybe the U.S. players take some time to acclimate to their club teams before they make their NWSL returns. Then again, maybe they don’t need as much of a break.
After Australia’s early exit in the World Cup, Sam Kerr returned to Chicago and scored a hat trick in her first game back. Marta has three goals in two games with Orlando since making her NWSL return. (She was held scoreless in her first six games prior to the World Cup.)
The Pride certainly hope getting Morgan, Krieger and Harris back will boost their play and help them in the standings. They sit in eighth place with eight points, 10 behind the Washington Spirit for the fourth and final playoff spot. They have been outscored 27-12 this season but are 2-1-1 in their last four games.
Meanwhile, the Reign, who were winless in their first four games, sit atop the standings with 20 points thanks to a seven-game unbeaten stretch. Soon they’ll get Rapinoe and Long back.
Relive World Cup Golden Boot winner Megan Rapinoe’s best moments in the NWSL for Reign FC.
And just in time, too. The Reign just lost Jess Fishlock, who was tied for the team lead with three goals, with a torn ACL. But the Reign have won with defense early on.
Defender Lauren Barnes has played all 990 minutes, while Megan Oyster and Theresa Nielsen have also appeared in all 11 of Seattle’s games. With them and goalkeepers Casey Murphy, Michelle Betos and Lydia Williams, the Reign have allowed just nine goals, second fewest in the league.
The North Carolina Courage and Portland Thorns FC both trail by one point, while the Spirit have a one-point advantage over Utah Royals FC for fourth place.
There’s still around half of the 24-game season to play, and all 23 USWNT players will make an impact one way or another in how the rest of the league shapes up.
“I think the excitement is so much more now, and hopefully we can ride that wave,” Rapinoe said.
Just make sure you’re watching.
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