By Thomas Schlachter, CNN
The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) gets underway this weekend.
Earlier this year, NWSL Players Association President Tori Huster said that a “new NWSL” was beginning as she expressed optimism about the future of the sport after the league banned a number of former coaches following years of alleged systemic abuse.
It’s against that backdrop that the 11th NWSL season begins with the North Carolina Courage hosting the Kansas City Current. Having reached last season’s final, the Current will be looking to go one better this campaign after a strong offseason in terms of recruitment.
No. 1 draft pick Alyssa Thompson will also make her Angel City FC debut on opening weekend against Gotham FC. The teenager is one of the most exciting prospects in world soccer and fans will be full of anticipation for the teen’s NWSL debut.
Here is everything you need to know before the new season kicks off.
What happened last year
2022 was a huge season for the NWSL and records aplenty were smashed throughout the campaign. More than one million fans attended games over the course of the season, the first time this has ever happened in the league’s history.
The individual attendance record was also toppled when the San Diego Wave hosted Angel City in their first game at Snapdragon Stadium — with 32,000 watching the southern California teams fight for local bragging rights.
In last year’s edition, the Portland Thorns ended up being crowned 2022 NWSL winners with a 2-0 win against the Kansas City Current in the NWSL Championship game.
The supremely talented Sophia Smith opened the scoring after just four minutes, rounding the Current keeper to score in an empty net. An Addisyn Merrick own-goal then doubled the Thorns’ lead as they saw the game out and were crowned champions.
The Thorns were impressive throughout the regular season and finished second in the league table, one point behind OL Reign. Despite topping the table, the Reign were knocked out in the semifinal after a 2-0 loss against the Current.
Each team plays 22 regular season league games, which includes a home and away fixture against every other team in the NWSL.
The top six teams will then progress into the postseason. The teams which finished first and second in the league will automatically enter the NWSL semifinals with places three through six entering the final series playoffs.
The two winners of their final series playoffs advance to the semifinals and play either the team which finished first or second in the league to decide who plays in the NWSL championship game.
The Challenge Cup will also be running again this year and starts on April 19.
This cup competition splits the 12 NWSL teams into three groups of four with the winner of each group, as well as the best runner-up, going through to the semifinals.
The two finalists will then play to decide who takes home the Challenge Cup.
Players to watch
Debinha, Kansas City Current
Debinha has been a star in the league since making her NWSL debut in 2017 and the 31-year-old was the hot topic throughout NWSL free agency — before deciding to make a move to the Current.
Playing for her former team, the North Carolina Courage, the silky Brazilian has won the NWSL twice, the NWSL Shield three times, as well as winning the NWSL Challenge Cup in her final year with the Courage.
The Current will be hoping that Debinha adds the quality and experience needed to push the team over the line and secure an NWSL title.
Alyssa Thompson, Angel City FC
There is already a lot of pressure attached to being the No. 1 draft pick. This pressure is then intensified even further when you are also the first high schooler in history to be drafted to the NWSL. However, Thompson has all the skills needed to prove herself at the highest level.
The 18-year-old has already represented the USWNT at senior level and will be looking to demonstrate her incredible ability in club soccer.
Thompson has pace to burn and is able to utilize her close control while weaving in and out of opponents at an impressive rate.
Keep an eye on Thompson — you’ll miss her otherwise.
Trinity Rodman, Washington Spirit
Like Thompson, Rodman is a frightening prospect for NWSL defenders. The 20-year-old is blessed with lightning speed and is not afraid to go at her full-back on the flanks.
The forward was a key part of the Washington Spirit team that won the NWSL Championship in 2021 and Rodman will be looking to inspire the Spirit to a better finish after a disappointing 2022 campaign, finishing second-last with only three wins from 22 league games.
Ahead of the Women’s World Cup, Rodman will be looking to nail down her spot in the US starting lineup with strong performances in the league.
™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.
CNN’s David Close and Ben Church contributed to reporting.