2023 NWSL championship preview
⬅️ The road to the Championship
Six of the league’s 12 teams earned a berth to the three-round, single elimination postseason. The top-seeded San Diego Wave and No. 2 Portland Thorns secured first-round byes as the two best regular season teams, leaving the remaining four squads to duke it out in the quarter-finals.
- Round one included some shockers. No. 4 OL Reign eked out a winner with minutes to spare to take down No. 5 Angel City FC 1–0, while No. 6 Gotham overpowered a Kerolin-less No. 3 North Carolina Courage 2–0.
The semifinals were also chock full of upsets after Gotham forward Katie Stengel nailed a massive extra time goal to escape with a stormy 1–0 win over the reigning champion Thorns, extending captain Ali Krieger’s career in the process.
- Meanwhile, at a shoddy-looking Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego, Reign forward Veronica Latsko scored her second goal in as many games, locking in the Reign’s 1–0 win and spoiling the Wave’s chance at a home championship match.
That leaves us with two. Gotham will make its championship debut against the Reign, who were runners up in 2014 and 2015.
- These squads are 1-1 in their regular season head-to-head, so tonight’s only guarantee is that a first-time NWSL Champion will be crowned. Hear ye, hear ye.
👑 OL Reign
The history: Always the bridesmaid, never the bride; OL Reign has won three NWSL Shields for finishing atop the regular-season standings but, as mentioned, has never walked away with the most coveted trophy in the league.
- Of note, the Reign were on the cusp of missing the playoffs entirely, but after a dominant Decision Day performance featuring two Rapinoe goals, the kids from Seattle clinched a playoff spot on the last day of the season.
Players to watch: After struggling with a leg injury since April, midfielder Rose Lavelle is returning to form. Lavelle notched her first playoff assist in the semis, locking her in as the Reign’s ultimate play-maker, alongside Canadian national team star and fellow midfielder Quinn.
- And then there’s Pinoe, a founding member of the Reign and one of the most decorated women in the international game, eager to retire with her first (and only) NWSL Championship.
- Age and injury be damned, Pinoe is still a crucial player for Seattle, going all 90 minutes in their semis win. Light work.
Keys to success: Reign utilizes a high press, keeping almost all their players, including their defenders, in their opponent’s half to constantly apply attacking pressure.
- With Lavelle controlling the pace, and defensive midfielder Emily Sonnett behind her for ball recovery, the missing piece of the puzzle appears to be quality shots, perhaps best evidenced by the squad’s accidental goal in the semis. All’s well that ends well.
🦇 NJ/NY Gotham FC
The history: Gotham finished last in the league in 2022, losing a record 12 straight games. Desperate for change, the Bats hired 2023 Coach of the Year Juan Carlos Amorós and acquired forward Lynn Williams from the Kansas City Current.
- Fast forward to 2023, and now three Gotham stars — Williams, Krieger, and Rookie of the Year Jenna Nighswonger — were named to the NWSL Best XI First and Second Team. The ultimate turnaround.
Players to watch: Williams, a dangerously fast forward, led the league in shots this year, and is one half of a potent offensive force with midfielder Yazmeen Ryan, who’s on a late-season scoring tear.
- As for Krieger, the 39-year-old will leave the game playing some of her best football. A finalist for Defender of the Year, Krieger is still one of the strongest centerbacks in the league and will likely go toe-to-toe with her bestie Pinoe today. Sparks will fly.
Keys to success: With Krieger and Nighswonger holding it down, Gotham’s defense is among the NWSL’s toughest, stymying opponents from creating quality shots while remaining offensively-minded.
- But much like the Reign, the Bats’ offense has struggled to put shots on net at times, something Williams and Ryan will be tasked with remedying today. Tick tock.
📺 How to watch
You don’t have to wait long to catch the big game. Players will take to the field at 8 p.m. ET, with the action airing on CBS in the U.S. and on TSN2 in Canada. Saturdays are for footy.