Countdown to 2024: Looking Back, Looking Ahead
With the new year underway and preseason training beginning this week, it’s time to start looking ahead to the 2024 NWSL season. The weekly Countdown to 2024 series will break down everything fans need to know when the league kicks off on March 16.
For the first installment, we look back at an exciting 2023 and review all the changes to the competition for the upcoming year.
First, let’s review Angel City’s sophomore season. 2023 saw the club earn the best record in the NWSL over the second half of the season, a run of form that enabled the team to reach the playoffs for the first time in their history.
2023 began with a number of new signings, starting with the NWSL Draft in January. Angel City used their No. 1 overall pick to select Los Angeles native Alyssa Thompson, a highly touted 18-year-old who had already earned two caps with the senior US Women’s National Team. Thompson would make an immediate impact for ACFC, scoring just 11 minutes into her regular-season debut in the team’s home opener against NJ/NY Gotham FC. The club also selected goalkeeper Angelina Anderson in the draft.
Other new signings in 2023 included Mexican internationals Katie Johnson and Scarlett Camberos, French international Amandine Henry, and two-time NWSL champion Elizabeth Eddy. Also noteworthy was the return of defender Sarah Gorden, who had suffered a season-ending injury before the 2022 season and was available to play for the first time in 2023.
On the field, 2023 got off to a rocky start, with Angel City earning a 2–3–6 (W–L–D) record over their first 11 games, including a 0–2 loss at home to rival San Diego Wave FC. Following a five-game winless streak between May 13 and June 10, the club parted ways with Head Coach Freya Coombe, appointing then-assistant Becki Tweed as interim manager.
In their first game under Tweed, the team stole three points back from San Diego on the road in a 2–1 win. The result marked the start of an eight-game regular-season undefeated streak (the team also got results in all three of their remaining games in the UKG Challenge Cup). Defensively, ACFC conceded just eight goals in that run while scoring 17. In terms of both points and goal differential, Angel City was the best team in the league during that period.
A tight table—even by the hyper-competitive standards of the NWSL—meant the playoff race came down to the last game of the season for multiple teams, including Angel City. The team faced a daunting test in that match against the top-ranked Portland Thorns—which they passed with flying colors, earning a 5–1 rout, their highest-scoring game and biggest win of all time. The win punched ACFC’s ticket to the 2023 playoffs, sending them to Seattle to play fourth-place OL Reign.
Although Angel City was eliminated after a disappointing 0–1 loss to the Reign, 2023 still marked a major milestone in club history.
Following the team’s remarkable run of form over the back half of the season, Tweed was named full-time head coach in November.
An Evolving Competition
The NWSL has grown and contracted and grown again repeatedly in its 11-year history. Having started with just eight teams in 2013, the league will have almost doubled in size as 2024 kicks off with 14 clubs, including expansion teams Bay FC and Utah Royals.
Expansion brings a number of changes. For one, Bay FC, as the third California team in the NWSL, means an instant new rival for ACFC and the Wave. Like Angel City, Bay has deep ties to the history of American women’s soccer, as USWNT veterans Brandi Chastain, Leslie Osborne, Danielle Slaton, and Aly Wagner are all founding members of the club’s ownership group.
The addition of the Royals is significant because this is the second iteration of the Utah-based club, with the first having moved to Kansas City and rebranded as the Current in 2020, after just two full years in the league. The club also has US Soccer bona fides, with USWNT legend Amy Rodriguez leading their coaching staff.
For the league as a whole, expansion means a longer schedule, a more exciting competition, and more opportunities for players to shine, as the new clubs both draw new talent to the league and provide chances for players who might not have been starters at other NWSL clubs.
A longer table also means a new playoff format, with eight teams instead of six now making the postseason. That means all eight teams will play a quarterfinal, instead of the 2022–23 format where the top two teams had a bye in the first round. We already have dates for the playoffs: the quarterfinal round will be November 9–10, and the semis will be November 16–17. The championship match will be on November 23.
Goodbye Challenge Cup, Hello International Intra-Season Tournament
Another major change for the upcoming season is a major overhaul of the Challenge Cup: rather than a midweek cup competition happening concurrently with the regular season, this year’s iteration will be a single game between defending NWSL Champion NJ/NY Gotham FC and defending Shield winners San Diego Wave FC, taking place March 15, the day before the regular season kicks off.
The regular season will take a long break—July 8–August 18—for the Paris 2024 Olympics. Starting the weekend of July 19–21, however, a new tournament will feature all 14 NWSL teams plus some international clubs. More details on that competition will be announced at a later date.