Thu. Feb 22nd, 2024

The 2024 NWSL preseason is officially underway and clubs are still announcing trades and new signings in what’s been a busy offseason with another double expansion and multiple head coaching vacancies filled with international experience. The league is set to kick off the 2024 regular season on March 16 and fans can watch select matches across CBS Sports platforms including CBS, Paramount+, CBS Sports Network and CBS Sports Golazo Network.

As teams hunker down and prepare for the upcoming season, let’s grade the offseason for each team:

Angel City FC

The franchise handled its first order of business early in the offseason when they promoted Becki Tweed from interim to permanent head coach. Tweed took over midseason in 2023 and helped the squad make their first-ever playoff appearance. They were able to re-sign multiple free agents including midfielder Madison Hammond and ironwoman centerback Sarah Gorden but lost out on forward Savannah McCaskill to rivals San Diego. Still, they were unable to land another top target in another free agency period. 

Revamped deals for Clarisse Le Bihan and Megan Reid as well as an exercised option for Jun Endo are key moves to keep even more chemistry. The club is also keeping an eye toward the future with a pair of young signings via the league’s Under-18 mechanism, signing Casey Phair and Gisele Thompson — younger sister of Angel City 2023 No. 1 draft pick Alyssa Thompson. Picking up a bonafide experienced NWSL midfielder with Costa Rican international Rocky Rodriguez will only help the squad in 2024.

That’s a lot of interesting pieces together for the squad that may have a deeper playoff run if they can avoid another underperformance in the first half of the season. 

Grade: B

Bay FC

Can’t sugarcoat it, I was expecting more from the expansion side that was making so much noise around the money and investment they were putting behind the club. They went with a local hire for their inaugural head coach and named Albertin Montoya to the role, touting his ties to the Bay Area youth talent pool. It’ll be his first attempt at running the show after NWSL stints as an interim head coach and assistant. 

A couple of solid signings with free agent defenders Caprice Dydasco and Kayla Sharples but lost out on other marquee players. Instead, they’ve utilized the expansion draft and NWSL Draft to build out their roster.  While most clubs target the NWSL Draft for depth players, with the exception of first rounders who tend to see pro minutes, looks like Bay are banking on their draft class to produce quickly. 

Some non-roster invitee additions to their preseason roster have brought some presently surprised reactions to familiar names with Tegan McGracy and Caitlin Cosme, as well as players with previous NWSL ties in Chioma Ubogagu and Bri Visalli. 

Grade: C

Chicago Red Stars

The early phase of their offseason was bleak but the Red Stars closed out the year with a massive head coach hire in Lorne Donaldson and rang in 2024 with a flurry of moves. New ownership led by MLB Chicago Cubs co-owner and WNBA Chicago Sky minority investor Laura Ricketts had a challenge in front of them with the franchise leading the free agency list with nine eligible players. 

In the new ownership’s first offseason, they did lose several long-term franchise players to free agency but added key players in midfielder Shea Groom and defender Natalia Kuikka. The Red Stars also made a league-record contract with Mallory Swanson, keeping the top free agent through 2028 in a deal reportedly worth $2 million.

The club is in absolute rebuild mode, but maybe the roster will finally have some fun along the way and make the season more difficult for other teams instead of themselves.

Grade: B-

Houston Dash

The Dash set off the free agency period when they re-signed Maria Sanchez to a record three-year deal reportedly worth $1.5 million. It was a significant move for the club to essentially crown Sanchez as the face of the franchise, and understandably so, the winger has often been the creative force behind the attack for Houston the last two seasons. They also made a trade with Kansas City to bring back CeCe Kizer to the franchise after drafting her in 2019.

Now it’ll just be about making sure the pieces on the roster can click together, along with newly acquired Belle Bride and Yuki Nagasato. It’s unclear how the midfield will operate moving forward and how they play in 2024. The club went back to Europe to find their fifth franchise head coach and hired Fran Alonso from Celtic FC. The Spanish manager has been with the Scottish club since 2019 and the Dash might finally have a coach with some longevity in the role. 

Grade: B-

Kansas City Current

The franchise welcomed the return of head coach Vlatko Andonovski to his adopted hometown. He previously coached the now-folded FC Kansas City to two NWSL Championships before coaching Seattle Reign in 2018 and then getting the job to lead the U.S. women’s national team.

Whether or not he’ll have the roster play in his preferred 4-3-3 is still to be determined, but the club has plenty of key rostered players and has added a few new signings along the way to offer hints. They signed Brazilian international Bia Zaneratto and Malawian forward Temwa Chawinga. They also welcomed Claire Hutton via the league’s under-18 mechanism. Canadian international Nichelle Prince now joins the team after the Current traded away Kizer.

Despite some of the new player acquisitions, the club is also getting a reputation for trades that have left players “shocked” or unasked for. Departures of Kizer and Alex Loera, along with the 2023 draft day blockbuster trade of Lynn Williams, were moves that players themselves were vocal about in social media farewells to their former club, and with two offseasons of similar moves now, there are mixed public perceptions on how the Current navigates player movement. 

Grade: C-

North Carolina Courage

Losing Kerolin late last season to an ACL injury was a blow to the Courage’s postseason hopes, but it also presented the question of how’d they use the offseason to boost their attack. Free agent fullback Emily Fox also signed overseas with Arsenal and the franchise looked to the free agency market and league trades to address holes on the pitch. 

They made headlines with a draft day trade to acquire midfielder Ashley Sanchez and signed German international defender Felicitas Rauch. Solid free agency pickups in midfielder Dani Weatherholt and Canadian international fullback Bianca St. Georges. Head coach Sean Nahas already has the blueprint for any new members on his team to slot in and the new additions to the Courage will thrive in their possession emphasis style. 

Grade: A

NJ/NY Gotham FC

The reigning NWSL Champions already had a target on their back and their quadruple free agency slam dunk has only made that bullseye brighter. Gotham’s executives helped make headlines when they signed four of the top ten free agents this offseason in Crystal Dunn, Rose Lavelle, Tierna Davidson and Emily Sonnett. Branded as their incoming “Class of 2024,” each free agent signed three-year deals through 2026.

It’s enough to make you forget that the team said farewell to multiple pieces of their NWSL Championship roster through other trades or to the free agency market. They also celebrated the retirement of former USWNT defender Ali Krieger and mutually parted ways with Kristie Mewis who left for England’s Women’s Super League to play with West Ham United. 

Still, much of the title-winning team is back in action for another run toward the postseason, and head coach Juan Carlos Amoros somehow has even more pieces to facilitate his organized chaos. 

Grade: A+

Orlando Pride

Head coach Seb Hines and his coaching staff have even more pieces to build off missed playoff chances. The club narrowly missed out on the 2023 postseason on goal differential (-1) and looks primed for another season of promise. Vice president of soccer operations and general manager Haley Carter has built off her previous offseason, solidifying the backline with extensions to defenders Emily Madril and Kylie Strom.

The club has been affectionately dubbed Orlando De Janeiro now that they’ve signed free agent Angelina and fellow Brazilian international Luana. Their inclusion means the roster is now home to five Brazilian internationals. For NWSL experience in the midfield, the club also acquired Morgan Gautrat, and if she’s healthy this season, can be a game-changer for the middle third. 

But it’s the emphasis on growing a young core that’s most impressive this offseason. Adding 20-year-old Swedish international Evelina Duljan is likely part of that equation moving forward. 

Grade: B+

Portland Thorns FC

Offseason departures include Dunn and Kuikka via free agency but the club also traded Rocky Rodriguez, Emily Menges and Hannah Betfort. The bleeding has briefly stopped with one-year deals with Megan Klingenberg, Becky Sauerbrunn and Christine Sinclaire, who re-signed via free agency. More importantly, they renegotiated a three-deal with Japanese international Hina Suigita and recently acquired 21-year-old Danish defender Isabella Obaze.

A new ownership group in place, RAJ Sports, will mean new resources and ideas but that can also signal a brief reset. The roster still has a young core of players in place to build around with midfielders Sam Coffey and U.S. Soccer’s 2023 Best Young Female Player of the Year winner Olivia Moultrie. Recent reports are saying Canadian international Jesse Flemming is expected to sign. 

Grade: C+

Racing Lousiville FC

The franchise is still looking for its first playoff appearance since it entered the league as an expansion franchise in 2021. Three consecutive bottom-half-of-the-table finishes haven’t quite given Louisville a foundation to build off of, but that could finally change this year with the offseason they put together. 

Appointing Bev Yanez as head coach was step one — the former NWSL pro knows what it’s like to compete for NWSL titles and has won them whenever playing overseas. She’s been on the sidelines as an NWSL assistant coach during Gotham’s playoff run in 2021 and with Racing since 2022. Now she’s building out her roster to get Racing closer to the finish line. 

They signed international players Yuuka Kurosaki (Japan), Elexa Bahr (Colombia), Milly Clegg (New Zealand), and Linda Motlhalo (South Africa). They also traded for NWSL experience with moves for Arin Wright, Taylor (neé Kornieck) Flint, and Ellie Jean. If Yanez can continue to develop their first-round draft pick, top forward prospect Reilyn Turner, Louisville could turn heads this season.

Grade: A-

San Diego Wave FC

The club gave new contracts to Amriah Ali, Makenzy Doniak, Christen Westphal and Emily Van Egmond to keep a significant chunk of their 2023 NWSL Sheild winning roster together. The biggest new contract could be the deal issued to manager Casey Stoney. The head coach was brought on ahead of the Wave’s 2022 inaugural season and will now remain till 2027 with a mutual option for 2028.

They also added forward Elyse Bennet via trade and signed McCaskill to add even more threatening options to their attack. The franchise has knocked on the door of the NWSL Championship final two consecutive years since their inaugural season, but will their offseason moves be enough to finally break through?

Grade: A-

Seattle Reign FC

Losing not one or two but three of your high-profile players would normally sound some alarms, but even with Megan Rapinoe’s retirement and free agent departures of Sonnett and Lavelle, the Reign are coming back in 2024 with much of their playoff roster intact. Still, the departures of Bennett, Alyssa Malonson and Sam Hiatt also mean the Reign’s depth may have taken a hit heading into 2024.

A new contract for Bethany Balcer keeps her as the main target in the Reign’s attack through 2025, and returning deals for Tziarra King and Nikki Stanton keep roster familiarity moving forward. Head coach Laura Newly acquired Ji So-Yun, a South Korean international, who will provide extra connectivity to the midfield after Lavelle’s departure. 

Grade: C+

Utah Royals FC

The expansion franchise truly stayed local when it came to building out a roster. Luckily there have been plenty of former BYU players and Utah natives who have NWSL experience over the years and the Royals did their part in bringing several of them home including Michele Vasconcelos and Mikayla Cluff. 

Adding Imani Dorsey and Ifeoma Onumanu from Gotham FC will bring some championship experience, and internationals Agnes Nyberg (Sweden) and Dana Foederer (Netherlands) are prospects that head coach Amy Rodriguez will want to see develop alongside some draftees, including No.1 overall pick Ally Sentnor. 

Grade: B-

Washington Spirit

The club signed FC Barcelona manager Jonatan Giraldez as their next head coach, but he won’t be on the sideline till June. In the meantime, they’ve named his assistant Adrian Gonzalez as interim, and the duo will be responsible for making the Spirit’s offseason moves click. 

General manager Mark Krikorian signed his former FSU player and USWNT defender Casey Krueger and forward Brittany Ratcliffe via free agency before turning his sights toward the draft. They made draft day trades moving Sanchez and Sam Staab for additional first-round selections. Croix Bethune (Georgia), Hal Hershfelt (Clemson), and Makenna Morris (Clemson) were each selected in the first round. 

Grade: B-

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