Cookie Consent by Free Privacy Policy Generator Skip to content

NWSL tier rankings: Let’s go 2024

Gotham FC is back on top but the Seattle Reign still look like potential contenders.

Last Updated
6 min read
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s note: This is the first of what will be a regularly occurring column that takes a wider view of the NWSL.

The 12th season of the NWSL will kick off this weekend. After a “Challenge Cup” match that will serve as American soccer’s version of the Community Shield/SuperCup on Friday, the games will begin in earnest on Saturday.

There’s a new media rights deal which means the league no longer has to beg a fly-by-night streamer to air games, but it comes with the added wrinkle of games being spread across a plethora of platforms. Still, unless you’re a Paramount+ diehard, it’s probably easier to happen upon some NWSL games than it ever has been, and hopefully that leads to a larger audience for some of the best players in the world.

To get ready for the campaign ahead, let’s assess the teams before a competitive ball has been kicked, and rank them by tiers:

Champs until they're not

Gotham FC

The last 15 months for Gotham FC have been nothing short of remarkable. Going from roadkill in 2022, to retooling and paying over the odds on some players to try and get competitive again, they not only completed the uphill climb but ended up NWSL champs last season. How do they follow that? With the single most impressive free-agent class in the short history of such things, landing Crystal Dunn, Tierna Davidson, Rose Lavelle and Emily Sonnett. They’re so stacked the word on the street is “How will they keep everyone happy?” That’s fair, but it’s a nice problem to have, and Gotham will likely be contenders again throughout 2024.

Not far behind

San Diego Wave FC

The Wave won the NWSL Shield in 2023 and predictably succumbed to the “curse” of the regular season title in the playoffs. Still, Casey Stoney may be the best coach in the league, she has superstars young and old to work with, and they’ll have a hunger to get the job done. Injuries have been an issue at times, but if this team can stay healthy, they can be a juggernaut.

NWSL analysis: Each team’s most exciting offseason move ahead of the 2024 campaign
It’s time to get excited about these offseason moves.

Contender class

North Carolina Courage

Portland Thorns

Seattle Reign FC

These are teams with definite question marks but the capacity to win a trophy and everyone says “Oh, of course” in hindsight. The Courage will be without Kerolin for a good chunk of the season as she comes back from an ACL tear, and while the goalscoring by committee plan worked last year, it can be tough to keep up consistently. Meanwhile, the Thorns are always in with a shot with Sophia Smith on the field, but they kind of need someone else to legit step up to help shoulder the burden of carrying the team, whether that will be Olivia Moultrie, Morgan Weaver or newcomer Jessie Fleming.

The Reign are probably the most enigmatic of the possible contenders. They have the midline talent probably in better shape than just about any team in the league, but losing Lavelle, Sonnett, Megan Rapinoe (yes, a part-time player in Seattle, but she could still do a job and win a game or two!) and even defender Sam Hiatt could really dull some edges for the team. If Ji So-yun takes off stateside, maybe this is all forgotten, but this is a tough call coming into the season.

Is this their year?

Angel City FC

Orlando Pride

These are two teams that look improved but have yet to ever fully put it all together. Angel City leveled up with Becki Tweed as head coach and have a truly absurdly deep striker room, although at any given time a bunch of them are injured so you can understand why they decided to sign so many dang forwards. The midfield is a question heading into the season, however, so we’ll see. The Pride, meanwhile, have been building slowly for the past couple years and this may finally, finally be their time. They have methodically built a good roster, and just added Zambian sniper Barbra Banda. The Pride could very well be appointment viewing this season.

NWSL stock up, stock down: Is each team better or worse than in 2023?
With the regular season kicking off next month, we’re taking stock of all 14 teams across the NWSL.

Let’s see what we’re working with

Houston Dash

Kansas City Current

Racing Louisville

Washington Spirit

First off, it wouldn't shock me if Kansas City move up a tier or two in short order. If Vlatko Andonovski can wash the USWNT stink off quickly and become a top NWSL coach again, then a team with a good mix of youth and experience, moving into a brand new stadium, could have a big rebound year. But they have their own stink of 2023 to wash off first.

Houston are a stunningly consistent “meh” team, so we’ll see if new coach Fran Alonso and some newcomers can raise their level anywhere beyond sometimes pretty good. The same goes for Racing, who have made some truly terrible soccer decisions to start their history and yet hit on several successfully anyway, and new head coach Bev Yanez actually knows how the NWSL works.

I almost put the Spirit down a tier but realized it was mostly in reaction to trading away both Ashley Sanchez and Sam Staab, two of their five best players. I still don't understand those deals, which make the team demonstrably worse, but they still have a pretty good spine and one expects that some reinforcements will be brought in this summer along with incoming head coach Jonatan Giraldez.

Show me what you've got

Chicago Red Stars

If Mal Swanson stays healthy and wins some games, she could be league MVP this year, and adding Staab, perhaps the most underrated player in the league, will help the defense a lot. Beyond that, hope lies in new coach Lorne Donaldson and hopefully some fresh blood. They may be starting from a low ebb, but there's reason for some optimism heading into the campaign for Chicago.

For real, show me what you’ve got

Bay FC

Utah Royals

The expansion teams start from the bottom for obvious reasons. It looks like Northern California outfit Bay FC will be opting for a lot of goals, with star imports Asisat Oshoala, Racheal Kundananji and Deyna Castellanos leading the way. The defense actually looks pretty good on paper, while the questions look to be in midfield. The rebooted Royals, meanwhile, are going heavy on NWSL experience under new head coach Amy Rodriguez. Which approach will work better in 2024? Will either or both teams find success out of the gates? We'll just have to watch the games to see.

The five most intriguing foreign transfers of the NWSL offseason: Oshoala to Bay FC & more
NWSL teams have been shopping in some creative places this offseason.

Alicia Rodriguez has been covering the NWSL the past several years and is currently working on a book about the North Carolina Courage. You can follow her @soccermusings on the major social media platforms.