Lifetime's Guide to the National Women's Soccer League

Complex rivalries and alliances, insanely passionate fans and major moves

The National Women’s Soccer League attracts thousands of incredibly passionate fans every year. Here’s a primer for those new to the league:

WHERE CAN I WATCH NWSL SOCCER?

You can watch the NWSL Game of the Week live on Lifetime or stream it on myLifetime.com and the Lifetime iOS and Android apps every Saturday at 4 PM ET, with the pregame kicking off at 3:30 pm ET. Every other game of the 2017 NWSL season will be available live on the go90 iOS and Android apps. In addition, international fans outside of the United States can watch the Game of the Week live and on demand via NWSLsoccer.com and the NWSL iOS app.

Each team will play 12 home games and 12 on the road, and the top four teams at the end of the season are eligible for the NWSL playoffs. You can find the full schedule here.

Here’s what you need to know to make the most of watching the NWSL this season:

Megan Oyster celebrates
The Washington Spirit celebrate a 2016 semi-final win. / Photo: Tony Quinn/isiphotos.com

WHO'S PLAYING?

The NWSL spans coast to coast. There are the 10 teams: Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars, FC Kansas City, Houston Dash, North Carolina Courage, Orlando Pride, Portland Thorns FC, Seattle Reign FC, Sky Blue FC, and Washington Spirit.

Portland Thorns FC is the reigning shield winner for having the best regular season record in 2016 and the Western New York Flash, which relocated to become the North Carolina Courage, won the 2016 NWSL Championship.

Each team roster has 18 to 20 players. Within each team, you may find U.S. national team players (the same women who represent the U.S in international competitions like the World Cup and Olympics), as well as national team players from countries such as Japan, Wales, Scotland, Mexico, Canada, France, and Brazil.

Among these players are some true superstars of the game: Amandine Henry, a defensive midfielder from the French national team who plays for the Portland Thorns; Jess Fishlock, a dynamic midfielder for Seattle Reign FC, who just played her 100th match for the Welsh national team; and Marta , a once-in-a-generation player from Brazil who will be joining the league this season as a member of the Orlando Pride.

All this mixing makes for some interesting and layered back stories: Some players are teammates in one game and competitors the next. Many NWSL team captains are opponents during the season, but teammates on the national team, for example.

Becky Sauerbrunn
Lynn Williams
Ashlyn Harris
Tobin Heath
(clockwise from top left) Becky Sauerbrunn, Lynn Williams, Tobin Heath, and Ashlyn Harris / Photos: Roy K. Miller/isiphotos.com; Wilf Thorne/isiphotos.com; Mark Howard/isiphotos.com; Tony Quinn/isiphotos.com

WHO ARE THE NAMES TO KNOW?

A few to watch this season:

Becky Sauerbrunn (top left), an Olympic gold medalist and captain of FC Kansas City. A defender, she is also co-captain of the U.S. national team.

Lynn Williams (top right), a plucky young standout for the North Carolina Courage via Pepperdine University who was the league’s most valuable player last year after overcoming a string of devastating injuries.

Tobin Heath (bottom right), a two-time Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion with the U.S. national team is the face of the Portland Thorns. Also a Tar Heel alum, midfielder Heath is revered as one of the most dynamic and versatile players in the league.

Ashlyn Harris (bottom left), the goalkeeper and captain for the Orlando Pride was a star at the University of North Carolina. She is also a goalkeeper for the U.S. national team, where she is battling for the starting spot after the departure of legendary U.S. national team goalkeeper Hope Solo.

Taylor Lytle and Denise O'Sullivan
Taylor Lytle and Denise O'Sullivan / Photo: Robyn Walsh McNeil/isiphotos.com

WHERE DO THE TEAMS PLAY?

The stadiums are about as varied as the teams and towns themselves. The Orlando Pride plays in the league’s largest arena, Orlando City Stadium, which seats 25,500. The Chicago Red Stars, who play home games at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, IL, aren’t far behind, with a capacity of 20,000. The Boston Breakers plays at Jordan Field, a stadium on Harvard University’s campus and similarly, Sky Blue FC plays at Yurcak Field, part of Rutgers University in Piscataway, NJ. Meanwhile, Washington Spirit FC’s home base, the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds, MD, also features a water park, an archery complex and miniature golf.

Dagny Brynjarsdottir and Lindsey Horan
Dagny Brynjarsdottir and Lindsey Horan / Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer/isiphotos.com

WHAT DO INSIDERS KNOW?

Like any league, each team has its own particular quirks and tradition. When you’re not watching the action on the field, look out for these symbols and people:

LOGOS TO LOVE: Across the league, hyper-local logo designs prevails. The Chicago Red Stars make a nod to their hometown’s official city seal and flag in their logo. Similarly, the North Carolina Courage’s logo has a star that represents the so-called “Research Triangle” of Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh. The Washington Spirit’s red, white and blue stars and stripes are an homage to the team being based in the nation’s capital. The Orlando Pride’s logo represents a fountain at Lake Eola Park, and Portland’s has a rose, a tribute to the city’s famed rose gardens. The Seattle Reign is both a nod to King County, where they are based, and their name serves as a pun on the soggy weather of the Northwest.

OWNERS WITH CRED: The league also brings together a unique set of owners. Olympic boxing champion Oscar de la Hoya is one of the owners of the Houston Dash. Merritt Paulson, the owner of the Portland Thorns and the men’s soccer club the Portland Timbers, is the son of Hank Paulson, the former U.S. treasury secretary. Philip D. Murphy, an owner of Sky Blue FC, formerly served as the U.S. ambassador to Germany.

BIG LEAGUE LOVE: Women’s soccer fans are among the most loyal and passionate out there. One of the largest fan squads is the Rose City Riveters, the cheering squad for the Portland Thorns. The volunteer-run organization’s name gives a nod to the city and the World War II era feminist icon, and puts an emphasis on creating elaborate banners for home games. Several NWSL fan clubs have inherited the European fan tradition of creating team-branded scarves.

Team USA celebrate after 1999 World Cup victory
Team USA after winning the 1999 World Cup / Photo: Vincent Laforet/Getty Images

WHAT'S THE HISTORY OF U.S. WOMEN’S SOCCER?

While the NWSL is new to Lifetime, women have been playing soccer for generations.

Women’s leagues existed in Europe and to a lesser extent in the U.S., during the 1930s and informally at least a century before that. U.S. participation ballooned in the 1970s with the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, which prevented institutions that receive federal dollars from discriminating on the base of sex.

That law helped fuel participation in not just soccer, but in all women’s sports, dispelling the preconceived notion that women were not interested in sports. In 1972, one in 27 girls participated in high school varsity sports. Forty years later, two in five do, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation.

For soccer, a major turning point came with the 1999 World Cup, when the U.S. defeated China, 5-4 in penalty kicks before a crowd of 90,185 in Pasadena, CA. A craze ensued, fueled by mainstream coverage of the sport and its long-overlooked stars like Mia Hamm, that some NWSL players today still credit for their inspiration in getting into the sport.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, about 381,529 girls currently play high school soccer, making it one of the most popular sports in the country, and nearly equal to the number of boys who play. The U.S. women medaled at every single Olympic and World Cup tournament from 1991 to 2015.

The NWSL was founded in 2012 as a successor to two organizations, the Women’s Professional Soccer (2007 to 2012) and the Women’s United Soccer Association (2001 to 2003).

Joanna Lohman
Joanna Lohman / Photo: Brad Smith/isiphotos.com

WHY ELSE SHOULD I WATCH?

This season will likely be one of the most nuanced and competitive in league history. Many NWSL players who were on the national team in Rio are still recovering after leaving the Olympics without a medal for the first time in a generation. And with the departure of iconic players such as Hope Solo and Abby Wambach, there’s room for new stars to emerge and receive recognition from a growing base of passionate supporters.

“I think as the league gets older, we’re getting more people into the sport who weren’t interested in it before,” Chioma Ubogagu, a forward with the Orlando Pride said. “But each year, we’re seeing growth, more and more fans, more and more star players. It’s super exciting to be a part of that.”

HOW CAN I WATCH IN PERSON?

For information about how to get tickets to see a game, visit NWSLsoccer.com/tickets.