Y'all Ready for This? The NWSL is Back!

It's been so long. Sunday, October 9th gave us our last NWSL game action, complete with an extra time 2-2 draw and penalty kicks resulting in a 3-2 victory for the Western New York Flash. Who? The WNY Flash don't seem to be on the NWSL schedule today. Hmm.

If you've blinked, or perhaps been distracted from football for some reason from, say, November until now, you may have missed some of the big changes in the league over the off season. There have been many, including two teams getting new owners.

The Western New York Flash were sold, relocated, and rechristened The North Carolina Courage. Also receiving new owners were FC Kansas City, though they've stayed home. So when the NC Courage visit the Washington Spirit today, they'll simultaneously be playing the team's first NWSL match and defending their status as 2016 NWSL Champions. Don't think about it too hard.

The league itself added an owner of sorts, with A+E Networks taking a stake in the league and investing heavily in a TV broadcast package on Lifetime Network. Each week, Lifetime will air one Game of the Week (GotW), mostly from the venues some NWSL teams share with MLS teams. The Boston Breakers, Washington Spirit and FC Kansas City won't have a home game on the GotW unless the scheduled GotW is called off or postponed and one of those sites happens to be the back-up location for that week.

The GotW concept is very exciting. The familiar faces and voices of Aly Wagner and Jen Hildreth will call the games, with Dalen Cuff anchoring the team and Kate Markgraff adding her thoughts from the sideline. This week, the league announced the addition of former Houston Dash announcer and women's soccer savant Jen Cooper to the production team, which is probably the best move made by any team this offseason. Barring disaster, the broadcasts look to be a dramatic leap forward in quality and professionalism. 

It's been a bit of a slow burn getting details on how to watch games this season, other than on Lifetime. The answer leaked out earlier this week, as Verizon's Go90 app added listings for NWSL matches before the official announcement was made that they'd be the exclusive streaming platform for domestic fans. By Thursday, the news was out, and on Friday, the league launched it's own NWSL app for iOS (Android apparently coming soon).

One thing to get straight: you can no longer watch the NWSL on YouTube. Nope. You'll need to download the Go90 app. Once you're in the app, find the LIVE area and navigate to the game you want to watch, or search for NWSL. If you want to watch on a larger screen, you can "cast" the game to an AppleTV or ChromeCast or similar device on your TV, provided you're tech-savvy enough to figure that out. International fans can watch via NWSLSoccer.com.


NWSL Fantasy Football!

Did you know you can play fantasy football using NWSL players? About 1,000 fans have put up rosters ahead of the 1:30PM Eastern deadline for the week. Join and play for free at NWSL Fantasy League, and follow them on Twitter. You'll end up with a starting XI diagram like this one, which may or may not be mine this week. 

Although if Sam Kerr's shirt isn't 5 sizes too large, she's unlikely to be a factor.

Although if Sam Kerr's shirt isn't 5 sizes too large, she's unlikely to be a factor.


GAME ON!

Here's what's on tap for Week 1.

Chicago Red Stars at Houston Dash

Saturday at 2PM Eastern on Go90

Find this on your Go90 app at 2pm Eastern

Find this on your Go90 app at 2pm Eastern

Bold (Bad) Prediction:

I think both teams are improved over last year's squads, but I like Houston to surprise people with a home win to open the year.

Houston 2-1 Chicago


Orlando Pride at Portland Thorns

Saturday at 3PM Eastern on Lifetime TV

This is the front page of Lifetime's website today. Not too shabby, NWSL.

This is the front page of Lifetime's website today. Not too shabby, NWSL.

Bold (Bad) Prediction:

Portland will be without Tobin Heath, but they're still too strong. Orlando added the incomparable Marta to their squad last week, but she's still unavailable due to visa paperwork. The atmosphere at Providence Park should be a fantastic way to kick off the new NWSL season and attract new fans.

Portland 3-2 Orlando.


NC Courage at Washington Spirit

Saturday at 3PM Eastern on Go90

Find, click, watch.

Find, click, watch.

Bold (Bad) Prediction:

This is a re-match of the 2016 Championship, but these are different teams. The Spirit overhauled their roster in the offseason, and lost many of the high-impact players (other than the supremely lovable Joanna Lohman) who had led them last year. They may come together as a team and do some damage this year, but I expect they're not ready to face the fast and talented Courage at this point in the season. The Courage get their first win.

Courage 4-1 Washington


Sky Blue FC at Seattle Reign

Saturday at 10PM Eastern on Go90

This is the best way to spend your Saturday night.

This is the best way to spend your Saturday night.

Bold (Bad) Prediction:

Tough call here; I see this as a pretty even match (so it will probably be a blowout). The travel and bedtime kickoff may be enough to slow Sky Blue, but unless Jess Fishlock grabs a late winner, I think we may see the first draw of the new season. 

Sky Blue 2-2 Reign


Boston Breakers at FC Kansas City

Sunday at 6PM on Go90

So much blue, white and black. Don't get confused.

So much blue, white and black. Don't get confused.

Bold (Bad) Prediction:

The Breakers had a terrible season last year, but they did manage to beat FCKC twice. Of course, the home side will want to change that narrative and get a first win for their new owners. In the hardest (shocking, blatantly homer) decision of the week, I think the visitors put their new look offense to work and get the win, with Rosie White and Rose Lavelle causing many to ponder whether there might be a new rose city in the league.

Boston 3-1 FCKC