If you spent your summer falling head over heels for the United State’s Women’s National Team, first of all take a number. And second of all, you know that the post-Women’s World Cup funk is real. After a full month of getting to watch women’s soccer on TV (often multiple times a day) going back to life as it was feels like a letdown.
But as someone who’s spent most of the last 20 years fully obsessed with all forms of women’s soccer, the funk hits twice as hard. Sure, I have to steel myself for another four-year wait like everyone else—but since I also follow women’s professional soccer, I get to spend those years watching the vast majority of supporters and media coverage forget about the sport once more.
Take it from me: Women’s soccer does not begin and end with the World Cup. All of your favorite players from the USWNT—not to mention a ton of international stars—have been playing for the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) since they came back from France. If you haven’t been watching, you’ve been missing some phenomenal soccer.
How phenomenal? Well, Sam Kerr scored a hat trick in her first game back from the World Cup. In the past month and a half, I’ve also seen Christen Press nutmeg both Elizabeth Ball and Adrianna Franch, Marta (Vieira da Silva) casually toss Whitney Church in the dumpster en route to a game-winning strike, and Debinha fly halfway across the box to smash in a cross from Merritt Mathias. Oh, and there was that one time Adrianna Franch saved a goal with her face—and that’s just since the World Cup ended.
The NWSL season runs from April to October, which means that the nine teams in the league have been playing against each other hard this entire time. Here’s just a taste of the other non-World Cup magic that’s happened this season: Tobin Heath started the season off right with two different backheel goals; halfway through the tournament, Utah Royals forward Amy Rodriguez completed a preposterously good solo run by blasting in a shot from about 25 yards out. (In fact, that goal landed Amy on the short list for the FIFA Puskás Award—a prize for the most “aesthetically beautiful” goal scored that year.) Two days before the World Cup final, Kristen Hamilton scored four goals in a single game, earning her a long-overdue spot on the national squad for the Victory Tour friendlies against Portugal.
Unfortunately the NWSL—which employs more than 50 of the biggest stars from this summer’s World Cup—remains criminally underappreciated. Even die-hard USWNT fans are sometimes surprised to learn that there’s a professional league in their own backyard. But I want to change that. I’ve introduced several friends to the league, nearly all of whom had only heard about it from me—not a national TV ad campaign or a billboard or even a targeted social media blast—and I’m here to tell you that it isn’t too late to catch up. The NWSL championship isn’t until October 27th, and if you loved the World Cup, you owe it to yourself to spend the next month and a half following along and rooting hard for your new favorite team—or teams. Here’s how.
How can I support the NWSL?
First, you need a team. Most people support their hometown squad: I’ve been a Portland Thorns fan since day one because I lived there until about two years ago. But it’s pretty likely that your area won’t have a team, which means you get to choose a team based on what matters to you.
A very easy way to do this is to think about your favorite players. Love Rose Lavelle and Mallory Pugh? Congratulations, you’re a Washington Spirit fan! How about Marta, Alex Morgan, Ashlyn Harris, and Ali Krieger? Welcome to the Orlando Pride! Do you love Sam Kerr hat tricks and watching Julie Ertz absolutely steamroll over people? The Chicago Red Stars have your number. Do you miss Lindsey Horan, Tobin Heath, and Christine Sinclair on your screen? The Portland Thorns will see you now. Wondering about Megan Rapinoe? She’s out with an Achilles injury right now, but when she’s healthy, she plays for Reign FC.
But big-name stars are far from the only reason to watch. It’s all about how a team plays together, and for my money nobody’s doing that better this season than Utah Royals FC and the North Carolina Courage. This may be Utah’s second season, but they look like they’ve been together for years; the attacking combo of Christen Press and Amy Rodriguez has been especially fun to watch. As for the Courage, they’re defending league champs and have been playing like it all season. Keep an eye on Debinha, Kristen Hamilton, and Lynn Williams if you like goals. (And really, who doesn’t?)
Once you have a team, the single best way to support them is to go to games. At about $20 a pop, general admission tickets are relatively inexpensive. Best of all, the atmosphere is unbeatable. Whether you’re a veteran fan or total newbie, your fellow spectators will be thrilled to have you. Nearly every team has reportedly set attendance records in the weeks since the World Cup, so there’s never been a better time to be a part of the crowd.
I don’t have a local team—can I watch on TV?
In theory, yes, in practice…maybe. While things are kinda looking up, we have a long way to go. You’ll see what I mean the first time you try to tune in for a game.
If you’re cool with watching NWSL games on a tablet or phone, you’ve got options. Viewers in the U.S. can stream all but one NWSL game each week for free on Yahoo! Sports or the NWSL app; the other game airs on ESPN. Getting those streams onto a bigger screen is an entirely different matter. The NWSL app isn’t available on any TV-connected devices at all, while the Yahoo! Sports app is only available for Roku and Apple TV-enabled devices—so if you use a Chromecast, Fire Stick, XBox, or PlayStation to stream video, you’re boned. You can’t even Chromecast Yahoo! browser streams because they don’t own the rights; whether you cast the tab or use the Chromecast icon, the stream hangs indefinitely.
Catching a game on ESPN isn’t exactly easy either. Unlike ESPN and ESPN2, ESPNews—which airs most of the NWSL games—isn’t included with basic cable packages. Unless you have a superdeluxe sports-focused package, you can’t watch that week’s featured game. And since ESPN recently secured international streaming rights, international fans (or U.S. fans with VPNs) can no longer stream matches for free on the NWSL website. The end result is that a bare-minimum fan experience—watching games on TV every week—is anything but a given for NWSL fans.
Yes, that’s a lot of work. Here’s why you should do it anyway.
Sure it’s unfair that NWSL fans have to perform an elaborate routine to catch a game on TV. But outside of getting to a match in person, it is the single best way to support this league. Stream your team’s game every week, invite your friends over for watch parties, or pop down to a local soccer bar and ask them to put one of the ESPN games on the big TV. I’d like to promise you that next year will be better, but in women’s soccer nothing is guaranteed. I’m hopeful that in a few years we’ll look back on the Yahoo! Sports days and laugh.
Frustrating as it is to follow an intricate flowchart to see if and how you’ll watch a soccer game on TV, there is a silver lining. The underdog vibe that comes from years of fighting tooth and nail for well-deserved respect is a powerful community builder, and NWSL fans are among the most dedicated in the world.
When I watch the NWSL, I’m more than a spectator—I’m an active participant in this chapter of women’s soccer history. More than anything, that’s why I keep coming back season after season. I really hope you’ll join me.