NWSL Fall Series: New Opportunities for New Possibilities

Simone Charley races away with the ball in the Portland Thorns' 3–0 victory over the Utah Royals.
Simone Charley races away with the ball in the Portland Thorns' 3–0 victory over the Utah Royals on September 20. [Credit: Portland Thorns on Twitter]

We’re about midway through the NWSL Fall Series. Yet, spectators may still wonder how these added fixtures benefit the league’s progression.

Not too long ago, the NWSL named its Challenge Cup winners. But the month-long competition left fans wanting more. This posed the question of what it would take to continue playing late into the year.

The Fall Series has provided players with the ability to stay match fit during this unprecedented time. Training in a format that is normal has been great for these clubs. This is something that athletes have since adapted to but will not take advantage of.

Let’s Break It Down

Like the Challenge Cup, the Fall Series is a makeshift event created to continue play during 2020.

It includes 18 matches over the course of seven weeks. All nine NWSL teams are split into three pods based on region to minimize travel.

PodTeams
North EastChicago Red Stars
Washington Spirit
Sky Blue FC
SouthNorth Carolina Courage
Orlando Pride
Houston Dash
WestUtah Royals
OL Reign
Portland Thorns

The return to play protocols in place during the series come from the NWSL Medical Task Force (MTF). The MTF updated its regulations from what was installed during the Challenge Cup.

As stated by the NWSL Media Staff, the protocols “reflect the reality of home-market matches and regional travel and will influence all leagues and club actions outside the field of play.”

Like the Challenge Cup, matches can be found on CBS, CBS All Access, and Twitch.

Rookies Put to the Test

Several clubs have allowed for their players to go on loan to various foreign markets. This presents wonderful opportunities for younger players to step up to the plate.

The traditional NWSL schedule has been altered, meaning clubs still need to figure out what these rookies can do. This is the best option to plan ahead for what will be needed for the 2021 season.

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Marc Skinner, head coach of the Orlando Pride, said it best when recently interviewed by CBS Sports.

“Over these next three games, we’ll make sure that those other players who have earned their right to play will get an opportunity to play. It is a good way of experimenting and seeing who we have so that we can support our team and the rest of the players who get together as a group in the new year.”

This is the time to try something new with players and see what formations work best for each club.

Attacking flares, set pieces, and defensive strategies can be seen across the board as the clubs will be fine-tuning what is needed to bring success.

Stars Emerge

Spectators have already heard several names, new and returning players, that are making a splash for their club.

We cannot forget Sophia Smith’s debut in the Fall Series for the Portland Thorns. The NWSL number one college draft pick proved her worth, scoring a headed goal in a 3–0 victory over the Utah Royals. Washington Spirit’s Jessie Scarpa also added her name into the mix after scoring her first professional goal.

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Meanwhile, the Houston Dash are in hopes to continue their 2020 dominance. The 2020 Challenge Cup winners have made very little changes since they last took the pitch.

Of course, the rookies who made a statement during the Challenge Cup can add more minutes to their tank. The Pride have their eyes focused on making a statement in the new season.

The Orlando Pride, took the field after being absent from the pitch for more than 340 days. With Marta, Sydney Leroux, Ashlyn Harris, and Ali Krieger have Pride fans itching for a new season.

Imparting Wisdom

This Fall Series has a different feel. Veterans and rookies coming together in a capacity that will leave an impression. The experience these veterans provide is indescribable if you are a rookie.

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Yes, some ‘big names’ have opted out but many others have stuck around. Veterans that remain active can share their wisdom with those who may lack experience on a professional level. This is a fantastic way to build on the culture each club has cultivated.

One should not underestimate the energy and creativity that younger players bring into a squad. This “hunger” for playing time can be very refreshing. This creativity serves as a perfect reminder for what the love of the game can bring when all members are striving towards a common goal.

Expansion Draft on the Horizon

As mentioned, the 2021 season is fast approaching. The NWSL Fall Series creates a safe space for athletes to continue their fitness regimes. This also provides coaching staff adequate time to experiment with their squads. Most importantly, clubs will use this series as an opportunity to figure out their needs for the new year.

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With Racing Louisville FC making their debut next season, all eyes will be on the player market as the expansion draft approaches. The addition of Angel City FC in 2022 also creates a unique situation. Clubs will need to be mindful of their long term goals, as they will undergo back-to-back expansion drafts for the first time since 2014/15.

This Fall Series is a portion of what this league has done for these players during this unique time. Allowing clubs to continue to function in a safe atmosphere is important. This gives each team a space to tweak their playbooks and enjoy the beautiful game. That’s what NWSL is all about.

Now it just comes down to whether or not each club will use this opportunity to its full capacity. If not, then there will certainly be several question marks leading into the new year.

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