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How to follow your USWNT favorites in NWSL

You don’t have to wait four years, the World Cup winners all play for pro club teams.

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The United States Women’s National Soccer Team has won the World Cup, and now sadness descends upon its new fans. WHY DO WE HAVE TO WAIT FOUR YEARS TO SEE THIS AGAIN?

Well, you don’t! In addition to their national team duties, all 23 USWNT players ply their trade in the National Women’s Soccer League, which runs April-October. Every team still has at least half its season left to play, and USWNT players will be back on the field for their clubs on the July 20 weekend.

If you’re completely new to the league and have no idea how to watch games or pick a team, we can help.

How do I follow the NWSL?

The league just signed a broadcast deal with ESPN, with 14 games appearing on ESPN2 and ESPNNews for the rest of the season. Here’s the TV schedule.

All of the other games are streamed on Yahoo! Sports in the United States. You can watch on their website on your computer, or on the Yahoo! app on other devices. Internationally, all games are streaming directly on the NWSL website.

SB Nation’s women’s soccer community All For XI has constant women’s soccer coverage, while each team is covered by its local SB Nation blog. Eight of them should be obvious, while Atlanta’s blog picks up Courage coverage.

Here’s what you need to know about each team, in order of the current standings.

1. Reign FC

USWNT players: Megan Rapinoe, Allie Long

International star: Jessica Fishlock

Potential future USWNT player: Darian Jenkins

Injuries and international duty have prevented the Tacoma, WA-based Reign from fielding a full roster in most games this season, and yet, they’re in first place. Head coach Vlatko Andonovski has two league titles and is one of the best in the league. Rapinoe and Long were both among the best players at their position last season, and the Reign will expect to make the playoffs with them back in the lineup.

Unfortunately, star midfielder Fishlock suffered a serious injury last game and will be unavailable for the rest of the season, but you’ll still get to see plenty of her in the future if you’re in for the long haul. 24-year-old winger Darian Jenkins has also been plagued by injury, but she’s still extremely fast when fit and still has the highest ceiling of Seattle’s non-national team players.

2. North Carolina Courage

USWNT players: Abby Dahlkemper, Crystal Dunn, Sam Mewis, Jessica McDonald

International star: Debinha

Potential future USWNT player: Lynn Williams

The Raleigh-Durham-based Courage are known for their fast, physical, high pressure style. They’re usually not pretty, but they run teams off the field and score a lot of late goals after wearing opponents down.

Three of the USWNT’s key starters play for the reigning champions, joined by super-sub Jessica McDonald and defensive midfielder McCall Zerboni, who was among the roster’s final cuts. Dunn actually plays attacking midfield, not left back, for her club.

Williams hasn’t meshed with Jill Ellis, but she’s been one of the best players in NWSL for four straight years, so she definitely has a potential route back to the national team.

3. Portland Thorns FC

USWNT players: Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, Adrianna Franch, Emily Sonnett

International star: Christine Sinclair

Potential future USWNT player: Emily Menges

The league’s attendance leaders were also the 2018 champs and 2019 runners-up. With top-notch facilities and an owner that’s willing to spend, the Thorns are likely to compete for the championship every year for the foreseeable future.

Horan appears to be Ellis’ fourth midfielder at the moment, but she was clearly the best midfielder in NWSL last season, and coach Mark Parsons thinks she’ll be the best in the world in no time.

Sinclair is a legend of the sport, while Menges has quietly established herself as one of NWSL’s best defenders. If there’s a post-victory tour camp where some new players get a look, she should be one of them.

4. Washington Spirit

USWNT players: Rose Lavelle, Mallory Pugh

International star: Chloe Logarzo

Potential future USWNT player: Andi Sullivan

After years of boring, plodding soccer, the Spirit — actually in Boyds, Maryland, not particularly close to Washington — are playing fast and fun again. They’ll be even more entertaining when they add Lavelle and Pugh, two of the best dribblers in the league.

Australian star Logarzo has fit in well with the team, while Sullivan has taken up a leadership role in her second season as a pro. The Spirit’s 23-year-old captain was arguably the final cut from the USWNT and is expected to be a fixture on the squad for the next decade.

5. Utah Royals FC

USWNT players: Becky Sauerbrunn, Christen Press, Kelley O’Hara

International star: Vero Boquete

Potential future USWNT player: Abby Smith

The two physical bullies of the USWNT defense are a perfect fit on one of NWSL’s toughest and most physical teams. The Utah defense has been very good without them, and should be in contention for best in the league when O’Hara and Sauerbrunn return. Up top, Press has struck up a great partnership with former USWNT striker Amy Rodriguez, and should score a lot of goals between now and the end of the season.

Boquete has been a great addition for a team that struggled for creativity last year. The Spanish playmaker combined beautifully with Press in the games they played together.

With coach Laura Harvey’s dislike of young players from the college system, this team has fewer future USWNT prospects than any other. But 25-year-old goalkeeper Abby Smith is still one of the highest ceiling talents in the pool, and could become a future national team keeper if she ever gets the chance.

6. Chicago Red Stars

USWNT players: Julie Ertz, Alyssa Naeher, Tierna Davidson, Morgan Brian

International star: Sam Kerr

Potential future USWNT player: Savannah McCaskill

How this team hasn’t won a playoff game remains a mystery. Besides Kerr, the reigning MVP, and the three national team stars on this roster, Chicago has more fringe national team talent than any other team. Danielle Colaprico, Casey Short, Vanessa DiBernardo, and Arin Wright could all do a job for the USWNT without the team skipping a beat.

Kerr returned from the World Cup with an immediate hat trick, so she’s probably well on her way to another MVP award. She’s aided by McCaskill, who was just traded to Chicago from Sky Blue FC. McCaskill is just 22 and already has a few national team caps under her belt. Her only issue is that she’s not quite a full-time forward or midfielder, and it’s unclear where Ellis sees her future.

7. Houston Dash

USWNT players: None

International star: Rachel Daly

Potential future USWNT player: Jane Campbell

At one point, all of Campbell, Sofia Huerta and Kealia Ohai looked like they’d be national team fixtures. All were cut for some reason or another, and the latter two don’t look like they have much of a road back to the USWNT. Campbell is just 24, though, and performing well in goal. Expect her to take Ashlyn Harris’ place shortly.

Despite not losing any star players to the USWNT, the Dash are winless in their last six games. Ohai and Huerta have hit their worst form at the time they should have been dominating. I cannot tell you in good conscience to support this team if you do not live in the Houston area.

8. Orlando Pride

USWNT players: Alex Morgan, Ashlyn Harris, Ali Krieger

International star: Marta

Potential future USWNT player: Carson Pickett

Oh boy, has this team been a disaster. Morgan was among the worst performing strikers in the league last season, which should honestly be impossible to pull off even if you’re trying to sabotage her on purpose. The defense was one of the worst too, even with Harris, Krieger, Australian international Alanna Kennedy and Canadian international Shelina Zadorsky.

But Orlando’s actually won two of its last three and is starting to look more competent in new coach Marc Skinner’s attack-minded, quick passing 4-3-3 system. Marta arrived back from Brazil duty looking refreshed, rather than tired. And Scottish attacker Claire Emslie should add some punch to the attack when she arrives.

Pickett, a decent left back, is a stretch as a future national team pick. She’s had some extreme ups and downs in her career so far. But despite the lack of young American talent, this does appear to be a team on the ascendency.

9. Sky Blue FC

USWNT players: Carli Lloyd

International star: Nahomi Kawasumi

Potential future USWNT player: Imani Dorsey

You may know this New Brunswick, New Jersey-based team from its scandals involving players training at a facility without bathrooms and being forced to live with total weirdos. Ownership has found better training facilities, better housing, and fired former general manager Tony Novo. But players still want out, culminating in McCaskill’s trade to Chicago a couple of weeks ago.

The team fired head coach Denise Reddy ahead of their last game and bizarrely has not named an interim manager. Sky Blue actually won last weekend with its three remaining coaches reportedly splitting managerial duties, though no one could ask who was actually in charge since all of them skipped out on media duty.

But ... Carli Lloyd! She’s still there! She’s fun! So is young forward Imani Dorsey. Go see them play!

Bad live soccer is better than good soccer on TV, so if you can support a team that you’re able to see in person, do that. But if you don’t have a local team, here’s a quick guide.

Who to root for if you’re ...

A glory hunter: Portland Thorns. The Courage are the reigning champs, but only because coach Paul Riley has successfully established a cult. The Thorns will be good forever.

Looking for a high-potential team that’s not great yet: Utah Royals. Owner Dell Loy Hansen is serious about building the best women’s club in the world and Press is the perfect superstar for them to build around.

Wiling to support an underdog: Sky Blue FC. Are things actually getting better in Jersey? It’s hard to tell. But no one can accuse you of front-running if you pick them before they’re purchased by City Football Group and turned into a juggernaut.