The National Women's Soccer League has released the opening weekend schedule as well as the home openers for each of the nine teams in the league. The league had already made the opening date, April 18th, known in advance, but we now have our first glimpse at the matches talking place that weekend.
NC Courage vs Chicago Red Stars, April 18th
The premier match up of the weekend, North Carolina Courage vs Chicago Red Stars, is a rematch of the 2020 NWSL Championship. The Courage dominated the championship for the second year in a row and beat Chicago 4 - 0. The Courage made a few small moves during the off season, including the trade that sent McCall Zerboni to Sky Blue FC to acquire the rights to Halie Mace, but otherwise this team will look nearly identical to the one that took the field in the final match last October. The Red Stars have completely reshaped their squad after losing superstar striker Sam Kerr to Chelsea in England's Women's Super League. Chicago still has Julie Ertz and Alyssa Naeher anchoring the team, but the big question is whether newly-added Rachel Hill and Kealia Ohai can provide the necessary offensive firepower to compete with the Courage.
Portland Thorns FC vs Utah Royals FC
Also on Saturday, Portland Thorns FC will play host to Utah Royals FC. Portland has been in the playoffs for the last four years, but they have struggled mightily to unseat the Courage at the top of the league. Regardless, a massive crowd should be expected in Portland. The team has the best average attendance of any women's soccer team in the world, and they are expected to pack Providence Park for the opener. While Portland has been consistently solid, Utah has failed to make the playoffs in their first two seasons of league play. They brought in forward Christen Press halfway through their first season in the league, but after a second disappointing year in 2019 they parted ways with head coach Laura Harvey. The aging Royals have not made enough moves to significantly change their standing in the league, so it will be all up to the new head coach to build a winning culture for the team.
Washington Spirit vs Reign FC
The final match on Saturday will feature the Washington Spirit vs Reign FC. Last season was a big step forward for the Spirit under new head coach Richie Burke, but the Spirit shocked NWSL followers by trading Mallory Pugh for a draft pick that would become forward Ashley Sanchez. The team still has rising-star Rose Lavelle, so there are many reasons to be hopeful if you're a Spirit fan. The Reign were partially aquired by OL Groupe over the summer, and the new owners brought in a new head coach to take over for Vlatko Andonovski. The Reign still have Megan Rapinoe on the roster, but it was widely believed that Andonovski's brilliance was keeping the team together last season and we could be viewing a match between two teams moving in opposite directions.
Orlando Pride vs Sky Blue FC
The final match of opening weekend will take place on Sunday, April 19th in Orlando, FL between the Orlando Pride and Sky Blue FC. Both teams were mostly miserable during 2019, but there were reasons to believe that Sky Blue was starting to turn a corner late in the season. Orlando, on the other hand, never looked competitive and won't have striker Alex Morgan available for at least the first month of the season. SBFC aggressively pursued positive moves during the off season by adding Zerboni and Pugh, and they are a popular pick for most improved team. Orlando, on the other hand, has done basically nothing to improve and will rely solely on head coach Marc Skinner creating a better game plan in 2020.
The leagues ninth team, the Houston Dash, will have a bye on opening weekend. Their first game will be on Saturday, April 25th when they host the North Carolina Courage.