The National Women’s Soccer League embarked on its fourth season this weekend. If you have been following the NWSL, you are awesome and we should be friends. If you haven’t been following, you totally should! Here are some important things you might wanna know.
+ This is the Orlando Pride’s first season in the NWSL, which is awesome because it hopefully means the league is sustainable and expanding. This being the fourth season is a pretty big deal considering the last professional league in the United States, Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS), folded in 2012 after its third season. Before that, there was the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA), which was formed after the United States won the 1999 World Cup. That league also folded after its third season. So, good job NWSL!
+ Teams have one to four (lookin’ at you, Portland) players who also have steady spots on the USWNT. Those players’ schedules are crazy since it’s an Olympic year, but if you have a favorite, watching them play in the NWSL is a cool way to see them shine!
+ Most of the NWSL games are streamed live on the NWSL YouTube channel for free. So, show them some love this season. Fox Sports will also be broadcasting six NWSL games this year, but the broadcasts won’t begin until September, leading up to the playoffs.
+ There are lots of openly lesbian and bisexual players in the NWSL! Here are some of the lovely gay faces you can see around the NWSL this season.
Keelin Winters, Seattle Reign
Winters is a midfielder and has been on the Reign since 2013. In 2014 and 2015, Winters captained the Reign to the team’s winningest seasons, which earned them the NWSL Shield. Winters married her girlfriend in October 2015 and their wedding looked super cute on Instagram.
Jess Fishlock, Seattle Reign
Fishlock is also a midfielder for the Reign. In fact, she and Winters make up arguably one of the best midfields in the NWSL. Last year she spoke with BBC Sport about the difficulties that come with being a high-profile gay athlete. She also works with Athlete Ally, which aims to combat homophobia and transphobia in American sports.
Megan Rapinoe, Seattle Reign
Rapinoe has been recovering from an ACL injury since December, but if her Instagram is any indicator, she’s working her tail off to get healthy. (Hopefully for the Olympics, too!) Pinoe has been on the Reign since 2013, where she plays forward. She came out before the 2012 Olympics in London and is engaged to musician Sera Cahoone.
Meleana “Mana” Shim, Portland Thorns
Shim, who is a midfielder, came out publicly in 2013, a day before the Portland Thorns entered the inaugural season of the NWSL. She actually went undrafted in the 2013 NWSL College Draft and joined the Thorns after open tryouts. She also grew up in Honolulu!
Natasha Kai, Sky Blue FC
Kai, who also grew up in Hawaii (I guess this is a thing with women’s soccer stars?), is a forward. She actually also played for Sky Blue FC when the team was part of the WPS and won the 2009 WPS Championship. She’s also known for her tattoos and has been in ESPN’s Body Issue.
Joanna Lohman, Washington Spirit
Lohman is a midfielder who has really cool hair. She also helped relaunch an organization called GO! Athletes, which aims to help high schools and colleges to embrace LGBTQ athletes. She also used to be vice president of a commercial real estate company and has said that her dream job is to be GM of Washington’s NFL team, so she seems pretty well-rounded, if you ask me.
Lianne Sanderson, Orlando Pride
Sanderson is a forward and has been signed by the NWSL’s newest team, Orlando Pride. The Lewisham, England native signed with the Arsenal youth program when she was nine years old. She also said in an NWSL Q&A that she loves interacting with fans on Twitter, so follow her if you’re into that.
Did we miss anyone? Let us know in the comments! (We know there are other players who may be LGBT, but this list only includes players who have come out publicly.) Here’s to spending the next six months watching amazingly athletic women do really cool things.