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Alright, my friends, let’s just say it how it is. This off-season has been rough for the NWSL. I think the majority of us will agree to that. We lost a team, we had some really weird coaching shakeups (looking at you, Laura Harvey), and we still have no schedule even though it’s only a little over a month until the first match. To say things went less than ideally in the off-season is an understatement. And for some fans, this may have been a rather discouraging time. Maybe a trade didn’t go your way, maybe you lost your home club, or maybe you have been trying to plan a west coast road trip that centers around going to a Thorns game and somehow you still don’t know what weeks they are playing at home.

Whatever the reason, I get it. I empathize with you. But I also want to get excited with you. Because even despite all this crap that has been happening since October, there is still a lot to look forward to in this new season. There is a lot to get hyped about. Here are just five of those reasons:

1. Roster Shakeups = Better Rivalries

Maybe you cried when Sam Kerr went to Chicago, or when Harvey decided to end her long-time run in Seattle. Maybe you shouted out expletives when you received a text that Houston had traded yet another international player away. Or maybe you very publicly willed the Ashley Hatch trade into existence by saying on The Scouting Report podcast that she wasn’t going anywhere for at least a year.

Whatever the trade is that shocked your world, you have to admit that it is going to make a few games very interesting. Because big times trades help create even more intense rivalries. They create grudge matches. They get the fans more into the game. And all of those things create an exciting atmosphere for a fan, player, or coach. Come on Seattle, you know you want to pulverize Utah at your first meeting. Chicago, I know you are looking to come back at North Carolina for your semi-finals loss with your newly-formed attacking arsenal that includes a touch more Australian magic. Those games are going to be great—regardless of whether the trade went your way.

2. The New Team Making Big Moves

No matter which club you support, you probably have a pretty strong opinion about the Utah Royals. Everyone feels a certain kind of way about them, whether it is good or bad.

They came into the league in a big way, with a big announcement—one that was a little premature, considering they didn’t even have a team name. But they had a big name coach. And then they made some big-time trades. And then all of a sudden, Utah Royals FC were a force to be reckoned with, playing in a world-class stadium, and asking no one for permission or forgiveness for their abrupt entry into the women’s soccer world. It’s moves like that which cause everyone to sit up and take notice. It causes all of us to want to tune in, whether it is to see them excel, or to root for their demise. No matter what, they are something to look forward to, and that is something that no one can deny.

3. Young Washington

There are a lot of people who, only a few months ago, made the accusation that the Washington Spirit had no game plan. People said that they didn’t know what they were doing. Well, look at ’em now! Washington played the long game with some young players: drafting hometown hero Andi Sullivan, and then fighting for their shot to get Rose Lavelle in the Breakers dispersal draft. That’s on top of Mallory Pugh, Ashley Hatch, and Taylor Smith.

So yeah…I’m thinking Washington definitely has a game plan now. And maybe that game plan won’t be perfected this season, but there is something about this team that definitely has the same sort of flair that the Baby Bombers gave to Yankees fans last season. It’s hope, and excitement, and a damn good touch on the ball. Mark your calendars for their matches (when the schedule is released)—they are not a team you are going to want to miss.

4. The Prodigal Daughter Returns

On January 19th a three-team blockbuster trade deal sent Carli Lloyd back to her home state of New Jersey. Lots of people had lots of different feelings about it. And I have to say that I was quite skeptical about how this trade benefited Sky Blue. But Becca Kimble, one of my Scouting Report co-hosts, pointed out to me that Carli Lloyd of Sky Blue is in no way the Carli Lloyd of Houston. And she is absolutely correct.

Last season, Lloyd spent the majority of her time either injured or playing for Manchester City (not that I can blame her—that team is insanely talented). But that made it difficult for a fan, or herself, to get too pumped about her time in the NWSL. When the trade happened, though, she was the Carli Lloyd that everyone always wants her to be: happy, excited, and pumped to play the game. She is back in Jersey working in the community and giving keynote speeches to youth athletes. She was one of the only top-tier players to take to social media to welcome her new teammates from the former Breakers roster.

And to top it all off, she is insanely proud that she gets to play for her home crowd again. She is practically shouting it from the rooftops, and that is something that every Sky Blue fans should get excited about it. Everyone else should get excited because when Carli Lloyd is happy, working hard, and playing well… well, she’s Carli Lloyd. I don’t have to explain that to you.

5. We Get To Start Earlier

I think the only reason I have not written a strongly worded letter to the NWSL about the schedule not being released is the fact that we get to start watching the beautiful game three weeks earlier than last season. And that is definitely something that we should get excited about. Because despite all of the bush league-style things that have happened this off-season—the unfortunate last-minute folding of Boston, the poorly-timed movement of FC Kansas City to Utah, or the atrociously-explained situation where Harvey and Vlatko just switched rosters—the bad juju that has been written all over this off-season will come to a close a little sooner than expected.

And I don’t know about you guys, but for me, there is nothing as agonizing as the long wait in between the final whistle of a championship and the first whistle to start the season. I’ve had the W-League to tide me over, but it just isn’t the same. Especially when we still have so many questions looming around us—questions like, “When are Portland’s home games this season, so I can plan this road trip? What was that job Laura Harvey took with USSF? And who in the hell is the NWSL Commissioner?”

Some answers we may never know. What we do know: the wait is almost over. So buy some new swag and get your go90 and Lifetime accounts ready to go—games are only a little more than a month away!

In closing, I’ll say this: Sometimes it is extremely difficult to be a women’s soccer fan. Crazy things happen that would be unimaginable in other leagues. There is an instability that can permanently keep us on edge. And the hunger to achieve an equal playing field can seem extremely daunting.

But despite these facts, there is still a lot to be excited about. There is Alex Morgan on the pitch, and Vera Pauw on the sidelines, and a perfectly crossed Carson Pickett ball into the box—those things that put a smile on our faces and command us to keep watching. To keep cheering. And to keep fighting to make this league better.

These are still early times for this league. There are still some things that will happen in the future to irritate us or make us angry. But with all of that, comes all of those things that excite us too. And the 2018 season will be no different. It will get us to stand from our seats. And it will undoubtedly make us cheer. So get hyped, my friends! 2018 is the NWSL is going to be a good one.

Image courtesy of Leanne Keator