The National Women's Soccer League kicks off this weekend for what's likely to be a strange season.

On the one hand, the World Cup this summer should focus attention on women's soccer, which in the past has led to a post-tournament bump in NWSL interest and attendance. But it also will give the NWSL a distinctly minor league feel as the league's best players from across the globe ditch the league for France and their respective national teams. The league also begins the year without a national TV contract, though all games will be streamed on Yahoo! Sports.

For once, there have been no franchise changes in the offseason, though Sky Blue FC has teetered on the brink of making things unworkable in New Jersey for more than a year.

On the field the North Carolina Courage, which dominated the league for two seasons, will be trying to repeat as both Shield and playoff champion. While it's impossible to predict which team will be hurt most by World Cup departures, the Courage has a solid enough squad to remain the favorite. Portland and Seattle (the latter now known simply as Reign FC, after a forced move to Tacoma) have been a rung below the Courage during that time. Utah might have the best chance of last year's non-playoff teams of joining the top four.

Short takes

• A team from MLS won't win it, but the final of the CONCACAF Champions League should be appointment viewing all the same, as it will match up crosstown rivals Monterrey and Tigres. The two squads from Monterrey, in northern Mexico, have been bitter rivals for decades. But only Monterrey, with three consecutive titles from 2011 to 2013, has earned continental glory. Tigres, meanwhile, has lost two CCL finals and a Copa Libertadores final since 2015. Is this finally Tigres' year? The two-legged final begins April 23.

• Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie returned to training for their Bundesliga clubs this week, great news for fans of the U.S. men's national team. Both young stars were hurt during the last round of international matches at the end of March. The injuries left many fearing their club seasons were over, not to mention their chances of playing in the Gold Cup this summer.


Premier League: Manchester City at Crystal Palace, 8 a.m. Sunday, NBCSN. City hasn't dropped too many points in its quest for five trophies this season, with 22 victories in its past 24 games in all competitions. But one of its four losses this year was at home against Crystal Palace. City slipped up midweek, losing to Tottenham in the Champions League; is the team's overstuffed schedule beginning to become a strain?

Writer Jon Marthaler gives you a recap of recent events and previews the week ahead.