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How Alex Morgan, Wave rose to the occasion against Red Stars

(Orlando Ramirez/USA TODAY Sports)

On Sunday evening, late into the night on all coasts, the San Diego Wave made more history. After becoming the first expansion club in league history to make the NWSL playoffs in their inaugural season, the Wave did one better, defeating the Chicago Red Stars 2-1 in extra time to book their ticket to a semifinal date with the Portland Thorns.

The Wave came into the match with an element of uncertainty, as the injury bug had appeared to strike at the exactly wrong time. Katie Johnson and Abby Dahlkemper were ruled out of the match due to injury, and Taylor Kornieck and Alex Morgan were listed as questionable in the weeks leading up to the match.

This meant that San Diego was likely going to have to rely on its other star asset: Casey Stoney, the team’s manager. The Wave’s tactical flexibility has been an undercurrent of their success in their first year, despite a reputation for “route one” soccer. Stoney and Co. showcased their full-team discipline to defend in their regular season finale, a 0-0 draw against the North Carolina Courage.

That performance hinted at what a game might look like if Morgan and Kornieck were unavailable, after the U.S. women’s national team players suffered injuries late in the regular season. As it turned out, the concerns were unfounded (despite slight gamesmanship from Stoney as to the severity of their injuries.) Morgan and Kornieck both started on Sunday and were critical to the Wave’s execution on offense.

Chicago came out in a high press, generating turnovers and disrupting San Diego’s ability to move the ball forward. One such moment of pressure gave the Red Stars an unexpected early lead. San Diego goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan, who has been excellent in long-ball distribution this year, made an uncharacteristic mistake in the 10th minute, spilling the ball at the top of the box to the feet of Yuki Nagasato. Before anyone else could react, Nagasato calmly chipped the keeper to put Chicago ahead 1-0.

Sheridan’s mistake was the kind that can make or break a playoff game as competitive as this one. The Red Stars seized the momentum for the rest of the first half, combining well through their newly healthy midfield box formation and cutting through the center of the pitch with ease. San Diego’s defense, though, held firm, doing just enough to keep Mallory Pugh from getting a lethal shot off or Nagasato from pouncing on another mistake.

The Wave also held their own on the wings despite struggling with the Red Stars’ on-ball dribbling talent. Chicago did well to advance continuously into San Diego’s 18-yard-box without resistance, and yet at the half, the Wave were down only 1-0. As the first half wore on, San Diego also began to get separation on set pieces, with the 6-foot-1 Kornieck proving nearly impossible to mark in the air time and time again.

After halftime, San Diego tapped into depth, tactics and some old-fashioned belief to get back into the game. The downside of an aggressive press, like the one the Red Stars started the game with, is that you pay the price with your legs later in the match, and Chicago began to wear down in the second half. Stoney subbed in Sofia Jakobsson, who started to get acres of space along the left wing. It was Jakobsson’s run down the sideline that led to the game’s equalizer, with midfielder Emily van Egmond scoring her first NWSL goal of the season. The Wave also began pressuring the Red Stars’ center-backs and defensive midfielders, affecting their ability to control the tempo as they had in the first half.

It’s true that San Diego relied on a direct style of play that can be criticized as predictable, but it’s also true that it’s an exhausting style to try to defend. As Naomi Girma continued to send in probing long passes, and Morgan put her body on the line to reach the ends of those passes, the Red Stars began to run out of gas in a footrace they were trying to avoid.

In extra time, the Red Stars left a substitute unused, and a number of starters began to struggle with cramping and lack of pace. San Diego also brought on Amirah Ali for a waning Kornieck, and control of the match began to tip in the Wave’s favor.

Which brought all roads back to Morgan, the 2022 Golden Boot winner who showed some of the qualities that make her such a special player in big games. Fans know Morgan as a player who can streak into space and get in behind a defense. But on Sunday, Morgan played the role she perfected in the 2019 World Cup, which is to sit in the trenches and open up attacking lanes just enough to make a difference.

The goal in the 110th minute came off a corner kick. Morgan’s patience on the ball in the moment allowed her just enough space to slip the shot underneath goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher and end Chicago’s season.

Morgan didn’t look 100 percent on Sunday, but she changed her game to bolster her effectiveness; and as she went, so her team followed. The Wave aren’t always ready with an immediate Plan B when they’re put on their heels, but you don’t make it this far in the NWSL season without a little bit of luck and effort, buying yourself enough time to adjust.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

Barcelona to Face Lyon in Champions League Rematch This Weekend

UEFA Women's Champions League Final"Barcelona FC - Olympique Lyonnais"
Saturday's game will be the third UWCL final meeting for Barcelona and Lyon, having previously gone up against each other in 2019 and 2022. (ANP via Getty Images)

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off in Bilbao on Saturday, with a couple of familiar foes set to face off for the trophy.

Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, making its 11th final appearance since 2010, will go head to head with a Barcelona side making its fourth final appearance in a row.

This will be the third time these two teams meet in the UWCL title game, having previously appeared in the 2019 and 2022 finals. Lyon won both of those prior games against Barcelona, alongside a total of eight Champions League trophies. That’s double that of any other club, with Eintracht Frankfurt coming in a distant second with four. 

Should Barcelona win, this would be the team's third title — breaking a tie for the third in the UWCL total titles race. 

But as these teams return to the UWCL final, it also marks the end of an era for both clubs. The game will be the last for both club managers, as Barcelona’s Jonatan Giráldez and Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor depart for new jobs after the season's end.

Giráldez is set to leave for the NWSL's Washington Spirit, while Bompastor will take over for incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes at Chelsea. Both coaches have earned one UWCL trophy during their tenures, while Bompastor also brought two Champions League trophies to Lyon as a player. She was the first coach to win a UWCL trophy as both a coach and player.

This season, Barcelona is looking for its first quadruple, having won a fifth Liga F title alongside the Copa de La Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. 

"We hope he can go out with the four trophies because we know how competitive and ambitious he is," Barcelona midfielder Patri Guijarro told ESPN. "It has been a winning era with him in charge and for him to go out with all four trophies would be historic and incredible."

But Lyon's Damaris Egurrola is excited about her team's chances of overcoming Barcelona once again — and to do it in front of family and friends.

"Lyon have something special," she told Forbes ahead of the weekend's final. "We have a great team and we have the players with enough talent to win any match."

The game will be a homecoming for Egurrola, who began her professional career with Athletic Bilbao.

"I’ve been thinking of this day and night," she said. "I’ve been dreaming of playing this match. Having the opportunity to play in San Mames is amazing. This is where it all started for me."

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off Saturday, May 25th at 12 PM ET and is free to stream on DAZN.

World No. 1 Iga Swiatek Headlines a Stacked 2024 French Open

Iga Swiatek serves against Coco Gauff during the group stage of the 2023 WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico
Iga Swiatek serves against Coco Gauff during the group stage of the 2023 WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico. (Robert Prange/Getty Images)

The 2024 French Open starts on Sunday, with a match schedule that promises to wrap the short clay court season up in style.

Looking for her fourth title at the major is three-time Roland Garros champion and World No. 1 Iga Swiatek, considered the favorite to win the whole Slam. Three of her four major titles have come at the French tournament. 

Swiatek's career record at the French Open is a dominating 28-2, and she's currently on a 16-game winning streak fueled by victories at tune-up tournaments in Madrid and Rome.

But that doesn't mean she won't face some serious challengers along the way. Get to know some of the Polish tennis champ's strongest competitors.

Aryna Sabalenka

Sabalenka is ranked No. 2 in the world and faced Swiatek in the finals at both Madrid and Rome. She lost in three sets in Madrid, which included a close third-set tiebreak, before losing in straight sets at the Italian Open. 

She enters the French Open having won the Australian Open in January, successfully defending her title in the first Slam of the season. At last year’s French Open, Sabalenka reached the semifinals — a career best — before being ousted by Karolina Muchová in three sets.

Season record: 25-7

Coco Gauff

Currently sitting at No. 3 in the world, the highest-ranked American on the schedule is none other than Coco Gauff. Gauff won her first major at the US Open last year, and reached the semifinals of this year’s Australian Open. She faced Swiatek in the semifinals of the Italian Open last week, losing in straight sets. 

But her first major final came at the French Open in 2022, before being ousted by Swiatek in the quarterfinals at last year’s French Open. The two are on a crash course for a meeting before the finals, as Gauff anchors the other quadrant on Swiatek’s side of the draw, should they both advance deep into the competition.

Season record: 25-8

Chicago Sky Upset New York to End Liberty’s Unbeaten Streak

chicago sky's angel reese on the court against new york liberty
Angel Reese registered a near double-double against a strong Liberty side. (Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Liberty’s unbeaten streak came to an end on Thursday as Angel Reese and the Chicago Sky got the upset win over New York with a final score of 90-81. 

Angel Reese stood out with a near double-double, registering 13 points and nine rebounds. She’s currently the only rookie this season to exceed 10 points in her first three games, and the first player in Sky history to begin their career with three consecutive double-digit scoring games, per ESPN Stats & Info.

The outcome may not have come as a surprise to Liberty stars Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones, who sung Reese’s praises ahead of the game.

"She’s a workhorse," Stewart told The Post. "She doesn’t stop. She’s tough, she’s strong, she’s tough to box out and good at cleaning up for her team offensively and defensively."

"I feel like she’s an energizer bunny," Jones added. "She doesn’t stop moving, she doesn’t stop crashing the boards. Just someone that is gonna be relentless in her approach to getting to the glass and playing tough."

It was the first time Chicago has met New York this season. The game was especially meaningful for new Chicago head coach Teresa Weatherspoon, who led the Liberty for seven years as a player and joined the team's Ring of Honor in 2011.

"This place means a lot to me... I played in that jersey, I adored that jersey, I adored every player that I had an opportunity to play with. The love that I received even today was overwhelming," Weatherspoon reflected after the game.

Following the win, Sky guard Dana Evans had some kind words for her coach.

"I mean, it's just special. She's special," Evans said. "She just breeds confidence in each and every one of us. We love her. We just wanted to go so hard and play hard for her, and I feel like this one was really for her. We really wanted this for her more than anything."

Thursday's victory brings Chicago's record to 2-1, a somewhat unlikely feat given that their offseason featured starter Kahleah Copper getting traded to Phoenix. The Connecticut Sun are now the only undefeated team left in the league this season, and will formidable foes for the Sky as they take their winning streak on the road to Chicago this weekend.

New USWNT Coach Emma Hayes Embracing the Challenge

United States Women's Head Coach Emma Hayes
The ex-Chelsea skipper has officially arrived in the US — now it's time to get down to business. (USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Emma Hayes has officially begun her tenure as USWNT manager ahead of the team’s June friendlies.

Hayes made the rounds on Thursday, appearing on the Today Show and speaking with select media about her goals and underlying principles with the team. It’s a quick turnaround for the decorated coach, who just won the WSL with Chelsea last weekend.

One thing that she won’t do, however, is shy away from the high expectations that come with managing the US. The squad is looking to reinstate its winning reputation at the Paris Olympics this summer following a disappointing World Cup in 2023. 

"I know the challenge ahead of me. There is no denying there is a gap between the US and the rest of the world," she told ESPN. "We have to acknowledge that winning at the highest level isn't what it was 10 years ago. It's a completely different landscape. And my focus is going to be on getting the performances required to play at a high level against the very best nations in the world."

While Hayes was formally hired six months ago to lead the USWNT, her deal stipulated that she remain with Chelsea through the conclusion of their season. In her stead, Twila Kilgore has led the team, with the coach "drip feeding subliminal messages" to the roster on Hayes’s behalf.

"It's a bit ass-upwards," Hayes joked to reporters. "I know about the staff, and the team, and the structure behind it. We got all of that. Now it's time, I need to be with the team."

With Olympics now just two months away, Hayes dropped hints this week regarding her thought process behind building the roster, saying there’s still time for players to make their case.

"You can't go to an Olympics with a completely inexperienced squad. We need our experienced players, but getting that composition right, that's my job between now and June 16th," she said on the Today Show.

"What I can say from my time [in the US] is, I've always loved the attitude towards performance and the expectation to give everything you've got," she later affirmed to reporters.

And as for winning gold?

"I'm never gonna tell anyone to not dream about winning," she added. "But… we have to go step by step, and focus on all the little processes that need to happen so we can perform at our best level.

"I will give it absolutely everything I've got to make sure I uphold the traditions of this team."

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