After an illustrious career for both club and country, Gotham FC and U.S. Women’s National Team defender Kelley O’Hara announced today via Kelley on the Street that she will be retiring from professional soccer at the end of this year, making the 2024 NWSL season her last.

"I have always said I would play under two conditions: that I still love playing soccer, and if my body would let me do it the way I wanted to," O’Hara told Just Women’s Sports in the lead-up to her retirement announcement. "I realized a while back that I was always going to love it, so it was the physical piece that was going to be the deciding factor."

The 35-year-old will retire as a two-time World Cup champion, an Olympic gold medalist, and at least a two-time NWSL champion, depending on where Gotham finishes this season. Her legacy as a player is hard to fully encapsulate, and will forever run through some of the biggest snapshots in USWNT and NWSL history. 

In 2012, O’Hara played every minute of the USWNT’s Olympic gold medal run, after having recently converted into a defender. Her soaring goal off the bench in the 2015 World Cup semifinal is the stuff of legend. And her return from lingering injury to play in every knockout match of the national team’s 2019 World Cup win cemented a storybook international career. 

It was O’Hara who scored the overtime goal in 2021 to earn the Washington Spirit their first-ever NWSL championship, and O’Hara who returned to help see Gotham earn a title in 2023 after years spent in the trenches with the club’s previous iteration, Sky Blue. Her 15-year career spanned two professional women’s soccer leagues in the U.S. (she earned her first professional title in 2010 with WPS’s FC Gold Pride), as well as sweeping changes to the sport both on and off the pitch.

O'Hara celebrates after scoring the winning goal for the Washington Spirit at the 2021 NWSL Championship match in Louisville, Kentucky. (Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY Sports)

On the field, O’Hara has always been known for a motor that never quits, making the right flank her domain in attacking possession and defensive transition. In recent years, she’s also been celebrated for a competitive fire that raises the level of her teammates, whether she’s in the starting XI or supporting from the bench.

But injuries take a toll, a reality not always seen by the fans watching from home. "I've never taken anything for granted, and I feel like I've never coasted either," O’Hara said of her late-career success in the NWSL despite battling injuries. "I've always been like, 'I gotta put my best foot forward every single day I step on this field' — which is honestly probably half the reason why I'm having to retire now as opposed to getting a couple more years out of it. I've just grinded hard."

Recently, O’Hara has been sidelined at Gotham with ankle and knee injuries, and the situation motivated her to really prioritize listening to her body. "To get injured and come back, and get injured and come back, and just keep doing it, it really takes a toll on you.

"People don't see the doubt that's associated with injury,” she continued. "As athletes we feel a certain way, we perform a certain way, our body feels a certain way, we're very in tune with our bodies. And there's always so much doubt surrounding injury. It’s like, 'Can I feel the way I felt before?' The reality is sometimes you don't."

O’Hara didn’t arrive at the decision to move on from her playing career lightly. But once she began seriously considering making 2024 her final year during the last NWSL offseason, it felt right. "Once I was like, 'Alright, you know what, this will be my last year,' I have had a lot of peace with it," she said. "Truly the only thing I felt was gratitude for everything that my career has been, all the things I've been able to do and the people I've been able to do it with."

She said she’ll miss daily interactions with her teammates and all the amazing memories they’ve created, though she feels lucky to have formed relationships that go beyond sharing a locker room. "You're basically getting to hang out and just shoot the shit with your best friends every day," she reflected. "Which is so unheard of, and I just feel very lucky to do it for so long."

O'Hara poses with USWNT teammates Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath after winning the 2015 Women's World Cup in Vancouver, Canada. (Mike Hewitt - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

The Stanford graduate also mentioned that the NWSL’s suspension of regular season play in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic made her realize how much playing allowed her the space to simply be creative every day. The tactical elements of soccer provided O’Hara an outlet for problem solving and made use of her naturally competitive edge.

She’s now gearing up to channel her on-field intensity into her post-playing career full time, which is a new chapter she’s excited to begin. "I don't know if the world's ready for it, like the fact that I'm not going to be putting all of my energy into football all the time," she said with a laugh. 

O’Hara said she would like to stay connected to the game in some fashion, whether it be as an owner, coach, or member of a front office. She’s also interested in the growing media space surrounding women’s sports, having provided on-camera analysis for broadcasters like CBS Sports in addition to starting a production company with her fiancée.

"I just feel like I have a lot of passions, and things that excite me," she says. "And I do want to stay as close as I can to the game, because I feel a responsibility — and I'm not sure in what capacity — to continue to grow it."

O'Hara speaking with fellow USWNT members and vets at the White House Equal Pay Day Summit in 2022. (JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

A sense of responsibility to grow the game has been a consistent refrain for the USWNT and NWSL players of O’Hara’s era, who ushered in a new age of equal pay for the national team and collectively bargained protections for those in the league. The landscape for new players looks different than it did 14 years ago, in large part due to this pivotal generation.

"I feel an immense sense of pride around that, because I don't know if any of us knew that was gonna happen," she said. "We kind of, as things unfolded, took the next step towards changing what women's football looks like in this country and around the world.

"I'm really grateful to have been part of this era with the players that I was [with], not backing down and pushing and knowing that was the right thing to do."

Whatever the future holds, O’Hara is going ahead full throttle. It’s a piece of advice she’d also give to the next generation of professionals looking to make their own impact.

"Whatever you do in life, do it because you love it, and the chips will fall in place," she said. "If you love something, you're willing to do what it takes. You're willing to make the sacrifices, you're willing to handle the roller coaster.

"To me, it's simple. Don't do it for any other reason but that, and I think you'll be alright."

No one understands what Caitlin Clark and the 2024 WNBA draft class has ahead of them better than Atlanta Dream guard Haley Jones.

Jones is a product of her own vaunted draft class, selected sixth overall in 2023 upon finishing a college career at Stanford that produced a 2021 national championship. Since joining the WNBA, Jones had steady output as a rookie, playing in all 40 of the team's games in her first season.

The transition wasn't always easy. Jones had to balance finishing her Stanford degree with the early months of her first professional season, competing against seasoned veterans while closing a chapter of her life as a student.

"In college, it's a job-ish. But now it's really your life, right? And not only are you competing for yourself, but the women that you're going against, this is their lives. They have kids to provide for, families, so it's a different mindset when you come in," she told Just Women's Sports at the 2024 Final Four in Cleveland. "They're so smart, they're so efficient. And so you'd be doing the same things, but they get there quicker."

Only one year removed from her own college career, watching the upcoming 2024 draft class maneuver the same schedule has been somewhat surreal for Jones. She says she remains close with many of the players at Stanford, including incoming WNBA rookie Cameron Brink, and with the NCAA tournament now behind them she knows just how quickly their lives are going to change.

"The whirlwind that it is when your season ends, you get like three days if you're going to declare for the draft or not," she says. "Then you figure it out, boom, the draft is next Monday. So no time, it's quick. And then they're gonna [have the] draft on the 15th, training camp starts the 26th or 27th, so you have 11 days to move your life to wherever you're going, figure out the new city, get your car there, do all these different little things that come along with it."

Once players arrive in training camp, their spots in the league are anything but guaranteed. With expansion still on future horizons, this year's draft class will be competing with established veterans (including, now, Jones) for limited roster spots. It's not unheard of for even WNBA lottery picks to struggle in establishing a foothold in one of the most competitive leagues in the world.

"A lot of us get to the point of being in the W, you get there because you're hypercritical," Jones says. "That's why you've been able to be so good, your work ethic is insane. So you're watching everything that you do, you're correcting yourself, you're watching film, you're doing all these things."

"I think my biggest advice is really just like the present and understand that you're there for a reason. I think that there's impostor syndrome sometimes when you get to the league. But you have to understand that there's something about you that makes you special, to be where you are."

The rookie wall is real, Jones says, and her own hypercritical nature got the best of her at times during her first year in the WNBA. But she also feels that once a player can find a sense of rhythm, there's a simplicity to the life of a professional athlete that allows them to further expand their horizons.

Misconceptions about NIL opportunities continuing beyond women's college basketball careers have abounded in recent months, with current WNBA players having to correct the record. Jones is a product of the NIL era, and has only seen her professional opportunities expand since leaving Stanford.

"Most of the deals I had in NIL I'm still with now," she says. "Because those contracts [extended] or they just renewed now that you're in the W."

"Then you take what you were making [in college] and then you add in your W salary, so — thank you. Now I have my 401k system. I have health care, all these different things — so you kind of honestly add on when you get to the W, on top of better competition, all these different things."

Removing schoolwork from her daily schedule has also given Jones more time to pursue other projects, like her podcast "Sometimes I Hoop", in partnership with The Players' Tribune. As the WNBA continues to build its own ability to market and promote its players, Jones has relished the opportunity to not only meet players she admires through the podcast, but add to an increasingly vibrant media landscape following women's sports.

"There's a lot of men's basketball podcasts out there, a lot of player-led ones," she says. "There's not a lot of women's basketball. There's some women's basketball focused pods, but not a lot of player-led ones."

"I think it's great for me to be able to give back to women’s basketball in my own way."

Jones's experience with the podcast has also given her a unique perspective on what possibly comes next for the WNBA, as the league looks to capitalize on a wave of popular young talent while still serving the players already on team rosters.

"Everybody in the league, they were All-Americans at one point in time. They were national champions, like we all have that resume," she says. "I think it's just the W expanding on their storytelling. I think doing a better job with that will do a lot, also like buying into what the players are doing."

She notes the impressive personal brands that players like Clark, Brink, and Angel Reese have built on their own.

"The W has a fan base, but then each individual player has a fan base," she continues. "So by locking into those and making them not only Angel Reese fans, Caitlin Clark fans, Cam Brink fans, making them W fans as well will be big."

As Jones grows into her second year as a professional, her perspective of her own college career has also shifted with time. Winning a national championship is difficult, and Stanford's ability to come out on top in 2021 is an achievement she's appreciated even more in the years since winning the title.

"You don't really realize it until later on," she says. "As I look at it now, I realize how big of an accomplishment that that was."

"Talking to my parents, they're like hey, how many people can actually say they won one?" she continues. "How many people become college athletes? DI athletes? Win a natty? One team a year."

The ambitions for Jones in 2024 are even bigger, with the Dream looking to improve upon their fifth-place finish last season. But she also believes the key to growing the game of basketball can be found in connecting with the community, following in the footsteps of college titans like Dawn Staley at South Carolina.

"People buying into these programs because you see them in the community is huge. I feel like for the W to be continuing to do that, continue with community initiatives, all these different things that we're doing. I think that you'll get a lot bigger fan bases."

FC Barcelona forward Asisat Oshoala is joining the NWSL, signing with expansion side Bay FC through 2026 with an option for 2027. A proven winner, she brings a knack for goalscoring and the ability to connect with her playmakers that creates a more complete attack for the club.

“She brings a top-class mentality to the field combined with pace and technical ability that allows her to lead the line, while also giving those players around her the license to be creative and thrive in space,” Bay FC general manager Lucy Rushton said in a team statement.

With Bay FC already in preseason, Oshoala has wasted no time arriving in camp, and is settling in with her new club in Santa Barbara. The move presents a new leap of faith for the 29-year-old, who has never shied away from pursuing new challenges.

“I’ve stayed a long time in Europe, it’s the longest I’ve stayed anywhere,” she tells Just Women’s Sports prior to Thursday’s announcement. “I’ve played in different continents and all that, and I just feel like I would love to try elsewhere maybe one more time, one more change to see how that feels.”

Fans in the U.S. might know Oshoala from Nigeria’s scintillating run at the 2023 World Cup, or perhaps as the first African woman to win the Champions League with Barcelona in 2021. She’s had multiple record seasons with the Spanish champions, most notably tying for first in scoring in Liga F in 2021/22. But even before she found a home in Barcelona, she’s always had the mindset that change is a positive, and diversity of experience is a strength.

After getting her professional start in Nigeria as a teenager, Oshoala transferred to Liverpool in the WSL when she was just 20 years old. After a stint at Arsenal, she transferred to the Chinese club Dalian, winning the golden boot and two league championships there. 

She went into her experience in China completely blind to the footballing culture, but came out of her time there a more well-rounded player with valuable experience. “I was just willing to take the risk, and I totally loved it,” she says.

It’s with a similarly open mind that she met with Bay FC head coach Albertin Montoya, who presented to her a new experience that she felt she could get excited about. “I feel like everyone wants to be a part of something beautiful, something amazing,” she says. 

“The project that this club is trying to build is really on the high side, the challenge is also it’s more or less a risk for me … because of where I’m coming from, the style of football, the environment and everything. It’s a big change, it’s a huge change for me, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take as well.”

“If you don’t leave your comfort zone, sometimes you don’t get to achieve certain things,” she continues. “It’s very important to understand this, and at this point in my career, I won’t think I’m really scared to make big changes.”

The comfort zone (and winning culture) of Barcelona doesn’t seem to be waning anytime soon, something that Oshoala admits gave her pause when she was considering her options for the future. She’s won basically every possible trophy with the club, and she leaves mid-season with Barcelona poised for even more success. She considered putting her decision off for a little while. 

“It was hard,” she says. “Walking away from that was difficult. Where can I go from that — you just don’t know where you can be that can actually be better than where you are at the moment.”

But then the questions she asked herself became more personal, outside of winning soccer games. “Sometimes you have to tell yourself, okay, apart from trophies, what do you have currently, what else is there for you?” she says. “These are the questions I asked myself, these are the questions I had deep conversations with my family.”

Oshoala brings up the Asisat Oshoala Academy, and the girls there who want to follow in her footsteps towards professional footballing careers. She hopes that her move to the NWSL shows young players in Nigeria that a number of different continents could be in their future.

“You want to think about the younger generations coming up,” she says. “You want to think about the African players who can actually get more opportunities to come into this league. You want to encourage these girls to also come here as well.”

img
Asisat Oshoala is greeted at the airport by Bay FC general manager Lucy Rushton (Courtesy of Bay FC)

As for what awaits her on the field, Oshoala is still in the early stages of acclimating to Bay FC’s style of play, but even in initial meetings with coaching staff she felt she understood a clear vision. “Albertin is a very professional person, he is funny, can be funny as well,” she says with a laugh.

“He’s a person who knows what he wants, and how he wants to play,” she continues. “And I actually like that he wants to keep the ball. They want to play a different style of football compared to what the league is actually used to and all of that. I just feel like I want to be a part of something like that from the scratches, where I don’t mind the risk behind it.”

Her signing represents the promise of a larger sea change in the NWSL, where top coaching talents (like Oshoala’s Barcelona manager Jonatan Giráldez) are eager to usher in a new era of tactical nuance that retains the league’s competitiveness while sharpening technicality. Possession-style football has at times been easier to discuss than actually implement in the NWSL, but 2024 could see more clubs than ever trying to marry a more technical style with the league’s established speed of play.

Oshoala is coming in without many pre-formed opinions on the NWSL’s style. “I never had the interest to play in America, to be honest with you,” she says. “I used to say that — not because I don’t like the league or something — I usually don’t really follow like that because of the time difference. I was never so interested or invested in it, but recently my mind changed. I saw a couple of players here, you know, and then I started following them because I’ve got friends as well who play here.”

She now sees playing in front of American crowds to be an opportunity for brand-building, and she’s clear that she both wants and expects Bay FC to contend for a playoff spot in their first year. 

“I’m not going to expect the same level of performance from my teammates compared to that of where I’m coming from,” she says. “But I’m ready to kind of go for it. I’m ready to fight for them, fight for each other, go out there, have each other’s back and tell ourselves it’s our first year and we really want to reach the playoffs.”

“You want everyone to feel like we’re not going to be an easy team to play. If you’re gonna get a point off of us, you can work for it.”

Off the field, Oshoala is happy that despite moving continents, she will still be near water, where she likes to go be by herself and switch off from football. On the field, the work begins to create a cohesive unit out of a newly-put-together expansion side. 

“I feel like I’ve been there before, I’ve done that before and know how it turned out,” she says. “It’s not gonna be something easy, but it’s something that is achievable. And I’m a person who will just go for what I want. If I like it, I want to do it.”

Casey Stoney is staying in San Diego, signing a multi-year contract extension with the San Diego Wave through 2027 with a mutual option year in 2028.

“When we brought Casey on board, we were confident that her exceptional leadership qualities, coupled with her extensive experience as both a player and coach at the highest levels, would make her the perfect fit for San Diego, and she has more than exceeded our high expectations,” Wave President Jill Ellis said in a team statement.

“Her commitment and passion for winning, developing our young players, and her loyalty to this club and city speaks volumes to who she is as a coach and as a person.”

The extension clearly signals Stoney’s intention to stay in the NWSL for the foreseeable future despite being in the mix for other positions in recent years. Most notably in 2024, her name had been brought up as a candidate to replace incoming USWNT manager Emma Hayes at Chelsea FC in the WSL, where Stoney most recently managed Manchester United.

She was subsequently reported as having withdrawn her name from consideration for the Chelsea job by the Sunday Times.

Now, Stoney feels she can make a statement with definitive terms that will bring stability and focus to the Wave as they kick off NWSL preseason.

“It stops the rumors, which is really important when we’re trying to recruit players,” Stoney tells Just Women’s Sports. “It enables me to be settled, obviously my family here as well, which shows the club’s commitment to me and I’m fully committed to the club.”

A settled life in San Diego has been hard-earned for the 41-year-old; it took 22 months for Stoney’s family to make the permanent move to California from England, a difficult separation that she has little desire to revisit. “I think people need to sometimes just consider all aspects,” she says.

“I’ve got three young children and a partner that are massively supportive. But to move them continents across the world to then potentially be linked with rumors going somewhere else, it’s difficult for my partner as well. But we always have very open and honest conversations, there was never any doubt about me being committed here.”

Possibilities of a coach going elsewhere can also affect a club’s ability to recruit talent, and Stoney says she wasn’t afraid to answer obvious questions by prospective signings. “I’ll always be honest with the players, like I’m naturally going to get linked to certain jobs, because I’ve either played for the club or managed the club,” she says. Stoney played for Chelsea from 2007-11, and temporarily served as player-manager in 2009 following the resignation of Steve Jones.

“When jobs open up, obviously being a female coach and being in the game you naturally get linked. My job is to stay focused on how I develop this team, develop these players and stay committed to what I believe in, which is what we’re building here.”

img
The Wave have allowed a league-low 43 goals across 2022 and 2023 under Stoney's leadership (Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports)

Stoney has already overseen unprecedented success for an NWSL expansion side, winning the league Shield with San Diego in the club’s second year of existence. She boasts a 21-10-13 record, and has comfortably made the NWSL playoffs in both years at the helm of the team.

She also joins Seattle Reign head coach Laura Harvey in emphasizing her desire to keep building in the NWSL despite outside interest, as clubs in the league work to remain competitive in attracting and retaining top coaching talent. That loyalty could possibly pay off for everyone, with the NWSL poised to take a tactical leap forward in 2024.

“This is the most competitive league in the world. You come here, you’re going to have a fierce competition every single week,” Stoney says. “There’s no big score-lines, it’s competitive, it’s fast, it’s athletic. What we’re trying to do is add more tactical nuance to the game, and I think with the coaches that are in the game now, I think it’s the strongest it’s been.”

She notes top coaching talent like Barcelona’s Jonatan Giráldez taking over at the Washington Spirit as an inflection point for managerial investment, as well as recent international players like Esther joining the NWSL and equating it to “Champions League football, every single week” as a testament to the league’s selling points.

“I’m fascinated to see how [Giráldez] can gel the players that he’s got into the style of play that he likes to play,” she says, noting that the NWSL’s challenges (like cross-country travel) can be unique. “It’s a very different beast here, and I’m just really interested — I know he’ll get time and hopefully patience, because he’s gonna need a few windows, I think, to build his team out with the way he wants to play.”

For Stoney however, her goals going into the 2024 season are clear: keep developing players, and keep winning. “What the future holds? Who knows,” she says. “You’re only ever as good as your last season anyways. I’m gonna work hard to stay successful here, and make sure that I make it a success.”

“I’m very aware this is a job where you don’t have a lot of security, you have to work to keep it. So my challenge is staying in this job as long as possible, developing my players, and making sure that our team is successful and this club is successful.”

Reigning NWSL champions Gotham FC are adding to their remarkable free agency haul, announcing the signing of World Cup champions Rose Lavelle and Emily Sonnett on Thursday.

Sonnett and Lavelle are the third and fourth USWNT mainstays to sign with the New Jersey club this year after midfielder Crystal Dunn and defender Tierna Davidson also reached multi-year deals with the team. All four World Cup champions will remain with the club through 2026.

Both Lavelle and Sonnett join Gotham most recently from OL Reign, where Lavelle won an NWSL shield and both players reached the 2023 title game (losing in the championship match to Gotham.) 

“Rose is an amazing talent, and we are very excited to have her as a part of the club,” said Amorós in a team release. “She is a very exciting player to watch because of her creative and technical abilities.”

Sonnett is a two-time NWSL champion, first with the Portland Thorns in 2017 and the Washington Spirit in 2021. The 30-year-old flourished in 2023 after making a position change from center-back to defensive midfielder, becoming a USWNT starter at the position during and after the 2023 World Cup.

Both Lavelle and Sonnett are also well-known at the international level, winning the 2019 World Cup with the USWNT as well as a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics. They join a stacked Gotham roster, which includes Spanish World Cup champion Esther, Lynn Williams, Midge Purce, Kelley O’Hara, Allie Long and more. The club finished a storybook “worst to first” run in 2023 behind a roster refresh and the clear leadership of manager Juan Carlos Amorós.

“We are incredibly excited to have two exceptional talents like Rose and Emily join the club,” Gotham general manager Yael Averbuch West said. “Rose is a crafty and entertaining player, and our fans and club will be very excited to watch her at Red Bull Arena, and Sonnett is a true professional and competitor, who understands what success in the league looks like. The club and our fans are extremely excited to have players of their stature as we build upon the success of last season.”  

The signings coincide with a Thursday morning announcement by the NWSL that the 2024 salary cap will be $2.75 million, almost doubling teams’ operating budgets from last year. The league is also slowly doing away with allocation money, which limited the flow and usage of funds despite not counting towards a team’s salary cap.

For fans trying to understand how Gotham could possibly afford to bring in four of the biggest stars in the league, the salary cap increase alongside a few big player departures might prove to be a big part of the puzzle. World Cup champion center-back Ali Krieger has retired, and star midfielder Kristie Mewis recently finalized a transfer to West Ham United in the WSL, with an immediate severing of her contract at Gotham. 

It’s possible that Dunn could slot into Mewis’s role, or the team will rethink the midfield with Lavelle as the primary playmaker and Sonnett as a defensive midfielder. 

Long, who most recently came off the bench in a No. 6 role, is currently an unrestricted free agent out of contract with the team, as well as veteran midfielder McCall Zerboni.

Davidson will likely replace Krieger at center-back, who retired at the end of 2023. She’ll slot into a backline that includes 2023 NWSL Rookie of the Year Jenna Nighswonger, rising Brazilian talent Bruninha, and Spanish international Maitane López.

No matter how Gotham lines up on the field in 2024, all four signings should be considered a historic high in the league’s young history with free agency, only in its second year. The era of the NWSL superteam might be upon us, and all roads are leading to New York.

World Cup champion defender Tierna Davidson knows exactly what she’s going to miss about the city of Chicago. The 25-year-old is moving on from the Red Stars side that drafted her in 2019, as she joins reigning champions Gotham FC in a multi-year deal through 2026.

“Just in my head, like the perfect August, September evening in Chicago,” Davidson tells Just Women’s Sports days before her free agency announcement. “Where it’s like 70 degrees and you can walk around, and there’s a little bit of a breeze but it’s not too cold and it’s not too overrun by tourists.”

“Everyone’s just kind of there hanging out, and the sun still goes down late, being able to walk down Randolph Avenue or something and pop in and out of restaurants or bars, hanging out with my friends,” she continues. “I feel like that’s what I will just miss the most.”

Davidson was only 20 years old when she left Stanford a year early and was drafted by a Red Stars team stacked at the time with impressive talent like USWNT stalwart Julie Ertz, Japanese World Cup champion Yuki Nagasato, and Australian superstar Sam Kerr.

Chicago would reach a title game in the three years following Davidson’s jump to the pros, falling in the 2019 and 2021 NWSL championship games as well as the 2020 Challenge Cup.

Behind the scenes however Chicago would be revealed to be the picture of off-field dysfunction, with both head coach Rory Dames and Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler named in reports of misconduct starting in 2021. Dames was permanently banned from the NWSL in 2022, while Whisler agreed to sell the club, which eventually found new ownership in a group led by Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts.

As the Red Stars begin righting the ship under new management they’ve suffered a fair amount of roster attrition. The team’s struggles in 2023 following Davidson’s return from an ACL tear in part led to the defender missing a World Cup roster, a crucial setback for a versatile player that appeared to be on the fast-track at the international level.

Chicago finished the season last in the NWSL standings right before Davidson became an unrestricted free agent. Leaving teammates who had shaped the first five years of her career made moving on difficult, but Davidson also desired the opportunity to grow in a new environment.

“I think I’ve really been craving structure and a sense of security almost,” she says. “I think that with everything that’s happened at Chicago over the past years, that’s something that we’ve struggled to have there just because there’s been a lot of turnover, there’s been a lot of turmoil.”

img
Davidson played in the 2021 NWSL Championship game as a member of the Red Stars defense (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Thus entered Gotham, once also a club struggling to emerge from the basement of the NWSL standings now assembling a super-squad after the team’s first championship win. Gotham has already announced World Cup champion Crystal Dunn as a major free agency signing, as well as having been linked to reported talks with Emily Sonnett and Rose Lavelle.

The coaching staff’s early conversations with Davidson gave her the confidence that not only would she be a good fit for the team, but that they’re invested in her necessary personal growth. With the USWNT entering a new era under manager Emma Hayes, a consistent return to the international stage could be determined by finding the right coaching staff to help her take strides forward.

“My first impression was we had a Zoom meeting, and the staff comes in so prepared, they have video, they have stats and analysis of me personally,” she says. “And to see that level of commitment for someone that’s not their player is really impressive, to know that they are not just kind of closing their eyes and pointing out a free agent.”

Gotham proved versatile themselves in 2023, with a sense of full-team defending leading to quick switches in possession based on the foundation of a bend-not-break defense. A big part of the latter’s success lay at the feet of departing captain defender Ali Krieger, who retired at the end of last year.

Davidson appears to be a natural personality to step in at center-back in Krieger’s absence. She’s demonstrated both ability to defend in space and to trigger the attack through combination play and long passes she can drop on a dime. “I played the [No.] 6 for longer than I played center-back, I miss playing it,” she says with a chuckle. “So I really do enjoy the times when the center-back is able to get into the attack a little bit and set play a little bit and [be] able to connect a bit with the attack.”

She notes an excitement to play with the clear style that head coach Juan Carlos Amorós has instilled in Gotham, laughing that she won’t miss having to face the team’s multi-pronged attack. “Just to know how fluidly he wants to play the game with the ideas that he has is really exciting, because that continues to push us as players if we’re having to solve different problems or look at different pictures and find different solutions.”

img
Davidson will be rejoining USWNT teammates like Dunn, Lynn Williams, Midge Purce and more in New Jersey (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Davidson also noticed how often USWNT teammates spoke of their time at Gotham with a real sense of ease and positivity, bringing the team up unsolicited in natural conversation. This allowed her to observe without feeling like she had to ask too many questions as she tried to get a sense of the free agency market.

“The privilege of being in the national team environment is you get a little window into people’s environment even without having to ask,” she says. “Which is almost the best kind of form of analysis, just because it’s not like they’re trying to sell you on a team.”

A strong locker room culture supported by the entire organization is something that might be exactly what Davidson needs, as her obvious on-the-field goals for 2024 — to win trophies at both the domestic and international level — will need to start with a new sense of foundation beneath her feet.

“I think first and foremost, [next year is] really regaining a sense of joy in the game, a sense of confidence in the game,” she says. “Just like stepping onto the field and just knowing that this is where I belong, and this is what I’m meant to do.”

“I think that the process goals are really important to me at this point,” she continues. “I think I haven’t been able to achieve those process goals in the past few years. And I really am looking forward to getting back to that and to seeing that come to fruition in the game.”

Off the field, Davidson aims to find the perfect balance between the calm of New Jersey and the bustling city of New York. She’s also looking forward to have a chance to simply focus on the football.

“Something that I’ve yet to experience but I think would be helpful for me is to be able to have a bit of peace off the field,” she says. “I think Gotham will provide that for me — I’m hoping that can help me in many different ways both as a player, but also as a person.”

USWNT superstar and three-time NWSL champion Crystal Dunn has signed with reigning champions Gotham FC, at long-last playing club soccer near her childhood home of Long Island.

Dunn is the first high-profile signing in just the second year of NWSL free agency, after announcing at the end of the 2023 season that she’d be stepping away from the Portland Thorns. She joins an already stacked roster that includes multiple NWSL and World Cup winners, fresh off the club’s first Championship title.

“Crystal is an exceptional player who can play anywhere at any time and have an incredible impact on the game,” Gotham head coach Juan Carlos Amorós said in a team release. “We are excited to have a player of her quality join us for this upcoming season as we look to continue to build upon the success of last season.”

An established winner with awards too plentiful to list in full for club and country, the 31-year-old had many factors to consider when making a decision where to pursue the next chapter of her career.

Reports in the offseason linked a “significant offer” of up to $400,000 a year from the Orlando Pride to the midfielder, as well as interest from both Gotham and the Washington Spirit. Gotham’s vision and the pull of home won out, with Dunn signing on in a multi-year deal through 2026.

“I’ve worked extremely hard in my career, [and] getting a really good contract is something that I’m like, ‘Yeah, I truly deserve it. I’ve won a lot in this league, I have been successful, I’ve competed at the highest level,’ Dunn told Just Women’s Sports prior to Sunday’s announcement. “But I also know that I am a mom, I’m a wife, I have so many things that matter to me along with being successful and winning and helping teams win.”

“It really came down to that,” she continued. “It was kind of like, I’m either going back home, or I’m still going to be a nomad and I’m going to be far away and see my family once or twice a year.”

While this is her first foray into NWSL free agency, Dunn has never been afraid to make those necessary nomadic journeys to be happy in her club environment. Drafted by Washington in 2014, she made the jump to Chelsea FC in England in 2017, and then returned to the NWSL the following year through a trade between the Spirit and the North Carolina Courage.

She then requested a trade to Portland in 2020 to be near husband Pierre Soubrier, a trainer with the Thorns at the time (Soubrier was fired from his position in early 2023.)

img
Dunn most recently won an NWSL Shield and a Championship title with the Portland Thorns (Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports)

Dunn is keenly aware of the NWSL’s history of strict rules that impact player agency.

“I was very fortunate in my career where, if I wanted to change or wanted to make a move, I was able to kind of fall into the place that I ultimately want to play. And I know that that’s not the reality for a lot of players,” she says.

She notes how rare it is for players who fight for progress to reap the benefits while they’re still playing, something she’s grateful for. “I’m such an advocate for free agency, because players should have leverage, they should have some control and some say over where they want to go.”

“And they should be able to say that ‘Hey, I’m a good player, and I know I can help this organization, so give me a try.’”

Dunn also had a little bit of fun with the process, participating in the 2023 NWSL Skills Challenge prior to the Championship game as an unattached free agent, joking that she was “looking for a job.” But the decision to make the announcement that she’d be leaving the Thorns long before she’d made her final decision on a new club came from a more serious place: wanting to say goodbye.

“That moment is special in its own, and I think it allowed my fans to kind of hear me and hear that message loud and clear from me, versus getting it heard from the club,” she said. “So I think I’m happy I did it the way that I did, because I also think I wasn’t completely certain where I wanted to go just yet.”

Now with her attention fully focused on New Jersey, Dunn mentions that showing up in a new environment for the first time always feels a little bit like being the new kid at school, but she won’t be lacking for friendly faces. 

She’s joining USWNT teammates Lynn Williams and Midge Purce, as well as former Portland teammates Abby Smith and Yazmeen Ryan and former North Carolina teammate Taylor Smith, among others. Her USWNT connections could run further still, as reports have also connected free agents Tierna Davidson, Emily Sonnett, and Rose Lavelle to advanced talks with Gotham.

Numerous connections gave Dunn peace of mind when making an estimation of the club’s locker room culture, only further punctuated by their Championship win in 2023. She says she spoke with Williams as well as recently-retired Gotham captain and close friend Ali Krieger.

“Getting some of those answers I think really helps me be like, ‘Alright, you guys seem to really love being here,” she says. “You seem to love the environment, you love the leadership, the culture, and those are things that really matter.”

img
Dunn will be reunited with former North Carolina and current USWNT teammate Lynn Williams at Gotham (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

With the culture already established, Dunn can now focus on a new challenge on the field. It’s well known in women’s soccer circles that she is one of the most versatile players in the sport, playing outside-back for the USWNT while shifting in multiple midfield and forward roles for her various clubs. Dunn says she hasn’t spoken in detail with Amorós about where she’ll fit in his system (though the recent departure of midfielder Kristie Mewis to West Ham might provide a hint.)

The midfielder thrives the most when able to get close to the opposition’s goal, whether in a box-to-box role in the midfield or as more of an attacking playmaker. But Dunn says early conversations with the coaching staff have focused on her fit in the squad as a person first, and carrying those principles into her role in the locker room and on the pitch. 

“The most successful teams I’ve been on are the teams that I’m like, ‘Yeah, we are talented,’ but it really is about that mentality of — are you willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win?” she says. “Talent is great, but how well do you guys play together? How well do you guys read each other?”

With one of her biggest decisions yet now behind her, Dunn is looking forward to the chaos the NWSL will continue to bring in 2024. Two new expansion sides joining the league, there’s expected player turnover at numerous clubs, and Gotham now setting themselves up to push to turn a Championship into a dynasty. Now in her 10th year in the league, Dunn simply can’t wait to get started.

“Honestly, to be fair, every year so crazy and wild,” she says. “And every year I’m excited, because there’s going to be something wild and crazy every single step of the way.”

The NWSL is hosting its newest iteration of a two-team expansion draft at 7 p.m. ET Friday, as Bay FC and the revamped Utah Royals look to add to their growing rosters in preparation for their inaugural seasons in 2024.

Expansion drafts are unpopular affairs, both among the players bearing the brunt of the process’s uncertainty and among existing clubs not eager to part with the talent they’ve developed. So it’s not shocking then that this year’s draft has been somewhat defanged, with exemptions for free agents and U18 players and many trades for draft protection.

To summarize, only OL Reign and the Chicago Red Stars made no deals for at least partial protection prior to Tuesday’s transaction freeze, but a flurry of activity saw seven clubs bow out of the proces entirely. The San Diego Wave, Racing Louisville and North Carolina Courage all have protection from one of the two expansion sides, though each could still lose two players in the draft.

As a result, just five protection lists were released to the public, with a few with limitations on who can be selected. (Full rules can be found here.)

Ahead of expansion draft, here are a few players that stand out as possible targets for Bay FC and the Royals, both in fit and in upside:

Bay FC: Kelsey Turnbow, San Diego Wave

Turnbow has college ties to the Bay Area, as she won an NCAA title in 2021 with the Santa Clara Broncos. Coming into the NWSL as a proven goalscorer at the collegiate level, Turnbow has featured for the Wave as both a forward and as more of a playmaker in a deep-lying attacking role. But Turnbow played most of her soccer for the Wave in 2022, and she saw her minutes dwindle significantly in 2023 as other players shined in the attack. If she is looking for a fresh start, Bay FC might be a good landing spot.

Utah Royals: Sarah Griffith, Chicago Red Stars

The Red Stars leaving Griffith unprotected is somewhat puzzling considering her steady integration into the team as a rookie in 2022. But her inability to find the pitch in the latter stages of 2023 could indicate that she’s ready for a new challenge. Griffith is a versatile attacking player who played in a box midfield for the Red Stars in 2022 and even occasionally filled in at wingback. With the Royals looking for midfield options to complement Mikayla Cluff, Griffith could be a great addition.

Bay FC: Brianna Pinto, North Carolina Courage

Pinto has the tools to be a very consistent NWSL midfielder despite finding herself on the outside looking in during the second half of North Carolina’s 2023 season. The 23-year-old is a player that can aid a midfield in hold-up, possession-style football, as well as look for the final ball to break open a defense. She also isn’t afraid to turn towards goal herself, playing forward at times in college at North Carolina.

Utah Royals: Elyse Bennett, OL Reign

If Bennett is selected in the expansion draft, she’ll be moving to her third club in as many years in the league, which is more of a reflection that she’s a talent that deserves a space to get consistent playing time. Bennett was used as a game changer first in Kansas City as a rookie and then again in Seattle in 2023, and she has a tenacity in front of goal that not many young players share. Utah could use Bennett as a wide player or as a focal point at center-forward, where she could link up with wingers like Michele Vasconcelos to create a potent attack.

Bay FC: Sam Hiatt, OL Reign

Bay FC already have one piece to their center-back pairing, acquiring Emily Menges from Portland in exchange for draft protection for the Thorns. A good partner for Menges could be Hiatt, who started many matches for the Reign during their Shield-winning campaign in 2022 but moved to the bench after the club brought in Lauren Barnes as a center-back in the second half of 2023. A Stanford graduate, Hiatt has college ties to the area, and she has experience putting together staunch performances in the central defense.

Utah Royals: Paige Monaghan, Racing Louisville

Monaghan has showcased an impressive amount of versatility with both Gotham FC and then Racing Louisville, playing primarily as a winger but also showing the willingness to slot in at outside back. A steady league veteran, the 27-year-old can play wide on all three positional lines competently, with experience and a work ethic that is obvious on both sides of the ball. With the inevitable positional imbalances that can take shape for a first-year expansion team, a player with her qualities could be invaluable.

Bay FC: Kyra Carusa, San Diego Wave

Carusa has been something of a revelation since signing with San Diego in August 2023. She was used as both a starter and as a reserve off the bench throughout the second half of the Wave’s Shield-winning season. Carusa can play centrally and would interplay well with wingers such as already-signed Scarlett Camberos in the Bay FC attack. The only possible question mark for Carusa would be her desire to leave her hometown of San Diego and her possible desire to return to play in England.

img
Racing Louisville forward Thembi Kgatlana's availability in the NWSL expansion draft is surprising. (EM Dash/USA TODAY Sports)

Utah Royals: Thembi Kgatlana, Racing Louisville

Kgatlana being available for selection in this draft is so surprising that it makes me wonder if she has other plans than the NWSL for 2024. But the forward’s talent upside is so high it’s impossible to leave her off this list even if she isn’t ultimately destined for Utah. The 27-year-old is an excellent goalscorer both at the domestic and international level, with a willingness to run long lengths of the pitch for service if necessary. She can fool any defender, and with the right midfield behind her, she could be a consistent scoring threat for years to come.

Bay FC: Amanda Kowalski, Chicago Red Stars

Kowalski is another strong contender for defensive depth, with experience playing both at outside back and in a three-back system. She was signed by the Red Stars in 2022 after the team lost Tierna Davidson to an ACL tear and stepped in admirably while growing into her new role as the season progressed. Depending on the system that Bay FC wants to run, Kowalski could be a player who pushes the starters in front of her or slots into multiple roles in a pinch.

Bay FC: Olivia Wingate, North Carolina Courage

What Bay FC could find in Wingate is a young player that has shown flashes of NWSL-level brilliance in one year as a professional. The 23-year-old got the bulk of her minutes in North Carolina in the middle of the 2023 season, showing an ability to create chances for both herself and her teammates. If Bay FC took a swing at a player without as much experience, what they could get in return is an attacker that can grow with the organization — and who already looks well on her way.

img
Could North Carolina Courage forward Olivia Wingate, center, be on the move? (Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports)

When the U.S. women’s national team took down China PR 3-0 on Saturday, the team looked like a new confident and loose version of itself. With several veterans taking the final international break of the calendar year off, interim manager Twila Kilgore made a few changes to the team’s approach that seemed to both clarify roles and empower players to be themselves.

While the conversation around the national team is often dominated by player personnel, one of the tactics former coach Vlatko Andonovski struggled with late in his tenure was how exactly to use players. On Saturday, with Emma Hayes’ outside perspective likely an asset, the U.S. packed the midfield without being overly conservative and allowed the defense to cover defensive transition and aid in the attack.

So rather than focusing on individual performances during the club offseason for many players, let’s focus on three standout players as dictated by their roles, and why their ability to shine is good news for the USWNT long term.

Sophia Smith

Sophia Smith didn’t have a perfect match on Saturday, still shaking off a bit of rust after the second half of her 2023 season was interrupted by injury. After scoring the game’s opening goal, Smith missed a number of clear chances as she continues to regain her finishing touch.

But the fact that Smith could have had a hat trick with a few more clinical strikes is a happy sight for USWNT fans, who watched the forward have trouble imposing herself on games in the World Cup from the winger position. The idea of Smith being more effective in a more central position is not a new one, but her ability to combine with Trinity Rodman and Rose Lavelle against China showed that, even if the final shot isn’t there, chance creation can go a long way for the U.S.

With the team favoring a 4-4-2 out of possession and a 3-5-2 in possession, Smith had support both behind and to either side of her, wherein the team could prioritize passing sequences over excessive dribbling down the wings that can silo possession and lead to searching crosses in the air. Her movements broke down the defensive lines of China’s low block and opened up opportunities for teammates. Smith worked especially well with Rodman, who had a breakout game with two assists and a goal.

Smith has the ability to run in behind a defense at top speed and to react to teammates’ movements, sitting in a classic poaching position in games where her team has the majority of possession. That her tendencies as a player complement a formation that allows the U.S. to have a sturdier spine up the middle of the pitch only deepens her case for a central role going forward.

Jaedyn Shaw

When Jaedyn Shaw received her first extended minutes for the USWNT in the team’s final friendly in October, she slotted into a well-worn role for up-and-coming U.S. talent. She came on for Smith, who had been playing out wide and provided attacking options from a winger position, ultimately notching her first goal for the USWNT in her second appearance.

Shaw has experience as a winger (known in position numbers as a No. 7 or No. 11), getting her start there when she joined the San Diego Wave in 2022. But in 2023, Wave manager Casey Stoney tapped into her skills as a playmaker, using her both out wide and as a deep-seated forward tucked in behind No. 9 Alex Morgan.

On Saturday, Morgan watched the USWNT game from home, but Kilgore had a new set of plans for Shaw. She subbed on in place of attacking midfielder Savannah DeMelo, getting a chance to help dictate the flow of attack alongside Lavelle. Her on-field chemistry with substitute center forward Mia Fishel was obvious, as Fishel’s back-to-goal, possessive abilities coincided with Shaw’s field vision to keep the U.S. creative in the attack.

Her greatest moment of the match was a simple flick. Shaw collected Midge Purce’s low cross and sent the ball across the face of goal for Rodman to smash it into the back of the net. Shaw is a special player who should feature for the U.S. for years to come, and Kilgore giving her the freedom to make plays is a great sign for how the team plans to use her.

Casey Krueger

Casey Krueger could possibly go down in history as the best USWNT player to never feature on a World Cup roster, and she showcased both old and new skills on Saturday. Setting up at right back, Krueger was asked at times to provide 1v1 defensive coverage out of possession, but with the U.S. seeing a lion’s share of the possession, she showed exactly how the position can be used in the team’s attack.

The outside-back position has been fraught for the U.S. for years, with an inconsistent talent pipeline leading numerous coaches to compensate by converting forwards and midfielders (first-time USWNT player Jenna Nighswonger is the most recent example). That process has long been criticized, including when Andonovski struggled to empower his fullbacks to play to the best of their ball-progressing abilities.

Andonovski moved Emily Fox to right back to make room for Crystal Dunn at left back at the 2023 World Cup, but neither player had the room to run the flanks and create enough width for the team’s attack. Defensive off-the-ball structure was clearly at the forefront of their instruction, and at times both Dunn and Fox got caught in between their instincts to aid the attack and a lack of confidence in their ability to regain ground in defensive transition.

Not every opponent will take the low-block approach that China sat in on Saturday, but early involvement of Fox (back on the left) and Krueger was very promising. Both players were clearly given the green light to operate more like wingbacks in possession, with a comfortable three-back behind them when the U.S. had control of the ball. This allowed Krueger to move into dangerous spaces on the right wing and overlap with Lavelle, who herself never felt she had to give up her own drifting tendencies in space to push to the endline.

Later in the match, Purce took up the same space Krueger had inhabited and created the team’s third goal by operating in her preferred area as a wingback. Purce is another forward finding her way onto the field by any means necessary. But if the USWNT is still in the position of using their immense winger depth to create points of attack, the 3-5-2 formation in possession gives them more cover behind to be their best selves.

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

The 2023 NCAA College Cup kicks off on Friday, with Florida State, Clemson, BYU and Stanford battling for a spot in this year’s national championship game. In many ways, these final four teams follow the arc of the regular season. In total, the semifinalists have lost just five games and two of the teams are undefeated.

Outside of reigning champion UCLA’s shocking ouster in the first round of this year’s tournament, the semifinals are full of powerhouse teams featuring numerous players with professional careers in front of them.

Nearly every starter on these four teams has a shot at the pro level, and increasingly in both the NWSL and beyond, those opportunities are not reserved for graduating seniors. Here are a few of the upperclassmen (and one underclassman) worth watching in the semifinals, some more well-known than others but all serious professional prospects.

Jasmine Aikey, Midfielder, Stanford

Stanford briefly lost their way after winning the 2019 national championship, but in 2023, they’ve been rejuvenated by the success of their recent recruiting classes. Sophomore Jasmine Aikey, the only underclassman on this list, has turned heads on her way to being named a MAC Hermann semifinalist. She leads the undefeated Cardinal in goals (11) and assists (10). And in this year’s NCAA Tournament, she’s played facilitator, currently on a four-game streak with at least one assist.

Maya Doms, Forward, Stanford

Fifth-year senior Maya Doms is one of the final connectors between the 2023 Stanford team and the squad that won the 2019 NCAA championship in her freshman year. She’s captained the team since 2022, providing both the chance-creating talent and leadership qualities that have led the Cardinal to an undefeated season. She’s scored 10 goals and registered six assists in the Stanford attack, including a dramatic strike in overtime against Nebraska last week that sent her team to the College Cup. She also recently spent time with the USWNT U-23s, teaming up with a number of players already succeeding in the NWSL.

Onyi Echegini, Midfield, Florida State

Born and raised in England and already featuring for the Nigeria national team, including at the 2023 World Cup, senior Onyi Echegini should garner heavy interest across the pond after closing out her final year of eligibility. She’s scored 15 goals and contributed four assists for the Seminoles this season. She can make runs in behind the defense and make backlines pay from distance. Echegini’s pure striking ability and poise in front of goal is also among the best in the entire college system.

Taylor Huff, Midfielder, Florida State

Junior Taylor Huff, playing in her first season with the Seminoles after transferring from Tennessee, can sometimes fall under the radar, but she has been a consistent midfield engine since her arrival. She leads the team in assists with 13, keeping the Seminoles’ vaunted attack humming with ease. Florida State has executed two big wins so far in the NCAA Tournament, most recently with Huff opening the scoring in a 3-0 defeat of Pitt in the Elite Eight.

img
Makenna Morris leads Clemson in goals this season from defense. (Eakin Howard/Getty Images)

Makenna Morris, Defender, Clemson

Don’t let senior Makenna Morris’s position fool you because she’s a proven goal-scorer. Doing it all for the Tigers, Morris has notched 10 goals this year, the second-most for a defender in NCAA history. And she didn’t reach that tally by taking lucky shots from distance. Morris has keen off-the-ball vision to find good positions in front of goal, and she’s just as capable of collecting and sinking a through-pass as she is defending on the other end. She’s the kind of fearless, multi-talented player who can propel a team to a title game.

Megan Bornkamp, Forward, Clemson

Senior Megan Bornkamp will also be crucial to the Tigers’ shot at their first-ever NCAA title game. Another player with USWNT U-23 experience, Bornkamp started her college career as a defender but has since flourished in the Clemson attack, most notably scoring the late equalizer in Clemson’s Round of 16 win over Georgia. She consistently produces high-quality scoring chances, and she has functioned as much as a playmaker as an out-and-out scorer in 2023.

Brecken Mozingo, Midfielder, BYU

Senior Brecken Mozingo is the complete package of an attacking midfielder, leading BYU’s balanced attack with a whopping 14 goals and 15 assists this season. She’s the Cougars’ primary penalty taker, going 5-for-5 on the season, and she has shown a skill for reading the field with a calm mind. Mozingo notched a goal and an assist in BYU’s furious 4-3 comeback against North Carolina in the Elite Eight, and fans can expect to see her pulling the strings in the College Cup.

Olivia Wade-Katoa, Midfielder, BYU

Senior Olivia Wade-Katoa works alongside Mozingo in perfect tandem, contributing 12 goals and eight assists of her own in 2023. None were more crucial than her strike in the second-to-last minute of the Elite Eight, giving the Cougars their improbable 4-3 victory over the Tar Heels. Wade-Katoa has the mentality of a college veteran, coming in clutch multiple times this season to provide game-winning goals. Look for her to combine with Mozingo to try to launch BYU into their second title game in the last three years.

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