With the NCAA College Cup Semifinals only two days away, we’ve got you covered on four players to watch — one from each team — as the competition unfolds on May 13th.

Brianna Pinto, University of North Carolina

The third overall pick in the 2021 NWSL draft, Brianna Pinto has been nothing short of exceptional in her time with the Tar Heels. In 65 games played from 2018-2020 (64 of which she was a member of the starting line-up), Pinto combined for 3,705 minutes of playing time and notched 23 goals, 16 assists, and 59 shots on goal. 

Head coach Anson Dorrance has been extremely complimentary of Pinto’s game, saying “She has a fabulous skill set.  She’s great in possession.  She’s a complete player with the ability to attack.” That’s high praise from someone who has coached greats like Mia Hamm, Michelle Akers, and Kristine Lilly.

Pinto will join NJ/NY Gotham FC at the conclusion of her collegiate career, and what better way to go out with a bang than to secure a spot in the championship match?

Jaelin Howell, Florida State

Only 21 years old, Howell has already made two appearances for the US women’s national team, earning her first cap in the 89th minute of a friendly against the Netherlands back in November. 

In three seasons with the Seminoles, the midfielder has appeared in 62 games, scored 11 goals and made 10 assists, earning 5,342 minutes of playing time and tallying 32 points.

In a preseason Top Drawer Soccer ranking of the women’s top 100 players to watch, Howell was slotted at number one. She is also on the watchlist for the MAC Hermann Trophy, the most prestigious award in college soccer. 

Last year, Howell led the Seminoles to an ACC title and was named the ACC Midfielder of the Year. 

Kelsey Turnbow, Santa Clara

Also selected in the 2021 NWSL Draft, Turnbow has appeared in 77 matches for Santa Clara, in which she has logged a stellar 43 goals and 26 assists. 

In the 2020-2021 season alone, Turnbow scored 8 goals in only 10 games played (!) to earn 20 points. Three of those goals? Game-winners, no less. 

The forward has also received call-ups to the U14, U15, U17, U18, U19, and U20 US Women’s National Teams during her playing career, and will join the Chicago Red Stars at the professional level at the conclusion of the season. 

Rebecca Jarrett, University of Virginia

A staple piece in UVA’s attacking third, Rebecca Jarrett was named an All-ACC second team selection and was the only player on the roster to start all 12 games during the Fall 2020 season. 

Throughout three seasons with the Cavaliers, Jarrett has played in 63 matches, scored 15 goals, added 13 assists and 103 total shots. 

Virginia head coach Steve Swanson has called Jarrett “one of their constants,” speaking highly of her continual improvement with every game.

Virginia, who punched their ticket to the semifinals with a 1-0 upset over Texas Christian University, are certainly the underdog of this year’s semifinals, as they are the only unranked team that remains in the running. Jarrett will be key if they want to continue their Cinderella run.

With the Challenge Cup championship only days away, we are crowning our tournament Best XI ahead of Saturday’s tilt between NJ/NY Gotham FC and the Portland Thorns.

In no particular order…

GK: Ashlyn Harris, Orlando Pride

Harris strung together a series of outstanding performances during the Challenge Cup, earning two clean sheets and maintaining an 84.2% save success rate throughout Orlando’s four games. Most notably, Harris stopped two penalty kicks within a week’s time — one against the Washington Spirit and one against NJ/NY Gotham FC — earning the honor of Budweiser’s Player of the Week in the second week of the tournament.

D: Brooke Hendrix, Racing Louisville FC

A staple in Louisville’s backline, Hendrix notched 16 clearances, 4 blocks and 3 interceptions through the group stage of the Challenge Cup, as well as a 60% success rate in tackles and a 65.2% success rate in duels. The defender also scored a goal during the team’s inaugural match, equalizing for Louisville in stoppage time against Orlando.

D: Gina Lewandowski, NJ/NY Gotham FC

A key component in securing Gotham FC’s championship berth, Lewandowski’s passing precision was heavily relied upon as she boasted an impressive 83% passing success rate through 360 minutes of play, completing 176 of 212 attempted passes and also adding 23 clearances. In the defensive third, Lewandowski maintained 85% passing accuracy, averaging 53 passes per 90 minutes.

D: Sarah Gorden, Chicago Red Stars

Also a force on the backline was Sarah Gorden, who was dominant across the board. Gorden maintained an 80% success rate in tackles, a 73.3% success rate in duels, and a 100% success rate in aerial duels. Still not impressed? The defender also notched nine clearances, one block and two interceptions, helping limit all West Division opponents to five goals total. 

D: Kelli Hubly, Portland Thorns

The unsung hero of the Portland defense, Hubly posted phenomenal stats throughout the tournament — a 100% success rate in tackles, a 68.2% success rate in duels, and a 75% success rate in aerial duels — while also tallying 26 clearances, two blocks, and eight interceptions. Likewise dominant was her passing accuracy, as she completed 131 of 156 attempted passes for an 84% passing success rate. Often overlooked among the Thorns’ star names, Hubly is as reliable as they come in the defensive third. 

M: Debinha, North Carolina Courage

Perhaps one of the most dominant offensive players of the Challenge Cup, Debinha scored three goals (two of which came in the same match), played seven key passes and maintained a 60% success rate in long passes, as she helped lift the Courage to a 2-1-1 record in tournament play. When paired with teammates Lynn Williams and Jessica McDonald, the Brazilian international was nearly unstoppable, taking 16 total shots throughout four games.

M: Kristie Mewis, Houston Dash

Though Mewis only appeared in two matches for the Dash, her tournament performance was certainly of note. The midfielder scored twice in a 3-1 victory over Kansas City NWSL, earning herself Budweiser Player of the Week honors for her impressive showing. In the two games that Mewis did not appear in, the Dash failed to score, a telling sign of just how valuable Mewis was.  

M/F: Cece Kizer, Racing Louisville FC

Called a “hidden gem” by Racing Louisville coach Christy Holly, Kizer boasted a 66.7% goal conversion rate through four games, scoring two goals on only three shots while also assisting another. Kizer made history in her first Challenge Cup appearance, scoring Louisville’s first-ever goal against the Orlando Pride. If her Challenge Cup performances prove anything, it’s that the 24 year old could prove to be a cornerstone player for the NWSL’s newest club. 

F: Midge Purce, NJ/NY Gotham FC

Yet another key player in punching Gotham’s ticket to the championship game, Purce bagged two goals in the highest-scoring match in Challenge Cup history, as Gotham beat North Carolina 4-3. In 269 minutes played, the forward added four interceptions, a successful cross and two key passes, linking with teammates Carli Lloyd and Paige Monaghan to wreak havoc on opposing defenses.

F: Trinity Rodman, Washington Spirit

Making headlines throughout the Challenge Cup was rookie Trinity Rodman, who started three of four matches for the Washington Spirit and logged her first professional goal against the NC Courage. The 18-year-old was selected second overall in this year’s NWSL draft, and following her tournament performance, some wonder if she should have gone first. Rodman tallied 11 shots, six of which were on target, while also adding 11 key passes and an assist. 

F: Jessica McDonald, North Carolina Courage

Playing an integral role in five of the nine goals scored by the Courage during the Challenge Cup, McDonald recorded three assists and two goals in 343 minutes of tournament play, as well as four shots on target and an 83.3% success rate in long passes. After opting out of the 2020 Fall Series due to COVID-19 concerns, it seems that the forward has not missed a beat in her return to the Courage. 

With the NWSL season off to a sizzling (if not hectic start), we wanted to give a nod to ten of the league’s most underrated players — those who don’t always get the headlines, but who still deserve the credit.

In no particular order… 

Jennifer Cudjoe, NJ/NY Gotham FC

Cudjoe proved herself a standout defensive player for Sky Blue FC (now NJ/NY Gotham FC) during the 2020 Challenge Cup, appearing in six matches, four in which she was a starter, and logging 368 minutes of playing time. 

Throughout the Challenge Cup, she maintained an 80% success rate in tackles and a 66.7% success rate in aerial duels. When paired with her impressive passing accuracy, speed, and ability on the ball, the 27-year-old will look to continue to be a menacing presence on the Gotham FC backline.

Tziarra King, OL Reign

After concluding her college campaign with NC State, Tziarra King was selected eighth overall by the Utah Royals (who have since relocated to Kansas City) in the 2020 NWSL Draft. During the Challenge Cup, she made her professional debut against the Houston Dash, scoring a mere 20 minutes after entering the game as a substitute. Her performance in that Challenge Cup earned her a starting spot in each match of the subsequent Fall Series, during which she scored her second professional goal.

In January of 2021, she was traded to the OL Reign — and if her short-lived career with the Royals was any indication of what kind of player she will be for the Reign, the league should be on notice.

Shea Groom, Houston Dash

Also emerging as a force during the 2020 Challenge Cup was Dash midfielder Shea Groom. Appearing in seven matches throughout the tournament, Groom notched three goals and an assist, leading the Dash to their first-ever title.

During the Fall Series, Groom added her name to the scoresheet in three of four matches played and notched two assists in the sole match she did not score in. Furthermore, the young star has signed a three-year contract extension with the Dash, keeping her in Houston for the foreseeable future. If Groom continues on her current trajectory, it is almost certain she will become one of the Dash’s most valuable players, even if she has yet to receive her full due.

Denise O’Sullivan, North Carolina Courage

A quiet but valuable presence in the Courage attacking third, Denise O’Sullivan is as reliable as they come. In 2,158 minutes of playing time during the 2019 regular season, O’Sullivan maintained an 84.3% passing success rate, completing 1,039 of 1,233 attempted passes and averaging 51.4 passes per 90 minutes. In 2020, the Irish international spent time on loan in the FA Women’s Super League, playing a total of 761 minutes in 11 matches for Brighton & Hove Albion.

Of O’Sullivan’s ability in the midfield, Courage head coach Paul Riley called her “the engine room, the architect, the inspiration and the leader of a very good midfield unit” — frankly, we couldn’t agree more. 

Kealia Watt, Chicago Red Stars

After being traded from the Houston Dash to the Chicago Red Stars last year, Kealia Watt debuted with her new team during the 2020 Challenge Cup, but really found her footing with the Red Stars during the Fall Series, creating thirteen scoring chances, netting two goals, and assisting on two more.

Her Fall Series performance caught the attention of Vlatko Andonovski, earning the forward a call up to an 11-day USWNT training camp that took place in October. As the 2021 season approaches, Watt will look to continue to assert her value in the Red Stars’ lineup.

Simone Charley, Portland Thorns

A member of the outstanding Portland Thorns offense, Simone Charley has flown under the radar since her start in the NWSL. The forward notched a goal apiece in the Challenge Cup and Fall Series, combining for 574 minutes of play during the shortened 2020 NWSL season.

Her value has not gone unnoticed by Thorns head coach Mark Parsons, however, who stated that Charley provides a “unique dimension in the final third” as well as “attacking qualities that provide a constant threat to the opposition.”

Bryan Byerly/ISI Photos
Ashley Hatch, Washington Spirit

Ashley Hatch is arguably one of the Spirit’s most talented offensive players, as she scored one goal and assisted on another during the shortened 2020 season, and previously led the Spirit in scoring during the 2018 and 2019 seasons, earning the Golden Boot award in 2018, her first season with the team.

The BYU alum boasted an impressive 100% success rate in tackles during the 2020 Fall Series and a 75% passing success rate, earning a nod from the USWNT as she was subsequently called into October’s training camp.

Addisyn Merrick, Racing Louisville FC

Addisyn Merrick is a noteworthy player who rarely gets the credit she deserves. The 28th-overall pick in the 2020 NWSL Draft, Merrick was the first to be selected in Racing Louisville’s expansion draft, plucking the up-and-coming star from the North Carolina Courage and landing her in Kentucky.

Though she only appeared in eight matches for the Courage, she posted a 62.5% tackle success rate during last year’s Challenge Cup and a 69.2% tackle success rate in the Fall Series. Her selection in the expansion draft dealt a significant blow to the Courage’s backline, and her presence on defense will be crucial for Louisville’s success in their inaugural season.

Rocky Rodriguez, Portland Thorns

A staple player in Portland’s midfield, Rocky Rodriguez proved her undervalued ability during the 2020 Challenge Cup. In only six games played during the tournament, Rodriguez made ten interceptions, seven clearances, and seven key passes to lift the Thorns to the semifinals of the tournament.

Likewise sensational on the global stage, the Costa Rican international has recorded 73 caps and scored 42 goals for her country. Arguably, she is largely responsible for the lethality of the Thorns’ offense, especially when paired with players like Lindsey Horan and Christine Sinclair.

Kristen Edmonds, Kansas City NWSL

Called the “ultimate utility player” in an article posted by the Kansas City Star, Kristen Edmonds was traded from the Orlando Pride to Kansas City in January. In 866 minutes played for her former team, Edmonds posted a 60.3% success rate in duels, 19 clearances, and 9 interceptions.

A versatile asset, Edmonds appeared on defense, in the midfield, and on offense for the Pride and will likely continue a similar pattern with her new team. Kansas City coach Huw Williams has already asserted that the team will be filling the defender in at a lot of spots and that the depth and quality of play that Edmonds provided were exactly what the team was looking for. Headlines from earlier in the tournament may have focused on her scuffle with Portland’s Morgan Weaver, but don’t get distracted — Edmonds is an elite and versatile player.  

The three-way trade between the North Carolina Courage, OL Reign, and Portland Thorns brokered in October shook up the NWSL–Crystal Dunn was on the move. In late February, four months after coming over from North Carolina, Dunn committed to Portland by inking a three-year deal.

With the USWNT’s European friendlies wrapped up, and as the NWSL Challenge Cup continues, what can we expect from Dunn as she wears the Thorns crest for the first time?

Let’s take a look at Dunn’s stats over her seven-year professional career. Since 2013, the 28-year-old has appeared in 109 matches for the United States women’s national team, logging an impressive 24 goals and 18 assists, winning the 2019 World Cup, and cementing her status as a consistent and reliable contributor on the back line.

In the NWSL, Dunn has lived up to the expectations that come with being a first overall pick. Thorns coach Mark Parsons was coach of the Washington Spirit when they selected Dunn with the top pick in 2014. Dunn has said she’s looked forward to “coming full circle” by reuniting with Parsons in Portland.

In three seasons in North Carolina, Dunn led the Courage to two NWSL championships and two NWSL Shields, contributing 18 goals in 44 appearances. She has had success wherever she’s gone so far in the league, and there’s no reason to think the same won’t be true in Portland.

Parsons had high praise for Dunn after the trade became official.

“Crystal is a game-changer, and with her intelligence, dribbling, passing, and finishing ability, she can unlock a game in a split second, while her defensive qualities and work rate make her as impactful off the ball as she is on it,” he said. “She has a winning mentality, a contagious personality full of positivity, and the desire to be her best and make people around her the best.”

If using one adjective to describe Dunn, “versatile” is probably the most constructive. She thrives in a variety of positions on both offense and defense and has demonstrated equally the ability to score and to create chances for teammates. Now teaming up with Christine Sinclair, Lindsey Horan and Rocky Rodríguez in Portland, Dunn’s offensive repertoire will be on full display and the Thorns are in a much better position to win their first NWSL title since 2017.

On a call with reporters after the trade, Dunn said she would prefer to assume an attacking role with the Thorns, despite primarily playing defense for the USWNT.

“I did voice to him that I don’t really want to play in the back line,” Dunn said of a conversation with Parsons. “So if he has that idea lined up, I’m like ‘OK, well I’ll deal with it.’ But I think he knows that I definitely want to pursue an attacking role, and I think he can agree with me as well on that.”

Dunn is currently listed as a midfielder on the Thorns roster. Wherever Parsons decides to slot her in the lineup, we can expect to see her name on the scoresheet regularly.

If we’ve learned anything from Dunn’s career, it’s that where she goes, the hardware seems to follow. Portland is certainly banking on it.

When COVID-19 upended the 2020 NWSL season before it even began, the Houston Dash were little more than a blip on everyone’s radar. They had finished the season prior with a 7-5-12 record and in seventh place in the table with only 26 points. 

Subsequently, when the first-ever Challenge Cup was announced in June, the Dash were given +1,000 odds to win the tournament (meaning you’d win $1,000 for every $100 bet). Only Sky Blue and Orlando had worse odds, and the Pride were DQ’d before the tournament began due to an outbreak of COVID on the team. 

The Dash had essentially been counted out before they ever even took the pitch. They proceeded to then stun the world by winning their first NWSL hardware, cruising through the preliminary round and knockout tournament before defeating the Chicago Red Stars 2-0 in the final.

“Even making it to the finals and rewriting a lot of the stigma that’s around the Dash, we still feel like there’s so much to do and that there’s always going to be people that think we just got here by happenstance,” Shea Groom told JWS ahead of the title game.

Standout Challenge Cup performances from players like Groom, Kristie Mewis, and Rachel Daly put the league on notice, but the Dash weren’t done just yet. 

First, they re-signed Mewis, Daly, and Groom to three-year contract extensions, as well as goalkeeper Jane Campbell to a one-year contract extension, locking down their top talent for the foreseeable future. 

Then, Houston’s coronation as a top-of-the-table squad continued through the NWSL Fall Series, where the Dash defeated the North Carolina Courage once and the Orlando Pride twice to go 3-1 in the four-game stint and finish in second. Their only loss came at the hands of the Courage, who narrowly defeated Houston 4-3 in the first game of the series.

Ultimately, the Dash finished 2020 with a 7-3-1 record, a winning percentage (64%) that more than doubled their 2019 efforts (29%).

In the months following the Fall Series, Kristie Mewis, Sophie Schmidt, Nichelle Prince, Allysha Chapman, Rachel Daly, and Jane Campbell each received national team call-ups from their respective countries, representing the United States, England, and Canada. During this time, Sophie Schmidt also signed a contract extension, keeping her in Houston through 2023. 

Houston’s impressive showing in the Challenge Cup and Fall Series has left many wondering if the Dash are ready for their encore — one that begins with a defense of their Challenge Cup title this April.

The tournament kicks off with a nationally-televised rematch of last year’s final between the Red Stars and the Dash, on CBS Sports Network April 9th (8:30 p.m. EST).

Ahead of the 2021 NWSL season, several members of Houston’s roster have shone on the international stage. Kristie Mewis has scored three goals for the US in their last six matches. Jane Campbell has likewise recorded valuable minutes with the USWNT, earning the start in net for both a friendly and a SheBelieves Cup match and notching two clean sheets in the process.

Meanwhile, Dash captain Rachel Daly headed abroad to play for West Ham United of the FA Women’s Super League, where she recorded five goals in twelve matches played before leaving the club in December. 

With a locked-in, experienced core and a refreshed sense of confidence in hand, the Dash certainly seem prepared to defy the odds again in 2021. They enter the Challenge Cup as members of the Western group, joined by the Chicago Red Stars, the OL Reign, Kansas City NWSL, and the Portland Thorns. And they’ve already issued an on-brand message to their competition: “Come and Take It.” 

In an interview for The SLICE, a YouTube series released by the Dash during the offseason, several players shared their excitement for the upcoming season.

“Everybody kind of sees this year as another chance to prove ourselves,” said forward Veronica Latkso. 

“I think that we still have a chip on our shoulder, because a lot of people see our success last season and see it more as a fluke rather than a precedent for the Dash. I think it’s exciting to be able to be like ‘Hey, no, we’re ready to prove people wrong again and show that we’re not that same old Dash from years past, we’re the same old Dash from last year, and for years to come that’s what we’re going to be.’”

If what Latsko says is true, and “the same old Dash from last year” make a reappearance, well, there’s a good chance we’ll see some hardware making its way to Houston again in 2021. 

As the National Women’s Soccer League’s offseason draws to a close, we’re reflecting on the tremendous strides the league has made in the last few months — from blockbuster trades to an expansion draft, new celebrity investors, to a cross-Atlantic talent race with the FA Women’s Super League, the NWSL is breaking new ground for women’s soccer, and we’re here for all of it.

The 2021 season will kick off with a month-long Challenge Cup starting April 9th. But first, here are the five biggest headlines from a monumental offseason.

1) Angel City FC, North Carolina Courage, and Chicago Red Stars add celebrity investors

What do Natalie Portman, Abby Wambach, Mia Hamm, Serena Williams, Candace Parker, and David Dobrik all have in common?

Each of these A-listers has invested in Angel City FC, the NWSL’s newest addition based in Los Angeles, California. Still not impressed? What if we told you Billie Jean King, Jessica Chastain, Eva Longoria, and Alexis Ohanian were all part of the team?

Angel City, who is set to take the pitch in 2022, has revolutionized investment in the women’s game as we know it.

Just a few months after Angel City stunned the world with the news of their investment group, the North Carolina Courage added a celebrity owner of their own in late January — professional tennis player and four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka, who became the first outside investor in the North Carolina Courage since Steve Malik acquired the team in 2017.

Later, on March 1st, the Chicago Red Stars expanded their ownership group as well, announcing that former Chicago Bears defensive end Israel Idonije, Olympic gold medalist ice hockey player Kendall Coyne Schofield, ESPN’s Sarah Spain, music executive Colleen Mares, NFL marketing leader Julie Haddon, and local entrepreneur Marie Tillman had elected to invest in the team.

Needless to say, celebrity investments are becoming a trend in the National Women’s Soccer League, and there’s a chance the group-ownership model could spread. We’re certainly not opposed to seeing more big names bet on the future of women’s sports.

2) US Women’s National Team takes over the FA Women’s Super League

Speaking of trends, several USWNT players headed abroad to pursue a playing career in the FA Women’s Super League this offseason, including defender Abby Dahlkemper, midfield staples Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle, and forwards Tobin Heath, Christen Press, and Alex Morgan.

The flurry of signings led to an increased scrutiny of the NWSL regarding its ongoing talent leak, with fans beginning to worry that high-profile players were jumping ship not only for temporary Olympic prep but also for better compensation. Dahlkemper herself signed a 2.5 year deal, meaning she won’t be returning stateside anytime soon.

3) Crystal Dunn Heads to Portland

Also making moves during the offseason was USWNT star Crystal Dunn, the key piece in a blockbuster trade that involved the North Carolina Courage, OL Reign, and the Portland Thorns.

The trade began with OL Reign sending both allocation money and goalkeeper Casey Murphy to the North Carolina Courage in exchange for Dunn. In turn, the Reign dealt Dunn to the Thorns, receiving an international roster spot for the 2021 season, a 2022 first-round draft pick, and some allocation money in return.

To some, this deal came as inevitable given that Dunn’s husband, Pierre Soubrier, is the head athletic trainer for the Portland Thorns, and playing for the North Carolina Courage required Dunn to live across the country from him. Others, however, were shocked — the trade dealt quite a blow to the Courage, who won two NWSL championships and two NWSL Shields with Dunn playing an integral role.

As for the Thorns, the addition of Dunn to a roster that already included Christine Sinclair and Lindsey Horan now has the team entering the season as Championship favorites.

4) Racing Louisville FC enters the game

In November, Racing Louisville FC selected its roster during an expansion draft, picking up fourteen players:

  1. Addisyn Merrick (North Carolina Courage)

  2. Julia Ashley (OL Reign)

  3. Jennifer Cudjoe (Sky Blue FC)

  4. Cecelia Kizer (Houston Dash)

  5. Katie Lund (Washington Spirit)

  6. Alanna Kennedy (Orlando Pride)

  7. Lauren Milliet (North Carolina Courage)

  8. Kaleigh Riehl (Sky Blue FC)

  9. Caitlin Foord (Orlando Pride)

  10. Katie McClure (Washington Spirit)

  11. Erin Simon (Houston Dash)

  12. Michelle Betos (OL Reign)

  13. Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns)

  14. Christen Press (Utah Royals)

Prior to the draft, Louisville received forwards Savannah McCaskill and Yuki Nagasato from the Chicago Red Stars in exchange for full protection during the expansion draft. Louisville has since sent Jennifer Cudjoe back to Sky Blue FC in exchange for allocation money and the 13th overall pick in the 2021 NWSL draft, during which Louisville continued to add to their roster.

Most significantly, Louisville drafted UNC standout Emily Fox first overall. And while it’s still not clear how soon players like Heath, Press and Foord will report to Louisville, given that all three are currently playing in the FAWSL, having Fox as a franchise corner piece should give fans a reason to be optimistic.

5) Catarina Macario goes pro… then heads to Europe

Last but certainly not least, Stanford star Catarina Macario announced on January 8th that she would be forgoing her senior season with the Cardinal to start her professional career. Just four days later, on January 12th, it was announced that the two-time Hermann Trophy winner had inked a 2.5-year contract with Lyon, the seven-time UEFA Women’s Champions League winners.

Since signing with Lyon, Macario has also logged two caps for the USWNT, scoring a goal in her second appearance for the US to lift them to a 6-0 victory over Columbia.

USA 1, Canada 0

Goals: Rose Lavelle 79’

The SheBelieves Cup kicked off on Thursday, with four elite international teams vying for a championship title. Competing in the tournament this year are the United States, Canada, Brazil, and Argentina, with six matches set to take place from February 18th to the 24th. On the hunt for their fourth SheBelieves Cup victory is the United States, who secured the title in 2016, 2018, and 2020.

The first match of the tournament saw Brazil defeat Argentina, 4-1, with Marta, Debinha, Adriana Leal da Silva, and Geyse Ferreira scoring a goal apiece to propel Brazil to their first victory of the tournament. Mariana Larroquette scored the lone goal for Argentina.

Brazil is now set to take on the United States on Sunday, February 21st at 3:00 PM EST, and Argentina will face Canada at 6:00 PM EST later that day.

A rivalry match-up was on the table as the United States and Canada faced off in the second match of the SheBelieves Cup. To the surprise of many, Thursday night’s winner was not determined until the final minutes of match play, when Rose Lavelle scored the go-ahead goal to earn three points for the USWNT.

Though the Americans were able to see the win through, head coach Vlatko Andonovski was less than satisfied with the result. As reported by ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle, Andonovski said he was “disappointed” with the USWNT’s performance.

“When we create 10 opportunities to score and we score one, I’m disappointed because I want us to score more goals. And on top of that, if we allow any shots to goal, I’m not going to be happy, and I thought tonight [Canada] had a couple of good opportunities to score. We’re going to look into it. We’re going to look a little bit deeper why that happened.”

Also sharing her thoughts on the match was USWNT captain Becky Sauerbrunn: “This team prides itself on being able to find ways to win, and sometimes we win pretty and sometimes we win ugly, and tonight was one of those nights where we won ugly. It’s important that when things aren’t going right, that we’re not vibing right, that we can find a way to win and we did that tonight, which is a good sign about this team’s mentality.”

Here’s how the USWNT made it happen:

The opening 20 minutes were purely defensive for both sides, until Lynn Williams was able to slip a pass to Catarina Macario in the box. On her first touch, Macario fired off a shot that sailed over the crossbar and out of bounds, attempting to net her second international goal. The opportunity was one of the first of the night for the United States, who against Colombia notched goals within the first 10 minutes of both games back in January.

Later, in the 31st minute, Crystal Dunn lofted a ball into the box, her cross taking a bounce before meeting the head of Williams. Williams redirected the header towards the net, only for the chance to be saved by Canada goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé to maintain the 0-0 deadlock. Labbé, who came in as a substitute early into the match, replaced starter Kailen Sheridan following what appeared to be an injury to Sheridan’s upper leg after dishing out a pass.

A mere three minutes later, Lynn Williams was on the ball again, this time sending in a cross from the right flank and finding Carli Lloyd in the air. Lloyd’s header was narrowly saved by Labbé, who leapt into the air to tip the ball just over the crossbar, notching yet another impressive save to keep Canada in the game.

United States goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher would be put to the test immediately afterward, as Nichelle Prince placed a perfect ball into the path of Janine Beckie. Beckie’s first touch began the demise of the scoring chance, as it gave Naeher ample time to make the diving save and knock the ball out of bounds.

As the first half wound to a close, a shot by Megan Rapinoe was boggled by Labbé and nearly tapped in as a scramble ensued in the six. Luckily for the Canadians, the ball was knocked out of bounds, and the first half ended with the rivals tied at 0-0.

Another dangerous opportunity for the United States came in the 51st minute, with Williams putting another cross into the box. On the other end of William’s cross was Rapinoe, whose first touch was a redirection towards goal in an attempt to draw first blood. Labbé responded with another save, further extending the Americans’ scoreless bout.

Minutes later, Janine Beckie was given another chance to go one-on-one with Alyssa Naeher after being slotted a pass from Nichelle Prince, but again, Beckie took too much time to get a shot off and was denied by the American goalkeeper for a second time.

Finally, in the 78th minute, the US was awarded a free kick from outside the eighteen. The kick, taken by none other than Williams, was lofted into the box and cleared by a Canadian defender. The clearance attempt was intercepted by Rose Lavelle, who buried the game-winner from outside the six to lift the United States to a 1-0 victory.

Lavelle’s goal was her 14th for her country, and what better time to add to her career total than in the final minutes of a rivalry match?

Though the United States’ performance was not up to their usual standard, their relentless grit allowed them to seal the win and remain competitive for another SheBelieves Cup title with two more matches on the horizon. Stay tuned for more SheBelieves Cup action this Sunday, as the United States takes the pitch against Brazil at 3:00 pm EST (FS1, TUDN).

All eyes were on the FA Women’s Super League this Friday as the much-anticipated contest between Manchester United and Manchester City took place. The two squads went into the match neck-in-neck in the table, with Manchester United holding onto second place by a mere two points. Hot on their heels was City, who may have knocked “Big Three” squad Arsenal out of the title race last Sunday in a 2-1 win.

On Friday, Manchester City cruised to a 3-0 win thanks to goals from Lucy Bronze, Lauren Hemp, and Caroline Weir, adding three points to leap the Reds in the standings.

With the win, City improves to 10-1-3, with only two points now separating them from first-place Chelsea.



After a purely defensive start to the first half, it was Manchester City that would draw first blood as they were awarded a corner kick in the 23rd minute of the match. As soon as the ball was lofted in, it was popped up into the air, and a scramble in the United box ensued. Amidst the chaos, a City player was able to redirect a header to the feet of Lucy Bronze, who used her first touch to bury a shot past United goalkeeper Mary Earps. The goal was Bronze’s second of the season, giving City a 1-0 edge over United.

Later, in the 38th minute, an attempted bicycle kick from Ellen White came dangerously close to giving City a 2-0 lead, but an excellent save from Mary Earps would deny the forward the scoring chance. Though United would avoid a two-goal deficit, an unfortunate injury would occur minutes later as Leah Galton was taken down in the midfield. In visible pain, Galton was helped off the field in what seemed like an injury to her ankle or lower leg. The loss of Galton comes as another significant blow to Manchester United’s FAWSL title hopes, as the squad is already without Tobin Heath for the foreseeable future.

Manchester City held their opponents to just three first-half shots, only one of which was on goal. Meanwhile, United’s defense sustained several attacks, with City getting off eight shots, two of which were on target. Despite this, City’s one-goal lead provided little to no sense of security given the offensive talents of United.

However, it was City that would enter the second half with guns blazing as Lauren Hemp played in a cross from the left flank, meeting Ellen White in stride. With her first touch, White fired off a shot on goal, but a diving save by Earps would render her scoreless for the second time during the match.

City would finally double their lead in the 71st minute when Chloe Kelly intercepted a clearance attempt by the United defense, cutting the ball to her left foot and taking a shot from distance. Earps made the initial save, but unfortunately for United, the ball deflected into the path of Lauren Hemp, who volleyed home City’s second goal of the match to provide a much-needed cushion.

United’s handful of opportunities came from none other than Christen Press, who was twice charged by City goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck to maintain the clean sheet. In her first chance, Press beat a City defender just outside the eighteen, with Roebuck abandoning the net in an attempt to make the save. Before Roebuck could get in front of the ball, Press fired a shot that sailed above the crossbar and out of bounds.

The forward would find herself in a similar circumstance later in the match when a ball was played from midfield into her path. In just one touch, Press broke into the eighteen, and again Roebuck left the net to deny United a chance to cut into City’s lead. In an impressive feat, Roebuck was able to get in front of Press’s shot, deflecting the ball out of bounds.

To conclude an already-dazzling performance by Manchester City, Caroline Weir added her name to the scoresheet in the 84th minute, showcasing her impressive footwork to beat a City defender before lofting a shot just over the fingertips of Earps and into the back of the net. The goal was just another reminder of Weir’s composure and precision, talents that have made her quite the asset in City’s midfield as of late.

As the final whistle blew, City dealt a damaging blow to United’s hopes for a title, defeating the Reds 3-0 to continue their winning ways. Having dropped their last two contests, Casey Stoney and her squad will be desperate to remedy their lackluster showing in the attacking third should they want to remain at or near the top of the table.

When Manchester United announced that Tobin Heath would be sidelined for 10-12 weeks with an ankle injury sustained in training, a significant blow was dealt to both the Reds and the U.S. Women’s National Team.

With the forward now rendered out for the next three months of the FAWSL season and the SheBelieves Cup, replicating Heath’s impact will prove a daunting task for both teams. But what exactly makes Heath an irreplaceable asset, and how will her loss be felt around the league?



As early as her college days, Tobin Heath was a standout player. Committing to the University of North Carolina in her junior year of high school, the up-and-coming star would go on to leave a lasting mark on the college soccer world. In her freshman year alone, she made 23 appearances for the Tar Heels, scoring four goals and assisting nine. In her sophomore and junior year, she combined for ten goals and thirteen assists, before wrapping up her senior season with five goals and ten assists.

With Heath’s help, UNC won three NCAA Division I championships in 2006, 2008, and 2009, as well as four ACC titles. Throughout her four years in Chapel Hill, Heath played alongside several future USWNT teammates, including Allie Long, Ashlyn Harris, and Jessica McDonald. She was also named the first runner-up for the MAC Hermann Trophy, an award presented to college soccer’s top player.

Upon concluding her impressive college career, Heath was selected first overall in the Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) draft by the Atlanta Beat. Unfortunately, Heath suffered an ankle injury in her third appearance with the team and missed the remainder of the season. She was later traded to Sky Blue FC, where she appeared in twelve matches for the team.

Upon the folding of the WPS, Heath spent time with the New York Fury and Paris Saint-Germain before finally landing with the Portland Thorns in 2013, where she quickly established herself as a franchise cornerstone.



In 70 appearances for the Thorns, Heath netted 13 goals and assisted another 21, all while leading Portland to two NWSL championships in 2013 and 2017 and an NWSL Shield in 2016. She also earned her fair share of individual awards, being named the NWSL Championship MVP in 2013 and recognized as a member of the NWSL Best XI in 2016, 2018, and 2019.

After Heath was left unprotected in the NWSL’s latest expansion draft, her rights were taken by Racing Louisville FC. Should she choose to leave Manchester United and return to the NWSL, she’ll be suiting up for the upstart franchise after a legendary stint with the Thorns. But though her NWSL achievements are impressive, they still pale in comparison to her accolades with the USWNT.

The 32-year-old has appeared in 169 matches for her country, in which she has scored 33 goals and logged 40 assists. Since making her debut with the USWNT in 2008, Heath has won two Olympic gold medals and two World Cup trophies, as well as two championship titles in the SheBelieves Cup. As a result of her efforts, she was named the US Soccer Female Athlete of the Year in 2016.

Needless to say, Tobin Heath has proven to be a valuable asset to any team fortunate enough to have her on their roster. This was especially evident when she joined Manchester United in September, her impact nearly instantaneous as she has notched four goals and two assists in only eight matches played.

As one can imagine, the news of Tobin Heath’s ankle injury took the soccer world by storm, leaving many to wonder not only who would step up to fill the void in United’s offense, but whether Heath’s injury would cost the club a chance at competing for a title.

Hopefully, some of these fears can be laid to rest following United’s handling of Everton last weekend, with goals from Christen Press and Ella Toone securing the 2-0 victory.



United has relied on Heath’s quick thinking on and off the ball, as well as her ability to execute passes that lead to scoring opportunities, a skill she has only sharpened over the years. In eight appearances with the Red Devils, Heath boasts a 72.7% passing completion rate overall, completing 173 of 238 attempted passes.

Despite her ability to set up her teammates, it’s Heath shot which remains her most potent weapon. This year alone, she’s scored multiple jaw-dropping goals in a United uniform, some from beyond the eighteen.

It is likely that fellow United teammates Jess Sigsworth, Lauren James, Leah Galton, and Christen Press will shoulder the responsibility of accounting for Heath’s absence up top. Likewise, Press, Lynn Williams, Megan Rapinoe, and Carli Lloyd will be expected to take on a similar task during the SheBelieves Cup. Though the USWNT is full of elite talent, there is no player quite like Tobin Heath, and the pressure is on for Vlatko Adonovski as he searches for a placeholder.



The domino effect of Heath’s injury certainly doesn’t end with the USWNT. In order for Manchester United to remain competitive in the FAWSL title race, Casey Stoney will also need someone to rise to the occasion… and fast. With a long road to recovery ahead, Heath is not expected to return to the pitch until April at the earliest. And though Manchester United has held onto their winning ways for now, they were recently leapfrogged by Chelsea for the top-spot in the league.

As the regular season progresses, Heath’s absence has the potential to drop United even further. But if they can at least keep pace with the other top FAWSL squads, Heath’s return could power the team on a closing sprint for the title.

Manchester United 2, Everton 0


Ella Toone, 9’

Christen Press, 41’

Taking the pitch for the last match of the weekend in the FA Women’s Super League was Manchester United and Everton, both teams with something to prove in Sunday’s tilt.

With “Big Three” squads Chelsea and Manchester City each blanking their opponents 4-0 earlier that morning, capturing a victory against Everton was a necessity for the Reds in order to keep pace for a top-three finish. As for Everton, the odds seemed to be stacked against them — having dropped three of their last five contests in less-than-stellar performances, a statement win against United would be just what the squad was looking for moving forward.

Despite a fight from Everton, it was Manchester United who would come out on top, bagging the win behind goals from Ella Toone and Christen Press to improve to 10-1-2. Now tied with Chelsea at 32 points apiece, Manchester United remain at second place in the table for another week — a feat that was achieved without the assistance of Tobin Heath, who has contributed four goals in eleven appearances for United this season. It was announced on Saturday that Heath would be sidelined for 10-12 weeks after sustaining an ankle injury during a training session.

“As with all injuries I always say it is a window of opportunity for someone else,” Manchester United manager Casey Stoney said of Heath’s injury. “Obviously it is a big loss for us and it’s disappointing for her, but she is heavily influential in our environment and we will work to get her back as safe and quick as possible.”

Even without Heath in their lineup, Manchester United asserted their dominance with Sunday’s win, proving that they deserve to be in the mix with top teams like Manchester City, Chelsea, and Arsenal.



Determined to maintain their position in the table, Manchester United kicked off the scoring early as Leah Galton received a ball up the left flank and positioned herself to send in a cross. Lofting a ball across the face of the Everton net, Galton’s cross would fall into the hands of goalkeeper Sandy MacIver.

Unfortunately for the Blues, MacIver was unable to maintain possession of the ball as it slipped from her hands and into the path of United midfielder Ella Toone. With MacIver now caught out of position, Toone tapped in her sixth goal of the season to give the Reds a 1-0 advantage in the 10th minute.

Later, it was Toone on the ball again, this time nearly adding a second goal in the 35th minute when a ball was cleared from midfield and into her path. Beating three Everton defenders in a footrace, the young star took a touch towards the goal, likely costing her the brace as the delay allowed one of the defenders to land a tackle before she was able to fire off a shot. The attempt was saved by Sandy MacIver, denying Toone the chance of adding a cushion to United’s lead.

In the 41st minute, Hayley Ladd threaded a pass to Christen Press just outside the eighteen. Cutting her first touch inside her body and to her left foot, Press narrowly avoided the advances of Everton defender Danielle Turner, utilizing her signature speed on the ball to take another touch forward. With the extra touch, she had no trouble slotting the ball past Sandy MacIver and into the lower ninety to score her second goal in a United uniform.

As the first half wound to a close, Manchester United held tightly to their 2-0 lead, rendering their opponent scoreless through 45 minutes of play.

Needless to say, Everton would need to cut into Manchester United’s lead early into the second half should they want a chance at a comeback campaign. A scoring opportunity would arise for midfielder Jill Scott in the 65th minute, who curved an impressive shot from distance in an attempt to get Everton onto the scoresheet. Scott’s chance, however, would be snuffed out by United goalkeeper Mary Earps, who made a stellar diving save to maintain the clean sheet. Ultimately, Scott’s chance would be one of the few that Everton was able to create.

The second half remained scoreless for both squads as Manchester United secured another victory on the road. Though Sunday’s match was certainly not Manchester United’s best performance, it was enough to render them still competitive with first-place Chelsea.