The USWNT’s 39-game unbeaten streak remains intact after a pair of friendlies against Sweden and France. Two of the best teams in the world, each of them tested the USWNT as the squad continues to prepare for this summer’s Olympics. 

Last Saturday, Sweden provided the learning opportunity manager Vlatko Andonovski was hoping for, as Sweden scored first before the US came back to settle for a 1-1 draw. Sweden outplayed the US for much of the game, exposing weaknesses the team can now focus on strengthening after a relatively breezy start to 2021.  

Three days later, the USWNT notched a 2-0 victory over France, showcasing just how adept they are at rapidly course correcting. 

Though the coming weeks will shed more light on the Tokyo roster, these past two games provided some clear learnings to chew over. 

Here are our five key takeaways:

1. No matter what happens, Carli Lloyd is a legend 

Carli Lloyd etched her name into the history books on Sunday, becoming only the third soccer player (women’s or men’s) to ever hit 300 international caps. She joins the ranks of former teammates Kristine Lilly and Christie Pearce Rampone, who retired with 354 and 311 caps respectively. 

Alex Morgan praised her teammate and former co-captain, telling reporters that Lloyd is still passing along the culture of the national team to the next generation of players. 

“It’s great to have her on this team and have her leading the way still.”

Whether or not she makes the Olympic roster, Lloyd is already a legend for the national team. (But you better believe she’ll do everything she can to make that team.) No matter which way you cut it, 300 caps is simply absurd. 

Lloyd, for her part, says her career so far with this team has been an honor, as “nothing is ever given, everything is earned.”

2. The backline looks locked 

Though there hasn’t been much doubt about which core defenders Vlatko will take to Tokyo, these past two games further solidified that Abby Dahlkemper, Crystal Dunn, Kelley O’Hara, and Becky Sauerbrunn remain locked in as the starters. 

Tierna Davidson may have likewise secured a spot after her 90-minute battle against Sweden’s tenacious offense in the center back position, adding to her impressive play as an outside back during the SheBelieves Cup. 

With five spots seemingly filled, all eyes will now be on the remaining contenders: Emily Sonnett, Midge Purce, Alana Cook, Ali Krieger, and Casey Krueger, who will all have to prove at the club level that they belong in Tokyo this summer. 

3. Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan are (almost) fully back 

It’s hard to imagine that the team plane could leave for an international tournament without Megan Rapinoe or Alex Morgan on board. But after Rapinoe opted out of play for most of 2020 and Morgan gave birth, incurred a knee injury, and battled COVID-19, fans and coaches alike had to get used to the idea that the two stars may have been slow in returning to fitness.

Well, after this trip, those worries can be largely laid to rest. 

Leaving Europe with two penalty kick goals, Rapinoe now leads the USWNT for goals scored in 2021. As for Morgan, Andonovski said she has her “killer instinct back” after drawing a penalty and scoring against France. 

“I’m very happy with the way she’s progressing and where she is at this point in the preparation,” Andonovski said of his star striker.

4. Vlatko is still searching for ways to maximize his midfield 

Andonovksi played a bit of musical chairs in the midfield in the match against France, subbing in Lindsey Horan for Rapinoe in the 63’, which moved Christen Press to the 11 spot and Rose Lavelle up high on the right.

The move gave us a glimpse into how Andonovksi plans to maximize his roster by having Horan, Lavelle, Sam Mewis, and Julie Ertz all on the field at once. 

“All four of them are incredible players, and as a coach, you want to have the best players on the field at the same time,” he told the press after the game, dispelling previous notions that those four were playing for just three spots. 

5. Questions remain for Catarina Macario and Kristie Mewis 

Andovski was hoping to have Catarina Macario at this camp, however, she was forced to stay home due to protocols surrounding Lyon’s recent COVID outbreak. The French club is scheduled to return to play on April 18, giving Andonovski a handful of opportunities to assess her performance before the next camp. 

Kristie Mewis saw the field for about ten-minutes against Sweden and was listed as an available sub for the France match. It’s reasonable to wonder why she wasn’t given an opportunity to play more during the trip given her impactful showing in multiple games since re-joining the national team. It’s possible that Vlatko has seen what he needs to see from her for the time being and will continue to analyze Mewis as she returns to her home market. 

Up next: 

The USWNT is scheduled to return to the pitch in June to host the Tournament of Nations. As for us, we’ll continue playing roster roulette while juggling multiple screens as we watch the upcoming NWSL, FAWSL, and Champions League matches.

Amanda Kessel likes to win, which does not shock those who have followed her storied career thus far. But while her status as an elite athlete is a no-brainer for anyone who watches her play, the opportunity to compete hasn’t been guaranteed. 

Speaking with me with just a couple of days to go before the PWHPA takes to the ice in St. Louis for the third installment of the 2021 Secrete Dream Gap Tour, the star forward for Team Women’s Sports Foundation (New Hampshire) makes it abundantly clear that while she’s looking forward to hopefully out-scoring Team adidas (Minnesota) in their final two meetings, she’s playing for much more than bragging rights. 

For every goal she nets and shift she dominates, Kessel is skating for the future of the sport as her teammates (and rivals) work to harness the full potential of women’s hockey. 


I catch Kessel while she’s still in New York training daily with her skills coach in preparation for this weekend’s tournament, which like the previous two tour stops, is conducted in partnership with an NHL team. The St. Louis Blues will become the fourth NHL team to partner with the PWHPA when the players touchdown in the Show Me state, joining the New York Ranger, the Toronto Maple Leaves, and the Chicago Blackhawks, who sponsored previous showcases. 

While some will argue that the PWHPA should avoid any economic reliance on the NHL, Kessel echoes her teammate Hilary Knight’s stance on embracing the partnerships, telling JWS, “it’s a good sign for us and for women’s hockey that there are these NHL clubs that are buying into helping us grow. It’s definitely a start.”

As for the tour’s success so far, Kessel notes, “I think it proves that there’s a product there, that there’s a want, and that there is a need for [the PWHPA].” And for Kessel, that’s where the NHL comes into play. “It’s really trying to keep this momentum building. That’s what’s key about having multiple NHL teams involved. What we’ve heard is that more [teams] want to have weekends, we just don’t have enough weekends.”

Kessel may be out of luck when it comes to expanding the Gregorian calendar, but as one of the association’s leaders, she’s ready to make big changes to the PWHPA. 

“I personally believe that we need to turn into a league,” she says. “I think it can be a little bit confusing to people that we are just an association, and obviously that’s where we have to start, but I think that it’s the right time to move forward and announce that we are going to be a league and go from there.”

Though there’s no concrete playbook on how to transition from an association to league, in Kessel’s opinion what’s crucial is establishing now what the future should ideally look like, and setting up a solid foundation so that the PWHPA can evolve into a sustainable women’s professional league that can continue to grow. And even though the PWHPA has only existed for roughly two years, Kessel points out that their determination to build a long-lasting institution has so far yielded big-name sponsorships, broadcast opportunities, prize money, and the chance to play in legendary arenas. 


As soon as the final buzzer sounds in St. Louis, the PWHPA players will temporarily disperse as some head to national team training camps to get ready for the IIHF Women’s World Championship tournament slated to start on May 6 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. 

Team USA is slated to take on Switzerland, Finland, Russia, and Canada in the preliminary round. 

Tactically, the Americans have a solid core, but as Kessel explains, there’s a notable difference in the physicality of domestic games versus international play. 

“[PWHPA] games are still physical, but it’s nowhere near the same as playing Canada. And I don’t know if that’s because we don’t want to hurt any of our Team USA teammates or what it is, but definitely, there’s a difference in physicality.”

Team USA hasn’t had a chance to compete against rival Canada for more than a year. Needless to say, they’re eager to hit the ice. 

“Luckily we do know each other so well, and hopefully after a few practices and games we pick up right where we left off. I know we’ve done a lot of work in the off season, continuing on Zoom calls and video sessions and mental skills. So although we’ve been away, we’ve all been trying to continue to get better.”


No matter who Kessel faces off against at any point during the season, maintaining safety in the game is quite literally top of her mind. 

At the age of 23, Kessel suffered a concussion during a scrimmage before the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. Though she went on to help Team USA win silver, she was subsequently sidelined for nearly two-years with debilitating symptoms.  

Kessel battled her way back, marking her return to hockey with an NCAA championship at the University of Minnesota in 2016 before becoming the highest paid player in the NWHL when she signed with the New York Riveters later that year. She then skated her way into the history books when she made the national team again for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, where Team USA beat Canada to win gold. 

Though Kessel’s concussion saga ended in victory, she’s well aware of the struggle many athletes face when it comes to talking about this “unseen injury,” as she calls it.  

“I think that concussions scare people.”

“Going through it, knowing that it is a real thing and that it is very hard mentally… people that haven’t been through it can’t quite know what you’re feeling.” 

As with most things mired in taboo, shining a light is almost always a winning strategy to elevate the conversation. For Kessel, continuing to talk about concussions is crucial to dissolving the fear that makes brain injuries a hush-hush topic. 

“I do think that the more people talk about it, the more comfortable everyone else gets.”


If she makes the 2022 Olympic squad — which to many is a foregone conclusion — Kessel will be playing for her third chance at a medal and second for gold. And while the hardware is nice, the wins aren’t just for her. 

Though women’s hockey has yet to firmly establish the same infrastructure in the U.S. that other sports have, one could make the case though that the 2018 Olympic team is playing a similar role for hockey that the 99’ers played for women’s soccer in America. Whether history proves that true or not, Amanda Kessel is a name that young players will know for years to come.

Thinking about herself as a leader in her sport, Kessel says, “I think it’s a unique and special opportunity and something that I take pride in.” It’s not lost on her the impact role models have on the proliferation of the sport, noting “being able to change or improve a few people’s lives is a big deal… you don’t picture yourself in that role really growing up, and sometimes don’t even see your impact until years later.” 

“I think now that’s really what I’ve been starting to see… having these young girls look up to me, it’s really a privilege.”

Kessel knows too that in order to inspire the next generation, women’s hockey needs media attention. Reflecting on the statistic that women’s sports receive a mere 4% of sports coverage, she expresses the same frustration shared by many athletes. 

“That’s kind of mind blowing just to think about. How do you grow? Nobody sees you and you’re not being recognized.”

In sports, as in life, perseverance is paramount, and Kessel, a fierce competitor, isn’t shying away from the challenges presented to her and her teammates. 

“What we’re doing now, continuing to push for these opportunities and playing in these showcases and being seen on TV and having people cover our stories. I think that’s really key.”

Fans nationwide will get to see the PWHPA players take to the ice on Sunday, April 11 at 6 pm ET at Centene Community Ice Center and Monday, April 12 at 7 pm ET at Enterprise Center. 

Sunday’s game will broadcast on CBC for Canadian fans and will be streamed for fans in the U.S., while Monday’s game will broadcast on NBC Sports in the U.S. and SportsNet in Canada. 

Team Women’s Sports Foundation will also welcome Kacey Bellamy to the group (joining from Team Calgary), as they look to make ground on Team adidas, who leads the tour 8-2 in points. 

For years, the North Carolina Courage have embraced their self-appointed role as perennial underdogs — even as their star-studded roster has racked up NWSL trophies and titles, winning back-to-back championships in 2018 and ‘19. 

Head coach Paul Riley has hammered the narrative home to such a degree that it’s become a running joke amongst rival coaches.

In the past, it’s been hard to know whether he was trolling the media or just fueling his squad. And yet in 2021, the moniker might finally fit. 

After a trophy-less 2020, the Courage enter the latest NWSL season having lost a trio of world-class stars: Crystal Dunn was traded to Portland in the offseason, while both Sam Mewis and Abby Dahlkemper signed with Manchester City. 

To say the losses could impact the club is an understatement: Mewis was just named the best player in the world by ESPN. Dunn came in at No. 6, while Dahlkmper was No. 29.

Their collective departure already has fans wondering if the Courage dynasty is over, even before the upcoming season begins. 

Lynn Williams might have something to say about that. 

Courage fans don’t need to be told how important Williams is to the franchise. She was drafted by the club’s predecessor (the Western New York Flash) in 2015 and subsequently moved with the team to Cary. She has since led the Courage in scoring for the last three non-Covid seasons, and is now the second all-time leading scorer in NWSL history. 

Despite these accomplishments, it’s been easy to overlook Williams’ talent given just how loaded the Courage have been. That’s about to change in 2021. And while everyone may want to talk about what the Courage have lost, the real story might be the leader they’ve found.

Embracing the challenge

Williams, for starters, isn’t apologizing about that “underdog” narrative. 

“In the past, people really got annoyed with us, saying ‘you guys are clearly not the underdogs,’ but I always think that it’s not necessarily about your performance or your results. It’s an attitude… an underdog attitude is somebody who’s always going to fight no matter how much success they’re having.”

It’s precisely that attitude that has guided Williams in her own career. Looking at the player she is today, it’s mind boggling to think she received just one college offer (she scored 50 goals as a high school senior, so it’s not like she was hiding). 

Thankfully for soccer fans, Pepperdine University saw something special in Williams. Three NWSL Championships, three NWSL Shields, a Golden Boot, and an NWSL MVP award later, it’s clear they were right. 

Williams knows what it’s like to be doubted as a player. Now she’s the face of a franchise in transition. 

“For the longest time, everybody has always wanted us to lose. And now they see this opportunity as ‘finally the Courage are going to lose.’ I think that for me, that’s a challenge that I’m willing to accept.”

She already has a warning for teams thinking too far ahead: “We are still going to be just as hard to play and just as hard to beat.”

Brad Smith/ISI Photos

As someone who’s been with the Courage from the start, Williams knows she’s officially grown out of her ‘up-and-coming’ phase, admitting “sometimes I don’t see myself as this veteran player, but I definitely am, and I can’t deny that any longer.” 

Hopping on the phone with me after a training session in the North Carolina heat, the Fresno, California native speaks with a fluid calmness underscored by the confidence of a woman who knows who she is and what she’s capable of, despite having to defy an underdog label time and time again. 

When the ninth NWSL season begins, Williams won’t just step onto the pitch as a leader for her team, but also as a player who has found her voice and discovered her platform within the larger soccer world. At the same time that she’s competing to represent her country in Tokyo, Williams is also challenging it to transform 2020’s racial reckoning into tangible change. And while her actions on the field may determine the course of both the Courage’s season as well as the USWNT’s shot at gold, it’s her actions off the field that could change the game for Black women in soccer.

Committing to the Courage

Amidst the flurry of big-name exits last year, Williams became a more permanent pillar for her team, signing an extension with the Courage in August that will keep her with the team through 2023.  

Now acting as an independent entity from the U.S. Soccer Federation, the NWSL no longer has to adhere to all of the previous regulations regarding how national team players’ NWSL salaries are financed. This means national team players have the option to sign directly with their NWSL teams, an option Williams has exercised (as have Dunn and Lindsey Horan in Portland). 

The new contract gives her more stability and income security — something that still eludes so many in the league. 

“I wish women’s soccer was at a different spot and I wish that maybe I was a little bit younger. I’m not saying I’m old, but as I get older, I can’t just continue to make nothing. One day I want a family, and one day I want to set myself up for success in the future. And so knowing that I have that stability, knowing I can put down roots somewhere is really exciting to me.”

The Courage, for their part, were thrilled to retain Williams, who in 2019 was the recipient of the club’s Community Service Award. 

“Lynn’s leadership, locker room personality, and impact on and off the field is immeasurable,” Coach Riley said in announcing her extension. “We are delighted to have her back and for Courage fans to see her in her prime over the next few years.”

One of the unique aspects of NWSL culture has always been the access that fans have to players, which has only increased with the ubiquity of social media. Even then, what many don’t see behind the scenes is the conditions that female footballers have been forced to contend with in order to play professionally. And while things like housing, meals, medical and training facilities have improved in recent years, the league is still a ways away from feeling fully professional. 

“For the longest time, people were living with host families,” Williams explains, “and you had to fend for yourself when it came to food. And it was like, how are you expecting us to be these top elite athletes, when for dinner sometimes my first year, I would have beans and queso and chips? Because that’s what I could afford.”

For Williams, the operative word for bringing about change is ‘investment.’ 

“It’s investing in players’ futures, investing in players’ environment and their willingness to want to be there. Making sure you have a great medical staff, so people feel supported and also safe.”

Williams also highlights the role the media can play in bringing more sponsors and money into the league, saying the teams which focus on storytelling will see their efforts rewarded. 

“[It’s about] investing in women and also putting their faces out into the world for people to see.”

The Courage themselves welcomed a high-profile investor in early 2021: tennis superstar Naomi Osaka, who cruised through the Australian Open rocking all kinds of Courage swag.

Osaka’s decision to join the Courage as a partial owner signals another shift in momentum for the NWSL, following a number of celebrities investing in the Angel City expansion. This kind of big-name commitment is precisely what the league needs to not only raise its visibility, but to prove that women’s soccer will yield major future dividends. 

Another chance to wear the crest

If you’d only started watching the USWNT this past November, you’d be forgiven for assuming that Lynn Williams has long been a staple player on this team. 

Williams earned her first cap in October 2016, and while she played for the team during both the 2017 and 2018 SheBelieves tournaments, she was not selected for the 2019 World Cup roster. 

Though devastated by the last-minute cut, Williams knew she was at a critical threshold in her career. While the national team might have temporarily passed on her, she knew she could prove herself as a player with her club. 

“I felt like, ‘I can either give up now and never know how good I could have been, or I can keep fighting.’ And at the time, my Courage team still needed me, and I said, ‘You know what, Lynn, instead of maybe going and not even getting a lot of minutes, and maybe you losing fitness, losing your touch, how about you come here and be the best Lynn you can be for this team, because this team needs you.’”

That decision proved to be fortuitous for Williams, the Courage, and now potentially the USWNT. 

North Carolina won the 2019 NWSL Championship in October, the same month Vlatko Andonovski took over the USWNT. Two weeks later, Williams was brought back into the fold for Andonovski’s first game as a manager. 

Since then, Williams has notched five goals, earned nine starts, and clocked more than 800 minutes on the pitch over the course of a handful of friendlies, two SheBelieves tournaments, and the most recent CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

Williams doesn’t attribute her increased playing time to anything specific about Andonovski’s style, and tries not to focus too much on why she’s now seeing the field more than she has in the past. She will concede, though, that she has skills her coach looks for in his current system.

“I think that Vlatko sees my defensive side as key to the success of this team right now and my willingness to work back as a forward.” 

And then, of course, there’s her speed.

“That’s one-of-a-kind right now, the speed that I have.”

A collective rises

Despite her strides within the national team, there’s still no guarantee Williams will make this summer’s 18-player Olympics roster. The competition is just that fierce. But whether or not she goes to Tokyo, Williams is already making an impact on the game. 

A founding member of the Black Women’s Player Collective, Williams is now working alongside her peers to elevate Black women in soccer. Throughout the process, she’s discovered her own voice as a leader in the sport. 

“For the longest time, I was somebody who was like, ‘don’t rock the boat, just play soccer and do that.’ And of course, people are going to think you stand up for Black lives because you are Black. In recent times, I realized that’s not enough. I’m not really doing anything or helping anybody by staying quiet.” 

As for many, 2020 changed everything when it came to speaking out on racial injustice. 

“I think over the past year, it’s just me being able to voice my opinion more, stand my ground, and also show other Black girls that soccer is a space for them… that I’m going to fight for their future.”

While she won’t give away any secrets about what’s to come, Williams noted a few of the BWPC’s initiatives include supporting legislation like Kentucky’s Senate Bill 4 and House Bill 21 seeking to ban no-knock warrants. The BWPC is also working to put soccer pitches in low income areas where fields aren’t as accessible. 

Behind the scenes, Williams is taking the time to engage teammates on the topics of race and social justice. The USWNT, in particular, has brought social justice to the forefront of its messaging. When asked if her conversations with teammates were as productive as the team’s public statements have indicated, Williams emphatically confirms, “Absolutely,” saying that change must begin with open dialogue.  

One of the players Williams has conversed with in earnest is her longtime roommate and friend (and former Courage teammate) Sam Mewis. 

In describing their conversations, Williams shares a glimpse of what talks at the national and club level have looked like, as players confront a feeling that many allies struggle with — how to push past the fear of saying the ‘wrong thing’ in order to show up and engage in difficult discourse. 

“Especially right now, when you’re navigating this time and the race subject, people, white people especially, are like, ‘well, I don’t want to say the wrong thing and I don’t want to come off racist.’ And I think I have given Sam a safe space to ask questions. I know Sam’s heart and I know she would never mean to say something mean to me… it’s just opening her eyes to new perspectives. And I think that that’s the same thing that’s going on with the national team.”

“It’s honestly been so rewarding, not only for Sam, but for myself, too.”

What comes next

Williams will miss the start of the NWSL’s second annual Challenge Cup tournament as she’s competing with the national team in a pair of friendlies in Europe against Sweden and France. Sweden famously knocked the USWNT out of the 2016 Olympics, while France came close to doing the same at the 2019 World Cup, making these games one of the last major tests the USWNT will face ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.

With the Olympic roster still hanging in the balance, Williams is committed to simply being the “best Lynn I can possibly be.” That means fighting for herself, her club, her country, Black women in soccer and the next generation of professional players.

For any other player, that might seem like too much. For Lynn Williams, it’s just another chapter in her underdog story. 

The NWSL Challenge Cup begins Friday, April 9 at 8:30 pm ET on CBSSN with reigning champions the Houston Dash taking on last year’s runner ups the Chicago Red Stars.

The USWNT takes on Sweden in Stockholm on Saturday, April 10 at 1:00 pm ET on FOX. The USWNT then plays France in Le Havre on Tuesday, April 13 at 3:00 pm ET on ESPN2.

The USWNT clinched their fourth SheBelieves Cup title after a decisive 6-0 victory against Argentina last week.

Though the US walked away from the three game series with a clean sheet, the tournament provided key tests for the defensive line and further opportunities to evaluate the team’s execution in the attacking third.

Last Friday, during the semiannual U.S. Soccer Federation board meeting, it was confirmed that the FIFA Olympic roster deadline is June 30. Additionally, general manager Kate Markgraf announced five more opportunities to assess this team before Vlatko has to make a final call. The women will play two friendlies on the road in April during the FIFA window (possibly in Europe) and three matches in June when the U.S. hosts the Tournament of Nations.


With an 18 player Olympic roster (plus four alternates), the operative word for Andonovski is “versatility.” So far this year, we’ve been able to see more of what individual players can do in his system when slotted into positions they don’t typically occupy for the national team.

The most prominent episode came in the 63’ minute against Colombia in January, when Crystal Dunn subbed in for Megan Rapinoe in the attack and notched an assist to Lindsey Horan just 10 minutes later. Dunn played at outside back throughout the 2019 World Cup but has made it clear that she’d like to spend more time up top for the national team, which could very well happen in Tokyo.

On the defensive end, we’ve had the chance to see what Midge Purce can do in the right back position as well as Emily Sonnett’s play as both a two and a three. And though she’s seen as heir apparent to Becky Sauerbrunn, Tierna Davidson got the opportunity in the match against Argentina to show that she can play up the left side and get involved with the offense.

In the midfield and up top, Andonovski has experimented with different player combinations now that Alex Morgan and Christen Press are back to join Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, and Lynn Williams. He’s also played Catarina Macario both in the eleven and nine positions as well as in her typical midfield spot.

During the SheBelieves Cup, the USWNT played with a different forward line each game. Andonovski also worked to change the pace of the games via his substitutions (“game changers,” as he calls them), most notably when he subbed in Morgan, Press, and Rose Lavelle to replace Lloyd, Rapinoe, and Macario against Canada, all in the 64’ minute.

When it comes down to decision time, Andonovski knows he’s going to need a roster of athletes that can deliver consistent play while also giving him tactical flexibility. Olympic rosters are small, the schedule is packed, and the USWNT is in a position to make history as the only team to ever win a World Cup and Olympics in back-to-back tournaments. Andonovski will have to balance leveraging his team’s proven core while also developing the unproven players who are the future of the program.

Assuming he takes two goalkeepers, six defenders, five midfielders, and five forwards, here’s our best guess as to where the roster stands today.


Assuming Alyssa Naeher is locked in as the team’s starting keeper for the Olympics, the question now is who backs her up. Ashlynn Harris has held the position as of late, but Jane Campbell took a turn in goal in Florida, playing a full 90 against Argentina.

Regarding her performance in the game, Andonovski stated “We’re very happy with Jane and her form. She’s been incredible in camp, actually in several camps in a row now and I just hope she continues the form in her [home] market.”

The Houston Dash keeper might have a better shot at being chosen as an alternate, but given that Ashlyn Harris (35) and Alyssa Naeher (32) are both north of 30, Andonovski could want to give the 26-year-old Campbell some crucial experience at a major tournament.


The USWNT defense is more or less rock solid with Crystal Dunn, Abby Dahlkemper, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Kelley O’Hara looking like locks to start on the backline.

A knee bump kept O’Hara from playing in the majority of the SheBelieves Cup, but her 30 minutes against Argentina were a reminder that it’s still her spot to lose, and Andonovski has spoken glowingly of the leadership she brings to the team.

Given her aforementioned versatility and level of play, Emily Sonnett probably has the inside lane on claiming the fifth spot. She was a part of the 2019 World Cup team, and when O’Hara came off against Argentina, it was Sonnett who Andonovski sent in.

Sauerbrunn is 35, and while age doesn’t seem to be slowing her down, this summer’s Olympics may be her last major tournament with the team. If that’s the case, Tierna Davidson could be an attractive selection for the sixth spot. The youngest player on the 2019 World Cup roster, Davidson’s selection would thread the needle between utilizing the team’s foundation while also giving younger places opportunities to grow.

Sonnet and Davidson may be the favorites, but Midge Purce, Ali Krieger, Alana Cook (who missed the tournament due to PSG’s quarantine protocols), and Casey Krueger are all in serious contention. Krueger may be lower down on that list (with Krieger possibly on top given her international tournament experience), but as always, club performance could change that assumption entirely.

Purce’s ability to play multiple positions could be enticing given the compressed Olympic schedule. And while Cook may be off American fans’ radar, having spent most of her professional career in France, she has the skill and potential to be a perennial USWNT regular in the not-so-distant future.


Whittling down the midfield on this team is enough to make the most stoic break out in hives. One thing we can be pretty confident about is that one does not leave the house without keys, wallet, cell phone, and Julie Ertz.

That leaves four spots open for five contenders. Three of those openings likely belong to Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle, and Sam Mewis who announced her return from an ankle injury with a brace against Birmingham City on Sunday while playing for Manchester City.

The last spot is a tussle between Kristie Mewis and Catarina Macario.

Macario has a confidence on the field that belies her age and international experience. SheBelieves didn’t show us the full extent what she’s capable of, but whether she goes to Tokyo or not, she’s on track to be a fixture for this team going forward.

As for Mewis, Andonovski noted after the Argentina game that, while it took her a moment to figure out how to impact the game, once she did, her performance was great, netting a goal, an assist, and a variety of impressive runs. From the outside looking in, her decision making and precision on the ball (especially near the goal) make a very good case for taking her.

Will Macario’s presumptive future with the national team give her the nod? She may be the more obvious choice given her potential, but Mewis has now proven both domestically and internationally that she’s ready to slide in and make a difference for this team.


When assessing the forward pool, it’s important to remember that we haven’t seen Tobin Heath since November, and based on her ankle prognosis, she may not see minutes for her country until the Tournament of Nations. Andonovski, however, doesn’t seem concerned about her ability to bounce back and get fit.

“She’s been in a situation like this before where she’s coming back from injury and needs to recover quick,” he noted ahead of the team’s match against Canada. “I’m confident that Tobin will do whatever it takes to get ready for the Olympics.”

Andonovski’s assessment seemingly locks Heath into the roster spot. Christen Press also seems like a sure bet, having gone from a super sub under Jill Ellis to potentially the team’s most dynamic goalscorer under Andonovski.

Alex Morgan is also looking more and more like herself on the pitch after giving birth to daughter Charlie and beating COVID-19. After the Argentina match, she acknowledged that she still has some work to do to get back into form, and she is someone who will benefit from consistent NWSL training and gametime in Orlando. If she keeps heading in the direction she’s going, she should soar straight on to Japan.

When it comes to Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd, there’s no question that they have the fitness required to make the Olympic roster. Either they both will go and that’s that, or (not to sound like a broken record), it will come down to the player who most impacts the game in the ways Andonovski needs them to.

If the roster was decided today, Megan Rapinoe appears to be the more likely contender. Coming back from a year of rest, Rapinoe still owns the eleven position both in setting up plays, scoring goals herself (she finished as the tournament’s highest scorer with three goals), and adding energy to the game when she comes in off the bench. Both her and Lloyd have a history of making the biggest plays on the biggest stage. That could be hard to turn down.

Lynn Williams and Sophia Smith remain the two question marks. Smith seems less likely to make the roster, simply given the depth on this team. Her time will come.

Williams is more difficult to assess. After making a name for herself with her game-braking speed, she’s now proven to be a consistent goal scorer in the NWSL, with one MVP and three league champions to her name. At the international level, she’s someone who has proven she can make a difference both offensively and defensively from the seven spot. During the SheBelieves Cup, however, she missed on a few key opportunities in front of the goal against Canada and Brazil.

Will those blunders impact her Olympic chances? Maybe. But what if she carries a North Carolina Courage squad that recently lost Crystal Dunn, Sam Mewis, and Abby Dahlkemper to the top of the NWSL table early in the season? It’s just too early to know which variables Andonovski will weigh the most.


As players now return to their home markets, both domestic and international, Andonovski and his coaching staff will be paying close attention to how players perform for their club teams.

In the U.S., NWSL pre-season is underway with the second Challenge Cup set to start on April 9, followed by the regular season on May 15. Overseas, the UEFA Champions League games begin in March, a series that will give Dahlkemper, Lavelle, Mewis, and Macario high-stakes, high-octane opportunities on the field. Press (and Health once she’s healthy), will continue their WSL season with Manchester United, banking solid minutes in a competitive environment.

As Vlatko said during his post-game presser last Wednesday, selecting the roster will remain an ongoing process.

“Everything that we do in camp, in training, in games, everything that they’re going to do in games with clubs is going to be important as well, because ultimately it may come down to the certain form a player is in if both players are equal.”

And despite how safe some selections may feel, Andonovski reminded the public that he’s still closely evaluating each player every time they step on the pitch.

“We’re still evaluating everyone. The list is still pretty big compared to 18.”

Hilary Knight and I are experiencing bad cell service due to winter weather that just won’t quit. We both laugh and roll with it because if this year has taught us anything, it’s to just keep going.

The same is true for Knight and the team she formed to create the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, a player-led organization whose goal is to create a single, viable professional women’s hockey league in North America. No matter what obstacles get thrown their way (and there have been plenty), they’ve remained bound and determined to keep going until they change the status quo for their sport.

Knight and I speak days before the start of the PWHPA’s second Dream Gap Tour, which gets underway on Sunday, February 28 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. When Team New Hampshire faces off against Team Minnesota, it will be the first time that women’s professional hockey will be played in the “World’s Most Famous Arena.”


Hilary Knight had big plans for the PWHPA’s second season. Another round of the Dream Gap Tour had been planned for 2020, with other opportunities cropping up on the horizon. Like other sports, all of that came to a screeching halt as COVID-19 spread across the globe. Despite the setback and the ongoing uncertainty, Knight and her teammates have kept themselves focused on maintaining their fitness as best they can in order to stay prepared.

Balancing her time between her home in Idaho and her training pod in Minnesota, Knight has made the most of her surroundings, running up mountains in her backyard and using her garage as a gym.

“I’ve definitely had to do some home workouts without any equipment,” she says. “Filling my backpacks with firewood to create weight, using my porch as a step up… You kind of just get creative.”

She may be one of the best hockey players in the world, but Knight is just like the rest of us when it comes to Zoom blunders, having accidentally crushed her computer with logs during a virtual team workout. Such is life for an elite athlete in a strange time.

All in all, Knight’s approach to staying in shape for the PWHPA’s upcoming games and the 2022 Beijing Olympics has been to keep calm and get the work done, knowing that she’s far from the only one facing challenges.

“It’s not ideal,” she admits, “and I think you just come to the realization that as hard as it is as a person, everyone else who’s training for the same opportunity is going through the exact same thing.”


A self-described Type A person, Knight has also put her long term goals for the PWHPA at the forefront of her mind in order to contend with a lack of control over what this year will look like.

“Understanding that we have this vision, we have to continue to adjust and adapt on the fly. It’s not always going to go according to plan, especially with the global health crisis. So I think that’s been the biggest thing, trying to be flexible and being okay with being flexible.”

As a leader, Knight is honest about the challenges she faces trying to keep players engaged and connected during this time when they can’t physically be together. At this nascent phase of the PWHPA’s development, enacting a strong culture and fomenting relationships is key.

But as with the other obstacles she’s juggling at the moment, Knight is not inclined to let anything get in the way of what she and more than 100 other players have set out to achieve, previously telling Just Women’s Sports founder and CEO Haley Rosen, “This is for the future of the game. We’re trying to build something that’s bigger and better than what is currently out there. Not only for ourselves but also for the younger girls who dream of playing professional hockey.”


For anyone of a certain generation, it’s nearly impossible to hear an inspiring hockey story without whispering a subtle “quack, quack, quack, quack.” It’s even harder to watch Hilary Knight on the ice without feeling like you’re witnessing Connie Moreau, all grown up.

But instead of being one of the only girls on the team, the real life hockey phenom is working to build the future she envisioned as a kid, a world where girls can aspire to play in an established, sustainable professional league.

Though she started out on skis at age two, Knight quickly fell in love with ice hockey when her family moved from California to Illinois, and a lack of mountains forced her parents to switch Hilary and her siblings to the local sport.

Knight excelled on skates, and at the age of five — years before the USA women’s team took home gold in the sport’s Olympic debut in Nagano — she announced that she would be an Olympic ice hockey player one day. The only issue was that no professional league existed yet for women.

“I think seeing the guys on TV and watching the NHL, that was how I viewed hockey,” Knight told Kelley O’Hara on the Just Women’s Sports podcast. “And it felt like the Olympics were sort of that pinnacle,”

More than two decades later, with a resume that boasts multiple Olympic medals (including gold from Pyeongchang in 2018), an Isobel Cup Championship, two NCAA titles, All-American credentials, eight World Championships, two World silver medals, and handfuls of additional accolades, the University of Wisconsin graduate isn’t driven by what she’s accomplished in the past.

One of the most recognizable faces in her sport, Knight is motivated by the fire stoked within her from experiencing the harsh reality of trying to make it as a professional hockey player post-college as leagues folded around her and scarce resources made it difficult to make ends meet.

“The reality was far different than what I thought it would be,” Knight told O’Hara. Recounting the start of her professional career, Knight remembers teaching skating lessons to make extra money and living on peanut butter sandwiches and free Dunkin’ Donuts coffee rolls that she would pick up at the end of the day before they were tossed.

Enough eventually became enough, and in 2019, Knight took matters into her own hands.


It’s rare to see camaraderie between US and Canadian hockey players. The two national teams hate each other, Knight admitted to O’Hara, as she recounted on-ice fist-fights between the two programs.

But in an attempt to reshape the professional possibilities for the sport, Knight worked to bring the best athletes from both America and Canada together to start the PWHPA, an alternative organization to the National Women’s Hockey League, which was not meeting every player’s standards for sustainable success.

One of the first recurring opportunities for PWHPA players to showcase their prowess has been the Dream Gap Tour, which aims to galvanize the hockey community around the future of women.

When we started out, we wanted to provide players resources and opportunities to play,” Knight says. “We don’t get enough with our own national team, and we saw a big need to bridge the gap.”

In addition, Knight notes the need for visibility, saying the tour has ensured that the players remain present and accessible to fans. Visibility is key not only in creating role models for the next generation, but in order to garner the support these athletes need to build the infrastructure necessary to support a competitive playing and developmental environment.

As Knight explains, “it’s all those shared services that we as viewers of professional leagues don’t think about. When you break it down, when you’re watching a player perform, even if it’s a team sport—take one player, there are so many people that go into the success of that player performing on the ice, and then equally there are so many people that go into the success of that team.”

In addition to performance resources, Knight’s goal is for players to have the same opportunity as their male counterparts to make a livable wage and play hockey for a living.

The question now is how.


The fact of the matter is that there is no standard playbook for starting a league from scratch. The PWHPA has enjoyed support from multiple NHL partners, including the New York Rangers, the Chicago Blackhawks, and the Toronto Maple Leaves, who are all lending resources (and arenas) to market the association, the Dream Gap Tour, and future games.

These multi-year partnerships with various clubs now beggars the question of whether the road for women’s hockey starts with more assistance from the NHL.

For Knight, the answer is yes.

“I know there’s a school of thought of ‘oh no, go out and do it on your own.’ But there’s so much to learn and almost not enough time. So if we can have a plugin with these different clubs and continue to have this cross-pollination of shared resources, it’s only going to benefit the game long-term.”

That said, she knows that professional sports leagues are money making ventures, acknowledging that the NHL is its own entity, and they’ve got to make “a good business decision.”

“Personally, I think it would be phenomenal having a woman’s pro league [in partnership with] the NHL,” Knight says. “So I hope it’s in the future, but only time will tell.”

A big part of that future will also hinge on how Knight and other players can grow the game not just for women, but for players of color as well.

Knight is well aware that hockey is a majority-white sport, and she understands the importance of changing that precedent.

“Our entire mission is ‘if she can see it, she can be it,’ and coming from the gender side of things, we saw how important it was for a young girl to be able to see this awesome female skating,” she says. “It’s the same thing with BIPOC players. If we continue to deliver a white player on the ice… then hockey is not going to be for everyone.”

While she knows that solving racial inequities in her sport will not happen overnight, as a leader striving for change, Knight acknowledged that “we play a big role in being able to facilitate bringing hockey to everyone and making it more accessible and making it more diverse.”

“It’s definitely something that’s on the forefront of people’s minds and a conversation that we’ve been having for many, many months.”


When the Dream Gap Tour concludes later this year, it’s all eyes on Beijing for Team USA.

Knight is excited at the prospect of bringing home another gold in 2022, but understandably has questions about what the next year of training looks like for her and other Olympic hopefuls due to the new reality created by COVID-19. Though she teeters between feeling underprepared and acknowledging that everyone is being dealt the same cards right now, she’s trying not to over analyze the situation.

“I think it’s a balance of the two extremes and understanding that when the time comes, whoever’s on the team is going to be ready for that opportunity.”

Typically, the team gathers for a residency program with players congregating in a designated location to train as a unit for six months. Having staged an October training camp with zero positive cases, Knight speculates that they’ll still be able to conduct residency training, but with different protocols than before, noting that their success this past fall “shows that the players are really serious about the opportunities when we do come together.”

So if all goes according to plan, Team USA will be able to get together when the time comes. But with the recent retirements of twins Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando, as well as captain Meghan Duggan, this will be a different team than the one that made history in 2018, upending Canada for the first time in 20 years and winning Olympic gold.

Thinking about the inevitable changing of the guard, Knight shares that while it’s bittersweet to think about heading to the Olympics without players that so many on Team USA grew up watching or playing alongside, the team’s drive transcends generations.

“It’s part of the culture that we’ve developed, and whether it’s your first Olympic games or your fourth, you just have to be ready to go and do whatever’s necessary to put the team in a winning position.”


I could talk to Knight ad nauseam about the intricacies of building a league, her steadfast dedication to setting high expectations, and not settling for less than what she feels female professional hockey players deserve. As our conversation winds down, I ask her what the golden ticket is.

Like a true business maven, Knight doesn’t skip a beat, telling me that the biggest need is for continued corporate investment, which she says will drive visibility.

“When you have these big brands that are hopping on board, people are paying more attention, and they’re taking what you’re doing seriously.”

The upcoming second run of the Dream Gap Tour, sponsored by Secret, is a proof point that Knight’s vision is beginning to take root.

“We need more players in our space and that will come. I think it just takes one, and then all of a sudden more companies want to be involved with what we have going on. And I think the sport in general is in a really good spot to continue to land these partnerships and sponsorships.”

And if there’s one thing Knight wants players, fans, and those in positions of power to know? It’s that “our group is so powerful because we’ve got the best players in North America, and we’re trying to navigate the future for the next generation.”

The Dream Gap Tour sponsored by Secret kicks off live from Madison Square Garden on Sunday, February 28 at 7 p.m. ET airing on NHL Network and Sportsnet 360. The tour continues from Chicago on Saturday, March 6 at 2 p.m. CT on NBC Sports and Sunday, March 7 at 10:30 a.m. CT on CBC Sports. 

Kristie Mewis calls me promptly at 12:00 p.m.

Right from “Hey, Rachel!,” it immediately feels like I’m catching up with an old friend. Perhaps it’s the familiarity of her slight Boston accent that reminds me we’re both east coasters. Or maybe it’s simply just who Mewis is: kind, reliable, real.

Both Mewis and her younger sister Sam, U.S. Soccer’s 2020 Player of the Year, were seemingly born to play sports. Their parents were both athletes, but though her mom played basketball, Mewis fell in love with soccer after picking up the sport when she was four or five years old.

“And then obviously having Sam growing up, and being able to play it with her, and share that with her, was a game changer.”



Graduating from Boston College in 2013 as the school’s record holder for career points (116) and a three-time Hermann Trophy semifinalist, Mewis was drafted third overall in the 2013 NWSL College Draft by none other then current-USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski, who was then at the helm of FC Kansas City.

Shortly thereafter, Mewis secured her first cap with the USWNT. Four months later, she scored her first international goal in a match against South Korea while playing at her hometown stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

But after 15 caps with the best team in the world, Mewis’ career began to stall. A combination of factors, including the inability to find the right position, sidelined Mewis from the national team. At the club level, a game of NWSL hot potato tossed her between five clubs in five seasons, with Mewis finally landing in Houston with the Dash.

To top it all off, in May of 2018, just as she was beginning to find her footing in Texas, she tore her ACL in a match against the Washington Spirit. The injury brought Mewis’ career to a crossroads. Suddenly, a player who first scored for the national team when she was 22 hadn’t been called in for almost half a decade. And now having blown out her knee, no one would have been surprised had Mewis decided that enough was enough. It was game over and time to move on.

But instead of letting that injury knock her out of soccer, Mewis says it served as a “kick in the ass.”

“After I had the period of feeling bad for myself, I kind of took it as like, what are you doing? Like, let’s get back on track. Let’s do what you want with your career.”



Some athletes will sugar coat their descent from the top. Mewis is matter-of-fact, but not harsh, in describing her journey from a standout youth (she was U.S. Soccer’s 2008 Young Female Athlete of the Year) to a pro having to fight through years of uncertainty.

“After I had gotten cut from the national team, I always wanted to be able to get back there,” she says, stating that after her injury, “I just told myself that I was going to come back better than ever. And I wasn’t going to settle for anything less. And that’s what I did.”


Mind over matter may have been the mantra, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. Serious injuries take a toll on both your body and the mind, and even the toughest athletes have to learn to manage their emotions throughout the process.

For Mewis, recovering from her ACL injury gave her the space to let those emotions out.

“I sometimes try to play the tough guy role like nothing affects me,” she says. “I feel like through that process, I wasn’t able to do that because it was such a physical and mental roller coaster.”

It was in working through these ups and downs, Mewis says, that she found her strength again.

“I found a little bit of power in being vulnerable and being a little bit weak sometimes. I think it kind of helped me get on the right track again.”



Mewis’ track ran parallel to that of her team’s, and in pursuing her dream of getting called up to play for her country again, she also helped the Dash turn a page in the history book.

Though COVID-19 threatened to shutter the NWSL in 2020, the league successfully pulled off the first professional sports bubble, hosting an eight-team Challenge Cup tournament in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Going into the tournament, the Dash were considered long shots at best, having never won a major trophy as a club. The team played with a Texas-sized chip on their shoulder, and Mewis entered the bubble environment on a personal mission.

After seven starts in seven games and 558 minutes on the field, for the first time in her professional, she emerged a champion, having drawn a penalty in the title game which led to the opening goal.


“I think being able to celebrate something like that in such a difficult time, especially for a team who hasn’t had too much success in the past and me personally, haven’t had too much success in the NWSL, it was just really special,” she says.

The Cup also gave Mewis a chance to prove herself to one of the few outside individuals allowed in the bubble: USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski, who throughout the tournament could be seen jotting down notes while sitting in the stands.

Mewis had been invited to a USWNT I.D. camp in December of 2019. There, her former coach was blunt in his assessment that she still had work to do to be considered for the team.

“One thing that I love about Vlatko is that he’s extremely honest,” Mewis says. “I went into that camp and I was playing left back, and I obviously hadn’t played there in a while. So I kind of got smacked in the face a bit playing defense. But I think his feedback was another wake up call for me.”

Andonovski’s assessment of her play didn’t deter Mewis, but instead kept her foot on the gas and sharpened her focus.

“I knew I could do better than that.”



This past November, the USWNT finally got back on the pitch after 261 days away, facing off against the Netherlands in a post-Thanksgiving rematch of the 2019 World Cup final. An added bonus for fans and one proud set of parents? A pair of Mewises in the midfield.

Not only was Kristie Mewis called back into camp, but she earned a spot on the 18-player roster for the game against the Dutch. In bringing her back into the team, Andonovski cited her 2020 club season, when Mewis followed up her Challenge Cup performance with two goals and five assists in the NWSL’s four-game Fall Series

Against the Netherlands, Mewis had to wait 61 minutes before getting her chance, a fraction of time for someone who’d already waited six years for her international return.

“When I was running on the field, I obviously hadn’t had a cap in so many years, I couldn’t help but laugh because just after so many years, me running onto that field again, and having Sam on the field, it was just awesome.”

Ten minutes later, with an assist from Lynn Williams, Mewis sprinted past her defender and powered the ball to the far-post and straight into the back of the net. Just like that, 2,722 days since her last USWNT goal (the longest span between goals in team history), Kristie Mewis had announced her return.

Mewis’ pure elation and palpable bliss were obvious to anyone watching.

“It was truly such a rewarding thing. I had wanted to be back on that field with that team for so long. It was definitely really special.”

The icing on the cake? Turning around and celebrating with Sam.

“It was the best feeling ever,” Mewis says. “I couldn’t have asked for it to go any better.”

Two months later, in the team’s first match against Colombia in January, Mewis added her name to the score sheet again in a game that included four goals, but only one surname. Sam Mewis notched her first international career hat trick that night to open the score 3-0. She then subbed out for Kristie, who in the 85’ minute made it 4-0 USA.

Despite competing with each other as children, no one besides their parents (and even then it’s up for debate) is more proud of either sister than they are of each other.

“Sam just absolutely rocked that game,” Kristie says. “Not that she’s been overlooked in the past, but I think she’s been at the top of her game for a long time, and I’m so glad that it’s actually finally showing and she’s getting credit for it.”

Mewis knows how special it is to not only share the field with Sam, but fill up the stat sheet as well, saying, “It’s those memories that we’ll talk about and we’ll have for so long.”

Sam certainly shares in the sisterly pride. Talking to teammate Kelley O’Hara and JWS CEO Haley Rosen on the Just Women’s Sports podcast, she raved about having Kristie back with the team.

“Watching her success this summer and seeing how well she’s been doing ever since she came back from her knee, I’ve just been watching in amazement… Obviously we had a couple of chances to [play together] when we were younger, but I think understanding better now really what it takes to be there and to stay at that level has made it a lot more rewarding.”


s 2021 gets underway, Mewis has her eyes on the upcoming NWSL season and proving the Dash are here to stay. Having been in the league since its inaugural year, she is profoundly optimistic about the future of her sport.

“I feel like nine years ago when the NWSL was starting, it was still so fresh and so new. I’m kind of jealous that I can’t start over again, because I would love to come into the league right now.”

“It’s just so special to be a part of it and to see all these new teams coming in, the salaries rising, everything happening with it is just so exciting.”

It’s also no secret that the Olympics are on the horizon. Coach Andonovski is faced with the daunting task of selecting 18 players from a pool of more than two dozen world-class picks. The fact that Mewis is in serious contention for a coveted spot on the Tokyo roster is a testament to her dedication in turning her career around.

“I would obviously be so honored to be a part of that roster, but it is such a tight number with 18, so it will be very difficult,” she says. “But I’m going to do whatever I can to try to make that roster and just stay with the national team as long as I can and really make an impact there.”



Mewis and I talk about what it means for her to have made it all the way back, and to now be wearing the crest again after suffering a series of setbacks that few in the sport have ever come back from.

“I’m not taking any of it for granted,” she says. “Every training session, every game, every opportunity that I have to be able to play on that team and make an impact is so special. I think it feels even a little bit more special to me just because I haven’t been there in so long.”

This USWNT is and is not the same team Mewis last knew in 2014, having steadily grown in popularity and excellence. Since Mewis’ last stint, the team has won two World Cups while also entrenching itself in the zeitgeist of our progressive social era.

Mewis herself is both a familiar face and a new person, someone who has honed her craft during her six-year absence and, frankly speaking, grown up quite a bit. Thinking back to the start of her career with senior team, Mewis is quite honest about her maturity then versus where she is now.

“I first got called in with the national team when I was like 19, so I guess I just didn’t really have the knowledge to take it seriously as, ‘This is my career, everything that I do is going to affect my career,’” she says. “My professionalism is different now.”

Mewis also credits her time in both the NWSL and playing overseas with making her a wiser and more experienced player. Andonovski agrees, noting after November’s match that the Kristie Mewis of the past two years is a different player than the one he first drafted in 2013.

“First, off the field [she is] a little more committed and a little better pro, but then on the field with her play, with her performance, she showed she deserved to be around this group of players.”

Looking at who she was then, and who she is now, Mewis appreciates both the journey and its results.

“I do think that I’m a better player overall now than I was then,” she says. “I’m the fittest I’ve ever been, and I just feel more like a professional now. I think that the experience and the wisdom of being an older player really does go a long way.”

She doesn’t pretend to have a full understanding of the reality her Black teammates face, and in a moment of reflection, readily admits that “it’s been tough to realize how in the dark you have been your whole life.” But Mewis understands and embraces the responsibility to be proactive and not wait for her marginalized peers to show her the way.

“It is truly important to start the conversation,” she says. “Ask a question, read a book, listen to a podcast. Do anything. It’s just about starting it.”



Shortly after our call, Mewis is heading back into camp with the national team in order to prep for the SheBelieves Cup. The tournament will provide yet another chance for Mewis to show not just her teammates and her fans what she’s made of, but herself as well.

As McCaffrey notes, “I think when we see professional athletes significantly elevate their level of play later in their careers, we often look for more tangible answers about what they changed — their strength training, their diet, their technical training routine. But what is so amazing about how Kristie has elevated her game is that the one element she truly changed is her mentality.”

Simply put, Mewis is tenacity and grit personified. Her journey exemplifies the power of the mind over the experience of the body, inspiring others to rethink their limits.

“I think it’s really important to admit to yourself what you truly want,” Mewis says, “and do whatever you can to get back to that place. It’s so cliché, but you really can do whatever you set your mind to.”

The 2021 SheBelieves Cup will take place from February 18-24 at Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Florida. Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and the USA will play in a round-robin tournament with games on Thursday, February 18, Monday, February 22, and Wednesday, February 24.  Full game schedule here

In the end, there were no miracles on the ice this go-around in Lake Placid, as the NWHL was forced to suspend its season one day before the Isobel Cup semifinals were set to begin. Derailed by a multi-team COVID outbreak, the league was set to make history by airing women’s hockey games on a major cable network for the first time. Instead, everyone went home.

Not only was the announcement a disappointment for fans and players, but the available reporting now tells the story of a league that potentially cut corners in preparation for taking on this challenge, putting both teams and the community at risk.



While it’s fair to have thought that the NWHL could pull off a two-week tournament based on the success of other bubble situations (including the NHL), the safety measures in Lake Placid fell quite short of the mark, and a deeper look into the protocols the NWHL followed shows that the procedures put in place did not create a sealed bubble.

Before entering the environment, it is not clear that players and staff were required to quarantine, which meant that even though they had to test negative within 72-hours of leaving for the tournament and were tested again once they arrived, they were vulnerable to bringing in the virus undetected. This risk was further compounded as the games began before athletes were re-tested.

Though commissioner Tyler Tumminia shared during her press conference on February 3rd that PCR and rapid tests were administered “pretty much daily,” that fact, if true, wouldn’t reverse the potential initial exposure from the lack of pre-travel quarantine.

The Athletic has likewise reported that teams potentially stayed in hotels that were open to the public, brought in new players after the tournament bagan (to replace those with COVID), and shared staff among squads. The New York Times has reported that TikTok videos appear to show players hanging out together outside of their rooms while not competing, a violation of NWHL protocols.

A spokesperson for the league previously noted that fines would potentially be levied for breaking protocols. Meanwhile, a team’s official Instagram account showed players out and about in Lake Placid together.

You only have to follow the league’s changes in vocabulary to get a sense as to how the season unfolded. At the start, it was called a “bubble.” The league then started calling their set up a “modified bubble.” By the end, Tumminia was referring to it as a “restricted access environment.” Which brings us to the next big issue.



All leagues operating within bubble environments have had to contend with HIPAA requirements that protect the identities of those who test positive for COVID-19. That said, the NWHL did little to communicate just how many cases it had, only characterizing players as “unavailable” when they could not play, further fueling speculation and confusion.

The canary in the coal mine arrived when the Riveters were forced to pull out of the tournament on January 28th after passing the allowed threshold of positive cases. When the Connecticut Whale mysteriously withdrew from competition days later on February 1st, it triggered sirens that all was not well in Lake Placid.

The NWHL did not share the extent of the spread in real time — a highly questionable decision when public knowledge about community activity and contact tracing are key to controlling the virus. The league also declined to explain why the Whale were leaving, saying they’d leave it up to the team to speak. Days passed before the Whale broke their silence. For a moment, it looked like their departure might have been left a complete mystery.

As of last week, we now know that six members of the Boston Pride, including coach Paul Mara have also tested positive, with Mara telling The Boston Globe, “If I could take on all the symptoms our organization feels myself, I would… I feel terrible for them. They don’t deserve this.”

Connecticut Whale coach Colton Orr likewise told the New York Times that about two-thirds of his players tested positive.

Regarding the opaque communication surrounding player availability and the number of cases, Tumminia stated, “The reason we chose to say ‘unavailable’ was mostly because of HIPAA policies and rules. That was a defined league policy going into it. I am not allowed to tell you who has COVID. Also, the amount of numbers right now is also something that the league has taken a stance that we weren’t going to talk about. There’s varying degrees of privacy levels and HIPAA levels, and we had agreed with ORDA that we would not disclose that information.”

Protecting players’ rights is one thing. Leaving everyone in the dark is something else entirely.



The NWHL needed to do more than just seal their bubble. Compared to other sports, the league needed to be far more scrupulous in its preparation given the inherent risks posed by the nature of hockey itself.

As epidemiologist Theresa Chapple-McGruder told the New York Times, hockey brings an increased risk of COVID transmission compared to other sports: “You’re indoors in a cold environment, so the virus is going to live longer in the cold, and then all the heavy breathing, close contact — it’s just exactly what you need to spread the virus,” she explained  “It’s similar to what we saw in the meatpacking industry, because cold helps the virus survive. Hockey is no baseball.”

Now, the dangers posed by the league’s safety shortcomings have not only impacted players, coaches, staff, and the surrounding community, but they could also affect the NWHL’s positive momentum. This year, the league took major steps forward in terms of expansion, securing majors sponsors (Discover and Dick’s Sporting Goods), and locking in broadcast deals. Those were all serious accomplishments which now run the risk of being overshadowed by the league’s inability to safely stage a two week season.



As for the hockey that was played, the Toronto Six showed everyone what happens when you combine the prowess of Shiann Darkangelo, Mikyla Grant-Mentis, Brooke Boquist, Breanne Wilson-Bennett, Sarah-Eve Coutu Godbout, and Emma Woods. Throughout the series, the Six exhibited a dominant offense and a team with solid puck possession. In the end, the NWHL’s newest team walloped their opponents statistically, outshooting the rest with a 15.83 SOG/GP. Though the Metropolitan Riveters snagged a win against them, Toronto’s showing in Lake Placid proved they are a team with incredible strength and clear staying power.

Boston and Buffalo were initially battling it out for a playoff berth before the Whale withdrew from competition. Entering the season as major underdogs, the Beauts showed up to play in Lake Placid, beating the Pride in their first meeting. The Boston squad then found their footing, answering the Beauts with a 6-0 win in their second match up before snagging another win in the third game against Buffalo.

Minnesota skated away from Lake Placid as the still-reigning Isobel Cup champs, having won the last title game staged in 2019. (The 2020 Championship game was cancelled due to COVID.) The Whitecaps ended the season with all of their players still available for games, which gave them a depth advantage throughout the tournament.

Though Connecticut didn’t get the chance to challenge the reigning champs, they held their own throughout the competition while putting up a valiant effort against powerhouse teams like Toronto. The Whale ended their tournament early with players Tori Howran, Kayla Friesen, and Brooke Wolejko all listed as “unavailable.”

While they were the first team forced to leave the tournament due to COVID exposure, before their season was cut short, the Riveters held the Whitecaps to a single score in what would be New York’s last game and only loss. The addition of Kelly Babstock alongside Rebecca Russo gave the team far more offensive heft than they had for the 2019-20 season.

At this juncture, the season is technically suspended, not cancelled, though it’s unclear how, if, or when it will conclude. As Tumminia noted in her presser, “I have not yet defined what that raising of the Cup is going to look like. I can assure you, we definitely will try to define an ending to season six, and not let it be a cliffhanger.”



Looking back on the season, there are many unanswered questions that the league will be forced to reckon with. No one can control a pandemic, but it’s clear that the NWHL’s operations were not as tight as they needed to be, and the league’s less-than-transparent communication only made the situation worse.

But lost in the ongoing conversation about COVID is one about another issue plaguing the NWHL—racism. While the league has released statements regarding its entanglement with Barstool Sports, it has yet to issue a statement unequivocally supporting Saroya Tinker, whom Barstool Sports founder David Portnoy suggested should be jailed for her criticism of the website.

The Barstool controversy has created collisions between current players, former players, and staff taking opposing sides, threatening the well-being of players and the cohesiveness of the league. Clearly, leadership will be needed to mend the cracks. While the NWHLPA released a fairly poignant note on February 1 regarding the anti-racism work it plans to implement, the league’s surface level tweet about Black History month relied on a hashtag to make its strongest statement. It’s clear that the NWHL’s leadership has significant work to do when it comes to supporting its Black players, enacting meaningful change, and fomenting productive conversations.



The good news for the NWHL is that it now has a real opportunity to prove that it’s ready for the big leagues. The full story of the 2021 season won’t be written until the next season begins, when the league will have a chance to prove that it’s learned from it’s “bubble” experience.

The blueprint for success is there, and with over a million viewers tuning in to the league’s Twitch channel this past season, as well as the continued support of their sponsors, the league has the pieces it needs. Now it needs to step forward and show that it’s ready for the spotlight.

After cancelling their 2020 championship game and going 11 months without play, the NWHL has battled back to host a two-week, rapid-fire season at the Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, New York.

It may have felt like solving a Rubik’s Cube missing some of its stickers, but interim league commissioner Tyler Tumminia managed to pull together the logistics necessary to schedule a season and bring six teams together into a COVID-19 compliant bubble environment, all while managing to secure broadcast rights for the semifinals and Isobel Cup championship game, which will air live on NBCSN. This will be the first time a major cable network in the U.S. has aired women’s professional hockey.

Tumminia told the network, “It’s a huge learning curve,” but it’s one she appears to be surmounting quite well.



The league experienced its first major setback on Thursday, January 28th, when the Metropolitan Riveters were forced to withdraw from the tournament in compliance with COVID-19 protocols after a number of players tested positive for the virus.

It’s a disappointing end to the Riveters’ season. Led by captain Madison Packer, the league’s fourth highest scorer a year ago, the team’s one week on the ice was less than they’d hoped for but thrilling nonetheless. Key roster changes, paired with their physical style of play, had them ranked third in the standings following wins over Toronto and Connecticut.

Outside the COVID scare, the league has also been dealing with the fallout from an ongoing internet fued between Barstool CEO Erika Nardini and friends of the league. Nardini has been an outspoken supporter of the NWHL, while fans and journalists inside the space have called for the league to disown the connection, leading the league to issue a statement after Nardini attacked her “haters” in an online video.


Heading into the tournament, analysts predicted The Boston Pride would take home the Cup, having closed out last season with a 23-1-0 record before their chance to unseat the Minnesota Whitecaps in the championship game was cancelled due to the pandemic. The power-packed team has remained largely intact, with depth on every line and unfinished business driving their determination. That said, in sports as in life, there’s no such thing as a sure thing. The Pride currently sit at No. 5 after an unlikely loss to lower ranked Connecticut on Wednesday night.

While the Whitecaps, the reigning champions from the midwest, will predictably put up a good fight (currently 3-0 and the only unbeaten team in the bubble), the verdict is still out on how the league’s newest team, the Toronto Six, will fare.

On Tuesday, January 26, fans saw a preview of what this team can produce when they beat the Pride 2-1, securing the franchise’s first win, with goals from Mikyla Grant-Mentis and Brooke Boquist in the third period helping them pull ahead of Boston. With hockey legend Digit Murphy leading the charge, the team is certainly making a name for themselves, especially after backing up their fist win with another over Buffalo.


The Cinderella story of the tournament is likely to be the Connecticut Whale. A perennial underdog, this season is giving Connecticut the chance to continue developing their core while integrating new players added in the offseason.

The changes are certainly paying off, as the Whale undercut the Pride this week, beating Boston for the first time since 2018. Though the Pride were without their captain, Jillian Dempsey, who had to sit out the game due to an undiagnosed injury sustained in Tuesday’s game, the Whale’s Emma Vlasic proved her prowess as an impact player, assisting in the team’s first three goals before scoring one of her own.

Connecticut faces off against the Minnesota Whitecaps tonight, Thursday, January 28. If the Whale can topple the Whitecaps, the Isobel Cup is firmly in their reach.

At the bottom of the current standings are the Buffalo Beauts, playing with little to lose at this point. Their top two scorers from a season ago, Corinne Buie and Taylor Accursi, are gone, leaving them to rely on less familiar faces. Luckily, that includes rookie Autumn MacDougall, who nearly netted a hat trick against Toronto during Wednesday night’s game.


Lake Placid bears witness not only to the first women’s hockey bubble season, but also the debut of the Toronto Six, the newest NWHL expansion team and the second team to join the league’s growing cadre in its seven year history.

The Toronto Six follows the addition of the Minnesota Whitecaps, who joined the league during the 2018-2019 season, increasing the “Founding Four” franchises to Toronto’s eponymous six. As a bonus, addition of Toronto also creates the opportunity for a regional rivalry, giving the Buffalo Beauts a neighbor to the north to contend with.

Growth is always a good sign, but for the NWHL, moving into Canada, especially into Ontario, where the Toronto Maples Leafs boast a $1.5 billion valuation, is more than merely expanding internationally. It’s an opportunity with huge upside under the right management. Entering the GTA brings exposure to a market with a strong hockey fan base, but also one that has lost three CWHL teams in the past. The potential is there to grab hockey-loving hearts, but the Six will have to deftly avoid the management issues that befell previous leagues and teams.

Unlike previous groups, the NWHL is hoping to leverage a business model based around individual ownership for all six of its teams (Boston and Toronto are currently the only teams that are privately owned).

In April, Toronto franchise president (and current head coach) Digit Murphy told The Ice Garden: “I really like this next generation with the franchise model they’ve brought in,” adding, “when you start having franchise owners, they have a vested interest. It’s easier than the league owning it, because it’s tough having a league own all those teams in all those markets.”



Though professional women’s hockey has quite a few hurdles to clear as athletes and managers work to make it a viable professional sport (as it rightfully should be), the NWHL’s successful expansion in Canada, ongoing whubble experience, and growing mainstream media coverage are all things to applaud and reasons to be hopeful.

The NWHL Isobel Cup Semifinals will air live on NBCSN on Thursday, Feb. 4 at 5:30 p.m. ET and 8 p.m. ET. The network will air the NWHL Isobel Cup Final on Friday, Feb. 5 at 7 p.m. ET, with live coverage also streaming exclusively on and the NBC Sports app.

You can also catch regular season games on the league’s Twitch channel.

After a two-week January camp culminating in a pair of matches against Colombia, if anyone was wondering what shape the USWNT was in following an unpredictable and turbulent 2020, well, wonder no more.

With ten goals scored in the span of two games, which saw the return of Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd after nearly a year off the pitch, as well as the highly-anticipated debut of newly-minted U.S. citizen Catarina Macario, the USWNT looked dominant in their first showing of 2021.



After watching the U.S. face off against Colombia, any viewer would be forgiven for thinking that former captains Rapinoe and Lloyd had been playing throughout this past year. Per Andonovski, after undergoing a knee scope surgery — which ended up being more severe than initially thought — Lloyd rejoined the team as one of the most fit players on the roster and proved it in 90 minutes against Colombia on Monday and in an additional 27 minutes on Friday. Though she couldn’t quite finish a goal of her own, Lloyd assisted for sisters Sam and Kristie Mewis in the team’s first match and another for Midge Purce in the 86’ on Friday for the team’s sixth and final score of the game.

Rapinoe clocked a total of 108 minutes of playing time with 45 in the first half of the Monday match and another 63 to close out the week. Like Lloyd, Rapinoe picked up right where she left off with the team, walking away with a brace on Friday after deftly finishing a goal off of a deflection from Emily Sonnett in the 35’ minute before again finding the back of the net on a penalty kick after Sam Mewis drew a call inside the box.

The veterans weren’t the only ones making headlines, as Macario not only marked her first start with the senior team, but followed it up with her first goal off a crisp assist from Ali Krieger in the third minute of Friday’s game. Midge Purce followed suit, bookending the match with her first international goal to conclude the week.

Of course, fans won’t soon forget Mewis Monday as the sisters monopolized the score sheet in the team’s first match against Colombia. Younger sister Sam Mewis scored her first career international hat trick, before Kristie closed out the game with a textbook left-footed volley to the back of the net.



Taking over for Jill Ellis following the 2019 World Cup, manager Vlatko Andonovski was initially going to have only a few months to assemble his roster for the Tokyo Olympics. The postponement of the games due to COVID has now given him the chance to bring the team together on multiple occasions and, to use his signature phrase, “layer in the details.”

Watching both matches last week, it’s becoming much more clear what Andonovski means by layering in the details, as the team pressed high in the attacking third, disrupted Colombia’s short pass attacking style, and worked out its set pieces.

January camp ends, however, with the same major question dogging Andonovski as before: how will he whittle down a roster boasting more than two dozen world class players to a mere 18 for the Olympics?

Though he’s a pro at delivering consistent and diplomatic responses to any journalist hoping to crack his thinking, Andonovski has made one thing clear: he does not view this team as one in need of drastic change. In an October interview with The Equalizer’s Jeff Kassouf, he stated, “I’ve said all along, this team doesn’t need reconstruction… but they do need to evolve… other teams are not staying where they’re at, they’re getting better, too, so we’ve got to be ahead of the curve.”

Andonovski’s consistent messaging around focusing on the details and finessing what already exists suggests he may be leaning towards an Olympic roster anchored largely by those veterans who won the 2019 World Cup. If that’s the route he takes, it’s not likely to shock many.

While Andonovski took over a team with a strong internal ethos and a culture steeped in excellence, he’s clearly started to find ways to create marginal yet significant changes. In his first concrete contribution, he reinstated Becky Sauerbrunn — who he coached in Kansas City — as captain, a title she previously held in 2016 and 2017. Sauerbrunn is a player Sam Mewis dubbed her “moral compass,” stating in a pre-game press conference that “whatever she’s doing is what I know is right, so I should probably do the same thing.”



While Andonovski won’t name names just yet, Julie Foudy shared her Olympics analysis during Friday’s halftime show on ESPN. Per Foudy, all eyes are on the bubble players who will round out a roster that she believes will include goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher; defenders Abby Dahlkemper, Crystal Dunn, Kelley O’Hara, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Emily Sonnett; midfielders Julie Ertz, Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle, and Sam Mewis; and forwards Tobin Heath and Christen Press. Foudy also named forwards Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, and Megan Rapinoe as “probable” selections.

Foudy’s overall prediction leaves room for three more players, one of which will be another keeper, most likely Ashlynn Harris. And based on this week’s performance, one has to think that Macario has a solid chance of making the cut, particularly given U.S. Soccer’s efforts in expediting her request for FIFA eligibility, which she was awarded during camp.

For the remaining spots, Andonovski has a solid bench of younger players to choose from, including Mallory Pugh and Sophia Smith, who did not see playing time against Colombia due to injuries. It is also no secret that Andonovski respects the NWSL as a proving ground for talent. Having served as a head coach since the league’s inception in 2013 before rising to the manager role for the USWNT, Andonovski is familiar with all of the league’s top players. He drafted and coached Kristie Mewis at FC Kansas City, and in November cited her performance in both the NWSL Challenge Cup and Fall Series when calling her into camp. Could a strong SheBelieves Cup performance send both Mewis sisters to Tokyo?

Lynn Williams likewise scored her 10th international goal against Colombia and is a one-time NWSL MVP. Expect her to be well in the mix when Vlatko sits down to decide on his forwards.

For an 18 player roster, versatility will be key, which Andonovski leaned into this week by playing Crystal Dunn — who he called “the most versatile player on the field” — at both left back as well as the number 11 attacking position. Macario also showcased her creativity and confidence on the field playing in both the 11 and 9 spots across both games.

Purce, too, took a turn up top, subbing in for Williams in the 68’ minute during Friday’s match. Having played both up front and on the backline for her club Sky Blue, she could be another versatile player providing roster flexibility.

The ability to play in multiple positions isn’t just imperative given the limited number of players, but also crucial as the Olympic schedule gives teams only two days off in between games. Flexibility in the roster will give Andonovski depth in multiple positions despite the roster limit. Though some may assume that this schedule could hinder older players, Andonovski does not seem to share that sentiment, having told Kassouf, “I would not count those senior players out.” Based on last week’s lineups, he means it.

Noticeably missing from this camp were Alex Morgan, Christen Press, and Tobin Heath, who are all predicted to rejoin the team for the SheBelieves Cup. As Andonovski continues to polish the edges, the upcoming February tournament will give him a solid opportunity to add their skills back into the rotation as the team continues to develop the set pieces they’ve become known for while implementing new passing and player patterns.



To their credit, Colombia showed glimmers of their potential over the course of two games, however, the USWNT will face teams in the upcoming SheBelieves Cup that are much closer to the level of competition they are set to face in Tokyo. The rosters for those games, and the accompanying starting lineups, will be a much stronger indication of who is headed to the Olympics, should the show still go on this summer.

Though the fate of the Tokyo Olympics remains up in the air, if they do take place this summer, it’s likely safe to say that USWNT fans will see an Olympic team that closely resembles the 2019 World Cup roster. It could be one final ride for the team’s core ahead of an expected roster overhaul following the games.

With that said, this is a team overflowing with talent, and there are still ample opportunities for younger players to prove they belong in Tokyo. And as coach Andonovski stated in Friday’s post-game press conference, “ultimately, the best ones will go.”

To play or not to play?

That is the question currently facing every sports league, but especially college basketball, as the NCAA works feverishly to hold the 2020-2021 season together amidst spiralling game postponements and cancellations caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Not only are individual games at risk, but the pool of available teams continues to shrink as programs decide to cancel their seasons entirely. To date, three Power Five women’s teams (Duke, UVA and Vanderbilt) have withdrawn, joining SMU as well as the Ivy League schools who cancelled the current winter sports season in November, eliminating an entire conference from NCAA competition.

As the pieces of this jigsaw puzzle season rapidly re-arrange themselves and outright disappear, teams find themselves having played only half as many games compared to this time last year. Game preparation has also become a struggle as teams face last minute match-up and travel changes in order to comply with COVID-19 protocols.

The domino effects from COVID have impacted schools nationwide, forcing NC State, Villanova, Providence, UConn, and many others to go on pause until conditions have been cleared for safe play.

On January 14, #23 ranked Syracuse — who had been on pause for weeks — had to postpone its matchup against Georgia Tech, its fourth conference game in a row, due to exposure. The team returned to play on Sunday, January 17, defeating the University of Miami, before topping North Carolina on Tuesday, a game that was originally slated for December 31, 2020.

Baylor University, the 2019 and therefore still-defending NCAA champions, resumed play on Saturday, January 15 after being on pause since January 5, with coach Kim Mulkey returning to the court after contracting COVID over the holidays. The Lady Bear’ pause forced them to cancel their hotly anticipated game against then-No. 4 UConn on January 7 and postpone matchups against Kansas State and Kansas.

Stanford, meanwhile, the No. 1 team in the country until this past weekend, has essentially been on the road since late November due to Santa Clara county restrictions.

As teams across the country experience the reality of playing through a pandemic, in a season which started late, and which has continually been re-routed as it stumbles through the winter, many are beginning to wonder whether it’s worth it.

Mulkey didn’t hold back when asked how she felt about playing the season, stating, “The NCAA has to have the almighty dollar from the men’s tournament. The almighty dollar is more important than the health and welfare of me, the players or anybody else.”

UConn coach Geno Auriemma responded to Mulkey’s comments, saying, “I don’t know that anything that she said was completely off the charts wrong. However, having said that… the almighty dollar has a lot to do with what we are doing. And without the men’s NCAA tournament, there’s a lot of things that happen in the NCAA that don’t happen.”

The two coaches are circling on an undeniable truth: the NCAA was financially unprepared to lose the revenue it would have amassed from the 2020 tournament, and as professional leagues have successfully built bubbles in order to host modified seasons and tournaments, it’s safe to assume that the NCAA feels it can (and must) accomplish a similar feat for the tournament this year.

Ethically speaking, asking un-paid athletes to play out a season as cases of COVID-19 spike is dubious, to say the least. Players are being asked to risk their own health while also eliminating all contact with anyone outside of their teams. Student athletes have never been paid for their work; now they can’t even see their families.

Aureimma, for his part, said he believes the vast majority of athletes would prefer to play. Whether that’s true or not, it’s clear that many players view this season, truncated as it may be, as an opportunity to join their WNBA counterparts in speaking out against racial injustice in the US. The calendar may be uncertain, but these players know they still have a platform they can use to advocate for change.

Before the first game of the 2020-21 season, the South Carolina Gamecocks issued a statement via Twitter addressing how they planned to protest the national anthem. In it, they shared their season’s theme of “what matters,” expressing their unconditional support for one another, the conversations they have had as a unit, and the decision for the majority of the team to sit for the anthem in order to “shine a light on the need for racial equality, social justice and ending systemic racism in our country.”

Tennessee joined South Carolina in protest with all but one of the Lady Vols kneeling during the anthem before their first conference game, which fell just after the deadly riot and attack on the Capitol in Washington D.C. on January 6. The team has also worn black shooting shirts during their warm ups this season.

Lady Vols senior Rennia Davis stated that kneeling was “a decision we made in the moment,” adding “with everything going on, especially recently in Washington, that’s what we saw fit to do. The people on the team who saw fit to support that, they did. And the ones who didn’t, they supported us in a different way.”

It’s not just players speaking out. Coaches, too, are using their platforms to condemn racial injustice and support their teams. Asked about her activity on social media, where she has routinely responded to both current events and various followers, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley told The Athletic, “It’s not just about X’ing and O’ing. It’s about teaching, growing, learning and being that example for our players, because we can’t have sports blinders on.”

She continued, “there’s a world going on outside of us that we play a part in — whether or not people want us to shut up and dribble. There’s a world out there that, between these dribbles, things are happening that impact us.”

Of course, wanting to use their visibility to advocate for change hasn’t spared teams from dealing with COVID. Ahead of their home opener against East Tennessee State University in December, Vanderbilt announced via social media that the team would stay in the locker room during the anthem this season “to mourn and commemorate the racial injustices that have been taking place in the United States.”

This week, Vanderbilt announced that they would stop playing their season, after both COVID and injuries depleted their roster, which was already thin due to pre-season opt-outs.

As of now, March Madness is still a go, with the NCAA confirming this week that it expects to stage the entire tournament in San Antonio. The NCAA has waived the .500 rule, which typically requires schools to have a winning record in order to qualify for an at-large selection. Schools will be required to have played 13 games against other DI schools to qualify for team selection, however, the NCAA has also announced that it will accept eligibility waiver requests from schools which cannot meet this threshold.

At this point, with most teams having played somewhere between seven (UConn) and twelve (Louisville) games, the NCAA’s strategy seems to be to just get to San Antonio and hope for the best.

There will be no shortage of lessons learned when the NCAA looks back on this time, and while the fate of March Madness and the remainder of the 2020-21 season is still prey to an uncontrolled pandemic, one thing is certain: athletes understand the power of their platform. They haven’t let the virus overshadow the racial and political reckoning facing the United States. And whether or not they should be playing, the fact is a new precedent has been set, one that is certain to outlast the pandemic.