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Chelsea vs Barcelona: Four players who will decide Champions League final

@BarcaFem

The Champions League final is fast approaching. Chelsea vs Barcelona: two teams who have yet to win the coveted trophy, and who are each looking to wrap up their wildly successful seasons. 

These are the players who will decide which team walks away with the biggest trophy in Europe.

Asisat Oshoala, Barcelona 

It became apparent early on in Asisat Oshoala’s career that she was a player to watch. In her teen years, she impressed for F.C. Robbo and River Angels, two clubs in her native country of Nigeria. Her breakout year in 2014 saw her lead Nigeria to the final of the 2014 FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup in Canada. Nigeria ended up losing 1-0 to Germany, but Oshoala was awarded the Golden Ball for being the best player of the tournament and the Golden Shoe for being the tournament’s top scorer. A couple of months later, Nigeria won the 2014 African Women’s Championship, and Oshoala was again awarded the Golden Ball. 

She became the first African player to play in England when she signed for Liverpool in 2015, and a year later, she moved to Arsenal, winning the FA Women’s Cup with the Gunners. After a short stint in China with Dalian W.F.C., where she won two league championships, she was acquired on a loan deal by Barcelona in the middle of the 2018/19 season. 

Oshoala’s performances at Barcelona have cemented her as one of the world’s best. In her first season, she failed to win any hardware with the club, despite having a fantastic individual season, scoring seven goals in her seven league appearances. Barcelona came second in the Primera División, losing the top spot to Atlético Madrid. 

The club had a chance to win their first-ever UEFA Women’s Champions League that season; however, they lost 4-1 to the ever-dominant Olympique Lyonnais. Regardless, Oshoala made history that night, becoming the first Barcelona player and African player to ever score in a Women’s Champions League Final and the first Nigerian to score in any Champions League final, men’s or women’s.

In her second season, she was an integral part of the club, winning both the Primera División and Copa de la Reina. This season, Barcelona are on track to once again win the league, having won every single league game thus far, putting them at a perfect 75 points, with 127 goals scored in 25 games. Their ticket to the Champions League final came from victories in the quarter-final against Manchester City and the semi-finals against Paris Saint-Germain.

Oshoala, as a striker, is one of the deadliest poachers in the game. When she’s in the box, she consistently finishes plays by challenging the opposition defenders for the ball and betting on herself in 1vs1 situations against the goalkeeper. 

Every team has struggled to contain her in the Champions League thus far. Chelsea will need to buck the trend if they want to win.

Lieke Martens, Barcelona

Even if Chelsea can successfully isolate Oshoala, they’ll still have to worry about Barcelona’s star midfielder Lieke Martens. 

Martens spent the first eight years of her career playing all around Europe, accumulating different tactics from different coaches that allowed her to become the versatile player she is today. 

The Dutch native began her career in Holland with Heerenveen in 2009 before moving on to VVV-Venlo the following year. She then moved to Belgium to play for Standard Liege, where she won the Super Cup in 2012. 

Martens then went on to play for Duisburg in Germany and for Goteborg and Rosengärd in Sweden, where she won the Cup and Super Cup with the latter in 2016. 

She also made her senior national team debut in 2011 after becoming the top scorer at the U–19 Euros in 2010. With the senior national team, she then scored the Netherlands’ first-ever Women’s World Cup goal in 2015, at the age of 22. 

She became one of Barcelona’s most high-profile signings in 2017 and since then has continued to impress. The same month, she led the Netherlands to their first international trophy after they beat Denmark 4-2 in the final of the 2017 UEFA European Women’s Championship. She was named the tournament’s best player and was awarded not only the Golden Ball but also the Bronze Boot. 

Her contributions to Barcelona, both in Primera División and in the Champions League, have earned her a multitude of individual honours, including the UEFA Women’s Player of the Year Award and The Best FIFA Women’s Player. 

As mentioned prior, Martens is an exceptionally well-rounded player with the versatility to play both on the wing and in midfield. Her unpredictability is a nightmare for opponents, and her ability to read the game allows her to dictate the play and tempo of the match in favour of her side. She is also disciplined enough to put in a shift defensively and make sure that the opponent’s attackers do not have any number advantage.

Her positional awareness, dribbling ability and speed are aspects of her game that can push Barcelona over the line to win their first-ever Champions League trophy. 

Fran Kirby, Chelsea

Barcelona may be stacked, with players like Oshoala, Martens, Alexia Putellas, Vicky Losada, and Jennifer Hermoso. But so is Chelsea. 

Fran Kirby has been one of their most dominant players since she signed for the London club in 2015. 

Kirby has always been a goalscorer. Prior to Chelsea, she played for Reading, her hometown club, and in forty-two appearances, she scored 68 goals, averaging 1.6 goals a game. When she signed for Chelsea, expectations were high. 

And these expectations were met. With the club, Kirby has won six trophies, including four FA Women’s Super League titles, the most of any team. 

With England, Kirby was a standout in the team’s third-place finish in the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada and was an integral part of the Lionesses win in the SheBelieves Cup in 2019. 

Kirby is another one of those extremely versatile players who can play multiple positions. Initially, Kirby was an attacking midfielder, playing in the number 10 role, which occupies the space right behind the forward players. Her job was to make plays and connect the team’s midfield to the forward strikers. However, over the years, she has been deployed as second striker often, playing more in the penalty box and supporting the number nine in scoring goals. 

Kirby has scored 23 goals this season, with six of them being in the Champions League, the most out of any Chelsea player. Barcelona will have to work tirelessly in defence if they don’t want to concede a goal that Kirby is involved in. 

Pernille Harder, Chelsea

It’s hard to talk about Kirby without talking about Harder, who have been partners in crime on the pitch for Chelsea this season. We already know that Sam Kerr will be a difference maker in the Champions League final, but Harder’s play may have a greater impact on Chelsea’s success. 

Harder spent the early days of her career in her home country of Denmark. Playing primarily as a striker at IK Skovbakken, she scored 22 goals in 27 appearances. By 2012, after five years of playing in Denmark, she decided to move to Sweden to play for Linköpings. Her performances in the Damallsvenskan (Swedish League) are what got her international recognition. In two seasons, she won three trophies and won the Damallsvenskan’s Forward of the Year and MVP award twice. 

By 2016, several clubs had shown interest in acquiring Harder, and in January of 2017, she became a VfL Wolfsburg player. Harder was part of a larger project at Wolfsburg, with the club signing several high-profile players in hopes of being a consistent force in German football and in the Champions League. 

Harder’s time at Wolfsburg did lead to domestic domination. The club won both the Bundesliga and the DFB-Pokal double in the four consecutive seasons that Harder was a part of the team, with Harder winning the league Golden Boot in two of those seasons. However, Wolfsburg were no match for Lyon, and they lost to the French club in two separate Champions League finals. 

Despite coming second in both 2018 and 2020, Harder impressed during all her Champions League campaigns with Wolfsburg, winning two UEFA Women’s Player of the Year Awards and two UEFA Champions League Forward Awards. 

With her performances in Germany, it was no surprise that she became the world’s most expensive women footballer after signing for Chelsea in September of 2020. The world-record fee saw Harder come to London and join a star-studded attack that includes Kirby, Kerr, and Bethany England. 

Harder has taken Chelsea to the next level; she is a creative and game-intelligent forward who makes her mark through excellent positioning, intricate passing, and on-target shooting. She has the ability to play as a forward, a second striker, or an attacking midfielder.

Chelsea have already won three trophies this season, and both Harder and Kirby have been integral to the team’s success. Barcelona will have to work as a unit to be defensively sound in order to keep the Chelsea offense out.

Tune in: Champions League final is Sunday, May 16th at 3:00pm ET.

Esme Morgan Signs With Washington Spirit

Esme Morgan of England inspects the pitch prior to the UEFA Women's EURO 2025 qualifying match between England and France
The England national will join the Spirit in DC on July 15th. (Naomi Baker - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

English defender Esme Morgan has signed with the Washington Spirit, the club announced Thursday. 

Morgan had been with WSL side Manchester City since 2017, with one year remaining on her contract. She’ll now make a move to the NWSL, with City receiving a fee for the move. 

"I wanted to join the Spirit because they have the ambition and tools to be the best team in the NWSL, and trying to achieve that will be a great but enjoyable challenge," Morgan said in a club statement.

"On an individual level too, the opportunity to work under Jonatan [Giráldez], one of the world's best coaches, is really exciting and I look forward to learning from him and pushing myself to become the best player I can be, hopefully helping the team to success."

According to ESPN, Morgan’s lack of playing time under City manager Gareth Taylor played a key role in her decision to leave the league championship runners-up. She’ll join the Spirit in Washington, DC on July 15th, but won’t be able to begin play until August. 

Spirit president Mark Krikorian called Morgan an "exceptional talent" and added that the club is "thrilled" to add her to the roster.

"I think she’s pretty talented," Giraldez told reporters on Friday. "A young player with a great future, but with experience already in a great league and with the national team. She’s been surrounded by great players and also great coaches, so she can give us experience."

Ledecky Goes for 4 at Olympic Swimming Trials

Swimmer katie ledecky swimming at Toyota US Open
Decorated swimmer Katie Ledecky is aiming to make her fourth-straight Olympic squad. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Swimming Trials begin this weekend, running from June 15th through June 23rd in Indianapolis, with Katie Ledecky eyeing her fourth-straight Summer Games.

While traditionally held in Omaha, Indiana's Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, has been fitted with a 50-meter pool to host the meet that will determine the 2024 Paris Olympics roster.

All eyes will be on seven-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky, who will be competing in the 200-meter, 400-meter, 800-meter, and 1500-meter freestyle — all events in which she’s been an Olympic champion. 

Rival Ariarne Titmus had her trials last week, breaking the world record in the 200-meter freestyle. Ledecky’s 200 is intended to qualify her for the Olympic relay. Meanwhile stateside, Katie Grimes stands to be a challenger in the 1500-meter freestyle has already qualified for the Paris Olympics in the 10km open water event.

Other competitors of note include 47-year-old Gabrielle Rose, who stands to become the oldest US Swimming Olympic qualifier in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke.

Additionally, Kate Douglass — an NCAA and World Champion — is a favorite to make her first Olympic team in the 200-meter IM and 200-meter breaststroke. Simone Manuel, an Olympic champion in the 100-meter freestyle, is also looking to make her third-straight Olympics.

Where to watch: The Trials will be streaming all week on Peacock, with later qualifying heats airing live on USA Network and event finals airing in primetime on NBC.

Orlando and Kansas City Shoot for 13 in NWSL Weekend Action

NWSL's T. Chawinga #6 of the Kansas City Current passes the ball during the first half of their game against the Utah Royals FC
The Kansas City Current hopes to extend its NWSL unbeaten streak to 13 with a win over Chicago. (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

The 13th match weekend is fast approaching in the NWSL, with two season-long unbeaten streaks on the line.

League-leaders Kansas City and Orlando will attempt to survive the weekend with their unbeaten runs intact, as the Current host Chicago on Friday and the Pride travel to North Carolina for Saturday's match.

But while Kansas City and Orlando have been the gold standard this year, they're still a number of wins away from tying Washington's record for longest unbeaten streak in a single NWSL season. In 2021, the Spirit went 20 games without a loss en route to the club's first NWSL championship.

Both Gotham and Louisville are carrying momentum into their matchup on Saturday. Louisville is unbeaten in three games, and they’re looking to finally leapfrog Chicago and claim sixth place in the league standings. Gotham, on a seven-game unbeaten run, is into fifth place.

Portland and Seattle will face off in the Cascadia Clash this weekend, with Golden Boot contender Sophia Smith absent, as the decorated forward was shown a red card last weekend for time-wasting on the bench.

The Reign could use a win against their long-time rivals, as a difficult start has 13th-place Seattle registering only two wins amid nine losses so far this season.

Elsewhere in the league, 2024 expansion teams Bay FC and Utah meet for the first time this weekend, as both look to rise from the bottom half of the standings. And Washington will ride a four-game winning streak into Saturday's game against a San Diego side that's earned two hard-fought draws in recent weeks.

Watch more: "Sophia Smith is INNOCENT!" on The Late Sub with Claire Watkins

WNBA All-Star Voting Starts on June 13th

Phoenix Mercury mascot Scorch waving a 2024 WNBA All-Star flag at a 2023 home game.
Phoenix Mercury will host the 20th-annual All-Star Game on July 20th, 2024. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Voting for the 2024 AT&T WNBA All-Star Game opened at 2 PM ET today and runs through June 29th.

All active WNBA players are eligible to make the All-Star Game, set for July 20th in Phoenix. Unlike previous formats that featured two voted-in All-Star squads, this year’s contest pits a single All-Star team against the already-decided Olympic-bound USA Women’s National Team.

Fans can submit a daily ballot nominating up to 10 athletes via WNBA.com or the WNBA App.

Fan-submitted ballots account for 50% of vote, with the other 50% split equally between current WNBA players and members of the media. The top 10 athletes will automatically make the All-Star Game, with league coaches then voting from a pool of the next 36 to complete Team WNBA’s 12-player roster. The final lineup will be announced on July 2nd.

This year's All-Star Game format presents an opportunity for fans to vote for players they might consider Olympic snubs. Indiana rookie Caitlin Clark and Dallas’s Arike Ogunbawole seem like shoo-ins given the discussion surrounding their Olympic omissions, while Connecticut stars Brionna Jones and DeWanna Bonner are also expected to snag All-Star nods.

And after a career-high 20-point, 10-rebound double-double in last night’s 83-75 loss to the Sun, Chicago rookie Angel Reese could also secure a spot.

Regardless, it won't necessarily be smooth sailing for Team USA, as history has tended to favor the underdog. 

The first USA vs. All-Stars matchup took place in 2021, with the league’s squad humbling the Tokyo Olympians 93-85. With 26 points, Ogunbawole was named All-Star Game MVP after barely missing the Olympic cut. Could she and Clark turn the tables on Team USA this year?

Watch more: "Were Caitlin Clark and Arike Ogunbowale snubbed?" by Expert Adjacent

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