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Kansas City Current show fight and dark-horse NWSL title potential

Midfielders Kristen Edmonds and Lo’eau Labonta came up big in Kansas City’s quarterfinal win Sunday. (Erik Williams/USA TODAY Sports)

There is no perfect way to start a playoff game, but a fifth-minute penalty kick opportunity is pretty close.

Kristen Hamilton earned it, in a sequence where the Kansas City forward appeared to get fouled more than once as she entered the 18-yard box in the Current’s 2-1 quarterfinal win over the Houston Dash on Sunday. When Lo’eau Labonta roofed the kick from the spot to give the Current a very early lead, the proverbial trumpets of destiny sounded.

All season, the Current have been game-state tacticians, uniting around an ethos to achieve a short-term goal. At times, that has meant either chasing a lead, fighting from a goal down or simply testing the waters in an even competition. The result is a cohesive sort of chaos, wherein Kansas City tries to disrupt the status quo to win, despite giving up goals more than they’d like to on the other end.

The best way to describe the Current is as a team full of gamers. They probably don’t relish putting themselves in a position to have to rise to the occasion, but it’s not a role they’re afraid of either.

From the opening whistle on Sunday, both teams pushed the tempo in an effort to come out on top of the transitional battle. The Dash couldn’t quite execute their chances early on, which left room for the Current on the counterattack.

Kansas City’s penalty evoked a scene from the 2020 Challenge Cup final, when Houston’s own penalty kick goal in the fifth minute set the stage for their 2-0 win and the first trophy in club history.

The Dash made more history in 2022, appearing in the playoffs for the first time. What they found in the postseason was an incredibly difficult task, with a result that hangs in the balance of the smallest of margins.

Kansas City’s go-ahead goal and subsequent Rockefeller-style kick-line celebration lent an air of inevitability to their victory, but Houston didn’t forget their own principles in the moment. In front of a record crowd at PNC Stadium, the Dash’s comfort on the ball was evident, particularly with María Sánchez taking defenders on with confidence.

At the same time, Houston was forced into some positional adjustments, including slotting in Natalie Jacobs on the right flank. In the first half, the Dash didn’t always seem on the same page, and the Current’s hyper-talented left wing of Hamilton and Hailie Mace made life difficult. But Sanchez was undeniable, wearing Kansas City down on Houston’s own left flank to earn a corner that led to Sophie Schmidt’s half-volley equalizer in the 21st minute.

From there, momentum started to bend in the direction of the Dash. Houston, however, finished the match with 20 shots but only five on goal, while Kansas City had six total shots and three on goal. Goalkeeper of the Year frontrunner AD Franch came up huge for the away team to keep Houston off the board. Dash manager Juan Carlos Amorós also made a questionable substitute in the 76th minute, replacing star striker Ebony Salmon with Elizabeth Eddy in what he later described as a tactical choice.

It’s easy to focus on Houston’s inability to break the deadlock, but the story of the second half lies within the margins of Kansas City’s off-the-ball defense. Kristen Edmonds proved essential as a 1v1 defender in key moments, backed up by Franch and Elizabeth Ball. The Current’s preferred three-back formation leaves outside center-backs vulnerable to individual battles with attackers, and the defenders’ willingness to try different tactics and put their bodies on the line bled into the Kansas City midfield on Sunday.

With Desiree Scott serving a red-card suspension, rookie Alex Loera had another strong match in the defensive midfield and fellow rookie Elyse Bennett acclimated well after Claire Lavogez exited with an injury. Lavogez couldn’t put weight on her leg as she came off in the 51st minute, and her injury seemed indicative of Kansas City’s experience even in victory.

Head coach Matt Potter decided to ride the game out with the players who had gotten the team this far, and outside of a number of excellent individual efforts, the Current struggled physically as the minutes ticked by. They squeaked out the win, but perhaps at a price for their semifinal matchup next Sunday against Shield winners OL Reign.

The quarterfinal contest looked destined for extra time, when Kate Del Fava stunningly put the game away in the 10th minute of stoppage time. In the last kick of the game (and the latest regulation goal in NWSL history), Del Fava ushered her team into the semifinals and left Houston with more questions about their quest to get over the top.

All season, the Current have seemed like dark-horse NWSL championship candidates, and getting through a game as tricky as this one could be step one to completing the fairytale.

Kansas City paid physically for this win, but they also did just enough to give themselves a chance at their next upset. When you’ve got a team that can handle anything, there’s likely very little that will make their opponent feel comfortable — all the way to the last minute of stoppage time.

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

Clark, Martin Square Off in First Pro WNBA Matchup

Kate Martin #20 of the Las Vegas Aces and Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever look on during the game
Things looked a little different Saturday night as the former Iowa teammates went head-to-head in Las Vegas. (Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa teammates Caitlin Clark and Kate Martin shared the court once again on Saturday, this time as professionals.

It was Martin’s Aces that got the 99-80 win over Clark’s Fever in Las Vegas. The pair's former coaches Lisa Bluder, Jan Jensen, Jenni Fitzgerald, and Raina Harmon were all in attendance to watch their Hawkeyes — Clark, Martin, and former national player of the year Megan Gustafson — take the court.

"It’s super special. It’s cool for our program, cool for Lisa, for Coach Jan, for all of them," Clark said in a pregame press conference. "They’ve known me since I’ve been 13 years old and now I’m 22 getting to live out my dream and they’ve been a huge part of that and helping me get here and helping Megan and Kate to get here too. It’s a great moment for them and I’m sure they’re not complaining about a trip to Vegas."

As for her college teammate, Clark had nothing but good things to say ahead of the showdown. 

"I’m just really happy for her and everything Coach [Becky] Hammon says about her is so true," she said. "Every person that played at Iowa and was around her knows that to be true. She’s the ultimate teammate, ultimate person, ultimate leader."

In the end, Martin stole the show with 12 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes, while Clark amassed eight points, seven assists, and five rebounds over 29 minutes of playing time. 

"It was weird," Martin admitted after the game. "I'm not going to lie — just looking out on the court and seeing her in a different jersey than me, it was obviously different. But it's really fun. We're both living out our dreams right now."

The Aces next meet the fever on July 2nd at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Barcelona Beat Lyon to Win Back-to-Back Champions League Titles

Barcelona's Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas celebrating after beating Lyon at the 2024 Champions League final
Ballon d'Or winners Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas helped Barcelona to a second-straight UWCL title on Saturday. (Ramsey Cardy - Sportsfile/UEFA via Getty Images)

Barcelona was crowned champion of the Champions League on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Lyon in Bilbao.

Alexia "La Reina" Putellas, who recently re-signed with Barcelona, came off the bench to score the team's second goal. Fellow Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmatí provided the team’s first. After the game, defender Lucy Bronze said Putellas was nicknamed "the queen" for a reason.

"Alexia is the captain of the team and she's the queen of Barcelona for a reason,"  defender Lucy Bronze told DAZN. "She's got the quality to do that in the last minute of the Champions League final when we were up against it at the end and it just sealed the win for us. It was amazing."

The victory marked Barcelona's first win over Lyon in a UWCL final, having previously gone up against the French side at both the 2019 and 2022 Champions League finals. It's also Barcelona's second Champions League title in a row.

"It's hard to win it once, but to do it back-to-back, Lyon showed how difficult it is and this team has finally done that," Bronze said. "I think we go down in history as one of the best teams in Europe."

This season, the team also secured a quadruple for the first time in club history, having already won Liga F, the Copa de la Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. The win ensures that coach Jonatan Giráldez — who has officially departed the team to join the NWSL's Washington Spirit — leaves Europe a champion.

"It was an incredible game. I am really happy, it's one of the best days of my life for sure," Giráldez told broadcaster DAZN after the game. "We did an amazing job. I am very proud of all of them."

Following the win, Putellas said her team "can't ask for anything else."

"Our objective was to win four out of four," the Spain international told reporters. "We have achieved everything we wanted. Every minute of sacrifice has been worth the effort — and I'd say that not after the game, but before, just entering in the stadium, with all the support we had here, it was worth it."

2024 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Aitana Bonmatí said that the crowd support made it "feel like Camp Nou."

"I am on cloud nine right now," she said. "It is an historic day which we will remember forever."

Sun’s Alyssa Thomas Ejected After Flagrant 2 on Sky Rookie Angel Reese

Angel Reese said there were "no hard feelings" stemming from Alyssa Thomas's flagrant foul. (Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Angel Reese might have gotten knocked down on Saturday, but she got right back up again. 

Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas was ejected from the Sun’s 86-82 win over Chicago following a flagrant foul 2 on Reese — the first of her career. While the two were battling for a rebound, Reese took a clothesline hold around the neck courtesy of Thomas before hitting the ground.

After the game, Reese told reporters that there were "no hard feelings" and she appreciated Thomas for playing her hard beneath the basket.

"I know she purposely probably didn’t do it towards me," Reese said. "But just being able to come out there and just be strong and stand on two feet, it was going to be a tough game and that’s what I’m built for. And my teammates had my back throughout the whole game. So I was prepared for it."

She also didn’t buy into the idea that it was a "Welcome to the WNBA" moment, but thanked Thomas "sending a message" because it helped her get back up and "keep pushing."

"It’s not just because I’m a rookie. I’m a player. I’m a basketball player. They don’t give a damn if I’m a rookie. I mean, I want them to come at me every day. I want them to come at everybody," she added. "I mean, they’re not supposed to be nice to me. I hope y’all know that. They’re not supposed to be nice to me or lay down because I’m Angel Reese or because I’m a rookie."

Reese finished the game with 13 points, five rebounds, and two assists over 33 minutes.

Barcelona to Face Lyon in Champions League Rematch This Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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