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Which players made the cut for NWSL Best XI?

Sophia Smith is one of two Portland Thorns players on the list. (Craig Mitchelldyer/USA TODAY Sports)

If you’re wondering which players to watch in Saturday’s NWSL Championship match between the Portland Thorns and Kansas City Current, look no further than the NWSL Best XI for the 2022 season.

The league on Tuesday released its list of the top 11 players this year, including Thorns forward Sophia Smith and midfielder Sam Coffey as well as Current forward Lo’eau LaBonta. The results are based on a voting scale involving players (50%), owners, GMs and coaches (20%), media (20%) and fans (10%).

Smith is among the five NWSL MVP candidates after finishing second in the Golden Boot race with 14 goals, a career best and a single-season record for Portland. Coffey, a Rookie of the Year nominee, boasted an 83 percent pass rating.

For the Current, LaBonta broke out this season with seven goals — and standout celebrations, even compared to those from the rest of the self-proclaimed Celly Team.

Kansas City goalkeeper AD Franch and defender Hailie Mace feature on the Best XI Second Team, as do Thorns defenders Kelli Hubly and Becky Sauerbrunn.

The San Diego Wave lead all teams with three players on the Best XI First Team, including: forward Alex Morgan, Golden Boot winner and MVP candidate; Kailen Sheridan, Goalkeeper of the Year candidate; and Naomi Girma, nominee for MVP, Rookie of the Year and Defender of the Year.

OL Reign, who claimed the NWSL Shield but lost in the semifinals to the Current, boast the most players across the First and Second Teams with five. Defenders Alana Cook and Sofia Huerta made the First Team, while midfielders Jess Fishlock and Rose Lavelle and forward Megan Rapinoe made the Second Team.

Five NWSL clubs — Gotham FC, the Washington Spirit, the Orlando Pride, Racing Louisville and Angel City FC — do not have any representatives on the Best XI squads.

NWSL Best XI First Team

  • Kailen Sheridan, goalkeeper (San Diego Wave)
  • Alana Cook, defender (OL Reign)
  • Naomi Girma, defender (San Diego Wave)
  • Sofia Huerta, defender (OL Reign)
  • Carson Pickett, defender (North Carolina Courage)
  • Sam Coffey, midfielder (Portland Thorns)
  • Lo’eau LaBonta, midfielder (Kansas City Current)
  • Alex Morgan, forward (San Diego Wave)
  • Debinha, forward (North Carolina Courage)
  • Mallory Pugh, forward (Chicago Red Stars)
  • Sophia Smith, forward (Portland Thorns)

NWSL Best XI Second Team

  • Adrianna Franch, goalkeeper (Kansas City Current)
  • Kelli Hubly, defender (Portland Thorns)
  • Hailie Mace, defender (Kansas City Current)
  • Tatumn Milazzo, defender (Chicago Red Stars)
  • Becky Sauerbrunn, defender (Portland Thorns)
  • Jess Fishlock, midfielder (OL Reign)
  • Kerolin, forward (North Carolina Courage)
  • Rose Lavelle, midfielder (OL Reign)
  • Diana Ordóñez, forward (North Carolina Courage)
  • Megan Rapinoe, forward (OL Reign)
  • Ebony Salmon, forward (Houston Dash)

New Washington Spirit Head Coach Jonatan Giráldez Arrivin DC

head coach Jonatan Giráldez
Jonatan Giráldez joins the NWSL from FC Barcelona Femení. (Ramsey Cardy/UEFA via Getty Images)

Five months after announcing that the Washington Spirit had hired Barcelona Femení coach Jonatan Giráldez as the team's new head coach, Giráldez has joined the club in Washington, DC.

Giráldez is coming off of a successful season with the Spanish side, having won UEFA Women's Champions League, Copa de la Reina, Supercopa, and Liga F in his final season to complete a lauded Quadruple.

While Giráldez was finishing out his tenure in Europe, Adrián González filled in as Spirit interim head coach. González has also seen success, leading the team to its third-place standing with a 9-3-1 record through 13 games.

“I’m thrilled to join the Spirit and begin this next chapter with the club,” Giráldez said in an official team statement. “To be part of the vision Michele Kang has for the Spirit and women’s soccer globally is an exciting opportunity.”

Giráldez has worked at Barcelona since 2019, initially coming on as an assistant coach before moving up to head coach in 2021. The team went 30-0-0 on the season under Giráldez during his first year as manager.

He brings along with him Andrés González and Toni Gordo, who will serve as the Spirit's Fitness Coach and Club Analyst, respectively.

US Track & Field Olympic Trials Touch Down in Oregon

Sha’Carri Richardson competes in the women’s 200-meter preliminary round during the USATF Outdoor Championships
Sha’Carri Richardson will have some competition this week as athletes vie for an Olympic berth. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Track & Field Trials begin on June 21st, kicking off a 10-day quest to determine who will represent the US in Paris this summer.

The crucial meet will take place in Eugene, Oregon, where the top three finishers in each event will punch their ticket to the 2024 Olympics. As with this past week's US Swimming Trials, even the most decorated athletes must work to earn their spot — and one bad performance could undermine four years of preparation.

Reigning 100-meter World Champion Sha'Carri Richardson headlines this year's field, as the 24-year-old looks to qualify for her second Olympic Games and compete in her first. Richardson is a world champion in both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint, but missed the Tokyo Olympics due to testing positive for THC shortly after the last US Olympic Trials.

Other standouts include 400-meter Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who's currently the most decorated athlete in the active women's US Track & Field pool. McLaughlin-Levrone qualified to run in the 200-meter and 400-meter flat races alongside the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympic Trials, but opted to focus solely on her signature event.

800-meter specialist Athing Mu will also be a huge draw this week, as the Olympic gold medalist looks to shake off a lingering hamstring injury while pursuing her second Summer Games. Gold medal-winning pole vaulter Katie Moon will also attempt to qualify for her second-straight Olympic Games.

Ole Miss star McKenzie Long could be Richardson's greatest competition in the 100-meter and 200-meter events, as well as Richardson's Worlds teammate Gabby Thomas in the 200-meter. In field events, watch for Oregon senior Jaida Ross going head-to-head with reigning world champion Chase Jackson in the shot put, as both push for their first Olympic team berth.

Regardless of why you tune in, the US Olympic Trials are a perpetually thrilling and sometimes brutal qualification process. If you're able to make your way to the head of the pack, a shot at Olympic glory might just be waiting at the finish line.

Fans can catch live coverage throughout the Trials via NBC, USA, and Peacock.

Top Teams Square Off in NWSL Weekend Slate

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda
Orlando Pride, led by forward Barbra Banda, will take on Utah in this weekend's NWSL action. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As the NWSL season continues, a few top-performing clubs will have a chance to boost their standings this weekend.

First-place Kansas City will travel to Providence Park to take on fifth-place Portland, as the Current look to keep their unbeaten streak intact. And in New Jersey, third-place Washington will take on fourth-place Gotham FC, with both teams attempting to extend multi-game unbeaten streaks.

A six-point gap has opened between the fifth and sixth spot on the NWSL table — with just six points also separating the league's top five. Kansas City, Orlando, Washington, Gotham, and Portland have recently proven themselves to be a cut above the rest of the competition. With eight postseason spots up for grabs and half the season behind us, a pattern is forming that indicates the playoff race could come down to spots six through eight on the NWSL table.

Of those top five teams, only Orlando faces an opponent in the bottom half of the league this weekend: The Pride will take on 14th-place Utah, who nonetheless are coming off a win — just their second of the season — over Bay FC last weekend.

But despite Kansas City and Orlando having yet to lose a game, Gotham might be the squad coming into the weekend with the most momentum.

Clutch goals from Rose Lavelle and rookie Maycee Bell gave the Bats a 2-0 midweek win over San Diego on Wednesday, in a rematch of the 2024 Challenge Cup. Gotham's unbeaten streak dates all the way back to April, as rising availability and sharpened form have honed this year's superteam into a contender.

Bottom line? As the NWSL season passes the halfway mark, some matches might begin to feel more like playoff previews than mere regular season battles.

Chelsea Gray Returns From Injury in Aces Win Over Seattle

las vegas aces chelsea gray and kelsey plum celebrate a win over the seattle storm
Gray has been sidelined with a foot injury since the 2023 WNBA Finals. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Chelsea Gray made her return to the basketball court on Wednesday, helping the Aces to a 94-83 win over the Seattle Storm. 

The lauded point guard missed the first 12 games of the season, having been injured in last year’s WNBA Finals. The left foot injury caused her to miss Game 4 of the championship series, and she’s continued to rehab it through the beginning of the 2024 season. 

Her return on Wednesday was capitalized by the fact that she needed just 20 seconds to make an impact and record her first assist. While she finished with just one point, she had seven assists, four rebounds, and two blocks to go alongside it in 15:30 minutes. Gray's contributions on the night brought her career assist record up to 1,500.

"I probably went through every emotion leading up to today," Gray said after the game. "I was a little anxious all day. It's been a long time since I've been out on that court. But the fans were amazing from the time I came out to warm up to the time I checked in the game. It was a rush and a feeling I missed a lot."

It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far for Las Vegas, who have lost five of their last seven games. Gray, who averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in 2023, has proven herself a much-needed addition to the team’s lineup.

"Felt like my heart," Aces coach Becky Hammon said when asked how she felt hearing the crowd erupt for Gray's return. "She's the leader of our team. I thought she did a wonderful job too."

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