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Nadim returns to training, Thorns change formation: New from NWSL camp

@ThornsFC

Five weeks of NWSL preseason down, two to go.

Teams have been scrimmaging with colleges and other NWSL teams and are beginning to get a better feel for how their squads will look on the pitch when the Challenge Cup begins March 18.

Across training camps, players are returning from injury, teams are changing their formations, while fresh faces are getting a chance to explore their new cities.

Here’s what’s been happening for Louisville, Portland and Angel City this week in NWSL camp.

‘I’m going to do everything to be ready’

Nadia Nadim is — kind of, almost — back.

The Louisville star scored three goals and grabbed an assist in eight games last season before tearing her ACL in September. Ironically, in January, amidst her recovery process, she became a doctor. Naturally, she’s executed a recovery process that puts her exactly where she needs to be at this point.

This week, she returned to training without any contact. She hopes to play in matches by May.

“My knee has responded amazingly,” she said.

The next step is to work on gaining the muscle she lost over the last few months. A lot of time is being spent at the gym and doing individual cardio and strength exercises.

“I’m going to do everything to be ready as soon as possible,” the 34-year-old said.

While itching to get back into games, she’s also been content in the Florida sunshine, finally free of the studying and exams that she was consumed with while becoming a doctor. These days, she sleeps “very well.”

“The last three months, I’m going to be honest, were very, very tough,” she said with a laugh. “I’m not a person who gets stressed, but I think that was stress.” She later added, “It shows what humans are capable of. You can always push that wall a tiny bit more.”

Nadim has only been training with the young Louisville team for a couple weeks, but she reports that, “Everyone’s very willing to learn.”

Louisville is coming off a debut season which saw the club finish ninth in the league. Coach Christy Holly was fired “for cause” in August, with the details of his dismissal remaining under wraps.

Under new head coach Kim Björkegren, Racing plans to play a possession style that is direct in nature. Most recently leading Cyprus’ Apollon Ladies FC to an undefeated season, Björkegren prefers to base his systems of play off the players he has, rather than coming in with a predetermined philosophy.

“He’s going to be amazing for us, and I can’t wait for these players to grow,” said Nadim.

New formation, who this?

The Portland Thorns will have a different shape on the field this year. Head coach Rhian Wilkinson hasn’t spilled the specifics, but she says it won’t stray too far from former coach Mark Parsons’ 4-diamond-2.

Wilkinson likes to use width, so the changes have a lot to do with stretching the field side to side for “possession with real purpose,” as she puts it. How players look and play in certain positions will also look different.

Defender Kelli Hubly told reporters Friday she’s excited about the change.

“I think personnel-wise, it fits us better this year with who we have,” she said. “Definitely some growing pains at times with everyone figuring out their new role, but I think overall, once it’s going to click, it’s going to work really well for us, and I think we’re all really excited to play this and looking forward to getting some games in and playing with each other.”

Wilkinson, who was just inducted into the Canada Soccer Hall of Fame, is described as a laid-back coach by her players.

“It’s different but it’s good,” said Hubly. “I like it. I think we’re all really excited to get to know her more and her style.”

Exploring the city

While a lot of teams from further north have had to train through February in southern states, Angel City has had the opportunity to settle right into their new home of Los Angeles.

With players getting to hang in their own backyard, head coach Freya Coombe said she was interested in knowing what they got up to in their off days. So we decided to ask a few ACFC players directly.

Midfielder Dani Weatherholt, who grew up near LA in Capistrano Beach, Calif., has spent most of her weekends hiking with her dog, Nora. Usually the pair can be found in the Malibu Canyon.

“It’s absolutely beautiful out there,” she said.

When she’s not under the sunshine and enjoying the mountains, she’s trying new restaurants in the city.

“The fans have been doing a great job of letting us know where to go,” she said.

Forward Jasmyne Spencer has tried to do a new thing every weekend. Recently, she visited the Broad Museum, where she picked up some inspiration for how to decorate her new apartment.

“[It] was really cool,” she said. “Got to see some really cool art.”

Angel City will begin their inaugural season on March 19th when they face off against the NWSL’s other expansion team, the San Diego Wave.

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.

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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