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Why this Women’s World Cup is different than any before

USWNT’s Trinity Rodman reacts to a missed chance during team’s 1-1 draw with New Zealand in the World Cup group stage. (Zhizhao Wu/Getty Images)

From the U.S. women’s national team posting its worst-ever group-stage result to Olympic champion Canada making an early exit, those watching the 2023 World Cup may notice some differences from years past.

Alongside the obvious markers of change, such as the expanded 32-team format, unexpected results have underscored the shifting women’s soccer landscape. What are some of the signs of history in the making? Just Women’s Sports takes a look.

Canada becomes first Olympic champion to exit in group stage

Canada was eliminated from the tournament in a crushing 4-0 loss to Australia, becoming the first reigning Olympic champions to go out in the group stage. The result caps a months-long dispute with Canada Soccer over their pay, which finally reached a tentative conclusion over the weekend – just before the team was set to fight for its World Cup life. The loss made an already tough couple of months for Canada even tougher. But after the match, players and coach Bev Priestman refused to put the blame on their struggles off the field.

“Has it been a really really tough year? Absolutely,” Priestman said. “But at the end of the day, we came here tonight thinking we should have been able to win. And we didn’t. And we have to reflect on that.”

Christine Sinclair, who was playing in her sixth career World Cup for Canada, agreed, but she did express hope that the result would serve as a “wake-up call” for the national federation.

“We’ve been battling our federation for support but I can’t put this [loss] on [Canada Soccer],” Sinclair said. “We’re 23 players and staff and we didn’t get it done tonight. More of it is a wake-up call for our federation, the lack of a professional league [in Canada], the lack of support for youth national teams, I think you’re just going to continue to see teams reach our level, surpass us, whatever you want to call it, if things don’t change.”

New Zealand is first host to bow out in group stage

Tournament co-host New Zealand started with a bang, earning its first-ever win World Cup win with a 1-0 result against Norway. It was a historic moment, and it captured everything the World Cup should be: the beauty of the game, the emotions of the players, what women’s football can mean for a country if we let it.

Yet while the Football Ferns made some positive history, they also made an unfavorable mark in the World Cup record books. They followed up their win with a stunning loss to the Philippines in their second game, then a draw with Switzerland, finishing third in their group and becoming the first tournament hosts eliminated before the knockout stage. Still, captain Ali Riley remained upbeat.

“I really think that we’ve inspired the country,” she said. “I hope that little girls across New Zealand and the world now will start playing sport and feel like they can achieve whatever they put their mind to and just dream bigger.”

Colombia hands Germany its first group-stage loss since 1995

Colombia has been one of the most exciting countries to grace this tournament, led by 18-year-old Linda Caicedo.

Caicedo provided the team’s first goal against powerhouse Germany, which stood as the lone goal in the match until the 89th minute. While Germany scored at the death, Colombia’s Manuela Vanegas wouldn’t let her team be denied. The 22-year-old scored the game-winner in the seventh minute of extra time to clinch the improbable 2-1 win and a spot in the knockout rounds.

While Germany dominated every aspect of the game, from shots to possession to passes, Colombia notched its biggest win to date — and the first group-stage win over Germany by any team since 1995. Colombia advances to the Round of 16 for just the second time.

“It’s a win that’s very, very important,” Vanegas said. “It’s a win against one of the World Cup favorites for a lot of people. But Colombia obviously played very well. It’s (a product of) all the work that people don’t see. We made history. What happened today is historic.

“We want to keep making history — not only today, but tomorrow, too.”

Four World Cup debutantes leave with group-stage wins

Four of the eight World Cup debutantes are leaving the tournament with a group-stage win: Morocco, Zambia, the Philippines and Portugal. Their success marks a historic moment for the tournament, which expanded to 32 teams from 24 this year, bringing it in line with the men’s World Cup.

Morocco is the first Arab country to take part in the Women’s World Cup, and it made its mark with a 1-0 win against South Korea. Additionally, Nouhaila Benzina became the first player to wear a hijab in a game in the history of the World Cup.

“We are just so pleased our efforts have paid off,” Morocco forward Ibtissam Jraïdi said. “This victory is for Morocco and Arabs — it’s the fruit of our hard work.”

USWNT wins just one group stage game for the first time

Add one more statistic to Vlatko Andonovski’s résumé: For the first time, the USWNT finished the World Cup group stage without at least two wins.

A 1-1 draw with the Netherlands and a lackluster performance against Portugal have the USWNT limping into the Round of 16. The possibility of a World Cup three-peat remains alive thanks to a goalpost; if not for a late Portugal shot ricocheting off the post to preserve Tuesday’s 0-0 draw, the USWNT would have made even more unfathomable history.

Perhaps what has been the most infuriating is Andonovski’s refusal to implement (or even consider) tactical changes. The group-stage results made clear that something needs to change, but he is unwilling to change it. The USWNT and its players might still hold the will to win, but what good is will when the way won’t change?

And as the runners-up in Group E, the two-time defending champions now face an even tougher road in the knockout rounds. The USWNT has never bowed out before the semifinals at a World Cup, but that could change this year.

Caitlin Clark dunks on Michael Che in surprise SNL appearance

(Julia Hansen/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Caitlin Clark made a surprise appearance on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, which quickly went viral.

The Iowa star showed up on the show’s Weekend Update segment to playfully call out Michael Che’s history of making jabs at women’s sports.

It started when Che joked that Iowa should replace Clark’s retired No. 22 “with an apron.” 

When Clark entered, Che said that he was a fan. But Clark wasn’t convinced – especially not when co-host Colin Jost brought the receipts of Che’s jabs.

“Really, Michael? Because I heard that little apron joke you did,” she said, before making him read some jokes of her own in retaliation. Clark finished her segment by shouting out the WNBA greats that came before her. She then got in one final dig – bringing Che a signed apron as a souvenir. 

When Che promised to give it to his girlfriend, Clark delivered her last playful dig of the night.

“You don’t have a girlfriend, Michael,” she said.

Afterward, SNL castmember Bowen Yang told People that the 22-year-old and teammates Gabbie Marshall, Kate Martin and Jada Gyamfi – who joined her at Studio 8H – “were so cool.”

“She's so charming and witty,” Yang said. “They were just the most stunning, noble people.

“Athletes just have this air about them. They know they're amazing. I mean, these are people who have numeric attachments and values to their performance. That's something that comedians never have.”

Portland Thorns, in uncharted territory, start NWSL season winless

Portland has started the season winless through four games for the first time. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

The Portland Thorns continue to struggle to start the NWSL season, falling 2-0 to the North Carolina Courage over the weekend to remain winless through their first four games. 

It’s uncharted territory for Portland, who has never started the NWSL regular season without a win in four games before.

Following the loss, defender Becky Sauerbrunn voiced her frustrations with the start. 

“It’s hard to find a lot of encouraging things, but what I find encouraging is that people are frustrated,” she said. “People are pissed off that we’re not doing well. We care, and I think that’s really important.” 

She also added that while the team will reflect individually, “there’s going to be no finger pointing.”

“We’re going to look at ourselves and figure out what we should have done, or I should have done better,” she said. “There is a list of things that I could have done better, and I’m going to make sure I know every single thing and watch this game back.”

The Thorns currently sit at the bottom of the league table with just one point, having allowed 10 goals – tied for the worst in the league. They’ve yet to lead in a match. And as questions grow, attention turns to head coach Mike Norris. 

Norris is in his second year as head coach of the club after leading the team to a second-place finish in the regular season last year. When asked about the possibility of pressure growing after the unprecedented start, Norris said that the pressure has been there “from day one.”

“I cannot be driven by my day-to-day and the longer vision of the pressure of the job,” he said. “We’ve got a belief in how we want to play, how we operate. We’ve got to stick with the process of that. While we do it, we have to review and see what is working, what’s not working.

“I’ll be showing up for the team and being there for what they need from me as we approach getting back together as a group next week.”

Maria Sanchez reportedly requests trade from Houston Dash

Mar 23, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Dash forward Maria Sanchez (7) warms up before the match between Racing Louisville and Houston Dash at Shell Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Maria Sanchez, who signed one of the biggest deals in NWSL history just four months ago, has reportedly requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

ESPN was the first to report the news, which was confirmed by multiple sources.

In a statement to ESPN, the team said: “​​Maria Sanchez is under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the Dash worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. At the time, it was the largest contract in NWSL history – something that was eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

The winger was a restricted free agent in the offseason, meaning that Houston could match any offer from another team and retain her rights. Should the team trade Sanchez, her contract would remain as it has been signed with the league. That limits the number of teams that could take on her contract. 

In three starts with the Dash this season, Sanchez has zero goals and an assist. The Dash are 1-2-1 through four games and have allowed a league-worst 10 goals.

The team hired a new coach, Fran Alonso, in December. Earlier this year, former goalkeeper coach Matt Lampson was fired for violating the league’s Coach Code of Conduct and Anti-Fraternization policy. 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close at midnight ET on Friday.

Canada beats U.S. Hockey 6-5 in thrilling World Championship win

UTICA, NEW YORK - APRIL 14: Team Canada raises the Championship Trophy after winning The Gold by defeating The United States in OT during the 2024 IIHF Women's World Championship Gold Medal game at Adirondack Bank Center on April 14, 2024 in Utica, New York. (Photo by Troy Parla/Getty Images)

Canada got its revenge on Sunday, winning the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship and taking down the U.S. in a 6-5 overtime classic.

Marie-Philip Poulin, a longtime star for Canada, got her first two goals of the tournament, while Danielle Serdachny had the game-winner. 

"I hate to say you're not trying to rely on it, expect it, but I know I've grown to expect it," Canada coach Troy Ryan said of Philip-Poulin. "Tonight was just a whole other level. I could see in her eyes every time we called her name that she was ready to go. It's just special."

The win came after Canada lost 1-0 to the U.S. in the group stage of the tournament. On Sunday, the two teams met for the 22nd time in 23 tournaments in the gold medal game – and the action between the two teams delivered. 

Among those scoring for the U.S. were Megan Keller, Alex Carpenter, Hilary Knight, Laila Edwards and Caroline Harvey. Julia Gosling, Emily Clark and Erin Ambrose had the other three goals for Canada, giving them their 13th World title after falling to the U.S. in last year’s title game in Toronto. 

This year’s game was held in New York, and it was the second-highest scoring final between the two teams. The U.S. won a world championship 7-5 in 2015. 

"Oh man, that feels good to win it on U.S. soil," Canada goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens said after the game. "We owed it to them and owed it to ourselves to win that one."

Canada also denied Knight a record 10th World Championship win, although she did become the most decorated player in women’s world championship history with 14 medals. After the game, Poulin gave Knight a hug on the ice. 

"We just said 'that was unbelievable,'" Poulin said.

U.S. coach John Wroblewski echoed the sentiment that it was an outstanding game after being asked about ending the game on a power-play after leaving too many players on the ice. 

"Instead of talking about the isolated events of tonight's game, I think that normally that's an interesting storyline,” he said. “But I think the entity of an amazing 6-5 game is an amazing hockey game that took place."

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