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World Cup notes: USWNT faces ‘one of hardest’ groups, Andonovski says

(Brad Smith/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

The U.S. women’s national team faces “one of the hardest” groups at the 2023 World Cup, head coach Vlatko Andonovski said Tuesday.

Andonovski and USWNT players addressed reporters Tuesday in California ahead of the training camp for the upcoming tournament, which kicks off on July 20 in Australia and New Zealand. And they have their work cut out for them, at least in the view of the head coach.

The USWNT faces a tough test in Group E, which includes 2019 runner-up Netherlands, Portugal and Vietnam, “three different types of teams” with varied philosophies and styles, Andonovski said. Yet the two-time defending World Cup champions enter with sky-high expectations.

“Would I be happy with anything short of a third straight win? No! Absolutely not,” he said. “Our goal is to win the World Cup, there’s no question about it.”

Andonovski also addressed a number of questions, from which player will serve as captain to the possibility of Crystal Dunn in the midfield. Just Women’s Sports has a roundup of the news and notes as training begins.

Who is the next USWNT captain?

Longtime captain Becky Sauerbrunn is missing the World Cup due to a lingering foot injury, which leaves a big hole for the team to fill.

Yet while the next captain has been selected, Andonovski did not reveal the choice Tuesday. While he had intended to inform players of the selection upon their arrival in California, flight delays postponed the announcement.

One likely choice is Lindsey Horan, who has served as the co-captain to Sauerbrunn in recent years, often taking on the captain’s armband in Sauerbrunn’s absence.

“She gets to lead this team out at a World Cup and to really appreciate what that means, in the course of your career,” Sauerbrunn said of Horan on a recent episode of Snacks. “Like, that’s such a crazy, cool accomplishment.”

Will the USWNT use one starting goalkeeper or a rotation?

Andonovski plans to choose a No. 1 goalkeeper to make most of the starts at the World Cup, though a second goalkeeper might take the reins for one group-stage game, he said Tuesday.

“We’re going to have to keep the rhythm of our No. 1,” he said. But one game for the No. 2 keeper in the group stage could help the team in case of injury. At the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, starter Alyssa Naeher went down with a knee injury in the semifinals, so backup AD Franch saw her first minutes of the tournament in the semifinals and the bronze-medal match.

Naeher is the presumptive No. 1 as training camp begins, with Casey Murphy and Aubrey Kingsbury also on the roster.

Will Crystal Dunn play in the midfield?

Dunn shines at midfield for the Portland Thorns, but the 30-year-old is a starting defender for the national team. And while she wasn’t holding out hope for a midfield appearance at the World Cup, as she told “Diaspora United” in May, she may yet get her shot, Andonovski said Tuesday.

The team does not “want to exclude the possibility of her playing in the midfield if that’s what the team needs,” he told reporters.

“Crystal is one of the best players overall in the world, and the fact that she can play midfielder on Sunday and left back on Wednesday, that just speaks to the quality player she is,” he said.

When Andonovski announced the roster last week, he also floated the possibility of playing midfielder Julie Ertz at center-back. Ertz is a midfield mainstay for the USWNT but also has played center-back on the international stage.

How much should USWNT players pack for the World Cup?

Alyssa Thompson called Horan to ask her advice on what to pack. Yet despite playing in the 2019 World Cup in France, Horan did not know what to tell her 18-year-old teammate.

“She wanted to know essentials for packing for the World Cup and I had no idea what to tell her,” Horan said.

Megan Rapinoe, who will be playing in her fourth World Cup for the USWNT, offered a solution: “Bring it all!”

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

One former player contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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