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A Peek Inside the Notebook of Vlatko Andonovski


Every once in a while, the CBS broadcast will cut to a spectator that somehow found his way into Zions Bank Stadium for the NWSL Challenge Cup. On closer inspection, it’s former Reign head coach and current USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski.

Often, Andonovski is seen writing in his notebook. While he may be journaling about the playground, sunset or the farm, it is much more likely that he is taking notes as he evaluates a roster for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

Before the Olympics were postponed, the likelihood of roster turnover was low given the one year gap between the World Cup and Tokyo. Teams can only carry 18 players at the Olympics, and it was widely expected that those 18 would be chosen among the 23 who won in France.

The postponement of the Olympics has changed all that. Players for whom the Olympics would have likely been their last tournament with the national team are now another year older. Their spots are less secure. Someone like Alex Morgan, on the other hand, would seem to be a shoo-in; originally it was unclear whether she’d be able to come back in time after just giving birth in May.

The extra year of preparation also gives the Challenge Cup added significance, as it may be the only opportunity for many national team hopefuls to play competitive games this calendar year.

Heading into the tournament, the opportunity seemed perfect for someone like Mallory Pugh, an immensely talented player, still young, who looked to have apparently been left off the initial Olympic roster. Traded to a new team in Sky Blue FC and playing with a chip on her shoulder, there was a chance she could have played herself back into contention. Instead, an injury has forced her to miss out on the tournament.

Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath, Christen Press and Morgan all opted out of the tournament, but their spots are all but assured. Ali Krieger, Emily Sonnett and Ashlyn Harris likewise won’t have it held against them that Orlando was unable to play. And while Kelley O’Hara, Becky Sauerbrunn and Carli Lloyd have either been limited or unable to play due to injuries, they can feel confident about heading to Tokyo, even if Lloyd will be 38. Tierna Davidson, on the other hand, has struggled with injuries since her final (junior) year at Stanford and could have used a strong showing to cement herself as the future of the defense.

As Andonovski looks towards the future, my bet is he’s currently feeling a bit overwhelmed with the number of world-class goalkeepers he’s seen performing at the Challenge Cup.

So far, Aubrey Bledsoe, who has brought into Andonovski’s first camp for friendlies against Sweden and Costa Rica, has been a brick wall for the Washington Spirit. Jane Campbell of the Houston Dash has also looked strong after being invited to a January camp alongside the three keepers who went to France.

What about the surprise of the tournament, Bella Bixby? Bixby leads the Cup in saves and has allowed one goal per game. She has also allowed 2.03 fewer goals than expected according to American Soccer Analysis, which is second in the league.

Andonovski is familiar with Casey Murphy from her time with the Reign and brought her in for December camp last year. There has probably not been much added to her page in the notebook, but she did keep a clean sheet against Sky Blue and has four saves across two games.

Of course, this all comes with the caveat that Alyssa Naeher still looks the part of the best goalkeeper in the world.

On the other side of the pitch, Lynn Williams is making a very convincing case that she should be on the Olympic roster. She had three goals during Olympic qualifying and has carried that form over to the Challenge Cup. She has three goals in three games and leads everyone in both shots and shots on goal. Her goals added score according to American Soccer Analysis, which measures the goal value a player adds compared to an average player at their position is 1.25. The next closest player is Julie Ertz with 0.50.

Andi Sullivan was also on that Olympic qualifying roster and seems poised to be a feature on the national team squad for many years to come. She is tied for fourth in the league with six tackles won, and her six interceptions is tied for second.

Teammate Ashley Sanchez has excelled on the dribble. Andonovski has certainly made note of her five successful dribbles, second most in the league behind Debinha, out of 12 attempts. The rookie has not shied away from the opportunity and that confidence will serve her well. Finally, her creativity and reflexes on Sam Staab’s tying goal against Portland will not soon be forgotten.

Although Chicago fans would have liked her to learn how to go down in the box, Kealia Watt has otherwise had a solid tournament. Her seven shots are tied for fourth and her 10 crosses are tied for the team lead. The advanced statistics say she is tied for eighth in the league with 0.39 goals added. Like Sanchez, she has also been effective on the dribble with 4-of-7 successful dribble attempts.

Since coming to the Houston Dash, Shea Groom has as many goals (2) as shots and games played. No one has more than her 1.13 goals per 90 minutes. The two brilliant goals showcased her full range of ability, one a soaring header and the other a screaming shot. She also has an assist and has been a focus of the revitalized Dash, with the team up four goals when she is on the pitch. She is also on the leaderboards with four drawn fouls. Back in 2016, she was called in for two friendlies with the national team, but was not capped. Even if the Olympics is not the venue, she should get a chance soon enough.

Groom has partnered well with Kristie Mewis, who has a goal and an assist of her own. Since receiving 15 caps in 2013-14, Mewis has been left off the national team roster, until Andonovski showed renewed interest and invited her to the December camp. In this cup, her 10 crosses are tied for sixth and her five fouls drawn is second. Her younger sister Sam is a sure bet for the national team, but Kristie Mewis has shown she still has a lot left.

Another player who was shown that she is still capable is Amy Rodriguez. While the Utah forward is probably not going to get a chance to return to the international stage, she is making the most of the stage. Through two games, she has a goal, an assist, and six shots. The pace that set her apart when she was a World Cup champion remains an asset.

Savannah McCaskill has six caps at the senior level and her upside is on full display. Coming on in the 64th minute against North Carolina, McCaskill’s entrance put Chicago on the front foot. She has nine crosses, tied for tenth in the Cup, despite coming off the bench in two games. It is this playmaking ability that is appreciated by her coach and makes her appealing for the national team.

“If I’m being honest, I thought outside of Sav [McCaskill], when the other players came off the bench, the game fell off completely,” Chicago coach Rory Dames said after the last game.

Andonovksi’s notebook of attackers, to the disappointment of some, does not contain Sky Blue’s Midge Purce. So far, she has been used exclusively at right back. While she does make up a significant portion of the team’s touches, 11.7% or the tenth highest rate in the league, she is completing just 66.4% of passes and seems buried. It seems that Purce, who has one cap, thinks that her best chance at the senior level comes in defense.

“I think every player who plays in the United States, we all know Vlatko is here,”  she said in a postgame interview. “He’s hard to miss; he’s kinda tall. Yeah, absolutely, I want to be that outside back. I want to be on the national team.”

Still, the competition at outside back is steep. In addition to the current stalwarts, Casey Short has been brought in for past camps and is tied for fourth in the tournament with six tackles won.

Washington Spirit’s left back Tegan McGrady has also impressed. She passes with 79% accuracy and her 1.65 passes completed over expected is eighth in the league, one spot behind Abby Dahlkemper. She debuted with the national team in 2018, and in the constant search for elite wing backs, has a potential path to the roster.

In the center, Alana Cook is at 87.5% pass accuracy with an average of 25 yards per pass. Playing in front of an American audience for the first time as a professional on loan from PSG, Cook has shown the same poise that allowed her to step in as a freshman at Stanford and start every game over her four year college career. The former captain of the United States U23s in 2019 looked much more comfortable next to Lauren Barnes than Amber Brooks, who also played her first game as the Reign center back in match two.

It is not hard to imagine that Andonovski has made some notes on Bethany Balcer’s sophomore campaign. While she has yet to have the same impact as she managed during her rookie year, much of that may be attributed to the lack of a game plan for OL Reign. On Wednesday, she broke the team’s scoring drought.

Ashley Hatch has 0.28 fewer goals than expected goals, which is the most of any player who has scored this tournament. Her pace is elite, but her finishing leaves something to be desired.

Second overall pick Morgan Weaver has generated chances with the Portland Thorns, but the team is still reliant on Lindsey Horan’s creativity.

Of course, Andonovski is there so he can evaluate everyone. There will be players that were not on his radar as Reign head coach but now pique his interest as coach of the World Cup champions. There will be surprises and disappointments.

This tournament has been of such high quality that any attempt to recreate Andonovski’s notebook is bound to come up short. We’ll simply have to wait until Tokyo to see what the one fan in the stands has been scribbling all this time.

USWNT to face Costa Rica in final Olympic send-off

uswnt sophia smith and tierna davidson celebrate at shebeilves cup 2024
The USWNT will play their final pre-Olympic friendly against Costa Rica on July 16th. (Photo by Greg Bartram/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

U.S. Soccer announced Tuesday that the USWNT will play their last home game on July 16th in the lead-up to the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.

The 2024 Send-Off Match against Costa Rica will take place at Washington, DC’s Audi Field — home to both the Washington Spirit and DC United — at 7:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, July 16th. The friendly rounds out a four-game Olympic run-up campaign under incoming head coach Emma Hayes’ side, with the last two set to feature the finalized 2024 U.S. Olympic Women’s Soccer Team roster.

Hayes will appear on the USWNT sideline for the first time this June, helming the team as they embark on a two-game series against Korea Republic hosted by Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado on June 1st followed by Allianz Stadium in St. Paul, Minnesota on June 4th. 

The team is then scheduled to meet a talented Mexico squad on July 13th at Gotham FC’s Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, where the Olympic-bound lineup will attempt to rewrite February’s shocking 2-0 loss to El Tri Femenil in the group stages of this year’s Concacaf W Gold Cup. And while clear roster favorites have emerged from both of this year’s Gold Cup and SheBelives Cup rosters, a spate of recent and recurring injuries means making it to the Olympics is still largely anyone’s game.

Broadcast and streaming channels for the USWNT's final July 16th friendly at Audi Field include TNT, truTV, Universo, Max, and Peacock.

Caitlin Clark’s WNBA start to serve as 2024 Olympic tryout

Clark of the Indiana Fever poses for a photo with Lin Dunn and Christie Sides during her introductory press conference on April 17, 2024
The talented Fever rookie is still in the running for a ticket to this summer's Paris Olympics. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The USA Basketball Women's National Team is still considering Caitlin Clark for a spot on the Paris Olympics squad, says selection committee chair Jennifer Rizzotti. 

On Monday, Rizzotti told the AP that the committee will be evaluating the college phenom’s Olympic prospects by keeping a close eye on her first few weeks of WNBA play with Indiana.

The move is somewhat unconventional. While Clark was invited to participate in the 14-player national team training camp held earlier this month — the last camp before Team USA’s roster drops — she was unable to attend due to it coinciding with Iowa’s trip to the NCAA Women’s Final Four.

Judging by the immense talent spread throughout the league in what might be their most hyped season to date, competition for a piece of the Olympic pie could be fiercer than ever before.

"You always want to introduce new players into the pool whether it's for now or the future," said Rizzotti. "We stick to our principles of talent, obviously, positional fit, loyalty and experience. It's got to be a combination of an entire body of work. It's still not going to be fair to some people."

Of course, Clark isn’t the first rookie the committee has made exceptions for. Coming off an exceptional college season that saw her averaging 19.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 4 assists per game for UConn, Breanna Stewart was tapped to represent the U.S. at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil less than two weeks after being drafted No. 1 overall by the Seattle Storm. Eight years prior, fellow No. 1 pick Candace Parker punched her ticket to the 2008 Games in Beijing just two weeks after making her first appearance for the L.A. Sparks.

In the lead-up to Paris’ Opening Ceremony on July 26th, USA Basketball Women’s National Team is scheduled to play a pair of exhibition games. They'll first go up against the WNBA's finest at the July 20th WNBA All-Star Game in Phoenix before facing Germany in London on July 23rd.

While an official roster announcement date hasn’t yet been issued, players won’t find out if they’ve made this year’s Olympic cut until at least June 1st.

WNBA teams make history with 2024 season ticket sell-outs

Arike Ogunbowale on the wnba court for the dallas wings
The Dallas Wings are now the third team to sell out their entire season ticket allotment in WNBA history. (Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)

For the first time in history, three different WNBA teams have completely sold out of season ticket plans well before the league's May 14th kick-off.

Call it the Caitlin Clark effect, attribute it to this year’s tenacious rookie class, or look to the skyrocketing visibility of veteran players across the board. But no matter the cause, facts are facts: Tickets to the 2024 WNBA season are selling like never before. 

On Monday, the Dallas Wings became the third team to sell out of season ticket memberships in the league’s 27-year history. The announcement from Arlington came shortly after the Atlanta Dream issued their own season ticket sell-out statement, also on Monday, and almost seven weeks after the back-to-back WNBA Champion Las Vegas Aces made headlines by becoming the first-ever WNBA team to sell out their season ticket allotment.   

According to the Wings, season ticket memberships will fill nearly 40% of the 6,251 seats inside their home arena, College Park Center. The club also said that their overall ticket revenue has ballooned to the tune of 220% this year, spanning not just season tickets but also a 1,200% increase in single ticket sales. There’s currently a waitlist to become a Dallas season ticket holder, a status that comes with extra incentives like playoff presale access and discounts on additional single-game tickets. 

In Atlanta, season tickets aren't the only thing flying off the shelves. The Dream also announced that they broke their own record for single-game ticket sales during a recent limited presale campaign. Sunday was reportedly their most lucrative day, with five different games totally selling out Gateway Center Arena. Individual tickets for all upcoming matchups will hit the market this Thursday at 8 a.m., while a waitlist for season ticket memberships will open up next Tuesday at 10 a.m.

"Excitement around women's sports, particularly basketball, is at an all-time high and nowhere is that felt more than here in Atlanta," Dream president and COO Morgan Shaw Parker said in the team’s statement. "We’ve continued a record-setting growth trajectory over the past three years under new ownership — both on and off the court — and 2024 is shaping up to be our best season yet."

As of Tuesday, season ticket sales revenue for Caitlin Clark’s hotly anticipated Indiana Fever debut haven’t yet been announced by the club. But if these numbers are any indication — not to mention the explosive demand for Fever away games felt by teams around the country — it won’t be long before we see some scale-tipping figures coming out of Indianapolis.

Nelly Korda ties LPGA record with fifth-straight tournament win

Nelly Korda of the United States celebrates with the trophy after winning The Chevron Championship
Nelly Korda poses with her trophy after acing her fifth-straight tour title at The Chevron Championship on Sunday. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

25-year-old American pro golfer Nelly Korda secured her spot in LPGA history on Sunday, notching her fifth-straight title at this weekend's Chevron Championship in The Woodlands, Texas.

Ranked No. 1 in the world by Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, Korda joins Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sörenstam (2005) as just the third LPGA player to rack up five consecutive tour wins. She is also the third No. 1-ranked player to capture The Chevron Championship victory since the rankings debuted in 2006, accompanied by Lorena Ochoa and Lydia Ko.

The Florida native shot three-under 69 in Sunday's final, besting Sweden's Maja Stark despite Stark's valiant come-from-behind attempt in the 18th. Korda finished with a four-day total of 13-under 275, celebrating her two-stroke win by cannonballing into Poppie's Pond, much to the crowd's delight. She left The Club at Carlton Woods with $1.2 million from an overall purse of $7.9 million.

It wasn't long ago that the two-time major champion's current winning streak seemed unimaginable. After maintaining her No. 1 position for 29 weeks, Korda underwent surgery to remove a blood clot from her left arm in 2022. She returned to the course not long after, but failed to win a single tournament in 2023 before seeing a surge in form during the first four months of 2024. As of today, she hasn't lost a tournament since January.

Korda will attempt a record sixth-straight win at next week's JM Eagle LA Championship at Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles, where she'll vie for a cut of the $3.75 million purse.

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