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Ali Krieger’s soccer journey fittingly ends in NWSL Championship

(Ira L. Black – Corbis/Getty Images)

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As Gotham FC prepares to play in their first NWSL championship game, they represent not only a turnaround from a last-place finish in 2022 but also from a struggle that’s spanned nearly a decade. Once Sky Blue FC, a club known for negative headlines more than positive ones, Gotham of 2023 is more of a phoenix rising from the ashes than a Cinderella story.

The club’s journey toward the top of the league has had its fair share of twists and turns, which makes it the only fitting ending for captain Ali Krieger, who is set to retire after this season alongside OL Reign star and championship opponent Megan Rapinoe.

Krieger has been playing professional soccer since before the NWSL’s inception, traveling across the globe in pursuit of opportunities while never losing sight of home. In many ways, she was a trendsetter, following a path that resembles more what a modern women’s professional soccer player might take before the world was quite ready for that reality.

During her college career at Penn State, she spent time training and playing with the W-league version of her home team, the Washington Freedom. After graduation, she made the leap to Europe and played for FC Frankfurt for a number of years, even after WPS was established.

In those early years of the fledgling business of women’s soccer, Krieger was known to be playing either an ocean away or right at home. She won the original UEFA Champions League (known at the time as the UEFA Women’s Cup) with Frankfurt, before returning to play with the Freedom in WPS. Kreiger played almost year-round at the time, going back to Europe at the end of the WPS season (and eventually the end of the league itself) to continue to compete.

So when the NWSL launched in 2013, it was only natural that Krieger became one of the inaugural U.S. women’s national team allocated players for the team in her home city: the Washington Spirit. Krieger became synonymous with the early era of the Spirit, playing a pivotal role that led to consistent time with the USWNT defense and eventually two World Cup wins.

At the league level, Krieger’s highest-profile moment with the Spirit came in defeat. In 2016, Washington reached the NWSL Championship for the first time after a semifinal win over the Chicago Red Stars. In the final, the Spirit were seconds away from the club’s first title before a miracle equalizer from Lynn Williams, Krieger’s current club teammate, sent the game to penalties. Krieger, known for her poise on the ball, missed her penalty kick and the Western New York Flash claimed the trophy.

Krieger spent the early years of her pro career bouncing between Washington and foreign clubs, including the Spirit. (Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Despite a history of NWSL heartbreak, it’s a testament to Krieger’s longevity and her ability to connect with those around her that she’s played with fellow titans of the game throughout her career. She was a part of the famed 2013 Tyresö FF roster in Sweden that included Christen Press, Meghan Klingenberg, Whitney Engen and Ashlyn Harris. The 2016 Spirit team that fell just short of a title featured both Gotham’s semifinal opponent, Crystal Dunn, and their eventual goal-scoring hero, Katie Stengel.

Krieger had an outsized impression on Dunn in particular, even before the two became club teammates.

“In my first (USWNT) camp, we had to run the beep test,” Dunn told Just Women’s Sports in 2021. “And I was like, ‘Great, I’m about to get cut before I even kick a soccer ball.’ And (Krieger) ran the beep test right next to me and was cheering me on, encouraging me to do one more sprint, make it to one more round.

“I was like, ‘You don’t even know me, and you’re literally so sweet and so nice.’”

Krieger’s steady performances as an outside back made her a valuable asset when the NWSL expanded to Orlando in 2016 and she moved into a new unknown with the Pride. Once again, she found herself surrounded by legendary talent like Harris, Alex Morgan, Marta, Steph Catley and Alanna Kennedy. For a time, the top-heavy roster-building strategy worked, with the team making it to the NWSL playoffs in 2017 before falling to eventual champions Portland Thorns.

But after the promise of those early years, the Orlando project never really got off the ground. The Pride finished seventh in 2018 and ninth out of nine teams in 2019. Their struggles nearly cost Krieger a roster spot for the 2019 World Cup. Former USWNT manager Jill Ellis kept her at arm’s length for two years before bringing her back into the team right before the World Cup roster was named. After the team’s iconic win at the tournament, Krieger’s time with the U.S. faded, and she earned her final national team cap in early 2021.

After 2020, Krieger’s next evolution began. She started spending more time as a center-back, which came with growing pains but also likely elongated the 39-year-old’s career. The position change allowed her to use her experience in reading the game over getting into a footrace with speedy, young attackers.

Krieger has also been very open about using the time after her national team career to start a family, a decision that ultimately led her to Gotham in 2022. With the Spirit, Krieger faced what she described as homophobia from Washington team leadership. In Orlando, she ultimately felt that Florida state leadership wasn’t creating an environment that was safe for her two adopted children. So, her family opted to make one final journey.

Her ties aren’t as strong to the New Jersey area, but Krieger immediately ingratiated herself with a group that is now determined to win her a long sought-after NWSL Championship. Her bend-but-don’t-break style of defense has become the ethos the entire team has embodied under first-year coach Juan Carlos Amorós. Gotham’s commitment to doing whatever it takes to keep the ball out of the back of their own net is hard-earned, after the club conceded the most goals in the league in 2022.

Krieger will be playing for her first NWSL Championship with Gotham on Saturday. (Ira L. Black/Getty Images)

With the wisdom of a player used to many different locker room environments, in 2023 Krieger has not missed a beat with new center-back partner Maitane López, nor with two young outside-backs in rookie Jenna Nighswonger and 21-year-old Bruninha. In the past, Krieger’s sense of calm hasn’t always been enough to carry a defense, but the 2023 Gotham backline is locked in with support in front of them. All together, it’s led to some of the best performances in Krieger’s career.

Saturday’s championship game in San Diego will be the last stop on Krieger’s world soccer tour. It seems fitting that she will have the opportunity to dictate her goodbye, as one of the game’s true warriors finally walks into the sunset.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

NWSL x Liga MX Femenil Summer Cup Kicks Off Interleague Tournament

Washington Spirit defender Jenna Butler races for the ball against Guadalajara's Alicia Cervantes in their first NWSL x Liga MX Femenil Summer Cup
The Washington Spirit beat Guadalajara 2-1 to launch their Summer Cup campaign. (Caean Couto/USA TODAY Sports)

The NWSL x Liga MX Femenil Summer Cup's first match weekend is officially in the books, with most games failing to incite any cross-league fire.

NWSL clubs emerged victorious in the few interleague clashes, as Louisville defeated Rayadas 3-1, Angel City beat Club America 2-1, Washington defeated Guadalajara 2-1, and Portland thumped Club Tijuana 5-0.

Courage goalkeeper Marisa Bova misses a penalty kick in North Carolina's Saturday Summer Cup loss to the Orlando Pride.
North Carolina's Saturday group stage loss to Orlando came down to penalty kicks. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

NWSL offense struggles without Olympians

With so many players out due to the previous international break and upcoming Olympics, NWSL Summer Cup lineups struggled to bring the same attacking firepower that propels regular season action.

Gotham earned points against Chicago in a penalty shootout win following a 0-0 draw, while regular-season league-leaders Orlando fell in penalties to North Carolina after a 1-1 finish.

San Diego and Kansas City fared better at the offensive end, defeating Houston and Bay FC, respectively, with a 3-1 scoreline, while Seattle beat Utah 2-1.

In the only all-Liga MX Femenil match of the weekend, Tigres took down Pachuca 4-2.

Thorns forward Ana Dias takes a shot against Tijuana defender Monica Alvarado during Portland's 5-0  Summer Cup victory on Sunday.
In one of four cross-league Summer Cup games last weekend, Portland routed Club Tijuana 5-0. (Soobum Im/USA TODAY Sports)

NWSL and Liga MX teams square off next weekend

Next weekend's schedule might provide more intrigue, upping the number of cross-league games as each league strives for dominance.

Starting Friday, Tigres will take on Houston, Tijuana will face Seattle, Monterrey will battle Orlando, Kansas City will play Pachuca, San Diego will take on Club America, and Chicago will square off with Guadalajara in Cup play.

The Cup's three-weekend group stage will determine which teams advance to the August 6th semifinals, which take place before the NWSL season resumes on August 23rd. The subsequent Cup Final is slated for October 25th.

The Summer Cup will be competing for national attention as soon as the Olympics start, but the hope remains that the competition's unique format will spark some interest Stateside.

Where to watch the NWSL x Liga MX Summer Cup

All Summer Cup matches will air live across CBS Sports platforms including Paramount+, CBS Sports Golazo Network, and CBS Sports Network

Ogunbowale Leads Team WNBA to 2024 All-Star Game Victory

Arike Ogunbowale of Team WNBA celebrates with Caitlin Clark and Allisha Gray #15 of Team WNBA at the 2024 WNBA All-Star Game vs. Team USA
Arike Ogunbowale won her second WNBA All-Star MVP honors on Saturday after a 34-point second-half performance. (Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

Team WNBA defeated Team USA 117-109 at the 2024 All-Star Game for the second-straight Olympic cycle on Saturday, fueled by a record-setting 34 points from All-Star MVP Arike Ogunbowale — all scored in the second half.

Ogunbowale has now won All-Star MVP twice in her career, with both instances coming in games against the US Olympic team. The Dallas guard withdrew her name from Olympic consideration earlier this year.

Team WNBA's Caitlin Clark passes around Team USA's Napheesa Collier at the 2024 All-Star Game
Team WNBA's Caitlin Clark's 10 assists broke the WNBA All-Star Game's rookie record. (Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

WNBA All-Stars put up historic numbers

The impending Olympic Games added an extra layer of pressure to this year's All-Star Game, with Team USA needing to develop chemistry as quickly as possible while a few WNBA All-Stars left off the Olympic roster seized the opportunity to prove themselves.

Caitlin Clark broke the All-Star Game assist record for a rookie with 10 assists, while Angel Reese became the first rookie in WNBA All-Star Game history to record a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds.

Meanwhile, Allisha Gray added 16 points off the bench for Team WNBA, one day after becoming the first player to ever win both the Skills Competition and the 3-Point Contest in the same year. Kelsey Mitchell and Nneka Ogwumike also scored in the double digits for the winning side.

"I think it was the same four years prior," Clark said of the game's final score. "Team WNBA beat Team USA and they were perfectly fine at the Olympics.

"If anything, it shows how good this league is, how much talent there is."

Team USA's Breanna Stewart drives to the rim over Team WNBA's Angel Reese during Saturday's 2024 WNBA All-Star Game.
Breanna Stewart's 31 points and 10 rebounds led Team USA at Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game. (Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

Team USA looks to improve in tight Olympic turnaround

For the US, losing the All-Star Game isn't the end of the world — they won gold in 2021 after the same result — but they definitely have room for improvement before their Olympic group stage tips off on July 29th.

Breanna Stewart led Team USA with 31 points and 10 rebounds, while fellow Olympic veterans A'ja Wilson contributed 22 points and Diana Taurasi notched 14.

The Paris-bound squad also notably worked players recently out with injury back into the fold: Chelsea Gray played only 11 minutes on Saturday, and Napheesa Collier tallied just three minutes on the court.

What's next for Team USA?

The US will play Germany in a final exhibition game in London on Tuesday before traveling to France on a quest to earn their eighth-straight gold medal. The national team's final pre-Olympic matchup will air live on FS1 starting at 3 PM ET.

Phoenix Mercury Unveils $100 Million Practice Facility

phoenix mercury practice facility's diana taurasi courts
The 58,000-square-foot facility includes two indoor practice courts with built-in courtside technology. (Phoenix Mercury)

As part of the 2024 WNBA All-Star Weekend festivities, the Phoenix Mercury officially opened the doors to their new state-of-the-art practice facility on Thursday.

Along with a host of player-driven amenities, the 58,000-square-foot, $100 million property showcases two full-sized basketball courts named after veteran Mercury star Diana Taurasi, complete with a one-of-a-kind Taurasi-inspired logo.

Phoenix mercury players celebrating at the new team training center's diana taurasi courts during wnba all-star weekend
The Mercury hosted a grand opening for their new practice facility during WNBA All-Star Weekend. (Phoenix Mercury)

The Diana Taurasi courts pay tribute to the three-time WNBA champion, six-time Olympian, 11-time WNBA All-Star, and the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer.

"Phoenix is the best basketball city in the world and continues to elevate the standard in women’s professional sports," said Mercury owner Mat Ishbia in a team release. "This practice facility is about hard work, passion, and greatness, all attributes that Diana Taurasi exemplifies, and we are honored to name our basketball courts after the greatest women’s basketball player of all time."

phoenix mercury weight room
From training to recovery, each aspect of the Mercury's new facility is geared toward player conditioning. (Phoenix Mercury)

With 24-hour access for players and staff, the practice courts feature built-in technologies capable of providing real-time performance analytics. The facility also includes a strength and cardio training area, indoor and outdoor turf training areas, a functional movement area, and a team meeting room with theater-style seating.

Amenities specific to athlete recovery are also on hand, including a dedicated physician and testing room, recovery room, hydrotherapy room with hot and cold plunge pools, freestanding underwater treadmill, and two massage rooms. The locker room is home to vanity stations, a sauna, a steam room, and a wellness room.

phoenix mercury players lounge
In addition to recovery and training areas, the facility also showcases a stocked player lounge. (Phoenix Mercury)

An area for players to relax and refuel, the onsite player lounge and kitchen is stocked with private chef, snack bar, pantry, and smoothie bar.

"This practice facility sets the standard for what it means to invest in women’s sports," said Phoenix Mercury and Phoenix Suns CEO Josh Bartelstein. "From performance to recovery to team culture, we are providing our players with the space and amenities they need to be and feel their best."

phoenix mercury training facility
The new training center is a part the Player 15 Group's downtown Phoenix campus. (Phoenix Mercury)

The Mercury's practice facility is located inside the Player 15 Group's team member campus, headquarters to owner Mat Ishbia’s sports, entertainment, real estate, and investment company. the Player 15 Group's team member campus. Debuting this past April, the grounds also house business facilities for the Phoenix Mercury, Phoenix Suns, Valley Suns, and arena operations.

Skills Challenge, 3-Point Contest Open 2024 WNBA All-Star Weekend

Team WNBA on the court at 2024 WNBA All-Star Weekend
The WNBA All-Star Game court will be buzzing with action on Friday night. (Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

While the 2024 All-Star Game doesn't tip off until Saturday, this year's WNBA Skills Challenge and STARRY 3-Point Contest promise to light up Phoenix's Footprint Center on Friday.

The evening's programming will allow fans to watch as towering center Brittney Griner shows off her speed and mobility before putting 2024's most statistically excellent three-point shooters to the test.

In addition to the two annual events, the night will also showcase the first-ever WNBA All-Star 3×3 Exhibition, with the Olympic-bound 3×3 National Team taking on USA Basketball's 3×3 U23 National Team.

To make things even more interesting, Aflac has promised to supplement the Skills Competition and 3-Point Contest's prize pool with a $55,000 bonus for each winner.

Team USA's Brittney Griner poses in her Paris Olympics uniform.
Mercury center Brittney Griner will test her speed at the All-Star Skills Challenge. (Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)

Skills Challenge highlights league's best

Perhaps the least straightforward event in Friday's series, the Skills Challenge — in which five players will compete in a timed obstacle course testing their dribbling, passing, speed, and shooting abilities —should come down to the wire. Each contestant will attempt to complete the course as quickly as possible, with the two fastest first-round players advancing to a head-to-head final.

Ten-time WNBA All-Star Griner (Phoenix) headlines the Skills Challenge roster, accompanied by Mercury teammate Sophie Cunningham as well as Allisha Gray (Atlanta), 2019 WNBA All-Star MVP Erica Wheeler (Indiana), and newly acquired Connecticut guard Marina Mabrey.

Mabrey will be competing in both the Skills Challenge and 3-Point Contest, taking the court for the first time since her requested trade from Chicago sent her the Sun.

Team WNBA's Jonquel Jones lines up a shot at Friday's All-Star practice.
Liberty ace Jonquel Jones leads Friday's stacked 3-Point Contest lineup. (Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

Top shooters put their skills on display

Despite Sabrina Ionescu and Caitlin Clark reportedly declining to participate, some of the WNBA's best shooters will be on display in tonight's STARRY 3-Point Contest. Shooters will tally up points from five set shooting locations around the arc plus two additional "Starry Range" deep shots worth three points each.

2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones (New York) will enter a battle of the bigs with Washington's Stefanie Dolson, who sits second in the league in three-point field goal percentage this season with 48.5%.

But Jones and Dolson will face stiff competition from Kayla McBride (Minnesota), who leads the league in three-pointers made, as well as the aforementioned Gray and Mabrey.

Team USA 3x3 players Cierra Burdick, Hailey Van Lith, Rhyne Howard, and Dearica Hamby
Team USA's Cierra Burdick, Hailey Van Lith, Rhyne Howard, and Dearica Hamby will take on their U-23 counterparts in Friday's new 3×3 Exhibition. (Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)

WNBA All-Star Weekend adds 3×3 Exhibition to the mix

Tonight’s debut 3×3 Exhibition will serve as a warmup for Team USA's Rhyne Howard (Atlanta), former WNBA player Cierra Burdick, college star Hailey Van Lith (TCU), and Dearica Hamby (Los Angeles), who came on to replace Sparks teammate Cameron Brink after her season-ending ACL tear.

The Olympians' U-23 opposition is also gearing up for a major event, with collegiate squad members Christina Dalce (Maryland), Morgan Maly (Creighton), Cotie McMahon (Ohio State), Lucy Olsen (Iowa), Mikaylah Williams (LSU), and Serah Williams (Wisconsin) set to play in the 2024 FIBA 3x3 Nations League tournament in Mexico City starting July 22nd.

Where to watch the WNBA Skills Challenge and 3-Point Contest

All three events will air on ESPN starting at 9 PM ET on Friday, July 19th.

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