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Angel City banking on culture to help Alyssa Thompson thrive

Alyssa Thompson poses with Angel City co-founder and president Julie Uhrman after being selected No. 1 in the NWSL Draft. (Courtesy of Angel City Football Club)

If No. 1 draft pick Alyssa Thompson was the most excited person to hear her name called on NWSL draft night, her new Angel City FC teammates might have been a close second.

“Christen [Press] texts me today like, ‘Let me know when we’ve drafted players and I can reach out. I’m excited to have them on board,’” Angel City head coach Freya Coombe told Just Women’s Sports on Thursday, an hour before the Los Angeles club secured the forward of their future.

Thompson’s upside is sky high, with her career trajectory pushing forward almost as fast as the 18-year-old can run a 100-meter sprint. There’s natural risk involved in betting a significant amount of money on a teenager who’s unproven at the higher level, but the NWSL has a strong recent track record with its young players, with 18-year-old Jaedyn Shaw thriving in San Diego and 17-year-old Olivia Moultrie making steady progress with the Portland Thorns. And Thompson already has experience with the U.S. women’s national team, earning her first two caps last fall and making her debut at England’s Wembley Stadium.

Coombe feels Angel City has the locker-room culture necessary for Thompson to feel supported and live up to her potential. To the coach, moments of growth happen not only in conversations off the field but in real-time situations during games.

“I think our culture has been absolutely brilliant, and it’s led by our captain, Ali Riley, who’s absolutely brilliant in terms of how supportive she is,” Coombe said.

“We’ve got players, the informal leaders that will grab any game by the scruff of the neck, like [Savannah McCaskill], and she’s like, ‘Let’s go,’ and she leaves it on the field. I think that’s a great way of protecting the culture, and I’m excited to bring young players into such a great positive culture so that they can grow and flourish.”

For Thompson, who took in the draft with family and friends at a watch party in Los Angeles, Thursday brought an emotional high. The SoCal native, though, had an even-keeled approach to the evening. Thompson might be the NWSL’s newest star, but she’s also still finishing her senior year of high school at Harvard-Westlake Prep.

“I’m like an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ person,” she told Just Women’s Sports. “So before, I wasn’t really thinking about it that much. I was just trying to get through school because I have a bunch of other distractions to keep me busy.”

Growing up in the area, Thompson got a chance to experience Angel City’s inaugural season first as a fan, and she says attending a match got her hooked on the club.

“I think a couple things excite me [about Angel City], but one is just the fans. I think they’re the best in the NWSL,” she said. “I went to a game and they were just super loud, nothing like I’ve ever seen before in a woman’s game.”

The match between player and club might have felt destined, but Angel City had to give up a lot to lock up Thompson’s future in L.A. ACFC sent a total of $450,000 to two separate clubs as part of a three-team trade that secured Angel City the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft, which they used on Thompson.

“It’s a credit to Angela [Hucles] for being able to negotiate and pull off the trade and move all the chess pieces in order to make it happen. So she did a great job,” said Coombe, while acknowledging that the club paid a price for their top draft choice. “There’s always limitations when you’re working with a salary cap, roster caps, international spot caps and everything. I think it’s about prioritizing what you want. And that’s something that the club has shown, that this is a priority for us.”

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Thompson hears her name called during a draft party with family and friends, including sister Gisele. (Courtesy of Angel City Football Club)

Ultimately, Angel City was willing to take a big swing to select the player they’d set their sights on and to continue to set a financial standard in the league.

“In terms of salaries and everything, we have to start showing our intent,” Coombe said. “I think the quality of the league, we’re attracting players in terms of, they want to come and play in the stadiums that are packed out, they want to come and play at Angel City, they want to go to Kansas City, they want these environments.

“And then we’ve got to be able to pay the money to match it.”

With the pick in and her rookie contract signed, Thompson can now focus on the task at hand. That includes beginning to build a relationship with her future frontline partner and the player she said she’s most excited to play with at Angel City: Christen Press.

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

Esme Morgan Signs With Washington Spirit

Esme Morgan of England inspects the pitch prior to the UEFA Women's EURO 2025 qualifying match between England and France
The England national will join the Spirit in DC on July 15th. (Naomi Baker - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

English defender Esme Morgan has signed with the Washington Spirit, the club announced Thursday. 

Morgan had been with WSL side Manchester City since 2017, with one year remaining on her contract. She’ll now make a move to the NWSL, with City receiving a fee for the move. 

"I wanted to join the Spirit because they have the ambition and tools to be the best team in the NWSL, and trying to achieve that will be a great but enjoyable challenge," Morgan said in a club statement.

"On an individual level too, the opportunity to work under Jonatan [Giráldez], one of the world's best coaches, is really exciting and I look forward to learning from him and pushing myself to become the best player I can be, hopefully helping the team to success."

According to ESPN, Morgan’s lack of playing time under City manager Gareth Taylor played a key role in her decision to leave the league championship runners-up. She’ll join the Spirit in Washington, DC on July 15th, but won’t be able to begin play until August. 

Spirit president Mark Krikorian called Morgan an "exceptional talent" and added that the club is "thrilled" to add her to the roster.

"I think she’s pretty talented," Giraldez told reporters on Friday. "A young player with a great future, but with experience already in a great league and with the national team. She’s been surrounded by great players and also great coaches, so she can give us experience."

Ledecky Goes for 4 at Olympic Swimming Trials

Swimmer katie ledecky swimming at Toyota US Open
Decorated swimmer Katie Ledecky is aiming to make her fourth-straight Olympic squad. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Swimming Trials begin this weekend, running from June 15th through June 23rd in Indianapolis, with Katie Ledecky eyeing her fourth-straight Summer Games.

While traditionally held in Omaha, Indiana's Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, has been fitted with a 50-meter pool to host the meet that will determine the 2024 Paris Olympics roster.

All eyes will be on seven-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky, who will be competing in the 200-meter, 400-meter, 800-meter, and 1500-meter freestyle — all events in which she’s been an Olympic champion. 

Rival Ariarne Titmus had her trials last week, breaking the world record in the 200-meter freestyle. Ledecky’s 200 is intended to qualify her for the Olympic relay. Meanwhile stateside, Katie Grimes stands to be a challenger in the 1500-meter freestyle has already qualified for the Paris Olympics in the 10km open water event.

Other competitors of note include 47-year-old Gabrielle Rose, who stands to become the oldest US Swimming Olympic qualifier in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke.

Additionally, Kate Douglass — an NCAA and World Champion — is a favorite to make her first Olympic team in the 200-meter IM and 200-meter breaststroke. Simone Manuel, an Olympic champion in the 100-meter freestyle, is also looking to make her third-straight Olympics.

Where to watch: The Trials will be streaming all week on Peacock, with later qualifying heats airing live on USA Network and event finals airing in primetime on NBC.

Orlando and Kansas City Shoot for 13 in NWSL Weekend Action

NWSL's T. Chawinga #6 of the Kansas City Current passes the ball during the first half of their game against the Utah Royals FC
The Kansas City Current hopes to extend its NWSL unbeaten streak to 13 with a win over Chicago. (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

The 13th match weekend is fast approaching in the NWSL, with two season-long unbeaten streaks on the line.

League-leaders Kansas City and Orlando will attempt to survive the weekend with their unbeaten runs intact, as the Current host Chicago on Friday and the Pride travel to North Carolina for Saturday's match.

But while Kansas City and Orlando have been the gold standard this year, they're still a number of wins away from tying Washington's record for longest unbeaten streak in a single NWSL season. In 2021, the Spirit went 20 games without a loss en route to the club's first NWSL championship.

Both Gotham and Louisville are carrying momentum into their matchup on Saturday. Louisville is unbeaten in three games, and they’re looking to finally leapfrog Chicago and claim sixth place in the league standings. Gotham, on a seven-game unbeaten run, is into fifth place.

Portland and Seattle will face off in the Cascadia Clash this weekend, with Golden Boot contender Sophia Smith absent, as the decorated forward was shown a red card last weekend for time-wasting on the bench.

The Reign could use a win against their long-time rivals, as a difficult start has 13th-place Seattle registering only two wins amid nine losses so far this season.

Elsewhere in the league, 2024 expansion teams Bay FC and Utah meet for the first time this weekend, as both look to rise from the bottom half of the standings. And Washington will ride a four-game winning streak into Saturday's game against a San Diego side that's earned two hard-fought draws in recent weeks.

Watch more: "Sophia Smith is INNOCENT!" on The Late Sub with Claire Watkins

WNBA All-Star Voting Starts on June 13th

Phoenix Mercury mascot Scorch waving a 2024 WNBA All-Star flag at a 2023 home game.
Phoenix Mercury will host the 20th-annual All-Star Game on July 20th, 2024. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Voting for the 2024 AT&T WNBA All-Star Game opened at 2 PM ET today and runs through June 29th.

All active WNBA players are eligible to make the All-Star Game, set for July 20th in Phoenix. Unlike previous formats that featured two voted-in All-Star squads, this year’s contest pits a single All-Star team against the already-decided Olympic-bound USA Women’s National Team.

Fans can submit a daily ballot nominating up to 10 athletes via WNBA.com or the WNBA App.

Fan-submitted ballots account for 50% of vote, with the other 50% split equally between current WNBA players and members of the media. The top 10 athletes will automatically make the All-Star Game, with league coaches then voting from a pool of the next 36 to complete Team WNBA’s 12-player roster. The final lineup will be announced on July 2nd.

This year's All-Star Game format presents an opportunity for fans to vote for players they might consider Olympic snubs. Indiana rookie Caitlin Clark and Dallas’s Arike Ogunbawole seem like shoo-ins given the discussion surrounding their Olympic omissions, while Connecticut stars Brionna Jones and DeWanna Bonner are also expected to snag All-Star nods.

And after a career-high 20-point, 10-rebound double-double in last night’s 83-75 loss to the Sun, Chicago rookie Angel Reese could also secure a spot.

Regardless, it won't necessarily be smooth sailing for Team USA, as history has tended to favor the underdog. 

The first USA vs. All-Stars matchup took place in 2021, with the league’s squad humbling the Tokyo Olympians 93-85. With 26 points, Ogunbawole was named All-Star Game MVP after barely missing the Olympic cut. Could she and Clark turn the tables on Team USA this year?

Watch more: "Were Caitlin Clark and Arike Ogunbowale snubbed?" by Expert Adjacent

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