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Thompson sisters’ unbreakable bond leads to national team dreams

Alyssa and Gisele Thompson have risen through the U.S. youth system. (Photo courtesy of A&V Sports)

Alyssa Thompson needed to speak with her younger sister. It didn’t matter that Gisele was asleep halfway across the globe. Alyssa had learned she was about to live out a dream — a dream she and her sister, Gisele, cultivated and worked toward for years — and this news could not wait.

At 17 years old, Alyssa had been called up to the U.S women’s senior national team, the youngest player to earn a call-up in five years. The two sisters, teammates most of their lives, have relied on each other throughout their soccer journey, and Gisele knew as well as anyone the sacrifice and work that led to this point.

That path has included playing with and against girls four or five years older — the sisters were underclassmen in high school when they played on the same team as then-college stars Ashley Sanchez and Savannah DeMelo — and being the only girls on the field when competing against some of the top boys talent in MLS Next matches.

Alyssa and Gisele have been together through it all, balancing school work, soccer and a social life. When they knew no one else on the team, they could talk to each other. Away from the field, they shared a room and imagined playing for the U.S.

They just didn’t expect it to happen so soon.

“It was definitely a dream come true,” 16-year-old Gisele said recently from Dubai, where she was training with her U.S. teammates for the U-17 World Cup. “We talked about this stuff a lot, especially doing it together. That was both of our dreams.

“Having both of us accomplish these big dreams is such an amazing thing.”

Gisele thought her father, Mario, was joking — his reputation for playing tricks didn’t help — when she awoke to texts and calls from him and Alyssa.

“Alyssa and I felt that this time was going to come,” Mario said about the call-up. “It was more of when. It’s sooner than we all expected.”

Being ahead of schedule is nothing new for the Thompson sisters, who have quickly risen through the U.S. youth system. This past summer, Alyssa was the only high school player on the U-20 World Cup roster, and she scored a goal in the opener.

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Alyssa Thompson celebrates after scoring against Ghana in the Women's U-20 World Cup. (Ezequiel Becerra/AFP via Getty Images)

“There are times when I sit back and watch her play,” said their mother, Karen, “and I’m always struck by even for how young she is, how much she can compose herself on the ball and how patient and how skillful she can be.”

Alyssa and Gisele are pioneers off the field, too, becoming the first high school athletes to sign Name, Image and Likeness deals with Nike, putting pen to paper this May.

Mario and Karen have focused on making sure Alyssa and Gisele live a balanced lifestyle. They attend Harvard-Westlake School, where they dominated in soccer two years ago and also run track. They find time to attend Friday night football games and hang out with friends, playing board games, Twister or just relaxing outside.

“It’s a priority for us to make sure the girls get to appreciate and experience life,” Karen said.

‘I always envision Gisele being there with me’

Getting a teenager to admit they miss their younger sibling is often a fruitless task. But as Alyssa lounged about her Southern California home one August afternoon, she needed no prodding. She felt a little lonely with Gisele in Spain, playing on the U-17 national team.

“I always have someone with me, and that’s Gisele,” Alyssa said. “When she’s gone, it’s kind of weird.”

Born 13 months apart, the Thompson sisters were separated by grade level but did pretty much everything else together. Gisele could have played with girls her own age, but it was easier for Mario and Karen to drive their kids to the same games and practices instead of ferrying them back and forth between separate games.

“I really liked it because it was a built-in friend,” Gisele said. “Whenever we would play soccer at different clubs, it was easier because she was there.”

It helped that Gisele’s silky-smooth passing and defensive ability perfectly complemented Alyssa’s nose for the goal, and the two often preferred playing on the right side of the field.

“It’s so much easier to play with her,” said Gisele, now primarily a right back. “We’re sort of like twins, so we know what our next move is.”

“She was always giving me the final pass or through-ball,” Alyssa added.

When Gisele and Alyssa weren’t playing basketball and volleyball or competing in gymnastics and track, they were usually together, whether on a family beach trip or a park picnic.

“We could say, ‘Hey, go in the backyard and go play with each other,’ and we knew they were entertaining each other,” Mario said.

That bond remains strong even as they see less of one another due to different national team commitments. Next year, Alyssa plans to attend Stanford while Gisele finishes high school. Gisele’s college of choice? Stanford.

“Any team I’m on, I always envision Gisele being there with me,” Alyssa said. “I love having her as a teammate.”

In a league of their own

The sisters thought their time playing against boys was over.

In 2020, as COVID-19 wreaked havoc on youth soccer in southern California, the Thompson sisters were left in limbo. Their club teammates for the last several years had moved on to college. But they were still in middle and high school and had few training opportunities.

So Mario reached out to Paul Walker, director of Total Futbol Academy, which does not field girls teams. Gisele and Alyssa had played with TFA for several years, starting at 8 and 9 years old when Walker recognized their talent at a training session. Unlike most youth soccer clubs in the U.S., TFA does not rely on the pay-to-play model, providing Walker flexibility to bring in the Thompsons without ruffling feathers.

Mario credits that experience with improving his daughters’ all-around game.

But that was years ago, and the boys were now much faster and much stronger.

“You could get hurt because they’re really big and basically men now,” Alyssa said.

Alyssa and Gisele were accustomed to competing against bigger players. They played up four and five years, respectively, with their club team Real So Cal, and starting in eighth grade, Alyssa and then Gisele joined Santa Clarita Blue Heat of the second-division United Women’s Soccer League.

They faced off against college stars, like current U.S. international Taylor Kornieck. And the sisters were deemed good enough to share the field with teammates like Sanchez and DeMelo, who joined Alyssa on the U.S. roster for this international break.

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Harvard-Westlake’s Gisele Thompson dribbles the ball down the field during a match against Villa Park. (Photo provided by Eric Dearborn)

“The only two players that were in high school were Alyssa and Gisele,” Santa Clarita Blue Heat sporting director Carlos Marroquin said. “I had never had high school players before. I didn’t want them.”

It didn’t take long for Walker to extend an offer for the Thompsons to join TFA’s MLS Next teams, a chance to compete against some of the top boys talent in the country.

Mario just had one question for his daughters: Did they want this? The answer: a resounding yes. It was a challenge they relished.

“I have had a parent ask me, ‘Why are they playing in MLS Next?’” Karen said. “It’s what they thought they needed to work on and what they thought they were capable of and confident in doing.”

Alyssa and Gisele credit the last few years with improving their first touch and decision-making.

“The speed of play is very different,” Walker said. “Being able to execute your thought and your decision, with or without the ball.”

When Alyssa was young, she sometimes struggled to fit in at TFA. Used to being the primary goal-scorer, she had to learn other roles. In her second stint at the club, she has been embraced by teammates.

When she scored her first goal after rejoining TFA, she was nonchalantly jogging back to midfield when her teammates called her over to the corner flag. They all wanted to celebrate with her.

“They are competing and now being impact players on their current team,” Mario said. “When they don’t show, their coach is like ‘Hey, where are they? We need them.’”

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Alyssa Thompson shows off the crest on her jersey ahead of the Women’s U-20 World Cup in August. (Tim Nwachukwu/FIFA via Getty Images)

United for the next challenge

On Tuesday, the same day Alyssa and the U.S. women’s national team face Spain in an international friendly, Gisele will be in India for the Americans’ opening game of the U-17 World Cup.

But they still lean on each other. That’s why Gisele was the first person Alyssa thought to call when she got off the phone with Mario, U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski and general manager Kate Markgraf.

“Everyone used to say they’re like twins,” Mario said. “They relate to what they’re going through. There’s very few friends that can relate to their experiences.”

When Gisele and Alyssa connected, Gisele’s message was simple: You belong. Now show everyone what you can do.

She plans to watch Friday’s game against England on the plane ride to India. But Alyssa will have some familiar faces in London. Both Mario and Marroquin plan to be there.

“For her first call-up, I have to make it,” Mario said.

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Alyssa and Gisele Thompson pose for a photo donning their Harvard-Westlake jerseys. (Rayne Athletics Creative Studio)

When Mario and Karen signed their daughters up for soccer, this was not the plan. Even when Gisele and Alyssa turned heads as youngsters, the family viewed soccer as a fun hobby, perhaps an avenue to a college scholarship.

It took Marroquin just a few minutes to realize the Thompsons were elite players as middle schoolers. Walker immediately recognized that talent when they were 8 and 9 years old. Years later, so did scouts for the Mexican boys’ youth teams.

Now, the Thompson sisters will look to impress on the world stage.

“People ask me all the time, ‘Is Alyssa ready for the women’s national team,’” Mario said. “Yeah, she’s ready. … Alyssa and Gisele are training with 17- and 18-year-old (boys) on a daily and weekly basis. I know how difficult it is.

“I know when they do play with women at a high level, they’ll be fine.”

Phillip Suitts is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. He has worked at a variety of outlets, including The Palm Beach Post and Southeast Missourian, and done a little bit of everything from reporting to editing to running social media accounts. He was born in Atlanta but currently lives in wintry Philadelphia. Follow Phillip on Twitter @PhillipSuitts.

2023 MVP Breanna Stewart Drops 31 Points in Liberty’s Huge Win Over Fever

breanna stewart and jonquel jones of the new york liberty celebrate win over indiana fever
Stewie and the Liberty dominated the court throughout Thursday's Fever home opener. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

The New York Liberty dominated Indiana on Thursday night, winning by a whopping 36 points in the Fever's home opener. 

A sold-out crowd of 17,274 was in attendance to watch as star rookie Caitlin Clark finished the 102-66 defeat with nine points, seven rebounds, and six assists. It’s the first time since January 2021 — her freshman season at Iowa — that Clark's been held to single-digit scoring. 

"The physicality is definitely up there... I'm easily pushed off screens," she told reporters after the loss. "The game seems a little fast for me right now. The more I play and the more comfortable I get, it's going to slow down a little bit. It will be easier for me to make reads, see things develop."

The Fever were outscored by a combined margin of 57 points in their first two games — the largest two-game point deficit in WNBA season-opening history, according to @ESPNStatsInfo.

"We've got to get to a level of toughness," Fever coach Christie Sides in her own postgame remarks. "When things are going south on us, we're not stopping the bleeding."

"I have great perspective on everything that happens," Clark added. "It was the same in my college career. There were some moments that were absolutely amazing. And there were some moments I was not happy with how I played and how my team performed. That's just life, that's just basketball."

Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu, who herself experienced a rocky rookie season following a much-hyped college career, offered up some insight on the matter.

"In this league, there are tough defenses all centered around not letting you get the ball, trapping, not letting you score," Ionescu said. "There were many factors that played into what was a tough first season for me in the league, but it helps you be able to figure it out. You have to have those experiences."

But it was reigning league MVP Breanna Stewart that truly stole the show, racking up 31 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals, and two blocks on the night.

"In general, I just wanted to come out more aggressive coming off of last game," Stewart said after putting up the 24th 30-point game in her career.

Stewart she also commended the fans inside Indianapolis's packed Gainbridge Fieldhouse, noting that she hopes that level of support to continue across the WNBA.

"This is how you want every game to be and when it's a sell-out crowd, it gives you a similar playoff atmosphere feel," she said. "People want to be a part of this and the thing now is to continue to sustain it, continue to take the momentum that we have and turn it into something more."

WNBA Commissioner Admits to ‘Faulty’ Charter Rollout

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert at 2024 wnba draft
Cathy Engelbert at the 2024 WNBA Draft in New York. (Cora Veltman/Sportico via Getty Images)

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert admitted to a "faulty rollout" of the new charter travel initiative on Thursday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Ahead of Tuesday's season opener, it was announced that the only teams flying private this week would be Indiana and Minnesota. The announcement came mere days after the league made a new charter flight program for all WNBA teams public. At the time, they said it would be implemented "as soon as we have the planes."

But as two teams out of 12 chartered to their first games of the season, others like the Atlanta Dream and Chicago Sky were forced to fly commercial.

A town hall meeting between Engelbert and the players was held in response to the confusion. Everything from the league's new media rights deal to private travel was covered in the meeting, with players submitting their questions ahead of time. Sky center Elizabeth Williams told Sun-Times reporter Annie Costabile afterwards that cross-country flights were prioritized.

"Flights that are across the country like [the Lynx] going to Seattle, crossing multiple time zones, or flights that usually require a connection, those were the priorities," Williams said. "That’s why New York didn’t go to DC with a charter, but Minny goes to Seattle."

What’s unclear under that metric is that the Atlanta Dream played the Los Angeles Sparks on Wednesday, which could technically be classified as a cross-country flight. 

On Tuesday, rookie forward Angel Reese shared a photo on her Instagram story lamenting the league's use of commercial flights.

"Just praying that this is one of the last commercial flights the Sky has to fly," Reese posted. The team still has at least three commercial flights awaiting them in the near future.

"Obviously, I think all teams should be able to get chartered," Reese told the Sun-Times. "But I know moving forward... going in the right direction, being able to have some teams [chartering] is cool. Within the next weeks, everybody will be flying charter, which will be really good."

On Thursday, Lindsay Schnell of USAToday Sports confirmed that the league intends to have all teams on charter flights by May 21st.

Brazil Wins Bid for 2027 Women’s World Cup Host

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The FIFA Women's World Cup trophy on display in Bangkok after Brazil was announced as the 2027 host country. (Thananuwat Srirasant - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Brazil has been named the host for the 2027 Women’s World Cup, with FIFA announced early Friday. 

The decision came after a vote at the 74th FIFA Congress in Bangkok, with Brazil earning 119 votes to the joint European bid’s 78. 

This will be Brazil’s first time hosting the Women’s World Cup, with the country having hosted the men’s World Cup twice before in 1950 and 2014. It will also be the first Women’s World Cup held in South America. The tournament will follow the same 32-team format as the 2023 WWC in Australia and New Zealand.

Brazil winning the bid was not entirely surprising after FIFA issued a report just last week, stating that the Brazilian bid had pulled ahead as host following technical inspection. After evaluation, Brazil was given a score of 4.0 out of 5, compared to the 3.7 awarded to the Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Brazil ranked higher in a number of key areas, including stadiums, accommodations, fan zones, and transport infrastructure. Though considered to be a frontrunner, the US and Mexico withdrew their joint bid prior to the technical inspection period, saying they would instead focus their efforts on 2031.

On Friday, Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) president Ednaldo Rodrigues called it a "victory." 

"We knew we would be celebrating a victory for South American women's soccer and for women," he told reporters. "You can be sure, with no vanity, we will accomplish the best World Cup for women."

"We are working on a transformation, not only for the country but for the continent," added bid team operational manager Valesca Araujo.

Brazil intends to use 10 of the venues utilized at the 2014 men’s World Cup, including holding the final in Rio de Janeiro on July 25th. The CBF's proposal outlines that the 2027 tournament run from June 24th through the end of July. Last summer’s World Cup began at the end of July and concluded on August 19th.

Another notable element of Brazil's newly unveiled plan to grow of the women’s game is that "all [men’s] clubs wishing to take part in high-level national and continental competitions must now provide a structure for a women’s team." While the definition of "structure" was not specifically identified, the country has set targets with CONMEBOL to help increase the number of women’s club teams in the country.

In last week's inspection findings, FIFA noted that selecting Brazil as the next WWC host could "have a tremendous impact on women's football in the region."

Chelsea Eyes Weekend Finale With WSL Title in Sight

chelsea players celebrate win against tottenham in the wsl
Chelsea beat Tottenham on Wednesday, moving to the top of the table in an effort to win departing coach Emma Hayes some silverware. (John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Chelsea did what they needed to do on Wednesday in order to make Saturday's slate of season-ending WSL fixtures interesting: Beat Tottenham.

The Blues are now number one in the league, with an edge over Manchester City on goal differential thanks to an eight-goal outing against Bristol City last week. 

Yesterday's result tees up a league finale for the books as Chelsea looks to send coach Emma Hayes off with another trophy to add to her cabinet. The Blues will play FA Cup winner Manchester City at Old Trafford on Saturday, while City is away at Aston Villa.

"We will be leaving nothing on the pitch, we will be giving everything and no matter what the result is," Chelsea midfielder Erin Cuthbert said after Wednesday's win. "At least we can look each other in the eye and say we gave everything."

It makes for a thrilling end to Chelsea's Emma Hayes era, as the decorated WSL coach will take over the USWNT in June. And it comes after Hayes all but conceded the title race early this month after Chelsea fell to Liverpool 4-3.

"I think the title is done," Hayes said at the time. "Of course, mathematically, it's not, but I think the title is done. Our job between now and the end of the season is to keep pushing until the end, but I think it will be very difficult.

"We will never give up. But the title is far from us; it's not in our hands. I think City are deserving, their consistency has put them in that position. Of course, we will go to the end, but I don't think the title will be going to us this year."

Be it mind games or Hayes truly thinking her team was that far off, her words lit something in Chelsea. Their following two performances showed the team’s determination to have a shot at some silverware.

As for Saturday's schedule, Hayes believes her team is facing the "tougher of the two games."

"It's a fitting finale for me, being my final game," she told BBC Sport. "As I said to the players if someone gives you a second chance in life, make sure you don't need a third one. We're in the position we want to be in, and we'll give it everything on Saturday no matter what."

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