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With new program, Angel City ensures retired players aren’t left behind

Saskia Webber addresses the crowd during a pregame ceremony for ACFC’s Players 22 Future Program. (Courtesy of Angel City Football Club)

LOS ANGELES — Saskia Webber and Angela Hucles Mangano combined for three Olympic gold medals and a World Cup title in 22 combined seasons of professional soccer. Yet, when the U.S. women’s national team players hung up their cleats and headed into the next phase of their lives, their career options were limited and the paths unclear.

Webber, a part-owner of Angel City FC, and Hucles Mangano, the organization’s vice president of player development and operations, are committed to providing opportunities so that today’s women’s soccer players avoid the pitfalls they faced in retirement.

In a Saturday night ceremony ahead of ACFC’s 3-2 loss to OL Reign that featured the retirement of jersey No. 22, Hucles Mangano announced a funding milestone for the club’s Player 22 Future Program. The initiative aims to support retired NWSL players interested in careers in the sports industry by providing funding for educational and professional opportunities. Announced in October 2021, the innovative program does not yet have a launch date provided by the California Community Fund (CCF), but Hucles Mangano expects the application process to open by the end of 2022.

“This isn’t just something Angel City is doing for Angel City,” Webber said. “We want the whole league to embrace it, and hopefully all sports will embrace it.”

According to Hucles Mangano, ACFC will play a “hands-off” role in applicant selection and allow CCF to oversee the process, while she and the team’s star-studded group of investors will be responsible for “outreach galore.” Raising awareness to the public and NWSL players, retired and active, will be critical to increasing the funding capacity of the program and allowing it to reach its intended beneficiaries.

The last thing retired players like Webber want to see is the next generation of athletes struggle in retirement as they did.

“I was out on the field for the ceremony, and I looked over and saw (OL Reign midfielder) Olivia Athens,” said Webber, who coached Athens at UCLA. “Knowing what a great woman she is and a great student she was, and that she decided that instead of going into the job market she’d follow her dreams and play pro, instead of her worrying about if that’s going to put her behind, she knows now she has a safe place to land when she retires.”

For Webber 20 years ago, the experience was markedly different.

“We put our hearts and souls into soccer,” Webber said of herself and her USWNT teammates. “We started the WUSA, and when I retired, for me personally, there was nothing. I was already 10, 15 years behind the people I went to college with. It was a reality check.”

Retired players and Angel City FC investors present jersey No. 22 in honor of the Player 22 Future Program. (Courtesy of Angel City Football Club)

Webber described the program as one that embraces retiring women’s soccer players and tells them, “We’ve got you.” While P22 will give these women the opportunity to pay forward the gifts that pro soccer has given them, most crucially, it will help them sustain their lives after their playing days are over.

“Honestly, I’m still looking for that job,” said Webber, who was named the goalkeeping coach for USC women’s soccer in March. “It’s taken me over 20-something years, and I’ve bounced around from one thing to another because I was behind. People wouldn’t give me that chance. I found my way back to soccer, but it took a long time.”

Men’s professional athletes have historically earned significantly larger incomes than their female counterparts and are afforded much more visibility and additional opportunities, such as sponsorships. Despite the continued gender disparity, Hucles Mangano and Webber believe the tides are beginning to shift.

“We are seeing doors opening for women in sports and opportunities to place former professional female athletes in different careers,” Hucles Mangano said. “This program builds those pathways that never existed for female athletes before.”

Before this program, no professional sports league had offered such meaningful, hands-on career support to retired players, Webber says. If a retired NWSL player has played even just one minute in the league, she is eligible.

“We are going to take you under our wing and help guide you and place you whether you want to be a coach, in the front office or an owner,” Webber said. “We’re going to help you.”

“It provides the education and guidance to fill that gap between when you retire from soccer and when you’re going into your next career,” Hucles Mangano added.

Angel Hucles Mangano speaks at the jersey retirement ceremony Saturday. (Courtesy of Angel City Football Club)

Webber emphasized that while some retired athletes quickly ascend to roles as a coach, general manager, broadcaster or even owner, these individuals make up one percent or less of retired players.

“What about the other 99 percent who aren’t going to roll out of this and get an agent and get a broadcasting job?” Webber asked. “We don’t want to forget them. We’re going to pay as much attention to the 22nd person on that field and give as much opportunity to you as we would the marquee player, and that’s what’s important. In a lot of sports, those are the people that get left behind.”

In addition to continued outreach, Hucles Mangano plans to dream up other ways of supporting retiring women’s soccer players and bring the ideas to the CCF to put into practice.

“What’s amazing is how everything has changed with women’s sports, and women’s soccer specifically, in giving us opportunities,” Webber said. “If you said 20 years ago that I would become an owner of a team, I would have told you that you’re crazy. All of this, it snowballs. (Player 22 Future) is an amazing program, and the sky’s the limit.”

Joshua Fischman is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering Angel City FC and the Los Angeles Sparks. He has covered basketball for Vantage Sports and Hoops Rumors and served as co-host of “On the NBA Beat” podcast. Joshua received his master’s in Sports Media from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter @SportsCommsJosh.

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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