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Angel City FC fans proud to represent club’s values on Mother’s Day

(Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES — Two hours before Angel City FC’s 1-0 home loss to the Orlando Pride, JJ Keith was enjoying the sunshine and festive atmosphere with her family at Christmas Tree Lane East, a park that borders Banc of California Stadium. The grassy expanse was nearly full of mothers, fathers and children buzzing about the evening’s match, clad in their ACFC black, white and pink jerseys, hats and scarves.

JJ, a massive women’s soccer fan, and her husband bought season tickets for Angel City’s debut season in the NWSL as soon as they went on sale. She jokes that the game falling on Mother’s Day was her “trump card” to make her two children, ages 11 and 13, attend a game. Her 13-year-old daughter, Beatrix, whose pronouns are she/they, is not much of a soccer fan, but knows how important it was to their mother to be there Sunday.

“I played soccer for six years and then stopped because I got bored, and also COVID was a big deal,” Beatrix said. “And then my endurance died. I can’t even do the mile that well.”

JJ felt strongly that her kids, especially Beatrix, who attends a middle school magnet program in the San Fernando Valley, have the chance to witness an Angel City match at the Banc. The expansion club’s ownership group and front office staff, made up of majority women, have been vocal from the beginning about their intentions to advocate for inclusive values as well as women’s and LGBTQ+ rights.

“I wanted Beatrix here because they’re queer, and I wanted them to be in a space where there’s a lot of adult queer women,” JJ said. “Seeing queer families, like families with two moms for example, is something they don’t see a lot of. I just want them to be in those spaces and see that and have it modeled for them. We’re not the only type of family, and this isn’t the only way you can do things. And the players, too, not just the fans — to have out and proud athletes on the field, it’s so important. I love our queen, Christen (Press). I just wanted Beatrix to get that context of what adult gay women are doing and what that looks like.”

The Gunn Family of Eagle Rock were also enjoying the pregame festivities at Christmas Tree Lane East two hours before kickoff. After buying a bag of ACFC merchandise, and putting some of it right on, 6-year-old Maisie Gunn kicked a miniature soccer ball to her mom, Justine, as father Nathan gushed about the benefits of his daughter becoming interested in sports.

“The great thing about sports for girls is it takes them completely out of a world that can be not very supportive to little girls,” Nathan said. “All the women in sports are badasses. They’re all working toward the same thing and it’s inclusive of their talents, irrespective of society and whatever else.”

When asked why she wanted to be here on Mother’s Day, the exuberant Maisie, who lost a tooth playing soccer last week, said, “Because we wanted to do something that we thought Justine would like.”

Justine laughed and said, “She doesn’t usually call me that.”

The energetic kindergartner has recently started playing soccer, and her mother grew up playing recreationally, so the Gunns are excited to have a women’s team in their backyard to support.

The family also recently purchased season tickets for the Los Angeles Sparks, initially inspired by the team’s mobility around the Black Lives Matter movement.

“It’s a great city for women’s sports,” Justine said, “and we’re happy to have a girl who’s becoming a big fan. I want her to be involved in sports, because it’s a great place to build confidence and a lot of other important values.”

The family’s tickets are for Section 119, much to Maisie’s delight.

“I want to go to the tippy top!” Maisie exclaimed, before running no more than 10 feet away with her little ball and shouting, “I’m gonna go play soccer!”

Meanwhile, JJ, who says she is “very much a feminist and very much in favor of gay rights and trans rights,” spoke passionately about the U.S. Supreme Court’s leaked draft opinion last week in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade. Many women’s sports leagues, teams and athletes expressed their frustration with the news, which would dismiss the constitutional right to an abortion if confirmed.

“I’m f—ing furious about the Supreme Court changing on this and that they lied in their hearings,” JJ said. “I am beyond livid, just absolutely enraged and ready to mobilize. I personally never had an abortion, but the access to abortion completely changed my life. My husband’s ex-girlfriend was able to have an abortion, and so when we started our life together, there wasn’t this other kid. And I want my kids and their partners in the future to have access to that choice.”

“The fact that I was able to choose motherhood is very important to me,” JJ adds. “And I want my kids to be able to choose parenthood when or if — (JJ points at Beatrix) this one’s very against it — if they decide it’s for them. Being a mother is so hard. Everything is so difficult and stacked against mothers. To ask someone to do that against their will when it’s not what they want to or are able to do, is unfair to the mother, unfair to the family, unfair to any children she does have or will have. It’s just not right.”

JJ recognized how powerful it was for a professional sports team like Angel City FC to take a public stance on such a polarizing topic, even when, she said, women’s reproductive protections should be viewed as a basic human rights issue.

“I am really glad to be a fan of a football team that will stand up for that right,” she said.

Beatrix said that access to contraception and abortion is something that they and their fellow seventh graders are aware of and discuss.

“Kids do talk about it,” Beatrix said, “especially the female students.”

Justine also saw ACFC’s statement against the Supreme Court opinion on Twitter and said that she’s proud to support a team committed to fighting injustice.

“I’m very proud of women’s sports teams in general, including the Sparks and Angel City, at how outspoken they’ve been in these years of really depressing news for women,” Justine said. “That’s so important and that is absolutely part of why we support them. I also feel a little genuinely sad that women athletes have to be saddled with the extra responsibility of being political when maybe they don’t want to be. It’s not fair, because it’s hard enough to be a pro athlete. I am glad that it’s not much of a debate anymore, that they can speak their minds and not face any problems because of it. … It should be just good enough that they’re awesome athletes, but that’s the way the world is, and I’m very proud to fully support them.”

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 @JJTheJuggernaut.

New Washington Spirit Head Coach Jonatan Giráldez Arrivin DC

head coach Jonatan Giráldez
Jonatan Giráldez joins the NWSL from FC Barcelona Femení. (Ramsey Cardy/UEFA via Getty Images)

Five months after announcing that the Washington Spirit had hired Barcelona Femení coach Jonatan Giráldez as the team's new head coach, Giráldez has joined the club in Washington, DC.

Giráldez is coming off of a successful season with the Spanish side, having won UEFA Women's Champions League, Copa de la Reina, Supercopa, and Liga F in his final season to complete a lauded Quadruple.

While Giráldez was finishing out his tenure in Europe, Adrián González filled in as Spirit interim head coach. González has also seen success, leading the team to its third-place standing with a 9-3-1 record through 13 games.

“I’m thrilled to join the Spirit and begin this next chapter with the club,” Giráldez said in an official team statement. “To be part of the vision Michele Kang has for the Spirit and women’s soccer globally is an exciting opportunity.”

Giráldez has worked at Barcelona since 2019, initially coming on as an assistant coach before moving up to head coach in 2021. The team went 30-0-0 on the season under Giráldez during his first year as manager.

He brings along with him Andrés González and Toni Gordo, who will serve as the Spirit's Fitness Coach and Club Analyst, respectively.

US Track & Field Olympic Trials Touch Down in Oregon

Sha’Carri Richardson competes in the women’s 200-meter preliminary round during the USATF Outdoor Championships
Sha’Carri Richardson will have some competition this week as athletes vie for an Olympic berth. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Track & Field Trials begin on June 21st, kicking off a 10-day quest to determine who will represent the US in Paris this summer.

The crucial meet will take place in Eugene, Oregon, where the top three finishers in each event will punch their ticket to the 2024 Olympics. As with this past week's US Swimming Trials, even the most decorated athletes must work to earn their spot — and one bad performance could undermine four years of preparation.

Reigning 100-meter World Champion Sha'Carri Richardson headlines this year's field, as the 24-year-old looks to qualify for her second Olympic Games and compete in her first. Richardson is a world champion in both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint, but missed the Tokyo Olympics due to testing positive for THC shortly after the last US Olympic Trials.

Other standouts include 400-meter Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who's currently the most decorated athlete in the active women's US Track & Field pool. McLaughlin-Levrone qualified to run in the 200-meter and 400-meter flat races alongside the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympic Trials, but opted to focus solely on her signature event.

800-meter specialist Athing Mu will also be a huge draw this week, as the Olympic gold medalist looks to shake off a lingering hamstring injury while pursuing her second Summer Games. Gold medal-winning pole vaulter Katie Moon will also attempt to qualify for her second-straight Olympic Games.

Ole Miss star McKenzie Long could be Richardson's greatest competition in the 100-meter and 200-meter events, as well as Richardson's Worlds teammate Gabby Thomas in the 200-meter. In field events, watch for Oregon senior Jaida Ross going head-to-head with reigning world champion Chase Jackson in the shot put, as both push for their first Olympic team berth.

Regardless of why you tune in, the US Olympic Trials are a perpetually thrilling and sometimes brutal qualification process. If you're able to make your way to the head of the pack, a shot at Olympic glory might just be waiting at the finish line.

Fans can catch live coverage throughout the Trials via NBC, USA, and Peacock.

Top Teams Square Off in NWSL Weekend Slate

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda
Orlando Pride, led by forward Barbra Banda, will take on Utah in this weekend's NWSL action. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As the NWSL season continues, a few top-performing clubs will have a chance to boost their standings this weekend.

First-place Kansas City will travel to Providence Park to take on fifth-place Portland, as the Current look to keep their unbeaten streak intact. And in New Jersey, third-place Washington will take on fourth-place Gotham FC, with both teams attempting to extend multi-game unbeaten streaks.

A six-point gap has opened between the fifth and sixth spot on the NWSL table — with just six points also separating the league's top five. Kansas City, Orlando, Washington, Gotham, and Portland have recently proven themselves to be a cut above the rest of the competition. With eight postseason spots up for grabs and half the season behind us, a pattern is forming that indicates the playoff race could come down to spots six through eight on the NWSL table.

Of those top five teams, only Orlando faces an opponent in the bottom half of the league this weekend: The Pride will take on 14th-place Utah, who nonetheless are coming off a win — just their second of the season — over Bay FC last weekend.

But despite Kansas City and Orlando having yet to lose a game, Gotham might be the squad coming into the weekend with the most momentum.

Clutch goals from Rose Lavelle and rookie Maycee Bell gave the Bats a 2-0 midweek win over San Diego on Wednesday, in a rematch of the 2024 Challenge Cup. Gotham's unbeaten streak dates all the way back to April, as rising availability and sharpened form have honed this year's superteam into a contender.

Bottom line? As the NWSL season passes the halfway mark, some matches might begin to feel more like playoff previews than mere regular season battles.

Chelsea Gray Returns From Injury in Aces Win Over Seattle

las vegas aces chelsea gray and kelsey plum celebrate a win over the seattle storm
Gray has been sidelined with a foot injury since the 2023 WNBA Finals. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Chelsea Gray made her return to the basketball court on Wednesday, helping the Aces to a 94-83 win over the Seattle Storm. 

The lauded point guard missed the first 12 games of the season, having been injured in last year’s WNBA Finals. The left foot injury caused her to miss Game 4 of the championship series, and she’s continued to rehab it through the beginning of the 2024 season. 

Her return on Wednesday was capitalized by the fact that she needed just 20 seconds to make an impact and record her first assist. While she finished with just one point, she had seven assists, four rebounds, and two blocks to go alongside it in 15:30 minutes. Gray's contributions on the night brought her career assist record up to 1,500.

"I probably went through every emotion leading up to today," Gray said after the game. "I was a little anxious all day. It's been a long time since I've been out on that court. But the fans were amazing from the time I came out to warm up to the time I checked in the game. It was a rush and a feeling I missed a lot."

It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far for Las Vegas, who have lost five of their last seven games. Gray, who averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in 2023, has proven herself a much-needed addition to the team’s lineup.

"Felt like my heart," Aces coach Becky Hammon said when asked how she felt hearing the crowd erupt for Gray's return. "She's the leader of our team. I thought she did a wonderful job too."

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