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Angel City FC’s small-roster approach is already paying off

ACFC coach Freya Coombe speaks to her team during a practice at Pepperdine University this week. (Stephanie Romero/Angel City FC)

Vanessa Gilles feels like she’s known Cari Roccaro for years, even though they just met two weeks ago. The Angel City FC teammates’ bond was evident as they bantered back and forth during their call with the media on Thursday.

​​Gilles, an Olympic gold medalist with Canada, will leave Los Angeles for a couple of weeks to participate in national team camp ahead of the Arnold Clark Cup that runs from Feb. 17-23. With Angel City already such a tight-knit team, she knows they’ll stay in constant communication while she’s gone.

“Hopefully they don’t forget about me, which I don’t think they will,” Gilles said, before turning to Roccaro. “Do you agree, Cari?”

“Yes.”

“OK, thank you.”

“I will not forget about you,” Roccaro added. “But don’t go bothering me when you’re at camp.”

Ali Riley and Did Haračić showed a similar bond during ACFC’s media call last week. The comfort Angel City players feel with each other is evident just two weeks into the NWSL preseason and the club’s on-field existence, and it appears to be a direct result of Freya Coombe’s small-roster philosophy.

The coach named 25 players to the preseason squad, fewer than almost every other NWSL team this year. For context, San Diego Wave FC, Angel City’s expansion club counterpart, invited 34 players to camp, while the reigning champion Washington Spirit brought in 38.

“We want players that are here to feel secure, and with us being a new team, we wanted to provide a really strong environment for them where it wasn’t a case of we’ve got 40 people and then we’re whittling down that group,” Coombe said last week.

“I wanted them to come in, start to form relationships with each other, start to get to know each other and really help harness the strength of that group and that unit to be able to move on and play through this season. So, that was our rationale for having less players.”

If the team needs a change halfway through the year, the former NJ/NY Gotham coach is open to adding new talent, but current players have been promised they won’t get traded away. Providing players with that sense of security has been a tenant of Angel City’s philosophy from the beginning.

Coombe has been in a similarly high-stakes position before, having turned NJ/NY Gotham FC from an NWSL bottom dweller into 2021 Challenge Cup runners-up as head coach. Now, she faces the task of building a team from scratch.

Coombe’s small-roster approach has raised questions from fans about potential injuries and a lack of competitiveness in training camp. The NWSL, after all, is a business and arguably the most talented women’s soccer league in the world. But Gilles, who joined Angel City after four years at Bordeaux to develop her game under high pressure, has found that she’s been consistently challenged in camp.

For Roccaro, the small-team environment is “lovely.” The defender, formerly with the Houston Dash and North Carolina Courage, has experienced preseasons with rosters that were double the size of Angel City’s. In 2018, she made it through an entire preseason with Houston before getting cut.

“I think the feelings you get of, ‘Am I going to make the team, are they going to cut me tomorrow, are they gonna trade me tomorrow?’ That can really affect how you play,” Roccaro said.

With the expansion team, there aren’t players who had starting positions with the group last year or coaches already familiar with players’ roles. Roccaro, 27, describes a collective feeling of nerves among the players, both on the field and off of it as they create new lives in Los Angeles. Having a tight-knit team and the security of being part of a small roster helps ease the transition.

Gilles, 25, especially appreciates Angel City’s atmosphere. Playing in her first NWSL season, she’s never been in a situation where it’s possible to get cut during preseason.

“When you’re secure in your position, you obviously play with more confidence and you trust your teammates more and you want to get to bond with your teammates more, so I think the small roster that we’ve had during this preseason has been great,” Gilles said.

On the field, Roccaro and Gilles have appreciated Coombe’s calm, detail-oriented coaching style. She’s been suggesting small technical and tactical changes to their individual games that neither of the defenders had thought about before.

“She is an amazing person,” said Roccaro. “She totally fits the mold of what the first Angel City coach should be, and I mean that wholeheartedly. I think she’s the perfect fit on the field, off the field, her goals, who she is as a person, how she’s going to push us, how she’s going to hold the standard high. I think it’s going to be really, really fun to play for her.”

Angel City’s first test comes in their Challenge Cup opener against San Diego on March 19.

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.

Nelly Korda Continues Unprecedented LPGA Run

LPGA golfer Nelly Korda poses with Mizuho Americas Open trophy
Nelly Korda took home the title at the Mizuho Americas Open on Sunday. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Nelly Korda continued her unprecedented LPGA run on Sunday, winning her sixth tournament in the last seven starts. 

The 25-year-old Florida native took home the title at the Mizuho Americas Open, becoming the first LPGA player to record six wins in a single season since 2013 — and that’s with three majors and a little over half the season left to play.

"Oh, my gosh, six," Korda said after the win. "I can't even really gather myself right now with that, the head-to-head that Hannah and I had pretty much all day. Wasn't my best stuff out there today, but fought really hard on the back nine."

Korda is just the fourth player on tour to win six times before June 1st, joining LPGA Hall of Famers Babe Zaharias (1951), Louise Suggs (1953), and Lorena Ochoa (2008).

Should her victory run continue, Korda could break the current record for single-season wins, currently set at 13 by Mickey Wright in 1963.

Korda ended Sunday's tournament one shot ahead of Hannah Green, finishing the 18th with a par putt to win it all.

"I mean, to lose to Nelly kind of like is — it's sad, but then it's also Nelly Korda," Green said of her second-place finish. "You know, like she's obviously so dominant right now. To feel like second behind her is quite nice. Unfortunately the bogey on the last has a little bit of a sour taste."

Next up is the US Women’s Open, a tournament that Korda has yet to win in her career. 

"Obviously it's on the top of my priority list," she said. "I just know there is never any good when you put more pressure on yourself. Just going to stay in my bubble that week and take it a shot at a time."

Earlier this year, Korda became the fastest player to collect $2 million in prize money over a single season. This latest win earned her an additional $450,000, bringing her season total up to $2,943,708.

Caitlin Clark Signs Multi-Year Deal with Wilson, Gets Signature Basketball Collection

caitlin clark poses with wilson basketball
Clark is just the second athlete to get a signature basketball collection with Wilson. (Wilson Sporting Goods)

Caitlin Clark has signed a multi-year endorsement deal with Wilson Sporting Goods that will include a signature basketball collection, the brand announced early Tuesday. 

According to Boardroom, Clark is just the second athlete to develop a signature collection with Wilson, with the first being Michael Jordan in the 1980s. In addition to her basketball collection, she will also "test, advise and provide feedback on a range" of related products. 

Three Clark-branded white-and-gold Wilson basketballs have already dropped. Each ball features laser-cut engravings of some of the guard's most memorable moments at Iowa, where she became the all-time leading scorer in Division I college basketball history.

Three Wilson basketballs from Clark's collection have already dropped. (Wilson Sporting Goods).

"I think it is super special, and it's been fun for me," Clark told Boardroom. "I feel like I was just that young kid who had those basketballs that I would store in the garage. I'm just very lucky and fortunate to partner with Wilson to create something that everyone can enjoy. It connects with a lot of generations, and it'll be fun to see kids walking around holding them."

The No. 1 overall pick at the 2024 WNBA Draft, Clark has been building up a slate of major endorsements since turning pro. Current partnerships include Gatorade and Panini, and she’s also close to signing a signature shoe deal with Nike worth a reported $28 million.

New York Liberty off to First 4-0 Start in 17 Years

sabrina ionescu of the new york liberty on the court
Sabrina Ionescu led the undefeated Liberty to a 74-63 win over Seattle Monday night. (Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images)

The New York Liberty are 4-0 on the season for the first time since 2007. 

The 2023 WNBA title finalists notched a 74-63 win over Seattle on Monday night, with Sabrina Ionescu dropping 20 points alongside eight assists. After the game, Ionescu told reporters she thought the team was coming together a bit easier than they did last year.

"I think having a year together, we don't nearly have to communicate as much on the court anymore," she said. "Because we can just play off one another and read. And that's obviously been the growth of this team, is being able to play a season together last year."

The team’s defense has also contributed heavily to the season's winning start. Last night, the Liberty held Jewell Loyd to just 13 points and nine rebounds. Loyd let the Storm in scoring, with only two other players in double digits, while Nneka Ogwumike missed her second straight game with an ankle injury. 

Storm free agency acquisition Skylar Diggins-Smith had eight points, and is averaging 14.5 points and 5.8 assists per game this season. In her postgame remarks, Storm head coach Noelle Quinn called on others to give her grace in her return. 

"There needs to be respect about the fact that she's had two children and hasn’t played in 20 months," said Quinn. "She’s not going to come overnight and be who she was 20 months ago and we have to respect that and honor that. And I do.

"My grace as a coach is to know she’s working her butt off every day. You guys don’t see it. Every single day. Two children. Not one, two. Not many can do that."

Australia’s Sam Kerr Ruled Out for 2024 Paris Olympics With ACL Injury

sam kerr playing for the australian womens national team
A longtime Matildas mainstay, Kerr has made 128 appearances for Australia alongside 69 career goals. (Joe Prior/Visionhaus via Getty Images)

Australia has confirmed that captain and star striker Sam Kerr will miss the Paris Olympics due to an ACL injury suffered early this year. 

Kerr, who also stars for Chelsea, tore her ACL in January. While unlikely that she would recover in time for the Olympics, Football Australia (FA) hadn’t confirmed her status until Tuesday when the team revealed its squad for upcoming warm-up games. 

In a statement, the FA said that Kerr remained on the sidelines and will continue her rehab program at Chelsea. 

"Attacker Amy Sayer (ACL) and forward Sam Kerr (ACL) remain on the sidelines with long term injuries," the report read. "Kerr and Sayer will continue their rehabilitation programmes in their home club environments and subsequently will not be available for selection for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games."

Tuesdays 23-player squad is a "strong guide" to the final Olympic lineup, according to coach Tony Gustavsson, but others like injured midfielders Katrina Gorry and Aivi Luik could potentially figure into the conversation. 

"[They] most likely will be physically available to be part of an Olympic roster," Gustavsson said of Gorry and Luik. "This window will be a tough one for me and my staff in terms of evaluating players, where they are, and then the final selection process for Paris."

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