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Ashlyn Harris finds lessons in adversity: ‘I want people to know me’

Gotham FC goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris won two World Cups with the USWNT in 2015 and 2019. (Photo courtesy of Versus)

Ashlyn Harris won’t lie: It’s been a tough year.

Before the 2022 NWSL season began, she and her family moved from the familiar confines of Florida to the fast-paced lifestyle of New York City. After growing up in Florida and playing for the Orlando Pride since 2016, Harris was traded to NJ/NY Gotham FC in December alongside wife and teammate Ali Krieger. All of a sudden, they needed to find a new school for daughter Sloane (some of the schools had two-year waiting lists) and hire new nannies. Their lives got even busier in August with the adoption of their second child, Ocean.

Meanwhile, in life outside their home, emotions were running high as multiple parties conducted investigations into abuse, harassment and discrimination in the NWSL. On Oct. 1, U.S. Soccer released the Sally Yates report, which revealed new details of “systemic” sexual and emotional abuse by former NWSL coaches and attempts by club and league officials to cover it up. The NWSL and NWSLPA are expected to release their own joint investigation by the end of the year.

“I just feel like it’s been a really, really tough NWSL year for a lot of people with all of the stuff going on,” Harris recently told Just Women’s Sports. “I’m happy that we now can move forward. I’m happy that we’re building a culture where safety is the priority of the players, and I feel like a lot of players in the NSWL are just tired. So I’m happy to start anew and start a new culture moving forward where the players’ health and safety come first.

“Soccer is just the game we play. I just want to make sure that everyone’s safe and mentally OK.”

On top of all of those moving parts, Gotham FC finished dead-last in the 2022 NWSL standings with four wins, 17 losses and one draw despite making numerous high-profile additions in the offseason. Harris and Krieger have since demanded change from the franchise, knowing there’s vast potential with the new ownership group, including sports celebrities Eli Manning, Sue Bird and Kevin Durant.

“It’s definitely been tough because I love winning,” Harris said of the season. “I love competing, but also I understand that there can only be one winner. That’s why I love this sport. That’s why it’s so challenging at the highest level.

“The air is very thin at the top, and I think that’s what drives me every day to continue doing what I do and continue being the best at my craft and dedicating time and energy and effort into being the best player and person I can possibly be every day.”

Harris has never been one to let material success define her. In her home office, there aren’t medals or award plaques, or any trace of the two decades that the two-time World Cup champion has played at various levels of the U.S. women’s national team.

“That stuff collects dust,” the goalkeeper said.

Being a soccer star is only a small part of Harris’ identity. She hopes her legacy will be about much more than success on the field.

“I want people to know me, like genuinely know me, feel me, see me,” Harris said. “That I, in some small way, have changed their life on a personal level. I’ve impacted them. That when I am no longer here, people know me for the way I made them feel.”

She has 36 years of experience in life and soccer that she’s ready to share with others.

To Harris, there’s no better way to achieve that than to become a mentor to young athletes. This month, Harris launched a partnership with Versus, a sports edtech platform that trains kids on the physical and mental skills needed to succeed in sports and life. Originally offering courses in baseball and softball, Versus added a soccer vertical that Harris joined alongside Krieger and USWNT teammate Kelley O’Hara.

Known for her candidness, Harris is giving aspiring athletes the chance to get to know her and ask her personal questions about how she’s handled adversity, such as in the past year. She hopes to provide them with the tools to understand themselves off the field in a way that will help them overcome their own challenges.

One of Harris’ key points in her mentorship is the power of what happens when no one is watching. Those decisions, she says, are what separate the good from the great because, while everyone at the top is technically gifted, their mindsets aren’t always the same.

(Photo courtesy of Versus)

The toughest challenges Harris has faced are injuries. Over the course of her soccer career, she’s torn her ACL and lateral meniscus, and in September she underwent knee surgery as Gotham stumbled to last place in the standings. Recovery periods, she says, are when she makes the tough, off-field choices that shape her the most.

“It’s a really, really tough mental place to be in because you have to get fit again. You have to get played in again. You don’t just hop back in where you left off … you can’t slip or someone else will take your job,” she said. “When you get to those points in your career, where you’re at a crossroads, like, ‘Man, can I even do this? Am I going to be able to come back from this?’ That’s when you build character and that’s when you learn the most about yourself, is when you’re in the trenches.”

Harris commits to the same decision every time: She never quits.

“I think a lot of people throw the towel in when it gets too hard and I just don’t have that in me. I just have never quit at anything in my life,” she said. “Ask my wife. We compete like crazy. It’s hilarious in our household, but that’s the way we tick. That’s the difference between people who are good and people who are excellent.”

Harris spent hours filming episodes for the Versus soccer launch, which give users the ability to ask questions and receive responses through conversational video A.I. technology. She doesn’t want to “snow plow” or move obstacles for the athletes she’s mentoring, but she hopes to give them the tools to do it on their own.

“Life is tough. It’s hard, and I don’t like to sugarcoat that for people,” she said.

“I just try to continue every day to improve and be the best version of myself. I can only control my mental, physical, emotional state.”

Through the trials of the past year, Harris is finally starting to see the life that she imagined for herself and her family in New York coming together.

“It’s definitely been really great,” she said of the city. “I love the diversity. I love the culture. I love the acceptance. I love feeling safe in New York. It seems like overall, being a biracial, queer family, it’s an easier landing for us.”

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

Caitlin Clark dunks on Michael Che in surprise SNL appearance

(Julia Hansen/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Caitlin Clark made a surprise appearance on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, which quickly went viral.

The Iowa star showed up on the show’s Weekend Update segment to playfully call out Michael Che’s history of making jabs at women’s sports.

It started when Che joked that Iowa should replace Clark’s retired No. 22 “with an apron.” 

When Clark entered, Che said that he was a fan. But Clark wasn’t convinced – especially not when co-host Colin Jost brought the receipts of Che’s jabs.

“Really, Michael? Because I heard that little apron joke you did,” she said, before making him read some jokes of her own in retaliation. Clark finished her segment by shouting out the WNBA greats that came before her. She then got in one final dig – bringing Che a signed apron as a souvenir. 

When Che promised to give it to his girlfriend, Clark delivered her last playful dig of the night.

“You don’t have a girlfriend, Michael,” she said.

Afterward, SNL castmember Bowen Yang told People that the 22-year-old and teammates Gabbie Marshall, Kate Martin and Jada Gyamfi – who joined her at Studio 8H – “were so cool.”

“She's so charming and witty,” Yang said. “They were just the most stunning, noble people.

“Athletes just have this air about them. They know they're amazing. I mean, these are people who have numeric attachments and values to their performance. That's something that comedians never have.”

Portland Thorns, in uncharted territory, start NWSL season winless

Portland has started the season winless through four games for the first time. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

The Portland Thorns continue to struggle to start the NWSL season, falling 2-0 to the North Carolina Courage over the weekend to remain winless through their first four games. 

It’s uncharted territory for Portland, who has never started the NWSL regular season without a win in four games before.

Following the loss, defender Becky Sauerbrunn voiced her frustrations with the start. 

“It’s hard to find a lot of encouraging things, but what I find encouraging is that people are frustrated,” she said. “People are pissed off that we’re not doing well. We care, and I think that’s really important.” 

She also added that while the team will reflect individually, “there’s going to be no finger pointing.”

“We’re going to look at ourselves and figure out what we should have done, or I should have done better,” she said. “There is a list of things that I could have done better, and I’m going to make sure I know every single thing and watch this game back.”

The Thorns currently sit at the bottom of the league table with just one point, having allowed 10 goals – tied for the worst in the league. They’ve yet to lead in a match. And as questions grow, attention turns to head coach Mike Norris. 

Norris is in his second year as head coach of the club after leading the team to a second-place finish in the regular season last year. When asked about the possibility of pressure growing after the unprecedented start, Norris said that the pressure has been there “from day one.”

“I cannot be driven by my day-to-day and the longer vision of the pressure of the job,” he said. “We’ve got a belief in how we want to play, how we operate. We’ve got to stick with the process of that. While we do it, we have to review and see what is working, what’s not working.

“I’ll be showing up for the team and being there for what they need from me as we approach getting back together as a group next week.”

Maria Sanchez reportedly requests trade from Houston Dash

Mar 23, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Dash forward Maria Sanchez (7) warms up before the match between Racing Louisville and Houston Dash at Shell Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Maria Sanchez, who signed one of the biggest deals in NWSL history just four months ago, has reportedly requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

ESPN was the first to report the news, which was confirmed by multiple sources.

In a statement to ESPN, the team said: “​​Maria Sanchez is under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the Dash worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. At the time, it was the largest contract in NWSL history – something that was eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

The winger was a restricted free agent in the offseason, meaning that Houston could match any offer from another team and retain her rights. Should the team trade Sanchez, her contract would remain as it has been signed with the league. That limits the number of teams that could take on her contract. 

In three starts with the Dash this season, Sanchez has zero goals and an assist. The Dash are 1-2-1 through four games and have allowed a league-worst 10 goals.

The team hired a new coach, Fran Alonso, in December. Earlier this year, former goalkeeper coach Matt Lampson was fired for violating the league’s Coach Code of Conduct and Anti-Fraternization policy. 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close at midnight ET on Friday.

Canada beats U.S. Hockey 6-5 in thrilling World Championship win

UTICA, NEW YORK - APRIL 14: Team Canada raises the Championship Trophy after winning The Gold by defeating The United States in OT during the 2024 IIHF Women's World Championship Gold Medal game at Adirondack Bank Center on April 14, 2024 in Utica, New York. (Photo by Troy Parla/Getty Images)

Canada got its revenge on Sunday, winning the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship and taking down the U.S. in a 6-5 overtime classic.

Marie-Philip Poulin, a longtime star for Canada, got her first two goals of the tournament, while Danielle Serdachny had the game-winner. 

"I hate to say you're not trying to rely on it, expect it, but I know I've grown to expect it," Canada coach Troy Ryan said of Philip-Poulin. "Tonight was just a whole other level. I could see in her eyes every time we called her name that she was ready to go. It's just special."

The win came after Canada lost 1-0 to the U.S. in the group stage of the tournament. On Sunday, the two teams met for the 22nd time in 23 tournaments in the gold medal game – and the action between the two teams delivered. 

Among those scoring for the U.S. were Megan Keller, Alex Carpenter, Hilary Knight, Laila Edwards and Caroline Harvey. Julia Gosling, Emily Clark and Erin Ambrose had the other three goals for Canada, giving them their 13th World title after falling to the U.S. in last year’s title game in Toronto. 

This year’s game was held in New York, and it was the second-highest scoring final between the two teams. The U.S. won a world championship 7-5 in 2015. 

"Oh man, that feels good to win it on U.S. soil," Canada goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens said after the game. "We owed it to them and owed it to ourselves to win that one."

Canada also denied Knight a record 10th World Championship win, although she did become the most decorated player in women’s world championship history with 14 medals. After the game, Poulin gave Knight a hug on the ice. 

"We just said 'that was unbelievable,'" Poulin said.

U.S. coach John Wroblewski echoed the sentiment that it was an outstanding game after being asked about ending the game on a power-play after leaving too many players on the ice. 

"Instead of talking about the isolated events of tonight's game, I think that normally that's an interesting storyline,” he said. “But I think the entity of an amazing 6-5 game is an amazing hockey game that took place."

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