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Barcelona cements powerhouse status with Camp Nou record

Alexia Putellas leads the field with a score of 92. (Pedro Salado/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

FC Barcelona promised a spectacle for its record-breaking Champions League fixture at Camp Nou, and that’s exactly what fans got.

In front of a historic crowd of 91,533 supporters, Barcelona defeated Real Madrid 5-2, advancing to the UEFA Women’s Champions League semifinals with an aggregate score of 8-3.

Wednesday’s stand was the first time the Barcelona women’s team played at the cavernous Camp Nou stadium in front of spectators, marking a significant turning point for the women’s game.

“Our responsibility is to make sure we do all our best to write this new page in the club’s history, the team’s history,” Barcelona captain Alexia Putellas told reporters Tuesday ahead of El Clásico. “I believe it will be a turning point for women’s football in Barcelona, in Catalonia, in Spain and, hopefully, all around the world.”

The match surpassed the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup final attendance record, which saw 90,185 fans fill the Rose Bowl to watch the U.S. Women’s National Team win. The new women’s soccer attendance record of 91,533 at Camp Nou ushers in a new era for the sport.

The quality on the pitch exceeded the anticipation leading up to the fixture, with Madrid and Barcelona executing top-quality finishes.

María Pilar León kicked off the scoring in the 8th minute, striking an in-swinging ball over Madrid’s keeper to put Barcelona up 1-0.

Less than 10 minutes later, a handball in the box awarded Madrid a penalty, which Olga Carmona calmly converted to level the score.

The visitors took the lead to start the second half as Claudia Zoronza struck the goal of the night, chipping Barcelona’s keeper in the 48th minute.

However, the advantage quickly evaporated. Aitana Bonmati slotted home a cheeky goal and Claudia Pina curled in a banger for Barcelona in quick succession to put the home team back on top.

Putellas also got in on the scoring in the 62nd minute, much to Camp Nou’s delight. The captain snuck a sputtering shot over the goal line, and then the reigning Ballon d’Or winner took a bow and blew a kiss to the adoring Barcelona fans.

Caroline Graham Hansen finished off the offensive masterclass from Barcelona, tapping in a deflected cross to put the game at 5-2.

In true Barcelona fashion, the club finished the match with 66 percent of the possession while outshooting Madrid 6-2.

“At the end of the match, I had to hold my tears back,” Graham Hansen told DAZN’s Serma Hunter after the game. “I didn’t imagine anything like it, and it’s just goosebumps all over the place.”

Barcelona is a certified powerhouse, with three-consecutive league titles, a Champions League trophy, a Ballon d’Or recipient in Putellas and a winning streak of 41 games. But though Barcelona seems undeniable, the Camp Nou event was anything but inevitable.

Marta Torrejón, a defender who joined Barcelona in 2013, has watched the club evolve at warp speed. She told The New York Times in 2021 that she remembers training sessions taking place in the evening to accommodate players who worked or went to school during the day.

The team of 2013 is a far cry from the club that dominated Chelsea 4-0 to claim its first Champions League trophy in 2021.

After the club fully professionalized in 2015, investments poured in, which brought in some big names like Lieke Martens, who signed with Barcelona in 2017.

For the most part, however, Barcelona has cultivated its core. Putellas, who joined Barcelona in 2012, serves as a shining example of the club’s ability to develop key players. A decade after her start, Putellas is an undeniable star and has scored seven goals in six Champions League matches so far this season.

The club’s success has rubbed off on Spain’s national team. In 2019, the Spanish women gave the USWNT a run for their money in the World Cup quarterfinal, nearly upsetting the eventual winners. Spain is currently ranked seventh in the world according to FIFA, jumping six places from its No. 13 ranking entering the 2019 World Cup.

Barcelona has steadily risen the ranks since its professionalization in 2015, making a Champions League semifinal appearance in 2018-2019 and a final appearance in 2019-2020 before raising the trophy in 2020-2021.

“In Barcelona, it’s not enough to win, it’s about how you play, and I think that’s in the roots of this team,” Barcelona midfielder Ingrid Syrstad Engen said.

That perfectionist ethos has elevated not just Barcelona but the international women’s game overall as the club sets a new standard for investment and performance.

“I believe that tomorrow can be the start of a new era because at the end of the day tomorrow’s match is going to be inspiring for so many girls, I am guessing, that will be coming tomorrow to Camp Nou or who will be seeing us from TV, and they will be seeing women playing in Camp Nou,” Putellas told media ahead of Wednesday’s win. “And I am sure in the future, in the mid or long run, we will be collecting the fruits of tomorrow’s match.”

Women’s soccer will undoubtedly collect the fruits of Barcelona’s Camp Nou triumph. And the marquee match may have also cemented Barcelona as the new epicenter of women’s soccer, a distinction that has been years in the making.

Esme Morgan Signs With Washington Spirit

Esme Morgan of England inspects the pitch prior to the UEFA Women's EURO 2025 qualifying match between England and France
The England national will join the Spirit in DC on July 15th. (Naomi Baker - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

English defender Esme Morgan has signed with the Washington Spirit, the club announced Thursday. 

Morgan had been with WSL side Manchester City since 2017, with one year remaining on her contract. She’ll now make a move to the NWSL, with City receiving a fee for the move. 

"I wanted to join the Spirit because they have the ambition and tools to be the best team in the NWSL, and trying to achieve that will be a great but enjoyable challenge," Morgan said in a club statement.

"On an individual level too, the opportunity to work under Jonatan [Giráldez], one of the world's best coaches, is really exciting and I look forward to learning from him and pushing myself to become the best player I can be, hopefully helping the team to success."

According to ESPN, Morgan’s lack of playing time under City manager Gareth Taylor played a key role in her decision to leave the league championship runners-up. She’ll join the Spirit in Washington, DC on July 15th, but won’t be able to begin play until August. 

Spirit president Mark Krikorian called Morgan an "exceptional talent" and added that the club is "thrilled" to add her to the roster.

"I think she’s pretty talented," Giraldez told reporters on Friday. "A young player with a great future, but with experience already in a great league and with the national team. She’s been surrounded by great players and also great coaches, so she can give us experience."

Ledecky Goes for 4 at Olympic Swimming Trials

Swimmer katie ledecky swimming at Toyota US Open
Decorated swimmer Katie Ledecky is aiming to make her fourth-straight Olympic squad. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Swimming Trials begin this weekend, running from June 15th through June 23rd in Indianapolis, with Katie Ledecky eyeing her fourth-straight Summer Games.

While traditionally held in Omaha, Indiana's Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, has been fitted with a 50-meter pool to host the meet that will determine the 2024 Paris Olympics roster.

All eyes will be on seven-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky, who will be competing in the 200-meter, 400-meter, 800-meter, and 1500-meter freestyle — all events in which she’s been an Olympic champion. 

Rival Ariarne Titmus had her trials last week, breaking the world record in the 200-meter freestyle. Ledecky’s 200 is intended to qualify her for the Olympic relay. Meanwhile stateside, Katie Grimes stands to be a challenger in the 1500-meter freestyle has already qualified for the Paris Olympics in the 10km open water event.

Other competitors of note include 47-year-old Gabrielle Rose, who stands to become the oldest US Swimming Olympic qualifier in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke.

Additionally, Kate Douglass — an NCAA and World Champion — is a favorite to make her first Olympic team in the 200-meter IM and 200-meter breaststroke. Simone Manuel, an Olympic champion in the 100-meter freestyle, is also looking to make her third-straight Olympics.

Where to watch: The Trials will be streaming all week on Peacock, with later qualifying heats airing live on USA Network and event finals airing in primetime on NBC.

Orlando and Kansas City Shoot for 13 in NWSL Weekend Action

NWSL's T. Chawinga #6 of the Kansas City Current passes the ball during the first half of their game against the Utah Royals FC
The Kansas City Current hopes to extend its NWSL unbeaten streak to 13 with a win over Chicago. (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

The 13th match weekend is fast approaching in the NWSL, with two season-long unbeaten streaks on the line.

League-leaders Kansas City and Orlando will attempt to survive the weekend with their unbeaten runs intact, as the Current host Chicago on Friday and the Pride travel to North Carolina for Saturday's match.

But while Kansas City and Orlando have been the gold standard this year, they're still a number of wins away from tying Washington's record for longest unbeaten streak in a single NWSL season. In 2021, the Spirit went 20 games without a loss en route to the club's first NWSL championship.

Both Gotham and Louisville are carrying momentum into their matchup on Saturday. Louisville is unbeaten in three games, and they’re looking to finally leapfrog Chicago and claim sixth place in the league standings. Gotham, on a seven-game unbeaten run, is into fifth place.

Portland and Seattle will face off in the Cascadia Clash this weekend, with Golden Boot contender Sophia Smith absent, as the decorated forward was shown a red card last weekend for time-wasting on the bench.

The Reign could use a win against their long-time rivals, as a difficult start has 13th-place Seattle registering only two wins amid nine losses so far this season.

Elsewhere in the league, 2024 expansion teams Bay FC and Utah meet for the first time this weekend, as both look to rise from the bottom half of the standings. And Washington will ride a four-game winning streak into Saturday's game against a San Diego side that's earned two hard-fought draws in recent weeks.

Watch more: "Sophia Smith is INNOCENT!" on The Late Sub with Claire Watkins

WNBA All-Star Voting Starts on June 13th

Phoenix Mercury mascot Scorch waving a 2024 WNBA All-Star flag at a 2023 home game.
Phoenix Mercury will host the 20th-annual All-Star Game on July 20th, 2024. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Voting for the 2024 AT&T WNBA All-Star Game opened at 2 PM ET today and runs through June 29th.

All active WNBA players are eligible to make the All-Star Game, set for July 20th in Phoenix. Unlike previous formats that featured two voted-in All-Star squads, this year’s contest pits a single All-Star team against the already-decided Olympic-bound USA Women’s National Team.

Fans can submit a daily ballot nominating up to 10 athletes via WNBA.com or the WNBA App.

Fan-submitted ballots account for 50% of vote, with the other 50% split equally between current WNBA players and members of the media. The top 10 athletes will automatically make the All-Star Game, with league coaches then voting from a pool of the next 36 to complete Team WNBA’s 12-player roster. The final lineup will be announced on July 2nd.

This year's All-Star Game format presents an opportunity for fans to vote for players they might consider Olympic snubs. Indiana rookie Caitlin Clark and Dallas’s Arike Ogunbawole seem like shoo-ins given the discussion surrounding their Olympic omissions, while Connecticut stars Brionna Jones and DeWanna Bonner are also expected to snag All-Star nods.

And after a career-high 20-point, 10-rebound double-double in last night’s 83-75 loss to the Sun, Chicago rookie Angel Reese could also secure a spot.

Regardless, it won't necessarily be smooth sailing for Team USA, as history has tended to favor the underdog. 

The first USA vs. All-Stars matchup took place in 2021, with the league’s squad humbling the Tokyo Olympians 93-85. With 26 points, Ogunbawole was named All-Star Game MVP after barely missing the Olympic cut. Could she and Clark turn the tables on Team USA this year?

Watch more: "Were Caitlin Clark and Arike Ogunbowale snubbed?" by Expert Adjacent

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