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Christine Nairn receives emotional send-off in ‘perfect ending’ to NWSL career

(Houston Dash/Paul-Michael Ochoa)

Christine Nairn’s face was full of emotion in the 78th minute of the Houston Dash’s friendly against Tigres Feminil on Sunday. Teammates hugged her and fans gave her a standing ovation as she made her way across the field to where Maegan Rosa was waiting to sub in.

Nairn was stepping off the field as an NWSL player for the very last time. Her career as a firefighter would begin less than 12 hours after the final whistle.

Nairn, one of the NWSL’s original players, helped the Dash to a 5-1 win in her send-off at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston. Having played soccer since the age of four, Nairn, now 30, is ready for a new chapter.

“It’s been an emotional week,” the Maryland native said. “I’ve cried more than I think I ever have in my life. I think it just goes to show that I still love this sport, you know, getting teary-eyed again. I love this sport so much, I love this team so much and it’s a hard decision, but I’m excited about the next step, selfishly for myself.

“It was the perfect night for me, to have my parents in the stands and to be able to see them and to walk away with such a ceremony and walking away with my head held high with a win and my teammates hugging me as I come off the field. So for me, it was a perfect ending to my career.”

The midfielder is one of just seven players in the league to record 20 goals and 20 assists, and she ranks fourth for most matches played with 168. In October 2019, she became the first NWSL player to reach 150 appearances. The following season, Nairn and the Dash won the Challenge Cup for their first league title.

Nairn’s teammates describe her as a legend.

“I came in and immediately kind of gravitated toward her because she is such a smart player,” Dash midfielder Makamae Gomera-Stevens said. “She knows a lot about the game. For me, I made sure to ask her a lot of questions during my little time that I have been here. She impacted me and I know she impacted the team a lot.”

Dash head coach James Clarkson remembers signing Nairn when he first took the job late in 2018.

“I couldn’t talk, I was crying,” Clarkson said after Sunday’s match. “That was pretty tough. I wanted to make sure she could come off and get the standing ovation that she deserves, and it’s been a very emotional week for her. I thought she played great and it was a lovely send-off for her.”

Following a short career with the U.S. women’s national team, in which she scored the winning goal against Canada in a 2009 friendly, Nairn entered the NWSL as the seventh overall pick of Seattle Reign FC in the inaugural 2013 draft. She has played for Seattle (now OL Reign), the Washington Spirit, Orlando Pride and Houston Dash over nine seasons.

Clarkson believes Nairn deserves more credit as a pioneer in the league.

“I think it’s very important, when we talk about the growth of this game, recognizing the players that were at the forefront of this,” he said. “The start of the league, sacrificing everything and for the players coming through [now]. She does it for the love of the game, not for money, and she has kept this league afloat.”

After the match against Tigres, Nairn said her teammates had placed a basket of flowers, cookies and cards for her in the locker room. In fact, since she announced her retirement on Instagram last Thursday, Nairn’s week was filled with supportive texts and conversations.

Nairn will still be around to watch the Dash from the stands; she plans to remain in Houston for her new career as a first responder.

“She’s going to be a fantastic firefighter,” Clarkson said. “That’s all I can say, because everything she puts her mind to she is successful at.”

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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