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The moment England’s women’s team revitalized an entire nation

The Lionesses lift the trophy after winning England’s first Women’s European Championship over Germany on Sunday. (Rob Newell/CameraSport via Getty Images)

Welcome to England, the birthplace of football. We don’t call it soccer — we call it footie, we call it tradition, we call it The Beautiful Game. This is the game we were born into. It runs in our lineage and our blood. This is the school playground and the housing block carpark. It’s a Sunday morning on the local playing fields and a Saturday afternoon in the mighty Premier League. This is the land where, if England are playing during term-time, TVs are wheeled into classrooms. This is education. This is what we plan our lives around. This is nostalgia. This is identity. This is conversation. This is a life-long relationship. This is our inheritance, our pride and our story.

In major competitions, though, our story for the last 56 years has been a tale of hurt and pain. At least on the international stage. Our national teams for years have failed to live up to their potential, making early exits from World Cup and European tournaments, too often conceding in the last moments of extra time or falling short in a dreaded penalty shootout, always serving the most amount of agony to any believers unfortunate enough to exercise even a glimmer of faith in their beloved Lions. The English World Cup-winning team of 1966 has become a legend of old, with the heroes who “brought football home” slowly fading away, and those still alive to tell the tale being outnumbered by a disheartened audience of pessimists.

For women’s footballers, the root of heartache has run deeper. While their male counterparts have enjoyed the opportunity to at least chase a legitimate dream of lifting a trophy in front of an 80,000-strong stadium and millions tuning in worldwide, women had been forbidden from playing organized football, a ban that was only lifted by The Football Association in 1971.

It was just four years ago that the Women’s Super League (created by the FA in 2011) became completely professional. This meant that the 2009 English women’s team — The Lionesses — that made the Euro finals (losing 6-2 to Germany) were made up of players who supported their dreams with part-time jobs. They were in classrooms and offices one day, and representing their country in a football stadium the next. This was true passion; it was also discrimination.

The Lionesses that took the field in the 2022 Euro tournament were, for the first time, a squad made up completely of professional players. The team was led by Sarina Wiegman, who took on the role as England boss last September. Her coaching style gave the players freedom to own their decisions, and she pushed her players onto the front foot and always aiming for goal. Her deep understanding of the game’s intricate detail would lead her women to a perfect record in the tournament, exiting the group stages undefeated. These weren’t small victories either, with the Lionesses desolating solid teams like Norway 8-0.

Spain came into the tournament as the favorites. Georgia Stanway’s right foot sent them home empty-handed in the 96th minute of a tense quarterfinal. The semis weren’t quite as tense, with Beth Mead, Lucy Bronze, Alessia Russo and Fran Kirby all contributing to a 4-0 dismantling of a solid Swedish team. Four goals by four different scorers — a perfect demonstration of the selflessness that carried this group of women to European football’s biggest stage. It was at this point that it dawned on English football fans around the country: Something special could finally happen again.

On the evening of the final, there was the same electricity in the London air as there always is when England are playing a big game. The UK is in the middle of a heatwave, during which rain hasn’t been seen for weeks and crowds of people have been enjoying the parks and public spaces during the light summer evenings. But on this Sunday evening, most were indoors, enjoying fellowship around TV screens in hot living rooms. Other expectant fans spilt out of pubs and onto humming streets, with conversations and emotions expressing positivity and affection toward England’s women’s team. Where any negative attitude toward the women’s game had once been, it was now replaced with respect, admiration and pride.

Meanwhile, a record 87,192 fans flooded the historic Wembley Stadium in North London — the most this venue had ever held for football, women’s or men’s — with the mix of both male and female, young and old, contrasting the “traditional” attendees who hold a poor reputation for hooliganism and violence, the things that no self-respecting English football fan endorses. This atmosphere was one of joy and hope, and the emotion resonated from the stands and into the 90 minutes that followed.

Germany are England’s old foe. They were the team defeated in 1966 by the heroes who first wore the three lions on their shirts. To meet them in the 2022 Women’s Euro final was fitting, and the stage couldn’t have been more set for what followed. After a tense first half, the scoring began in the second. First by England’s Ella Toone, the Manchester United forward who skillfully chipped the ball over the keeper with perfect composure.

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Chloe Kelly celebrates after scoring the game-winner for England in extra time. (Nigel French/PA Images via Getty Images)

Germany, of course, would respond. Lina Magull’s late equalizer sent the game into extra time and England fans into a state of concern. Chloe Kelly made sure the feeling didn’t last long, scoring her first international goal for England while breaking the curse and finally turning the hurt into joy.

The image of her sprinting across the pitch and waving her shirt above her head, sports bra on display, will be an iconic image of defiance and victory in years to come. It will be a reminder of the day that women’s football was changed forever, the day that the Lionesses brought it home for England.

This is our game, a game that belongs to all who hold it dear. Our game now has a new story, and the narrator is female.

Sammy Gunnell is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports based in London, England. Follow him on Twitter @SammyTheBW.

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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