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FAWSL Table Shakeup: Week 15 Review

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An exciting weekend of action in the FA Women’s Super League led to some serious movement in the FAWSL table. Here’s how it all went down.

BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION 1, WEST HAM 0

Last week, Brighton shocked the world by ending Chelsea’s 33-game unbeaten streak, coming from behind to beat FAWSL’s top team in their home stadium. The win in itself was a shock, but the fact that the week prior, Brighton had succumbed themselves to a loss against Bristol City, who are bottom of the league, made the victory against Chelsea all the more remarkable.

The challenge for Hope Powell’s side this week was to build off that performance and ensure their focus didn’t waver. Coming up against West Ham, Brighton knew the London side would be aggressive in their approach, given that they’re barely above the relegation spot and are currently fighting for their FAWSL lives.

Brighton scored early on and were thereafter happy to give West Ham time on the ball (West Ham had 54% possession, compared to Brighton’s 46%). They defended deep and stifled West Ham’s already out of form attack, limiting the visitors to zero shots on target.

Not the most exciting win for Brighton, but they moved into seventh place, pushing Tottenham Hotspur into eighth. They’ll have a chance to maintain that lead when they play Tottenham next week. West Ham, who are two points above Bristol City, have the daunting task of taking on Chelsea next.

CHELSEA 3, ARSENAL 0

Speaking of Chelsea, it’s clear that their loss against Brighton was a blip. The London derby between Arsenal and Chelsea is always a big deal, and this year was no different, with the match having major implications on the title race.

Despite this, it was quite an easy match for Chelsea, and it never felt like they had to get out of second gear, with Fran Kirby and Pernille Harder running the show during the 3-0 win. Alongside Sam Kerr, the duo has shone for Chelsea all season, with Emma Hayes clearly getting the best out of them.

On the other hand, Arsenal are in somewhat of disarray, and the back-to-back losses against Manchester City and Chelsea have more or less ended their title hopes. Vivianne Miedema is constantly being forced to play a deeper role because her teammates have struggled to get the ball to her feet, hindering the usually prolific striker.

Arsenal play Birmingham City next and are now in a race to secure third in order to ensure that they play Champions League football next season.

MANCHESTER CITY 3, MANCHESTER UNITED 0

Manchester City may have been favored, but their 3-0 win over Man United still came as a shock to most. United, who were top of the table in early January, have not had a great run of form as of late, losing three out of their last five matches. Injuries have affected the squad, which leaves Stoney having to face the final stretch of the season without Tobin Heath, Leah Galton (who was injured against Manchester City), as well as Lauren James and Alessia Russo.

Man City, who have gone unbeaten in their last ten league games, are now five points behind Chelsea in second, though they do have a game in hand. They had a slow start to the season, and although Sam Mewis shone, defensive issues were a problem.

However, with Abby Dahlkemper transferring to the club in January, and with both Lucy Bronze and Alex Greenwood playing up to their potential, City are back in contention for the title. Next week, they visit Birmingham City, while United will hope to get back in form against Aston Villa.

CHELSEA 5, BRISTOL CITY 0

After their win against Arsenal, Chelsea played Bristol City only a few days later, and while this was seen as a good chance to rest players, Hayes named an exceptionally strong starting XI for Chelsea’s match against Bristol, clearly not wanting a repeat of the match against Brighton.

Kirby, Harder, Kerr and Beth England all ended up on the score sheet, scoring five goals with ease past bottom-of-the-table Bristol.

Hayes is clearly thinking ahead to the end of the season, should the title come down to goal difference. With that in mind, it’s unlikely that we’ll see Chelsea let up or rotate their strongest XI much for the rest of the season. They take on West Ham next week, while Bristol City face Reading.

READING 1-1 EVERTON

Both Reading and Everton started the season strong, Everton especially, but dipped by midseason.

Reading scored in the first-half, with a fantastic volley from Rachel Rowe, and it looked like they had all three points wrapped up. Everton waited to find their rhythm, but they did manage to score in the 77th minute, with a header from Nicoline Sorensen.

Both sides had second half chances for a winner, but it wasn’t meant to be, with the sides remaining in fifth and sixth respectively, both on 19 points, and Everton only ahead on goal difference. Reading will hope for an easy match against their next opponents Bristol City, while Everton will be in London next week for their match against Tottenham.

Alyssa Naeher’s goalkeeper jersey sells out in less than three hours

uwnt goalie alyssa naeher wears jersey on the field with club team chicago red stars
USWNT star keeper Alyssa Naeher's new replica NWSL jersey was an instant success. (Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in the NWSL's 12-year history, fans can now buy their own goalkeeper jerseys. And while replica goalkeeper jerseys representing all 14 NWSL teams hit the market on Wednesday, some didn't stick around for long. 

Fans across women's soccer have long vocalized their discontent over the position's lack of availability on social media, often comparing the shortcoming to the widespread availability of men’s goalkeeper jerseys. And as the NWSL has grown, so has demand — and not just from those in the stands. 

"To have goalkeeper kits available for fans in the women’s game as they have been for so long in the men’s game is not only a long-awaited move in the right direction, it’s just good business," said Washington Spirit goalie Aubrey Kingsbury in an team press release. "I can’t wait to see fans representing me, Barnie [Barnhart], and Lyza in the stands at Audi!"

Business does, in fact, appear to be booming. Alyssa Naeher’s Chicago Red Stars kit sold out less than three hours after the league's announcement. Jerseys for other keepers like DiDi Haračić, Abby Smith, Michelle Betos, Katelyn Rowland, and Bella Bixby aren’t currently available via the Official NWSL Shop, though blank goalkeeper jerseys can be customized through some individual team sites. Jerseys start at $110 each.

"This should be the benchmark," said Spirit Chief Operations Officer Theresa McDonnell. "The expectation is that all players’ jerseys are available to fans. Keepers are inspiring leaders and mentors with their own unique fan base who want to represent them... I can’t wait to see them all over the city."

Simone Biles talks Tokyo Olympics fallout in new interview

gymnast simone biles on a balance beam
Biles' candid interview shed light on the gymnast's internal struggle. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Decorated gymnast Simone Biles took to the popular Call Her Daddy podcast this week to open up about her experience at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, revealing she thought she was going to be "banned from America" for her performance.

After Biles botched her vault routine due to a bout of the "twisties," she withdrew from the team final as well as the all-around final in order to focus on her mental health. She later reentered the competition to win bronze in the individual balance beam final.

In her interview with podcast host Alex Cooper, Biles admitted to feeling like she let the entire country down by failing her vault attempt.

"As soon as I landed I was like 'Oh, America hates me. The world is going to hate me. I can only see what they’re saying on Twitter right now,'" she recalled thinking. "I was like, ‘Holy s---, what are they gonna say about me?'"

"I thought I was going to be banned from America," she continued. "That’s what they tell you: Don’t come back if not gold. Gold or bust. Don’t come back."

Widely regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time, Biles has hinted at a desire to join her third Olympic team in Paris, though her participation won't be confirmed until after the gymnastics trials in late June. She holds over 30 medals from the Olympic Games and World Artistic Gymnastics Championships combined, and if qualified, would be a sure favorite heading into this summer’s games.

Caitlin Clark reportedly nearing $20 million+ Nike deal

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever poses for a portrait at Gainbridge Fieldhouse during her introductory press conference
WNBA-bound Caitlin Clark is said to be closing in on a monumental NIke deal. (Photo by Matt Kryger/NBAE via Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark is reportedly close to cementing a hefty endorsement deal with Nike.

The Athletic was the first to break the news Wednesday evening, commenting that the deal would be worth "eight figures" and include her own signature shoe. On Thursday afternoon, the publication tweeted that the deal would top $20 million, according to lead NBA Insider Shams Charania. Both Under Armour and Adidas are said to have also made sizable offers to the college phenom and expected future WNBA star.

The new agreement comes after Clark's previous Nike partnership ended with the conclusion of the college basketball season. She was one of five NCAA athletes to sign an NIL deal with the brand back in October, 2022. 

Considering Clark's overwhelming popularity and Nike's deep pockets, the signing's purported value doesn't exactly come as a shock. New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu’s deal with the brand is reportedly worth $24 million, while NBA rookie and No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama’s deal is rumored to weigh in at $100 million. And in 2003, LeBron James famously earned $90 million off his own Nike deal. 

Clark’s star power continues to skyrocket, with the NCAA championship averaging 18.9 million viewers and the 2024 WNBA Draft more than doubling its previous viewership record. Following the draft, Fanatics stated that Clark's Indiana Fever jersey — which sold out within an hour — was the top seller for any draft night pick in the company’s history, with droves of unlucky fans now being forced to wait until August to get their hands on some official No. 22 gear.

In Wednesday's Indiana Fever introductory press conference, the unfailingly cool, calm, and collected Clark said that turning pro hasn’t made a huge impact on how she’s conducting her deals.

"If I’m being completely honest, I feel like it doesn’t change a ton from how I lived my life over the course of the last year," she said. "Sponsorships stay the same. The people around me, agents and whatnot, have been able to help me and guide me through the course of the last year. I don’t know if I would be in this moment if it wasn’t for a lot of them."

Star slugger Jocelyn Alo joins Athletes Unlimited AUX league

softball star jocelyn alo rounds the bases at an oklahoma sooners game
Former Oklahoma star Jocelyn Alo has signed with Athletes Unlimited. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Former Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo has signed on with Athletes Unlimited and will compete in the AU Pro Softball AUX this June.

The NCAA record holder in career home runs (122), total bases (761), and slugging percentage (.987), Alo was originally drafted by the league in 2022 but opted instead to join the newly debuted Women’s Professional Fastpitch

Alo currently plays for independent pro softball team Oklahoma City Spark, with team owner Tina Floyd reportedly on board with her recent AUX signing. AUX games are scheduled for June 10-25, while the Spark's season will kick off June 19th. Alo will play for both. 

Among those joining Alo on the AUX roster are former James Madison ace pitcher Odicci Alexander and former Wichita State standout middle infielder Sydney McKinney.

According to Alo, the decision to play in the Athletes Unlimited league was fueled by her desire to propel women's sports forward as well as provide more exposure to a sport that's given her "so many opportunities."

"Not only to challenge myself more, but just for the growth of the game," Alo said, explaining her reasoning to The Oklahoman. "I genuinely believe that professional softball can be a career for girls."

Joining AUX is also one more step in her plan toward representing Team USA at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

"I’m constantly thinking about how can I do these little things right in these four years to prepare me for the biggest stage of softball," she told The Oklahoman. "I definitely want to play in the Olympics, for sure."

Alo further expressed enthusiasm in the hope that the rise of other women’s sports, like women’s basketball and the NWSL, will push softball’s professional viability even higher.

"We’re seeing the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) get their stuff going, I see the WNBA starting to get hot," she continued. "I feel like the softball community is like, 'All right, it’s our turn and it’s our turn to just demand more.'"

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