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Five takeaways from the USWNT’s European friendlies

@USWNT

The USWNT’s 39-game unbeaten streak remains intact after a pair of friendlies against Sweden and France. Two of the best teams in the world, each of them tested the USWNT as the squad continues to prepare for this summer’s Olympics. 

Last Saturday, Sweden provided the learning opportunity manager Vlatko Andonovski was hoping for, as Sweden scored first before the US came back to settle for a 1-1 draw. Sweden outplayed the US for much of the game, exposing weaknesses the team can now focus on strengthening after a relatively breezy start to 2021.  

Three days later, the USWNT notched a 2-0 victory over France, showcasing just how adept they are at rapidly course correcting. 

Though the coming weeks will shed more light on the Tokyo roster, these past two games provided some clear learnings to chew over. 

Here are our five key takeaways:

1. No matter what happens, Carli Lloyd is a legend 

Carli Lloyd etched her name into the history books on Sunday, becoming only the third soccer player (women’s or men’s) to ever hit 300 international caps. She joins the ranks of former teammates Kristine Lilly and Christie Pearce Rampone, who retired with 354 and 311 caps respectively. 

Alex Morgan praised her teammate and former co-captain, telling reporters that Lloyd is still passing along the culture of the national team to the next generation of players. 

“It’s great to have her on this team and have her leading the way still.”

Whether or not she makes the Olympic roster, Lloyd is already a legend for the national team. (But you better believe she’ll do everything she can to make that team.) No matter which way you cut it, 300 caps is simply absurd. 

Lloyd, for her part, says her career so far with this team has been an honor, as “nothing is ever given, everything is earned.”

2. The backline looks locked 

Though there hasn’t been much doubt about which core defenders Vlatko will take to Tokyo, these past two games further solidified that Abby Dahlkemper, Crystal Dunn, Kelley O’Hara, and Becky Sauerbrunn remain locked in as the starters. 

Tierna Davidson may have likewise secured a spot after her 90-minute battle against Sweden’s tenacious offense in the center back position, adding to her impressive play as an outside back during the SheBelieves Cup. 

With five spots seemingly filled, all eyes will now be on the remaining contenders: Emily Sonnett, Midge Purce, Alana Cook, Ali Krieger, and Casey Krueger, who will all have to prove at the club level that they belong in Tokyo this summer. 

3. Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan are (almost) fully back 

It’s hard to imagine that the team plane could leave for an international tournament without Megan Rapinoe or Alex Morgan on board. But after Rapinoe opted out of play for most of 2020 and Morgan gave birth, incurred a knee injury, and battled COVID-19, fans and coaches alike had to get used to the idea that the two stars may have been slow in returning to fitness.

Well, after this trip, those worries can be largely laid to rest. 

Leaving Europe with two penalty kick goals, Rapinoe now leads the USWNT for goals scored in 2021. As for Morgan, Andonovski said she has her “killer instinct back” after drawing a penalty and scoring against France. 

“I’m very happy with the way she’s progressing and where she is at this point in the preparation,” Andonovski said of his star striker.

4. Vlatko is still searching for ways to maximize his midfield 

Andonovksi played a bit of musical chairs in the midfield in the match against France, subbing in Lindsey Horan for Rapinoe in the 63’, which moved Christen Press to the 11 spot and Rose Lavelle up high on the right.

The move gave us a glimpse into how Andonovksi plans to maximize his roster by having Horan, Lavelle, Sam Mewis, and Julie Ertz all on the field at once. 

“All four of them are incredible players, and as a coach, you want to have the best players on the field at the same time,” he told the press after the game, dispelling previous notions that those four were playing for just three spots. 

5. Questions remain for Catarina Macario and Kristie Mewis 

Andovski was hoping to have Catarina Macario at this camp, however, she was forced to stay home due to protocols surrounding Lyon’s recent COVID outbreak. The French club is scheduled to return to play on April 18, giving Andonovski a handful of opportunities to assess her performance before the next camp. 

Kristie Mewis saw the field for about ten-minutes against Sweden and was listed as an available sub for the France match. It’s reasonable to wonder why she wasn’t given an opportunity to play more during the trip given her impactful showing in multiple games since re-joining the national team. It’s possible that Vlatko has seen what he needs to see from her for the time being and will continue to analyze Mewis as she returns to her home market. 

Up next: 

The USWNT is scheduled to return to the pitch in June to host the Tournament of Nations. As for us, we’ll continue playing roster roulette while juggling multiple screens as we watch the upcoming NWSL, FAWSL, and Champions League matches.

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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