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Gina Lewandowski Previews Sky Blue FC’s Semifinal Clash With Chicago

HERRIMAN, UT – JUNE 30: Gina Lewandowski #12 of Sky Blue FC defends the ball against Darian Jenkins #11 of OL Reign FC during a game between Sky Blue FC and OL Reign at Zions Bank Stadium on June 30, 2020 in Herriman, Utah. (Photo by Bryan Byerly/ISI Photos/Getty Images).

Gina Lewandowski plays for Sky Blue FC. She spoke with Just Women’s Sports ahead of Sky Blue’s semifinal clash with Chicago tonight about what the club needs to do to continue its run through to the NWSL Challenge Cup finals. 

You guys upset Washington in the quarterfinals in penalties. What was your mindset heading into the shootout?

PKs can always be a nerve-wracking experience for any team, and they’re not necessarily the way you want to end the game. But I think we’ve been able to fortunately practice them throughout the weeks leading up to the tournament, as well as every day during the tournament. We’ve been getting some reps in to get that consistency in each person’s shot. We have a great goalkeeper too who has done very well in that aspect, so I think we were confident at that point in the game.

Prior to PKs, it seemed like it was a pretty high energy game. There were a lot of shots, a couple of misses. What were your thoughts about the level of play?

We were able to control parts of the game, play our tempo, play our style. I think Washington, they also had their moments in the game where they were dangerous in front of the goal. But each team was having difficulty finding the back of the net, and I guess the longer the game went on, the thought crosses your mind in the back of the mind that, “Okay, well, if the teams aren’t going to score, we’ll go into penalty kicks.” But we kept pushing until the end. Even in stoppage time, we were pushing and trying to get a couple of corner kicks, a couple shots.

Is fatigue a factor? 

For sure. With any tournament situation, and especially this type of tournament, with the schedule, plus the heat and the altitude, there will be a lot of fatigue. But you have to go with the cards you’ve been given. We’ve just tried our best to adjust as quickly as possible. And luckily, our organization, our staff, our coaches, and our trainers have all done a great job helping us adjust as quickly as possible. I think playing so many games back-to-back, no matter if you play one, two, three, four games, there’s fatigue there. It’s just a matter of how can you rest, recover and put in your best performance during the next game.

It’s hard for people to judge on TV, but how hot has it been in Utah? 

I feel like it’s getting hotter by the day. The 10:30am game is definitely a much different feeling than it is in the evening. The heat is scorching pretty much in the morning right at ten on the turf, and the heat has gotten a little worse over the last few days. So yeah, I guess we’re glad to be playing in the evening semifinal, just from a temperature standpoint. But both teams are in the same boat, so it’s all about how you’re performing that day. How do you take on the challenge that’s presented to you?

What is the team’s focus heading into the semis?

We have been resting, recovering, fueling our bodies to prepare for the game. I think doing everything we can off the field to put our bodies, our minds, in 100% shape. As we get closer to the start, we’ll talk more about what we’re doing on the field as a team. But a lot of it is just getting our bodies to recover as quickly as possible, and then fuel them up heading into the game.

Does the team have a game plan for Chicago and their playing style?

We do have our team meetings and we do look at the other team’s strengths, and we always try to prepare for that. I think each team respects the other team and the opponent that they’re going to face. But I think ideally it comes down to us and who we are and staying true to our own style of play, and just playing our game and having confidence in that.

What do you think it would mean for your team to make it into the finals, and then one step past that, win the whole Challenge Cup?

Right now we’re taking one game at a time, and we’re trying to appreciate every day we get to stay here and step on the field, and just showcase who Sky Blue is. I think Sky Blue hasn’t had the best reputation in the past, but we’re a new team and new players and a new organization, in a sense, and we really want to do the best we can to showcase who we are. It would mean a lot for us to get to the next level and make it further than we have in a long time.

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

Other former players contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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