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NWSL top prospect Jaelin Howell has the full package

Jaelin Howell won her second national championship with Florida State earlier this month. (Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

Jaelin Howell looked out across a large, excited crowd at Florida State and prepared to address them. Years earlier, she might not have been as composed; but after winning her second national championship with Florida State in a shootout over BYU, the senior stood up on behalf of her teammates and thanked the fans who welcomed them home from the College Cup.

“Jaelin stood up there and had a little bit of a speech,” FSU head coach Mark Krikorian says. “She delivered it graciously, elegantly and she looked like a leader. She looked like a pro … It had nothing to do with being on the field. It had everything to do with the way she presented herself.”

It took a few seasons for Howell to grow into the person who could both dominate college soccer and command the respect of her coaches and teammates. The traits the team admires in Howell – her leadership, competitiveness and growth mentality – are the same ones that have impressed coaches at the next level, where Howell is expected to land as the No. 1 pick in Saturday’s NWSL College Draft.

Howell’s Florida State coaches saw her potential as a leader before she did, naming her captain as a sophomore. Krikorian says they chose her because she is an emotional leader, the type who can set the tone and standard for others. It was clear she had the capacity to develop other leadership qualities, as well.

The role was a lot of responsibility for Howell to take on, as she was leading players who were older than she was at 19. But she had good teachers in the seniors who guided the Seminoles to a national title in 2018 during Howell’s freshman year.

“As a freshman, I didn’t realize how big of a deal honestly it was, winning a national championship, and how hard it is,” she says.

The daughter of Super Bowl champion John Howell, Jaelin brought a winning mentality to Florida State. In the years between FSU’s two national championships, she learned how to channel her competitiveness to get her teammates to buy in, too.

Howell and Krikorian would often sit in his office and pore over the monthly Coaching and Leadership Journal, full of tips and stories from successful people all around the world, in industries from sports to business. Howell got to choose which sections to focus on in their sessions, and she and Krikorian would unpack the details.

A big lesson Howell took away from those meetings is that captaincy is not entirely up to her.

“I depend on a lot of girls on the team to help me lead,” she says. “I think it’s partly asking the other older players their opinions and really having everybody involved so it’s not just you making decisions – it’s a full-team effort.”

(Erin Chang/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

As early as Howell’s first game at Florida State, where she imposed herself physically in a 5-0 win over Troy, Krikorian knew he was working with potentially one of the best holding midfielders in the world. Her athleticism, strength and power made her the type of player Krikorian could build a program around.

Currently in the running for her second MAC Hermann Trophy, the 5-foot-8 midfielder is a physical player by nature who goes for every tackle and tries to win every header. This year, she led a defense that recorded 23 shutouts and conceded only 13 goals.

Throughout her college career, the FSU coaching staff has worked with Howell on the tactical and technical sides of her game, specifically spacing, getting touches in the midfield and changing the point of attack.

“That’s part of the reason why I came here, just to be that double-sided six,” says the Lone Tree, Colo. native. “Somebody who can go in and tackle, but also be the playmaker.”

Howell says Krikorian is a good match for her development because they’re both “no B.S. type of people” who keep conversations about the game straightforward and to the point.

“I want to hear the things that I can improve on more than the good things,” Howell says. “He’s able to do that with me. I want to be able to listen to that. I think that’s been something that’s really helped my growth as a player while being here, is just his ability to be honest, and it’s all out of love.”

Krikorian describes her as a “sponge” – coachable and open-minded. Whatever Krikorian tells her the team needs, she delivers. Howell demonstrated that during her last three games in a Seminoles uniform.

Near the end of Florida State’s NCAA quarterfinal game on Nov. 26, the sold-out crowd of 2,100 in Tallahassee, Fla. groaned as they watched Michigan goalkeeper Hillary Beall save Howell’s penalty kick in the 74th minute to preserve a 0-0 tie. Howell, frustrated, put a hand to her forehead and glanced at the goal before turning to run back into position. Fifteen minutes later, the two-time ACC Midfielder of the Year made the cross to Gabby Carle that broke the tie in overtime and sent the Seminoles to the College Cup.

“I think that shows a lot about her psychological dimension and being able to be a big-game player and play in that moment,” Krikorian says. “She has a wonderful mentality, which is second to none.”

In the semifinal against Rutgers, Howell executed her role as Florida State’s corner-kick target, scoring the game-winner that sent the Seminoles to the College Cup final for the third time in her career.

During the championship game on Dec. 6, the 22-year-old converted a penalty kick to give the Seminoles a 3-2 advantage in their 4-3 shootout win. Before that, she controlled play in the center of the park, making crunching tackles and earning a yellow card that could have easily turned into two. TV cameras caught her at the sideline mouthing to her teammate, “I can’t foul anymore.”

That wasn’t the first time Twitter found amusement in Howell’s lip reading. While she was receiving her medal at the SheBelieves Cup after her second cap with the U.S. women’s national team in February, the broadcast zeroed in on her face during the ceremony. Confused, she asked her teammates beside her, “Why am I on the big screen?”

When recalling that moment, Howell laughed.

“I knew I belonged there and I’ve worked very hard to get there, and specifically for those camps, but it was still a surreal moment standing on stage with some of those players at a tournament like that,” she says. “And so when I saw myself on the big screen, when you have Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Becky Sauerbrunn, all these great players surrounding me, I was like, ‘I don’t know why they’re showing me right now.’ I was just kind of awestruck in that moment, honestly.”

That tournament came three months after Howell’s first USWNT cap in November, when she subbed on in the 89th minute for Sam Mewis against the Netherlands. A year later, she was nominated for U.S. Soccer’s 2021 Young Player of the Year award.

“Jaelin is a talented young player with a lot of good qualities,” USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski tells Just Women’s Sports. “She’s always very competitive and great in the team environment. We’ve enjoyed working with her during the few times we’ve had her in with the national team.”

Howell hasn’t made an appearance with the national team since then, but Andonovski hopes to see more of her in 2022.

“They’ve given her the opportunity to have her senior year and play the games and recognize that it was important for us to be able to have her as we have, but now it’s time for her to start that professional career at the international senior level and continue to develop on that,” Krikorian says. “For me, I’ll always be a fan watching and supporting her from whatever distance it may be. But she knows that.”

Howell has a bright future with the U.S. women's senior national team. (Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Over time, Howell has gotten more comfortable playing with her idols on the national team. She was especially grateful when the older players took her under their wings.

“Then you’re able to kind of get in a groove and you’re not as starstruck, like, ‘No, I do belong here. I want to stay here. I want to be a starter,’” she says.

As she prepares to enter the next stage of her soccer career, those who’ve watched her grow into a top prospect know she’s capable of so much more than that.

In Krikorian’s words: “She’ll certainly go down as one of the greats.”

Jessa Braun is an editorial intern for Just Women’s Sports. She is also the Head of North American Content for the Women’s Sports Alliance. You can find her on Twitter @jessabraun.

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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