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The potential risk and reward of Angel City’s Julie Ertz signing

Julie Ertz returned to the USWNT in April for the first time since August 2021. (Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

The news became official Monday: Julie Ertz has joined Angel City FC on a one-year contract, solidifying the star midfielder’s long-awaited return to the NWSL.

In a way, Ertz’s signing is a resolution years in the making, after Angel City acquired her playing in a trade with the Chicago Red Stars for expansion draft immunity prior to the 2022 season. Ertz entered 2023 a free agent and credited Angel City’s constant communication as a factor in her decision to sign with the club.

“From the moment they traded for my rights up until now, they have been unwavering in their support of my journey,” Ertz said in a team release.

Ertz has been based in Arizona during her time away from professional soccer. Now that she has also returned to the U.S. women’s national team, playing in both friendlies last week against the Republic of Ireland, an NWSL opportunity close to home could be just what the 30-year-old needs to be ready for her third World Cup this summer.

Her presence could also be just what Angel City needs to qualify for its first NWSL postseason.

Is Ertz the final piece?

As Ertz narrowed down her possible club destinations in preparation for the 2023 World Cup, the concept of fit had more to do with business off the field than skill on the field. Ertz is a proven leader who captained the Red Stars for a number of years, while winning World Cups in both the defense and the midfield for the USWNT. She’ll almost certainly be the new anchor of the Angel City midfield.

The match came down to which NWSL clubs could afford to pay the superstar, and which coaches would be willing to displace their regular defensive midfield starters in favor of a generational player. Ertz will be available for up to 12 games before she ostensibly leaves for the World Cup in New Zealand. While she is still working out her timing at the professional level, she remains an intimidating physical presence and her top sprint speed appears unhindered as she builds minutes.

Angel City taking the chance on a short-term home run in the midfield makes some sense. They struggled with possession build-ups in 2022, forcing them to put in more effort off the ball than they could sustain over the course of a season. As injuries piled up, ACFC’s inability to close out games haunted them, as they fell just short of the playoff line in their inaugural season. They haven’t had much better injury luck so far in 2023, losing forward Simone Charley to a season-ending Achilles tear and waiting on Christen Press and Sydney Leroux to return from long-term injuries.

Ertz herself is not going to score an overwhelming amount of goals for Angel City, but she’ll impact almost every play in the build-up to the attack. The midfielder is one of the best at covering space defensively in front of the backline, and she’s not afraid to try probing passes through the opposing defense to find runners in behind. Angel City also has room for her, though she’ll likely displace regular starter Dani Weatherholt from her spot at the No. 6 position, at least temporarily.

Short-term bet vs. long-term build

Ertz may very well bolster Angel City and set them up to make a run at the NWSL playoffs, even after she departs for the World Cup. But the decision to sign a veteran player openly making a push for a national team roster spot to a one-year deal places the L.A. club in an interesting place in the NWSL landscape.

Angel City has developed a delicate balance between veteran stars and rising talent over the last two years, with both positive and questionable returns. Press and Leroux have been key locker room leaders despite not seeing much time on the field, but a lack of availability has limited the team’s playing style in a way that hasn’t always been conducive to the grind of an NWSL regular season.

Ertz checks off similar boxes. She’s a fierce competitor, an excellent on-field communicator with years of experience and one of the best in the world when she’s fit. But she’s only committing to one year with the club and appealing for playing time to earn a spot with the USWNT. When she does play for Angel City, it will be because she’s likely still the best option at her particular position. But the lack of continuity will force head coach Freya Coombe to ask some tough questions of her lineup as she steers the club beyond 2023.

Angel City has shown a commitment to the future in other areas, most notably by drafting rising USWNT star forward Alyssa Thompson with the 2023 No. 1 pick. Thompson will only continue to improve going up against Ertz regularly in training, to the U.S.’s benefit. But if Ertz’s time in Los Angeles ends up being cut short for any reason, the team might have missed out on the opportunity to build a position of need organically.

Ultimately, Angel City is betting on a superstar at one of the most important positions to radically alter the team’s chances in the short term, and there’s almost no better fit in that role than Ertz. What happens after this season may have been pushed toward the future, but for an expansion club pushing for its first-ever playoff appearance, this might be the move that puts the team over the top.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

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