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Kalaukoa Kaha’I Kukailimoku

PISCATAWAY TOWNSHIP, New Jersey – Saturday, August 18, 2018: Sky Blue takes on Utah Royals FC at home at Yurcak Field during the 2018 NWSL regular season.

As soon as I heard my dad’s voice, I knew something terrible had happened.

I had just gotten back from a hike in the Utah mountains — something we often do on our off days — and was hanging in a teammate’s backyard when I received the call.

“Are you home?”

“No, what’s up?”

“I need you to head home, sit down, and call me back.”

A million thoughts went through my head. I raced home, went straight to my room, sat on the floor with my back to the wall, and called him back.

My brother, Koa, had died.

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Dad raised us on his own. We lived in Rancho Cucamonga, about 45 minutes inland from Los Angeles. In addition to being a single father, Dad was a cop. I remember not being able to find him at home one time, so I called 911, thinking it was his work number. He must have just been out in the yard, because when the police arrived, he opened the door to greet them.

Dad and Koa thought they were the big, strong protectors, but I always saw myself as the real protector and felt it was my duty to look out for them. With Dad heading off to work early and coming back late, it was often my responsibility as the oldest to take care of Koa. In the mornings, I’d wake him up, make breakfast, and get us out the door. In the evenings, I’d make sure we both did our homework.

He was my best friend.

As hard as I tried to be the responsible older sister, I couldn’t help but goof around with him. He used to run around the house, yelling and singing at the top of his lungs. For someone with such a horrible voice, he couldn’t have been a more confident singer. I’d try to be angry with him and get him to stop, but in the end, I’d crack and start laughing. That was all he ever wanted — to make me laugh.

From the earliest age, Dad signed us up for everything — soccer, baseball, basketball, hockey, karate, the lot. The only sport I wasn’t allowed to play was football, which was Koa’s favorite, but I always gravitated toward soccer anyways. As kids, we often played on the same team, but at home, we’d play against each other. There were no rules — we’d push and punch each other, doing anything we could to get a win. We were pretty wild, but it was all in good fun.

Those battles shaped who I am as an athlete. At 5’2”, I’ve been the smallest player on every team I’ve been on, but that has never held me back, since I grew up competing against an absolute beast at home. And as I’ve progressed through my career — playing on Youth National Teams, at Stanford, and now professionally — I’ve continued to carry that toughness with me.

Dad and Koa are a huge part of who I am. So when I came into the NWSL, I chose to wear #42 — the number both of them had worn when they played college football — in order to pay tribute to them and all of the support they had given me along the way. Seeing me run on to the field in my NWSL debut with that number on my back meant so much to them and our family.

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Those first 24 hours after that call were the hardest of my life. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I felt numb. Nothing in this world can prepare you for that.

Koa had gone to a frat party, and at some point in the night, drugs were introduced. A bad mix of alcohol and drugs had shut his body down, and he was found the following morning, sitting at his desk. No one saw it coming.

I had training the next morning and a game that weekend in Utah. Everyone told me to forget about playing and go be with my family, but I knew that soccer was the best thing for me, physically and mentally. In the weeks that followed, my training schedule forced me to eat and look after myself. It forced me to get out of bed in the morning, and it kept me going when I barely thought I could get through the day. Being on the field was the only way to keep my mind off of what had happened.

There are still good days and bad days, but being on a team is a special thing. My teammates are always there to pick me up, and their love and support has helped me grow strong again.

I have only good memories of my brother — I can still hear his goofy laugh, and even just that thought is enough to make me smile. Every single day, I try to do something that I love. I try to be happy for him, since I know that’s what he’d want. And when I laugh, I know that he is with me.

I play for Koa now. In Utah, I have his name printed on the inside of my jersey. And before every game, I write his name on my knuckles.

Kalaukoa Kaha’i Kukailimoku LaBonta — I will carry your memory with me forever.

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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