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What new Current signings mean for Sam Mewis, stacked midfield

Morgan Gautrat signed with the Kansas City Current this week after six seasons with the Red Stars. (Joe Robbins/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

This week, the Kansas City Current extended their growing reputation as one of the most aggressive NWSL clubs in the transfer market, announcing the signing of two veteran midfielders out of Chicago in Morgan Gautrat and Vanessa DiBernardo.

Gautrat, a two-time World Champion with the USWNT, and DiBernardo have been playing together longer than just their five years with the Red Stars: They were also teammates on the U-20 USWNT that won the World Cup in 2012, alongside new Kansas City teammate Sam Mewis. DiBernardo wore the No. 10 for the Red Stars for eight years and acted as their primary midfield playmaker, while Gautrat played as both a defensive and a connecting midfielder.

Gautrat and DiBernardo join a Current midfield that was a strength for the club last season despite being without Mewis for the year due to a lingering knee injury. The Current finished out the season playing with five in the midfield — three central midfielders and two wingbacks — and quick ball movement that carried the team all the way to the NWSL final.

Chicago also played with five in the midfield in 2022, and Gautrat and DiBernardo each feel they have the experience and flexibility to fit into head coach Matt Potter’s ethos.

“I think one thing that I enjoyed when I was talking with Matt was that they play with freedom and movement,” DiBernardo said during an introductory press conference Thursday. “I would say my strengths are kind of being able to connect the lines and connect the defense to the offense and create.”

Gautrat, known as a methodical tempo-setter, has the ability to manage a Kansas City midfield that sometimes got into footraces with opponents in 2022 as games opened up.

“I would hope that we would bring a calming presence to the field and be able to dictate the play a little bit more with the ball,” she said. “Because we do have players that are extremely lethal in transition.”

Despite the obvious value the two players bring to Kansas City, larger questions hang over the signings. Most notably: With so many midfielders, where will DiBernardo and Gautrat fit in?

For a team already playing with five in the middle, the addition of two clear starters could mean further roster restructuring before the beginning of the 2023 preseason. The club moved Victoria Pickett to Gotham late this year, and Claire Lavogez tore her ACL in October, but the roster is still stacked in the middle of the pitch.

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U.S. star Sam Mewis has yet to play for Kansas City since joining the club in a trade last offseason. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

The biggest mystery going into next year is Mewis, who made a huge splash when the Current acquired her from the North Carolina Courage last offseason. She ended up playing very little for Kansas City in 2022 as she deals with an increasingly slow recovery from a right knee injury. Mewis suffered cartilage damage in the knee in 2017, which she recovered from non-surgically. She then had arthroscopic surgery on the joint in August 2021 and has been rehabbing ever since. Neither Mewis nor the Kansas City or USWNT coaching staffs have given any indication as to the 30-year-old’s prospects in 2023, but the Current are clearly putting together an alternate plan.

“​​Obviously, they had some key injuries to two big players,” Gautrat said on Thursday. “So I think the team that they had did an extremely good job of finding an identity and rallying around that and working really well together.” The midfield that started the 2022 NWSL championship game included Alex Loera and Desiree Scott holding defensive seams, and Lo’eau Labonta as an attacking generator.

As it stands, Scott is the other question mark at the position. The 35-year-old veteran became a free agent herself after another excellent season for both Kansas City and Canada. Scott has been a part of the club — including the original FC Kansas City and Utah Royals clubs before relocation — since the NWSL’s inception, and she might have an interesting perspective on whether a move makes sense.

While Current general manager Camille Levin said this month that negotiations with Scott are ongoing and that she hopes “it’ll end in a good place for both of us,” Kansas City now has players who can cover similar ground.

“In the free-agency process, you look at teams that you personally feel like you can help, or you could add a layer dimension to the team that they would need,” Gautrat said.

The potential for different looks in the Current’s midfield seems obvious. After an excellent rookie season, Loera looks ready to take on greater responsibilities as a No. 6, and Gautrat and DiBernardo both have experience playing in a double pivot.

“I do like getting forward, but I also do really like and enjoy playing in a double-pivot midfield where it’s very seamless,” Gautrat said.

“There’s no necessarily strict 6, 8, or 10 sometimes, and I like that and I enjoy that.” DiBernardo agreed.

There probably isn’t going to be room for every talented player on Kansas City’s roster to make every starting XI, especially with Lynn Williams’ anticipated return to the attack. But therein also lies the point of putting an ambitious roster together: Intra-team competition is a necessary part of the process of building a championship team.

“I would love to win an NWSL Championship, I think that’s first and foremost,” Gautrat said.

Kansas City has been to the final once, and Gautrat and DiBernardo have played in two. It makes perfect sense why they believe they are what each other needs to end 2023 with a trophy.

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

USWNT Kicks Off 2024 Olympic Tournament Against Zambia

uswnt vs. zambia olympics graphic
The USWNT kicks off their group stage run against Zambia today at 3 PM ET. (Just Women's Sports)

The USWNT begins their 2024 Olympic campaign today, taking on Zambia in their first group stage match.

The team will be looking for a positive first result, before taking on Germany and then Australia in a fast and furious schedule kicking off in Nice before traveling west down the coast to Marseille.

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 13: USWNT coach Emma Hayes stands on the field before a game between Mexico and USWNT
The USWNT is entering a new era under head coach Emma Hayes. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

The road to Olympic gold starts now

While eight of the 12 teams competing in the group stage will move on to the August 3rd quarterfinals — including two countries advancing on a third-place tiebreak — first week successes can dictate a path to the medal rounds.

"There's top footballing nations in this tournament. I don't think shocks in the women's game exist anymore — I think we have to reframe our focus a little bit and have respect for the rest of the world," US head coach Emma Hayes told the media this week.

"We've learned a lot and we've grown a lot," added USWNT forward Sophia Smith. "We're just looking at this tournament and not backwards because there's really no point in doing that."

Barbra Banda of Zambia's Olympic soccer team celebrates after scoring at the 2023 World Cup
Zambia star Barbra Banda has extensive experience facing USWNT players. (Hannah Peters - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Sizing up the USWNT's Olympic challengers

Hayes’s words could prove true from the jump. While FIFA world No. 92 Zambia weighs in as Group B's lowest-ranked team, they're definitely capable of setting the USWNT on their heels. This will be the first-ever meeting between the two nations, though Zambia has both Tokyo Olympics and 2023 World Cup experience under their belt.

Case and point? Starting striker Barbra Banda currently leads the NWSL's Golden Boot race, firmly placing herself in the MVP conversation while routinely going head-to-head with USWNT players.

"I know what a threat she can be," US defender Emily Fox said this week. "Their entire team is a threat, especially with their transition. But we're ready for it."

Hayes has emphasized cohesion from her starting group, indicating fans could see this afternoon's starting XI mirror the lineups utilized in the last two tune-up friendlies. The US defeated Mexico 1-0 before drawing Costa Rica 0-0 in their final two games before traveling to training camp in France.

Where to watch USWNT vs. Zambia

Today’s Olympic group stage match between the USWNT and Zambia kicks off at 3 PM ET with live coverage on NBC platforms.

Team Canada’s Olympic Drone Controversy Explained

Team Canada with their flag at the 2024 Concacaf Women's Gold Cup
Team Canada faces repercussions after flying a drone over New Zealand's practice session. (Logan Riely/Getty Images)

The 2024 Paris Games haven't even officially begun, yet the Olympic soccer tournament has already been rocked by a controversy spurred by defending gold medalists Canada.

New Zealand lodged a formal complaint to the IOC on Tuesday, alleging that a Team Canada support staff member spied on their training session in Saint-Étienne using drone surveillance. 

In response, the Canadian Olympic Committee immediately confirmed the incident and apologized, promising to conduct an "independent external review."

Local police saw the drone and arrested "Non-accredited analyst" Joseph Lombardi on Monday, charging him with "flying an unmanned aircraft over a prohibited area." He has since pleaded guilty and accepted a suspended eight-month prison sentence in addition to a €45,000 fine.

Team Canada has since dismissed Lombardi, sending him along with his direct supervisor Jasmine Mandor home from the Games and officially removing the pair from the team.

CanWNT head coach Bev Priestman looks up during a match.
Head coach Bev Priestman has removed herself from Canada's Olympic opener against New Zealand. (Logan Riely/Getty Images)

Canada boss Priestman to miss opening match

Canada head coach Bev Priestman accepted the decision to sit out her squad's Olympic group stage opener against New Zealand on Thursday.

"On behalf of our entire team, I first and foremost want to apologize to the players and staff at New Zealand Football and to the players on Team Canada," Priestman said in a statement.

"I am ultimately responsible for conduct in our program. Accordingly, to emphasize our team’s commitment to integrity, I have decided to voluntarily withdraw from coaching the match on Thursday," Priestman added. "In the spirit of accountability, I do this with the interests of both teams in mind and to ensure everyone feels that the sportsmanship of this game is upheld."

New Zealand has also reportedly asked FIFA that to bar Canada from earning any points in the opening match, regardless of the outcome.

USA Basketball Bounces Back in Final Olympic Tune-Up

Team USA celebrates their exhibition win over Germany on Tuesday
Team USA will meet Germany again in the Olympic group stage.(Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

Team USA definitively bounced back from their WNBA All-Star Game defeat on Tuesday, routing Germany 84-57 at the USA Basketball Showcase in London.

A'ja Wilson put up 19 points and 14 rebounds in the win, leading the team ahead of Breanna Stewart's 15 points. Wilson is now averaging 16.5 points per game for the US, tying Team WNBA All-Star coach Cheryl Miller for the highest in team history.

Napheesa Collier of Team USA at the USA vs. Germany basketball showcase in London
Napheesa Collier returned to the court for Team USA on Tuesday. (Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Team USA raises their game

Team USA is still building chemistry after spending a little more than one week as a unit, shoring up vulnerabilities highlighted in their weekend loss to Team WNBA.

The team looked more cohesive in London, with Napheesa Collier returning to the starting lineup after missing a number of weeks with a plantar fascia injury. They also saw quality performances off the bench, with Jewell Loyd scoring in double digits and both Alyssa Thomas and Jackie Young keeping head coach Cheryl Reeve's rotations steady.

Returning to Europe for the first time since her 2022 wrongful detainment in Russia, Brittney Griner did not feature for the US due to load management.

For Germany, Dallas Wings star Satou Sabally took the court for the first time since the team's February Olympic qualifier, playing 26 minutes as Germany prepares for their Olympic debut in Paris.

"It was a breath of fresh air to get out of All-Star and come here," Sabrina Ionescu told reporters after the London Showcase. "There's one goal and it's to win." 

Breanna Stewart lays up the ball in Team USA's win over Germany on Tuesday
Breanna Stewart and Team USA begin their Olympic campaign against Japan on July 29th. (Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

All eyes are on gold

USA Basketball seems to be improving by the day, but the short runway to Paris could present a challenge for Reeve and her staff as the team looks to grow throughout the tournament — and hopefully hit their stride in time for the medal rounds.

"It's a tune-up game," Stewart said on Tuesday. "We don't want to peak too soon."

What's next for Team USA?

The US will start their Olympic group stage campaign with a game against Japan on July 29th, before playing a blockbuster August 1st matchup against a strong Belgium side. They'll later face Germany once again in their August 4th Olympic group stage finale.

1v1 With Kelley O’Hara: What Has Emily Sonnett Learned From Past USWNTs?

Emily Sonnett chats with her former USWNT teammate Kelley O'Hara
Emily Sonnett joins host Kelley O'Hara for a conversation about the upcoming Paris Olympics in the latest episode of '1v1.' (Just Women's Sports)

In the latest episode of Just Women's Sports' 1v1 With Kelley O'Hara, Gotham FC and USWNT defender Emily Sonnett joins Olympic gold medalist and retired USWNT star Kelley O'Hara for a one-on-one conversation about the upcoming Paris Olympics.

We hear from Sonnett about her first impressions of new USWNT coach Emma Hayes, her international competition journey so far, and what advice from past USWNT players she's planning to take into the 2024 Summer Games.

Subscribe to Just Women's Sports on YouTube to never miss an episode.

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