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Katie Stengel Discusses Her Intercontinental Soccer Journey

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Katie Stengel plays as a forward for the Houston Dash of the NWSL. She previously played for the Boston Breakers, Washington Spirit, and Utah Royals, as well as Bayern Munich in Germany and both the Western Sydney Wanderers and Newcastle Jets in Australia’s W-League. A true international journeywoman, we talked to Stengel about her multi-league career, how the NWSL has changed, and what she’s learned along her professional journey. 

This offseason, you were traded to the Houston Dash from the Utah Royals. How did this move come about? 

Well, I was expecting to go back to Utah this year. And then, all of a sudden, I got hurt and I texted my coach, asking if we could chat. She never called me back and I later found out she took another job. My assistant coach was supposed to reach out to me to catch me up on things. I never got that call either. Instead, I got a 30-second call from our General Manager who said, “Hey, I just want to let you know you’ve been traded. Thanks for everything. Okay, bye.”

You know this league – they don’t really care. I didn’t know who to call or what to do. Not to mention, I was still hurt. So, I called the coach here in Houston and we talked about when I could come play.

Obviously you’ve been in quarantine for a lot of your time in Houston, but how do you like the city so far? 

I love this city, it’s so fun. There’s so much to see and do. I’ve been to the rodeo at least 45 times. There’s bars and happy hours everywhere – it’s cheaper. People are Southern and have Southern manners. Everyone is friendly, but then also crazy. There’s parks and restaurants and coffee shops. It’s a good spot. I think I’m made for this city.

Small sample size, but how does it compare to your other NWSL experiences? 

Houston’s been my favorite in terms of it’s a fun city. I get along with the players and I really like the coaching staff even though I’ve only been here for a little bit. Everyone always chirps on Houston, but it’s actually been amazing.

You’ve played in Germany and for three clubs in Australia. You’ve also played for the Washington Spirit, Boston Breakers, Utah Royals and now Houston Dash in the NWSL. How have your experiences compared across different teams and leagues? 

Playing in D.C. was my first NWSL experience and I didn’t know what to expect. I thought everything was great, and I had fun. When I went to Boston, I thought, “Wow, this is a totally different experience.” We were in a real city and I thought the Plex as a facility was great. And then going to Utah, they put so much money into the program that it was great. I really appreciated that experience. And then here in Houston, I don’t know yet. Each club is a little different, but I think the league is progressing on the whole. It’s hard to compare clubs at all because the league is just getting better and better each year. When I talk to my friends at the other clubs that I used to be at, they say everything has changed.

Do you think Houston’s reputation is impacted by the fact that there’s not a lot of National Team players in the club? 

Oh, yeah. And because of that, the press never shows up which doesn’t bode well for the reputation of the team. People always wonder, “Oh, there must be a reason National Team players don’t want to be here.” But that’s not really how it is. As a club, Houston has come a long way the past couple years, and it’s much better now. Whenever I talk to the president of the club, it’s clear that there’s significant investment being put into the team.

Talk to us about balling out in college.

I didn’t ball out in college. I just kicked the ball harder than other people.

You played for Wake Forest University. What was your recruiting process like? 

I went to high school in a small town in Florida and my club team wasn’t that big. We went to a couple showcase tournaments just because we were close to Disney. I could barely afford to play for a big club, so my dad volunteered on the board at my local club and we got discounted rates. Wake took a risk on me when they saw me playing at Castle — one of the tournaments my club team got invited to. I was actually on a visit to Duke that weekend, which kind of makes me sick. When I visited Wake, we went to a men’s soccer game and I loved how the whole school was a big soccer school. It was small and had strong academics, and I wanted to be in the ACC. So that worked out great, and the rest is history.

You came from a small club, Wake Forest took a risk on you. What do you remember from your freshman year? Did you have any idea you’d have the kind of career you did? 

We did really well my freshman year, which shocked people. I mean I’d never even heard of Wake Forest until I started doing more research when they reached out to me. Then we ended up winning the ACC tournament. My roommate was MVP because she saved three PKs in the final. I won an award for freshman players and it just took off. I remember thinking, “Oh, shoot. Maybe I am going to do well.” I ended up doing much better than I thought I would and getting a lot of recognition, which I had never experienced before.

Was that a confidence boost for you?

It was a confidence boost. But it was also like, “Uh-oh. Now I have to perform.” I can’t just be that girl who had a good freshman year.

Did you feel a pressure to perform after that during your next three years at Wake Forest?

I think the real pressure to perform didn’t come until senior year because I was just having so much fun playing with everybody. I was so excited about this whole new experience. Also, I think I found myself more during my sophomore year. I was more outgoing instead of shy, and I made friends with girls on the team and in all of the other sports. The whole atmosphere was so exciting that I didn’t feel much pressure, per se. It was more just excitement.

Talk us through your junior and senior years at Wake Forest and your thought process leading up to the NWSL draft? 

During my junior year, I was with the U-20s and we had training camps all the time. I missed half of my season with Wake. Coming back from that was tough because you were constantly competing under the radar to earn playing time. We were good my junior year, but we fell apart in the NCAA Tournament.

Then, in my senior year, I had all these expectations. I did okay, but then I started getting hurt all the time. My calves were always super tight and it ended up being blood clots. I’m basically 80 years old. We had our senior night coming up and I couldn’t play because I had to be on these blood-thinners. So I missed part of my season then, too. I decided I wasn’t going to enter the — I wanted to play abroad instead to learn from different cultures and challenge myself.

You signed with Bayern Munich in Germany after college. What was that experience like? 

The team had girls from all over, which was a really fun experience. I roomed with a girl from Holland and a girl from Norway, who both spoke English — thank God. Otherwise, it was tough to break into the culture. I played well there. We actually won the league, which was huge. And I was the leading goal scorer, which was shocking.

Why did you decide to come back to the NWSL in 2015? 

My whole plan was to play abroad and develop as a player. I knew at some point I had to get back to the league if I ever had a chance of getting on the National Team. Once I told my coach that in Germany, I went from starting to not traveling at all with the team. That caused me to mentally question myself: “Is he not picking me because I’m not fast enough? Am I this or that? Can I compete at this level anymore?”

When I finally came back to the NWSL, I wanted to prove myself. But then I got carried away because I was putting too much pressure on every single day. I kept thinking that if I didn’t perform at training, I’m not going to play well that weekend, and if I’m not playing well that weekend, how am I going to play on the National Team? I got in my own head a lot and it was a big development year. Even though I wasn’t technically a rookie, it still felt like rookie season. And I see this happen all the time. Girls have the expectation that it’s going to be an easy, smooth transition and they’re going to do well. If they don’t, it’s like the world is over.

What do you think makes these transitions, either from college to the pros, or across different professional leagues, so tough? 

I don’t think it’s difficult so far as talent-wise. You just have to find your fit within a good team that needs you. Sometimes there are clubs that have 47 forwards — no matter how good you are, you’re not going to break into that. It’s just tough. When that happens, you constantly feel under pressure. Then you don’t perform as well because you’re just stressed all the time. You have to find your fit with the coaching style and style of play too.

It’s tough, especially as a rookie coming in. It’s nothing like college where you’re best friends with your teammates and everybody hangs out all the time. These are peoples’ jobs, money is on the line, you can get waived at any point. You’re constantly stressed because everyone secretly wants you to do worse than them. But at the same time, who doesn’t want to compete and win? It’s an odd situation.

Team culture in the professional leagues seems to be a lot different than college. Why is that? 

I think it’s because everyone is secretly going through the same exact thing, but is too scared to show vulnerability and talk about it. If you show vulnerability, it’s hard to come off as this great player. When you’re brand new to the league, you don’t want to show weakness. So then you are hypersensitive and aware of everything you do and say. You can’t relax and be yourself. It’s hard to fully engage with your teammates so you don’t fully create those friendships.

And if you don’t have somebody to talk to, or hang out with, or vent to, all you do is think about soccer. Then, you’re stressed all the time and you don’t actually relax and enjoy it. You don’t realize you even have a life outside of soccer. I think that’s why college is different. In college, you know you’re good and you don’t have to stress about that. You don’t feel like you’re under pressure all the time. There’s pressure to perform, but it’s different. You’re with your friends who want you to do well.

I have made friends in the league and there are people who want you to do well. But, it’s different and it’s hard to find a balance.

You’ve been in the league for almost 5 years. How do you manage that pressure and make it positive? What keeps bringing you back? 

Soccer is still fun for me. I can tell in the off season when I am still motivated to train and work hard, even by myself. I love the competitiveness. I love hopping on a team bus and going to games and hanging out in a hotel room. For me, as long as I can still have fun at training, even though it might be competitive and stressful, it’s worth it. It’s important to remember that when you go home you have to decompress and not talk about soccer 24/7. I think it’s important to have friends who aren’t in soccer too. For us, soccer is everything. But, one day, we’re going to step away from the game and realize: “Wow, there was so much more I could have been doing. And I could have enjoyed it so much more if I didn’t put so much pressure and stress on every single day.”

Is that what you are trying to do now? 

Yeah, that’s what I’m trying to do now. I want to have fun when I’m playing. So whatever happens, happens. I learned that a little bit when I was playing in D.C. I relaxed and thought: “This coach is either going to pick me or he’s not. Me stressing over it is not going to help me at all. It’s just going to get in my head.” You have to focus on just controlling the controllables.

How has moving from city to city impacted your mindset? 

I think moving around is the hardest part. In Utah, I finally laid roots. I had friends outside of soccer — I had people who I had met through friends or who I knew from Wake. And then, just as it finally worked out, I was leaving for Houston. It’s hard. You can’t fully embrace your new city — you can’t buy furniture and actually invest because you never know. I’ve learned to make it as much of a home as possible – again, control what you can — and just take things as they come. When I got traded to Houston, I was stressed but it ended up being one of the best moves ever.

You talk about controlling the controllables, but there have been a lot of things outside of your control recently — a trade, the pandemic. How do you deal with that mentally? 

During the last two years in Utah, I finally felt like I’d found some footing in the league. I was getting consistent playing time, proving myself, and — even with all of the National Team players there — starting. I led the team in scoring my first year there and, last year, I played the most minutes besides Barney [goalkeeper, Nicole Barnhart]. To be traded was humbling. And to have been traded so many times is stressful. At the end of the day, though, it’s still soccer. I’ve learned to not stress about every single day and to figure out a way to still enjoy it, even with all the different moving pieces.

You just turned 28. What’s next for you? 

I want to keep playing until it’s not fun anymore, or I feel like I can’t compete at this level. I might go play somewhere else. Eventually, I want to go back to school. They have nursing programs where you can specialize if you already have a Bachelor’s Degree. I want to specialize in anesthesiology. I’m not done playing though — I haven’t done everything I want to do with soccer yet.

NWSL x Liga MX Femenil Summer Cup Kicks Off Interleague Tournament

Washington Spirit defender Jenna Butler races for the ball against Guadalajara's Alicia Cervantes in their first NWSL x Liga MX Femenil Summer Cup
The Washington Spirit beat Guadalajara 2-1 to launch their Summer Cup campaign. (Caean Couto/USA TODAY Sports)

The NWSL x Liga MX Femenil Summer Cup's first match weekend is officially in the books, with most games failing to incite any cross-league fire.

NWSL clubs emerged victorious in the few interleague clashes, as Louisville defeated Rayadas 3-1, Angel City beat Club America 2-1, Washington defeated Guadalajara 2-1, and Portland thumped Club Tijuana 5-0.

Courage goalkeeper Marisa Bova misses a penalty kick in North Carolina's Saturday Summer Cup loss to the Orlando Pride.
North Carolina's Saturday group stage loss to Orlando came down to penalty kicks. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

NWSL offense struggles without Olympians

With so many players out due to the previous international break and upcoming Olympics, NWSL Summer Cup lineups struggled to bring the same attacking firepower that propels regular season action.

Gotham earned points against Chicago in a penalty shootout win following a 0-0 draw, while regular-season league-leaders Orlando fell in penalties to North Carolina after a 1-1 finish.

San Diego and Kansas City fared better at the offensive end, defeating Houston and Bay FC, respectively, with a 3-1 scoreline, while Seattle beat Utah 2-1.

In the only all-Liga MX Femenil match of the weekend, Tigres took down Pachuca 4-2.

Thorns forward Ana Dias takes a shot against Tijuana defender Monica Alvarado during Portland's 5-0  Summer Cup victory on Sunday.
In one of four cross-league Summer Cup games last weekend, Portland routed Club Tijuana 5-0. (Soobum Im/USA TODAY Sports)

NWSL and Liga MX teams square off next weekend

Next weekend's schedule might provide more intrigue, upping the number of cross-league games as each league strives for dominance.

Starting Friday, Tigres will take on Houston, Tijuana will face Seattle, Monterrey will battle Orlando, Kansas City will play Pachuca, San Diego will take on Club America, and Chicago will square off with Guadalajara in Cup play.

The Cup's three-weekend group stage will determine which teams advance to the August 6th semifinals, which take place before the NWSL season resumes on August 23rd. The subsequent Cup Final is slated for October 25th.

The Summer Cup will be competing for national attention as soon as the Olympics start, but the hope remains that the competition's unique format will spark some interest Stateside.

Where to watch the NWSL x Liga MX Summer Cup

All Summer Cup matches will air live across CBS Sports platforms including Paramount+, CBS Sports Golazo Network, and CBS Sports Network

Ogunbowale Leads Team WNBA to 2024 All-Star Game Victory

Arike Ogunbowale of Team WNBA celebrates with Caitlin Clark and Allisha Gray #15 of Team WNBA at the 2024 WNBA All-Star Game vs. Team USA
Arike Ogunbowale won her second WNBA All-Star MVP honors on Saturday after a 34-point second-half performance. (Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

Team WNBA defeated Team USA 117-109 at the 2024 All-Star Game for the second-straight Olympic cycle on Saturday, fueled by a record-setting 34 points from All-Star MVP Arike Ogunbowale — all scored in the second half.

Ogunbowale has now won All-Star MVP twice in her career, with both instances coming in games against the US Olympic team. The Dallas guard withdrew her name from Olympic consideration earlier this year.

Team WNBA's Caitlin Clark passes around Team USA's Napheesa Collier at the 2024 All-Star Game
Team WNBA's Caitlin Clark's 10 assists broke the WNBA All-Star Game's rookie record. (Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

WNBA All-Stars put up historic numbers

The impending Olympic Games added an extra layer of pressure to this year's All-Star Game, with Team USA needing to develop chemistry as quickly as possible while a few WNBA All-Stars left off the Olympic roster seized the opportunity to prove themselves.

Caitlin Clark broke the All-Star Game assist record for a rookie with 10 assists, while Angel Reese became the first rookie in WNBA All-Star Game history to record a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds.

Meanwhile, Allisha Gray added 16 points off the bench for Team WNBA, one day after becoming the first player to ever win both the Skills Competition and the 3-Point Contest in the same year. Kelsey Mitchell and Nneka Ogwumike also scored in the double digits for the winning side.

"I think it was the same four years prior," Clark said of the game's final score. "Team WNBA beat Team USA and they were perfectly fine at the Olympics.

"If anything, it shows how good this league is, how much talent there is."

Team USA's Breanna Stewart drives to the rim over Team WNBA's Angel Reese during Saturday's 2024 WNBA All-Star Game.
Breanna Stewart's 31 points and 10 rebounds led Team USA at Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game. (Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

Team USA looks to improve in tight Olympic turnaround

For the US, losing the All-Star Game isn't the end of the world — they won gold in 2021 after the same result — but they definitely have room for improvement before their Olympic group stage tips off on July 29th.

Breanna Stewart led Team USA with 31 points and 10 rebounds, while fellow Olympic veterans A'ja Wilson contributed 22 points and Diana Taurasi notched 14.

The Paris-bound squad also notably worked players recently out with injury back into the fold: Chelsea Gray played only 11 minutes on Saturday, and Napheesa Collier tallied just three minutes on the court.

What's next for Team USA?

The US will play Germany in a final exhibition game in London on Tuesday before traveling to France on a quest to earn their eighth-straight gold medal. The national team's final pre-Olympic matchup will air live on FS1 starting at 3 PM ET.

Phoenix Mercury Unveils $100 Million Practice Facility

phoenix mercury practice facility's diana taurasi courts
The 58,000-square-foot facility includes two indoor practice courts with built-in courtside technology. (Phoenix Mercury)

As part of the 2024 WNBA All-Star Weekend festivities, the Phoenix Mercury officially opened the doors to their new state-of-the-art practice facility on Thursday.

Along with a host of player-driven amenities, the 58,000-square-foot, $100 million property showcases two full-sized basketball courts named after veteran Mercury star Diana Taurasi, complete with a one-of-a-kind Taurasi-inspired logo.

Phoenix mercury players celebrating at the new team training center's diana taurasi courts during wnba all-star weekend
The Mercury hosted a grand opening for their new practice facility during WNBA All-Star Weekend. (Phoenix Mercury)

The Diana Taurasi courts pay tribute to the three-time WNBA champion, six-time Olympian, 11-time WNBA All-Star, and the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer.

"Phoenix is the best basketball city in the world and continues to elevate the standard in women’s professional sports," said Mercury owner Mat Ishbia in a team release. "This practice facility is about hard work, passion, and greatness, all attributes that Diana Taurasi exemplifies, and we are honored to name our basketball courts after the greatest women’s basketball player of all time."

phoenix mercury weight room
From training to recovery, each aspect of the Mercury's new facility is geared toward player conditioning. (Phoenix Mercury)

With 24-hour access for players and staff, the practice courts feature built-in technologies capable of providing real-time performance analytics. The facility also includes a strength and cardio training area, indoor and outdoor turf training areas, a functional movement area, and a team meeting room with theater-style seating.

Amenities specific to athlete recovery are also on hand, including a dedicated physician and testing room, recovery room, hydrotherapy room with hot and cold plunge pools, freestanding underwater treadmill, and two massage rooms. The locker room is home to vanity stations, a sauna, a steam room, and a wellness room.

phoenix mercury players lounge
In addition to recovery and training areas, the facility also showcases a stocked player lounge. (Phoenix Mercury)

An area for players to relax and refuel, the onsite player lounge and kitchen is stocked with private chef, snack bar, pantry, and smoothie bar.

"This practice facility sets the standard for what it means to invest in women’s sports," said Phoenix Mercury and Phoenix Suns CEO Josh Bartelstein. "From performance to recovery to team culture, we are providing our players with the space and amenities they need to be and feel their best."

phoenix mercury training facility
The new training center is a part the Player 15 Group's downtown Phoenix campus. (Phoenix Mercury)

The Mercury's practice facility is located inside the Player 15 Group's team member campus, headquarters to owner Mat Ishbia’s sports, entertainment, real estate, and investment company. the Player 15 Group's team member campus. Debuting this past April, the grounds also house business facilities for the Phoenix Mercury, Phoenix Suns, Valley Suns, and arena operations.

Skills Challenge, 3-Point Contest Open 2024 WNBA All-Star Weekend

Team WNBA on the court at 2024 WNBA All-Star Weekend
The WNBA All-Star Game court will be buzzing with action on Friday night. (Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

While the 2024 All-Star Game doesn't tip off until Saturday, this year's WNBA Skills Challenge and STARRY 3-Point Contest promise to light up Phoenix's Footprint Center on Friday.

The evening's programming will allow fans to watch as towering center Brittney Griner shows off her speed and mobility before putting 2024's most statistically excellent three-point shooters to the test.

In addition to the two annual events, the night will also showcase the first-ever WNBA All-Star 3×3 Exhibition, with the Olympic-bound 3×3 National Team taking on USA Basketball's 3×3 U23 National Team.

To make things even more interesting, Aflac has promised to supplement the Skills Competition and 3-Point Contest's prize pool with a $55,000 bonus for each winner.

Team USA's Brittney Griner poses in her Paris Olympics uniform.
Mercury center Brittney Griner will test her speed at the All-Star Skills Challenge. (Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)

Skills Challenge highlights league's best

Perhaps the least straightforward event in Friday's series, the Skills Challenge — in which five players will compete in a timed obstacle course testing their dribbling, passing, speed, and shooting abilities —should come down to the wire. Each contestant will attempt to complete the course as quickly as possible, with the two fastest first-round players advancing to a head-to-head final.

Ten-time WNBA All-Star Griner (Phoenix) headlines the Skills Challenge roster, accompanied by Mercury teammate Sophie Cunningham as well as Allisha Gray (Atlanta), 2019 WNBA All-Star MVP Erica Wheeler (Indiana), and newly acquired Connecticut guard Marina Mabrey.

Mabrey will be competing in both the Skills Challenge and 3-Point Contest, taking the court for the first time since her requested trade from Chicago sent her the Sun.

Team WNBA's Jonquel Jones lines up a shot at Friday's All-Star practice.
Liberty ace Jonquel Jones leads Friday's stacked 3-Point Contest lineup. (Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

Top shooters put their skills on display

Despite Sabrina Ionescu and Caitlin Clark reportedly declining to participate, some of the WNBA's best shooters will be on display in tonight's STARRY 3-Point Contest. Shooters will tally up points from five set shooting locations around the arc plus two additional "Starry Range" deep shots worth three points each.

2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones (New York) will enter a battle of the bigs with Washington's Stefanie Dolson, who sits second in the league in three-point field goal percentage this season with 48.5%.

But Jones and Dolson will face stiff competition from Kayla McBride (Minnesota), who leads the league in three-pointers made, as well as the aforementioned Gray and Mabrey.

Team USA 3x3 players Cierra Burdick, Hailey Van Lith, Rhyne Howard, and Dearica Hamby
Team USA's Cierra Burdick, Hailey Van Lith, Rhyne Howard, and Dearica Hamby will take on their U-23 counterparts in Friday's new 3×3 Exhibition. (Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)

WNBA All-Star Weekend adds 3×3 Exhibition to the mix

Tonight’s debut 3×3 Exhibition will serve as a warmup for Team USA's Rhyne Howard (Atlanta), former WNBA player Cierra Burdick, college star Hailey Van Lith (TCU), and Dearica Hamby (Los Angeles), who came on to replace Sparks teammate Cameron Brink after her season-ending ACL tear.

The Olympians' U-23 opposition is also gearing up for a major event, with collegiate squad members Christina Dalce (Maryland), Morgan Maly (Creighton), Cotie McMahon (Ohio State), Lucy Olsen (Iowa), Mikaylah Williams (LSU), and Serah Williams (Wisconsin) set to play in the 2024 FIBA 3x3 Nations League tournament in Mexico City starting July 22nd.

Where to watch the WNBA Skills Challenge and 3-Point Contest

All three events will air on ESPN starting at 9 PM ET on Friday, July 19th.

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