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What Kelley O’Hara’s signing means for new-look Gotham FC

Kelley O’Hara has signed a multi-year contract with Gotham FC after two seasons with the Spirit. (Lewis Gettier/USA TODAY Sports)

On Tuesday evening, at a Men in Blazers event in New York City, the axis of the NWSL world shifted slightly, forever changed. In announcing the first-ever free-agency signing in the league’s history, U.S. women’s national team defender Kelley O’Hara trailed off, saying “NWSL free agency opened today and…,” before donning a NJ/NY Gotham FC sweatshirt and as a special graphic appeared behind her.

O’Hara didn’t need to say much because the intent was clear: With her destiny in her own hands, she made a splash, signing a multi-year contract with the New Jersey club. In Gotham, she finds both an eager and a familiar partner — she spent some of the prime years of her career on Sky Blue FC’s backline, before moving on to the Utah Royals in 2018.

The rebranded Gotham FC club that O’Hara returns to couldn’t look more different than the Sky Blue team she left, but they similarly need to take steps toward being competitive. In 2021, despite losing head coach Freya Coombe to Angel City FC mid-season, Gotham made the playoffs for the first time since 2013. After a quarterfinal loss, Carli Lloyd retired, and the club made a number of moves last offseason to try to capitalize on the early signs of progress.

The 2022 season, however, didn’t go as planned. Despite picking up Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger, and retaining key parts of a dynamic frontline that features Ifeoma Onumonu and Margaret Purce, Gotham fell to the bottom of the NWSL standings. The club parted ways with head coach Scott Parkinson halfway through the season as the team sputtered to last place with a 4-17-1 record. They finished the season with a minus-30 goal differential, scoring only 16 goals while conceding 46. After Harris’ season ended early due to an injury, the goalkeeper announced her retirement at the USWNT Players’ Ball on Monday.

O’Hara can help solve some of Gotham’s issues right away. She’s a proven winner at both the club and international level, and she brings a level of intensity that NWSL teams rely on to grind out results. She also played some of the best soccer of her club career with the Washington Spirit in 2021, capped by scoring the game-winning goal in that year’s NWSL Championship. If Gotham is looking for a little grit and determination, and a lot of experience, O’Hara is the perfect free-agent signing.

The 34-year-old will also bring stability to the right-back position after 2021 Defender of the Year Caprice Dydasco was traded to the Houston Dash in August. O’Hara adds competition for 20-year-old Brazilian Bruninha, who also plays right back and was brought in as one of Gotham’s players of the future.

Within all of this lies Gotham’s great contradiction: The club’s results indicate a need to rebuild, and yet O’Hara’s signing, among others, suggest they’re a team in win-now mode. In constructing the roster they currently have, Gotham let go of young talent like Brianna Pinto (North Carolina Courage) and Evelyne Viens (Sweden). The club also had the opportunity to give minutes to rookie goalkeeper Hensley Hancuff in the wake of Harris’ injury but chose to play veteran Michelle Betos long after the playoffs fell out of reach.

And while on paper it seems like Gotham’s defense needs to be the main focus of free agency, the ebbs and flow of games in 2022 put the backline under undue amounts of pressure that resulted in goals conceded. The club chose not to retain midfielders Jennifer Cudjoe and Domi Richardson and is still negotiating with McCall Zerboni, after the midfield struggled immensely last season to control matches.

O’Hara’s resurgence in 2021 coincided with excellent seasons from Sam Staab and Emily Sonnett in the Spirit’s central defense. Gotham’s center-back pairing, meanwhile, remains unsettled, with Estelle Johnson’s return to the club up in the air. Allie Long should help shore up the defensive midfield in her return to the team alongside Victoria Pickett, whom Gotham acquired in a trade with the Kansas City Current in exchange for a hefty package (a 2023 first-round draft pick and $200,000 in allocation money). Those changes could have a positive effect on the attack, which spent too many games in 2022 on an island, without the ability to influence games.

Gotham has the No. 1 pick in the 2023 College Draft and new head coach Juan Carlos Amorós signed to a three-year contract. They have developed a recognizable brand that fans and players are drawn to, with the hope that the team will eventually find its identity on the pitch.

What happens in 2023 is too much to place on any one player, even Kelley O’Hara. But the fact that when presented with the most agency she’s ever had in her career, the World Cup and NWSL champion chose Gotham FC as home speaks volumes about her belief in the club’s future.

Notes on the Washington Spirit

  • Mark Krikorian’s early tenure as general manager has the makings of a huge project, shaped in his own vision. He ousted Kris Ward (with player support), brought in assistants who worked with him at Florida State and let one of the team’s leaders walk in free agency. Now, he’s on the hunt for a new head coach.
  • Even in the afterglow of their championship win, the Spirit looked like a group in need of a reset during a challenging 2022 season. Fans’ faith in ownership will continue to be tested, as what was hailed as a potential dynasty appears to be moving in another direction.

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

Clark, Martin Square Off in First Pro WNBA Matchup

Kate Martin #20 of the Las Vegas Aces and Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever look on during the game
Things looked a little different Saturday night as the former Iowa teammates went head-to-head in Las Vegas. (Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa teammates Caitlin Clark and Kate Martin shared the court once again on Saturday, this time as professionals.

It was Martin’s Aces that got the 99-80 win over Clark’s Fever in Las Vegas. The pair's former coaches Lisa Bluder, Jan Jensen, Jenni Fitzgerald, and Raina Harmon were all in attendance to watch their Hawkeyes — Clark, Martin, and former national player of the year Megan Gustafson — take the court.

"It’s super special. It’s cool for our program, cool for Lisa, for Coach Jan, for all of them," Clark said in a pregame press conference. "They’ve known me since I’ve been 13 years old and now I’m 22 getting to live out my dream and they’ve been a huge part of that and helping me get here and helping Megan and Kate to get here too. It’s a great moment for them and I’m sure they’re not complaining about a trip to Vegas."

As for her college teammate, Clark had nothing but good things to say ahead of the showdown. 

"I’m just really happy for her and everything Coach [Becky] Hammon says about her is so true," she said. "Every person that played at Iowa and was around her knows that to be true. She’s the ultimate teammate, ultimate person, ultimate leader."

In the end, Martin stole the show with 12 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes, while Clark amassed eight points, seven assists, and five rebounds over 29 minutes of playing time. 

"It was weird," Martin admitted after the game. "I'm not going to lie — just looking out on the court and seeing her in a different jersey than me, it was obviously different. But it's really fun. We're both living out our dreams right now."

The Aces next meet the fever on July 2nd at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Barcelona Beat Lyon to Win Back-to-Back Champions League Titles

Barcelona's Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas celebrating after beating Lyon at the 2024 Champions League final
Ballon d'Or winners Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas helped Barcelona to a second-straight UWCL title on Saturday. (Ramsey Cardy - Sportsfile/UEFA via Getty Images)

Barcelona was crowned champion of the Champions League on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Lyon in Bilbao.

Alexia "La Reina" Putellas, who recently re-signed with Barcelona, came off the bench to score the team's second goal. Fellow Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmatí provided the team’s first. After the game, defender Lucy Bronze said Putellas was nicknamed "the queen" for a reason.

"Alexia is the captain of the team and she's the queen of Barcelona for a reason,"  defender Lucy Bronze told DAZN. "She's got the quality to do that in the last minute of the Champions League final when we were up against it at the end and it just sealed the win for us. It was amazing."

The victory marked Barcelona's first win over Lyon in a UWCL final, having previously gone up against the French side at both the 2019 and 2022 Champions League finals. It's also Barcelona's second Champions League title in a row.

"It's hard to win it once, but to do it back-to-back, Lyon showed how difficult it is and this team has finally done that," Bronze said. "I think we go down in history as one of the best teams in Europe."

This season, the team also secured a quadruple for the first time in club history, having already won Liga F, the Copa de la Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. The win ensures that coach Jonatan Giráldez — who has officially departed the team to join the NWSL's Washington Spirit — leaves Europe a champion.

"It was an incredible game. I am really happy, it's one of the best days of my life for sure," Giráldez told broadcaster DAZN after the game. "We did an amazing job. I am very proud of all of them."

Following the win, Putellas said her team "can't ask for anything else."

"Our objective was to win four out of four," the Spain international told reporters. "We have achieved everything we wanted. Every minute of sacrifice has been worth the effort — and I'd say that not after the game, but before, just entering in the stadium, with all the support we had here, it was worth it."

2024 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Aitana Bonmatí said that the crowd support made it "feel like Camp Nou."

"I am on cloud nine right now," she said. "It is an historic day which we will remember forever."

Sun’s Alyssa Thomas Ejected After Flagrant 2 on Sky Rookie Angel Reese

Angel Reese said there were "no hard feelings" stemming from Alyssa Thomas's flagrant foul. (Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Angel Reese might have gotten knocked down on Saturday, but she got right back up again. 

Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas was ejected from the Sun’s 86-82 win over Chicago following a flagrant foul 2 on Reese — the first of her career. While the two were battling for a rebound, Reese took a clothesline hold around the neck courtesy of Thomas before hitting the ground.

After the game, Reese told reporters that there were "no hard feelings" and she appreciated Thomas for playing her hard beneath the basket.

"I know she purposely probably didn’t do it towards me," Reese said. "But just being able to come out there and just be strong and stand on two feet, it was going to be a tough game and that’s what I’m built for. And my teammates had my back throughout the whole game. So I was prepared for it."

She also didn’t buy into the idea that it was a "Welcome to the WNBA" moment, but thanked Thomas "sending a message" because it helped her get back up and "keep pushing."

"It’s not just because I’m a rookie. I’m a player. I’m a basketball player. They don’t give a damn if I’m a rookie. I mean, I want them to come at me every day. I want them to come at everybody," she added. "I mean, they’re not supposed to be nice to me. I hope y’all know that. They’re not supposed to be nice to me or lay down because I’m Angel Reese or because I’m a rookie."

Reese finished the game with 13 points, five rebounds, and two assists over 33 minutes.

Barcelona to Face Lyon in Champions League Rematch This Weekend

UEFA Women's Champions League Final"Barcelona FC - Olympique Lyonnais"
Saturday's game will be the third UWCL final meeting for Barcelona and Lyon, having previously gone up against each other in 2019 and 2022. (ANP via Getty Images)

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off in Bilbao on Saturday, with a couple of familiar foes set to face off for the trophy.

Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, making its 11th final appearance since 2010, will go head to head with a Barcelona side making its fourth final appearance in a row.

This will be the third time these two teams meet in the UWCL title game, having previously appeared in the 2019 and 2022 finals. Lyon won both of those prior games against Barcelona, alongside a total of eight Champions League trophies. That’s double that of any other club, with Eintracht Frankfurt coming in a distant second with four. 

Should Barcelona win, this would be the team's third title — breaking a tie for the third in the UWCL total titles race. 

But as these teams return to the UWCL final, it also marks the end of an era for both clubs. The game will be the last for both club managers, as Barcelona’s Jonatan Giráldez and Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor depart for new jobs after the season's end.

Giráldez is set to leave for the NWSL's Washington Spirit, while Bompastor will take over for incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes at Chelsea. Both coaches have earned one UWCL trophy during their tenures, while Bompastor also brought two Champions League trophies to Lyon as a player. She was the first coach to win a UWCL trophy as both a coach and player.

This season, Barcelona is looking for its first quadruple, having won a fifth Liga F title alongside the Copa de La Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. 

"We hope he can go out with the four trophies because we know how competitive and ambitious he is," Barcelona midfielder Patri Guijarro told ESPN. "It has been a winning era with him in charge and for him to go out with all four trophies would be historic and incredible."

But Lyon's Damaris Egurrola is excited about her team's chances of overcoming Barcelona once again — and to do it in front of family and friends.

"Lyon have something special," she told Forbes ahead of the weekend's final. "We have a great team and we have the players with enough talent to win any match."

The game will be a homecoming for Egurrola, who began her professional career with Athletic Bilbao.

"I’ve been thinking of this day and night," she said. "I’ve been dreaming of playing this match. Having the opportunity to play in San Mames is amazing. This is where it all started for me."

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off Saturday, May 25th at 12 PM ET and is free to stream on DAZN.

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