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Kelley O’Hara embraces Gotham’s evolution from Sky Blue days

Kelley O’Hara returns to New Jersey after playing for Sky Blue FC from 2013-17. (Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Across sports, it’s not unusual to see athletes consider returning to their original teams later in their careers. Players often take the opportunity to build on first experiences and re-mold personal legacies while etching their names in team lore. But for Kelley O’Hara, a move back to New Jersey would probably surprise her past self.

“I would have never considered coming back a couple years ago,” said the two-time World Champion defender, speaking to the media in her introductory press conference after officially signing with Gotham FC in her first year of free agency.

While the first free agency announcement (though not quite the first signing, since the deal was finalized this week) in NWSL history made unprecedented waves, O’Hara is no stranger to New Jersey.

“I was driving out to the facility yesterday, going to PT and just being in Jersey just felt so good. I was like, dang, it’s good to be back here,” she said.

O’Hara played for Sky Blue FC from 2013-17, but she says that her new club bears little resemblance to the one she left in turmoil, even beyond the team’s 2020 rebrand to Gotham FC. Sky Blue in 2017 was a troubled club in the final year of disgraced former manager Christy Holly’s tenure as coach, with conditions later exposed in 2018 as being consistently below the standard of a professional sports organization.

“I loved playing for this club and the teammates that I had, but there were a lot of issues that we had to deal with as players, which is ultimately why I left. Because I was just like, this isn’t up to the standard that we deserve as players,” she said.

While playing first for the Utah Royals, and then winning the 2021 NWSL championship with the Washington Spirit, O’Hara kept tabs on her first NWSL club, and the changes are noticeable.

In the years since O’Hara left, Gotham has undergone major changes both on and off the pitch. They relocated their home games from Rutgers’ 5,000-seat Yurcak Field to Red Bull Arena, brought in high-profile investors like Eli Manning and Sue Bird, and rebranded both in team name and logo. O’Hara said she wants to be a part of the club’s journey toward winning its first NWSL championship.

“The sales pitch was, ‘Come back, and be part of getting this club to where you wanted it when you played here before,’” she said, likening the free agency process to her experience with college recruiting. And while her memories of Sky Blue aren’t all positive, she fell in love with the area during those five years, saying it has a soft place in her heart.

“I lived in Brooklyn for two years, I lived at the [Jersey] Shore for three years,” O’Hara said. “I loved being in Jersey. I love being in New York City.”

O’Hara is still rehabbing a hip injury that has kept her off the pitch in recent months, but she says she is hopeful to be ready to go for the team’s first regular season match in March. She’ll join a Gotham team in transition, looking to improve upon their last-place finish in 2022 with a new coach and a revamped roster that now includes USWNT teammate Lynn Williams.

And while O’Hara is looking forward to the upcoming season, coming back to New Jersey is a full-circle moment for the 34-year-old.

“It’s exciting to watch, like as a player, to see how much has changed from the first day that I showed up for Sky Blue, to now coming back and being at a media day for Gotham,” O’Hara said. “It’s crazy.”

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

New Washington Spirit Head Coach Jonatan Giráldez Arrives in DC

head coach Jonatan Giráldez
Jonatan Giráldez joins the NWSL from FC Barcelona Femení. (Ramsey Cardy/UEFA via Getty Images)

Five months after announcing that the Washington Spirit had hired Barcelona Femení coach Jonatan Giráldez as the team's new head coach, Giráldez has joined the club in Washington, DC.

Giráldez is coming off of a successful season with the Spanish side, having won UEFA Women's Champions League, Copa de la Reina, Supercopa, and Liga F in his final season to complete a lauded Quadruple.

While Giráldez was finishing out his tenure in Europe, Adrián González filled in as Spirit interim head coach. González has also seen success, leading the team to its third-place standing with a 9-3-1 record through 13 games.

“I’m thrilled to join the Spirit and begin this next chapter with the club,” Giráldez said in an official team statement. “To be part of the vision Michele Kang has for the Spirit and women’s soccer globally is an exciting opportunity.”

Giráldez has worked at Barcelona since 2019, initially coming on as an assistant coach before moving up to head coach in 2021. The team went 30-0-0 on the season under Giráldez during his first year as manager.

He brings along with him Andrés González and Toni Gordo, who will serve as the Spirit's Fitness Coach and Club Analyst, respectively.

US Track & Field Olympic Trials Touch Down in Oregon

Sha’Carri Richardson competes in the women’s 200-meter preliminary round during the USATF Outdoor Championships
Sha’Carri Richardson will have some competition this week as athletes vie for an Olympic berth. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Track & Field Trials begin on June 21st, kicking off a 10-day quest to determine who will represent the US in Paris this summer.

The crucial meet will take place in Eugene, Oregon, where the top three finishers in each event will punch their ticket to the 2024 Olympics. As with this past week's US Swimming Trials, even the most decorated athletes must work to earn their spot — and one bad performance could undermine four years of preparation.

Reigning 100-meter World Champion Sha'Carri Richardson headlines this year's field, as the 24-year-old looks to qualify for her second Olympic Games and compete in her first. Richardson is a world champion in both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint, but missed the Tokyo Olympics due to testing positive for THC shortly after the last US Olympic Trials.

Other standouts include 400-meter Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who's currently the most decorated athlete in the active women's US Track & Field pool. McLaughlin-Levrone qualified to run in the 200-meter and 400-meter flat races alongside the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympic Trials, but opted to focus solely on her signature event.

800-meter specialist Athing Mu will also be a huge draw this week, as the Olympic gold medalist looks to shake off a lingering hamstring injury while pursuing her second Summer Games. Gold medal-winning pole vaulter Katie Moon will also attempt to qualify for her second-straight Olympic Games.

Ole Miss star McKenzie Long could be Richardson's greatest competition in the 100-meter and 200-meter events, as well as Richardson's Worlds teammate Gabby Thomas in the 200-meter. In field events, watch for Oregon senior Jaida Ross going head-to-head with reigning world champion Chase Jackson in the shot put, as both push for their first Olympic team berth.

Regardless of why you tune in, the US Olympic Trials are a perpetually thrilling and sometimes brutal qualification process. If you're able to make your way to the head of the pack, a shot at Olympic glory might just be waiting at the finish line.

Fans can catch live coverage throughout the Trials via NBC, USA, and Peacock.

Top Teams Square Off in NWSL Weekend Slate

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda
Orlando Pride, led by forward Barbra Banda, will take on Utah in this weekend's NWSL action. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As the NWSL season continues, a few top-performing clubs will have a chance to boost their standings this weekend.

First-place Kansas City will travel to Providence Park to take on fifth-place Portland, as the Current look to keep their unbeaten streak intact. And in New Jersey, third-place Washington will take on fourth-place Gotham FC, with both teams attempting to extend multi-game unbeaten streaks.

A six-point gap has opened between the fifth and sixth spot on the NWSL table — with just six points also separating the league's top five. Kansas City, Orlando, Washington, Gotham, and Portland have recently proven themselves to be a cut above the rest of the competition. With eight postseason spots up for grabs and half the season behind us, a pattern is forming that indicates the playoff race could come down to spots six through eight on the NWSL table.

Of those top five teams, only Orlando faces an opponent in the bottom half of the league this weekend: The Pride will take on 14th-place Utah, who nonetheless are coming off a win — just their second of the season — over Bay FC last weekend.

But despite Kansas City and Orlando having yet to lose a game, Gotham might be the squad coming into the weekend with the most momentum.

Clutch goals from Rose Lavelle and rookie Maycee Bell gave the Bats a 2-0 midweek win over San Diego on Wednesday, in a rematch of the 2024 Challenge Cup. Gotham's unbeaten streak dates all the way back to April, as rising availability and sharpened form have honed this year's superteam into a contender.

Bottom line? As the NWSL season passes the halfway mark, some matches might begin to feel more like playoff previews than mere regular season battles.

Chelsea Gray Returns From Injury in Aces Win Over Seattle

las vegas aces chelsea gray and kelsey plum celebrate a win over the seattle storm
Gray has been sidelined with a foot injury since the 2023 WNBA Finals. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Chelsea Gray made her return to the basketball court on Wednesday, helping the Aces to a 94-83 win over the Seattle Storm. 

The lauded point guard missed the first 12 games of the season, having been injured in last year’s WNBA Finals. The left foot injury caused her to miss Game 4 of the championship series, and she’s continued to rehab it through the beginning of the 2024 season. 

Her return on Wednesday was capitalized by the fact that she needed just 20 seconds to make an impact and record her first assist. While she finished with just one point, she had seven assists, four rebounds, and two blocks to go alongside it in 15:30 minutes. Gray's contributions on the night brought her career assist record up to 1,500.

"I probably went through every emotion leading up to today," Gray said after the game. "I was a little anxious all day. It's been a long time since I've been out on that court. But the fans were amazing from the time I came out to warm up to the time I checked in the game. It was a rush and a feeling I missed a lot."

It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far for Las Vegas, who have lost five of their last seven games. Gray, who averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in 2023, has proven herself a much-needed addition to the team’s lineup.

"Felt like my heart," Aces coach Becky Hammon said when asked how she felt hearing the crowd erupt for Gray's return. "She's the leader of our team. I thought she did a wonderful job too."

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