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Lynn Williams can’t be denied for Gotham, USWNT in 2023

Gotham’s Lynn Williams has six goals across all NWSL competitions in 2023. (Jonathan Jones/USA TODAY Sports)

The first third of the 2023 NWSL season has brought a few surprises, with clubs that finished at the bottom of the standings last season rising into the top four thanks to turnarounds in form.

Some of these shifts came from coaching changes or key acquisitions in the offseason. For Gotham FC, it’s been a little bit of both. The combination of new manager Juan Carlos Amorós and marquee acquisition Lynn Williams has the New Jersey club sitting in third place after seven matches played.

Williams is coming off the longest absence from the game in her professional career after recovering from a hamstring injury. What she’s been able to achieve so far this year not only has her club team on the rise, but could secure her a debut trip to the World Cup with the U.S. women’s national team in July.

A welcome return

After Williams suffered an acute hamstring injury before the 2022 regular season, the striker fell into a state of flux. Without ever getting serious time on the pitch with the Kansas City Current, she was traded to Gotham FC in the offseason, and no one knew exactly what to expect from her in 2023.

But in the last month, the forward has reminded the league why she’s near the top of the NWSL’s all-time leaderboard. Williams sits alone in second place with 61 regular-season goals in her NWSL career, only 16 behind the all-time tally set by Sam Kerr. She also recently surpassed Kerr for the all-time goal contributions record (combined goals and assists) with 103.

Williams crossing those milestones in 2023 is no small feat; with an injury as severe as a hamstring tear and a change in club environment, her return to top form was never guaranteed. As it stands, the 29-year-old is in the 92nd percentile of non-penalty goals per 90 forwards in 2023, and in the 75th percentile in non-penalty xG generated and total shots.

Leading Gotham with four goals in seven regular season games (and six in nine games across all competitions), Williams has helped the New Jersey club get off to a strong start after a down year. She’s already matched the regular-season scoring output of any Gotham player in 2022, and has done so with fellow forward Midge Purce limited due to injury.

All the same fundamentals

In addition to her offensive prowess this season, Williams’ defensive work rate has returned in full force. She’s in the 92nd percentile for NWSL forwards in tackles, interceptions and aerial duels won in 2023, and her willingness to be disruptive in key areas is fundamental to the ways Gotham has found success.

Those intangibles are a big reason why Williams has been a consistent call-up to head coach Vlatko Andonovski’s USWNT, which also excels when pushing a higher line of contention to force mistakes. Williams is the type of player who provides an attacking outlet on the wing and the ability to track back on defense, allowing the teams she plays for to get their outside back forward.

Gotham plays with this ethos to an even more aggressive degree than the USWNT. They go all-out in a high press to try to gain an edge early on in games. That approach requires intensity and commitment from the first whistle as well as a sense of discipline as legs begin to tire.

Growing into a new role

Williams said on a recent episode of Snacks that she feels she’s still growing in her ability to influence a match in Gotham’s system.

“Honestly, no. I don’t,” she said, when asked if she thinks she’s playing at the highest level of her career. “I feel like I am scoring at a higher percentage, which is great.”

She went on to explain that in the dominant, early years of her career, she was used to playing in a two-front system (North Carolina’s 4-2-2-2 box midfield was well-known as the team steamrolled to multiple titles in 2018 and 2019). Williams was known as a high-volume shooter and a high-scoring striker, meaning that the Courage’s overwhelming number of shots made for lower accuracy numbers, but a higher volume of chances that led to results.

With Gotham, Williams plays in more of a lone striker role, with support on the wings from the midfield. Sometimes this requires Williams to dip into the central midfield to receive service, but she’s also frequently tasked with sitting on the opponent’s backline and taking her chances when they arrive.

“I feel sometimes I’m like, ‘Oh, I just barely touched the ball,’” Williams said on Snacks. “But I guess that’s just how the system works.”

What should excite both Gotham and USWNT fans is that a system change that could have derailed Williams’ return to sharpness hasn’t seemed to slow her down at all. Williams has scored from both inside and outside the box, manipulating her stride to place the ball with her favored right foot. She’s also getting more experience playing centrally, mirroring the nuances of 2022 NWSL MVP Sophia Smith’s roles for club and country

“​​I feel like I’m getting back to myself, but I’m not there yet,” she said “So I feel like every game I’m like, ‘OK, my fitness is getting a little bit better. The taking on people is getting a little bit better. My shot’s better.’ But it’s been like a year, so … it’s baby steps.”

Williams feels she still has room to improve, but the way she’s been able to reshape her skill set not only boosts her case for inclusion on the 2023 World Cup roster, but also solidifies the argument that she should be starting. Time will tell if Andonovski prizes the new facets of her game or chooses to rely on Williams’ established reputation.

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

Esme Morgan Signs With Washington Spirit

Esme Morgan of England inspects the pitch prior to the UEFA Women's EURO 2025 qualifying match between England and France
The England national will join the Spirit in DC on July 15th. (Naomi Baker - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

English defender Esme Morgan has signed with the Washington Spirit, the club announced Thursday. 

Morgan had been with WSL side Manchester City since 2017, with one year remaining on her contract. She’ll now make a move to the NWSL, with City receiving a fee for the move. 

"I wanted to join the Spirit because they have the ambition and tools to be the best team in the NWSL, and trying to achieve that will be a great but enjoyable challenge," Morgan said in a club statement.

"On an individual level too, the opportunity to work under Jonatan [Giráldez], one of the world's best coaches, is really exciting and I look forward to learning from him and pushing myself to become the best player I can be, hopefully helping the team to success."

According to ESPN, Morgan’s lack of playing time under City manager Gareth Taylor played a key role in her decision to leave the league championship runners-up. She’ll join the Spirit in Washington, DC on July 15th, but won’t be able to begin play until August. 

Spirit president Mark Krikorian called Morgan an "exceptional talent" and added that the club is "thrilled" to add her to the roster.

"I think she’s pretty talented," Giraldez told reporters on Friday. "A young player with a great future, but with experience already in a great league and with the national team. She’s been surrounded by great players and also great coaches, so she can give us experience."

Ledecky Goes for 4 at Olympic Swimming Trials

Swimmer katie ledecky swimming at Toyota US Open
Decorated swimmer Katie Ledecky is aiming to make her fourth-straight Olympic squad. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Swimming Trials begin this weekend, running from June 15th through June 23rd in Indianapolis, with Katie Ledecky eyeing her fourth-straight Summer Games.

While traditionally held in Omaha, Indiana's Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, has been fitted with a 50-meter pool to host the meet that will determine the 2024 Paris Olympics roster.

All eyes will be on seven-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky, who will be competing in the 200-meter, 400-meter, 800-meter, and 1500-meter freestyle — all events in which she’s been an Olympic champion. 

Rival Ariarne Titmus had her trials last week, breaking the world record in the 200-meter freestyle. Ledecky’s 200 is intended to qualify her for the Olympic relay. Meanwhile stateside, Katie Grimes stands to be a challenger in the 1500-meter freestyle has already qualified for the Paris Olympics in the 10km open water event.

Other competitors of note include 47-year-old Gabrielle Rose, who stands to become the oldest US Swimming Olympic qualifier in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke.

Additionally, Kate Douglass — an NCAA and World Champion — is a favorite to make her first Olympic team in the 200-meter IM and 200-meter breaststroke. Simone Manuel, an Olympic champion in the 100-meter freestyle, is also looking to make her third-straight Olympics.

Where to watch: The Trials will be streaming all week on Peacock, with later qualifying heats airing live on USA Network and event finals airing in primetime on NBC.

Orlando and Kansas City Shoot for 13 in NWSL Weekend Action

NWSL's T. Chawinga #6 of the Kansas City Current passes the ball during the first half of their game against the Utah Royals FC
The Kansas City Current hopes to extend its NWSL unbeaten streak to 13 with a win over Chicago. (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

The 13th match weekend is fast approaching in the NWSL, with two season-long unbeaten streaks on the line.

League-leaders Kansas City and Orlando will attempt to survive the weekend with their unbeaten runs intact, as the Current host Chicago on Friday and the Pride travel to North Carolina for Saturday's match.

But while Kansas City and Orlando have been the gold standard this year, they're still a number of wins away from tying Washington's record for longest unbeaten streak in a single NWSL season. In 2021, the Spirit went 20 games without a loss en route to the club's first NWSL championship.

Both Gotham and Louisville are carrying momentum into their matchup on Saturday. Louisville is unbeaten in three games, and they’re looking to finally leapfrog Chicago and claim sixth place in the league standings. Gotham, on a seven-game unbeaten run, is into fifth place.

Portland and Seattle will face off in the Cascadia Clash this weekend, with Golden Boot contender Sophia Smith absent, as the decorated forward was shown a red card last weekend for time-wasting on the bench.

The Reign could use a win against their long-time rivals, as a difficult start has 13th-place Seattle registering only two wins amid nine losses so far this season.

Elsewhere in the league, 2024 expansion teams Bay FC and Utah meet for the first time this weekend, as both look to rise from the bottom half of the standings. And Washington will ride a four-game winning streak into Saturday's game against a San Diego side that's earned two hard-fought draws in recent weeks.

Watch more: "Sophia Smith is INNOCENT!" on The Late Sub with Claire Watkins

WNBA All-Star Voting Starts on June 13th

Phoenix Mercury mascot Scorch waving a 2024 WNBA All-Star flag at a 2023 home game.
Phoenix Mercury will host the 20th-annual All-Star Game on July 20th, 2024. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Voting for the 2024 AT&T WNBA All-Star Game opened at 2 PM ET today and runs through June 29th.

All active WNBA players are eligible to make the All-Star Game, set for July 20th in Phoenix. Unlike previous formats that featured two voted-in All-Star squads, this year’s contest pits a single All-Star team against the already-decided Olympic-bound USA Women’s National Team.

Fans can submit a daily ballot nominating up to 10 athletes via WNBA.com or the WNBA App.

Fan-submitted ballots account for 50% of vote, with the other 50% split equally between current WNBA players and members of the media. The top 10 athletes will automatically make the All-Star Game, with league coaches then voting from a pool of the next 36 to complete Team WNBA’s 12-player roster. The final lineup will be announced on July 2nd.

This year's All-Star Game format presents an opportunity for fans to vote for players they might consider Olympic snubs. Indiana rookie Caitlin Clark and Dallas’s Arike Ogunbawole seem like shoo-ins given the discussion surrounding their Olympic omissions, while Connecticut stars Brionna Jones and DeWanna Bonner are also expected to snag All-Star nods.

And after a career-high 20-point, 10-rebound double-double in last night’s 83-75 loss to the Sun, Chicago rookie Angel Reese could also secure a spot.

Regardless, it won't necessarily be smooth sailing for Team USA, as history has tended to favor the underdog. 

The first USA vs. All-Stars matchup took place in 2021, with the league’s squad humbling the Tokyo Olympians 93-85. With 26 points, Ogunbawole was named All-Star Game MVP after barely missing the Olympic cut. Could she and Clark turn the tables on Team USA this year?

Watch more: "Were Caitlin Clark and Arike Ogunbowale snubbed?" by Expert Adjacent

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