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How Mal Swanson could have changed the USWNT’s World Cup

(Erin Chang/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

The U.S. women’s national team made the wrong kind of World Cup history Sunday. But the team did so without some of its biggest stars.

The USWNT’s Round of 16 exit has prompted many questions about the future: Should head coach Vlatko Andonovski keep his job? Who will be on the roster for the 2024 Olympics? But the elimination also leaves room for what ifs, namely: What could this team have done with a healthy roster?

Injuries kept top players, including Sam Mewis, Christen Press, Catarina Macario and all-important defender and captain Becky Sauerbrunn, out of competition. Another name on that list: Mallory Swanson. What would the USWNT have looked like with a healthy Swanson on the forward line?

Before her injury, Swanson started the year on a tear. She had seven goals in five games for the USWNT to kick off 2023. Whenever the 25-year-old forward was on the pitch, it felt like a goal was inevitable.

Then came April. In an international friendly against Ireland, Swanson tore the patellar tendon in her left knee. That injury kept her off the World Cup roster, though Swanson tried to keep her hope alive for the tournament early in her recovery. Up until June, Swanson believed that she could make the World Cup roster, even if not fully fit.

“I was like, I’m gonna be there,” she told Sports Illustrated. “Like, I might not be 90 minutes fit, but I’m gonna be there.”

But she wasn’t. And while other players missed out as well, Swanson’s injury sent a shock through the system that made you feel an immediate sense of dread. After all, Andonovski had built his team’s attack around Swanson. Whether you believe that was a good or decidedly bad idea, that is what he did in the lead-up to the tournament. And it’s what left the team scrambling in her absence.

The USWNT had two matches without Swanson before the World Cup to try and piece together what it would look like without her. Andonovski used the second friendly against Ireland to evaluate players individually. And then against Wales, he showed a starting lineup that hadn’t had a chance to gel – and even then, it was not the final starting lineup that featured against Vietnam in the World Cup opener.

Instead of preparing for the tournament, Andonovski spent his time trying to put together a 23-piece jigsaw puzzle that he never locked into place. And when the fundamental piece went missing, the entire thing fell apart.

Swanson could have changed how far the USWNT went in the World Cup. She could have changed the record-breaking goal scoring drought the team faced. Her presence, however, probably wouldn’t have changed the final outcome. Maybe the USWNT would have gone out in the quarterfinals or the semifinals. The end result? Likely still the same.

What we saw from the USWNT at the World Cup, as Tobin Heath put it best, was a group of 11 individuals trying to make something work. Having Swanson on the pitch Down Under would have been electric. She inevitably would have scored some goals. But realistically, even with the star forward, the team still had issues.

One player does not change the makeup of a starting lineup that never really played together for an extended period of time. One player does not change the tactical decisions that were made in the midfield or on defense. And one player does not change the fact that Andonovski spent the past two years shuffling players in and out of camp instead of allowing a group of players to grow together into a World Cup contender.

Caitlin Clark stuns in surprise SNL appearance

(Julia Hansen/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Caitlin Clark made a surprise appearance on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, which quickly went viral.

The Iowa star showed up on the show’s Weekend Update segment to playfully call out Michael Che’s history of making jabs at women’s sports. It started when Che joked that Iowa should replace Clark’s retired No. 22 “with an apron.” 

When Clark entered, Che said that he was a fan. But Clark wasn’t convinced – especially not when co-host Colin Jost brought the receipts of Che’s jabs.

“Really, Michael? Because I heard that little apron joke you did,” she said, before making him read some jokes of her own in retaliation and shouting out the WNBA greats that came before her. She then got in one final dig – bringing him a signed apron as a souvenir. 

When Che promised to give it to his girlfriend, Clark delivered her best line of the night.

“You don’t have a girlfriend, Michael,” she said.

Afterward, SNL castmember Bowen Yang told People that the 22-year-old and teammates Gabbie Marshall, Kate Martin and Jada Gyamfi – who joined her at Studio 8H – “were so cool.”

“She's so charming and witty,” Yang said. “They were just the most stunning, noble people.

“Athletes just have this air about them. They know they're amazing. I mean, these are people who have numeric attachments and values to their performance. That's something that comedians never have.”

Portland Thorns start NWSL season winless, in uncharted territory

Portland has started the season winless through four games for the first time. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

The Portland Thorns continue to struggle to start the season, falling 2-0 to the North Carolina Courage and remaining winless through its first four games. 

It’s uncharted territory for Portland, who has never started the NWSL regular season without a win in four games before. Following the loss, defender Becky Sauerbrunn voiced her frustrations with the start. 

“It’s hard to find a lot of encouraging things, but what I find encouraging is that people are frustrated,” she said. “People are pissed off that we’re not doing well. We care, and I think that’s really important.” 

She also added that while the team will reflect individually, “there’s going to be no finger pointing.”

“We’re going to look at ourselves and figure out what we should have done, or I should have done better,” she said. “There is a list of things that I could have done better, and I’m going to make sure I know every single thing and watch this game back.”

The Thorns currently sit at the bottom of the league table with just one point, having allowed 10 goals – tied for the worst in the league. They’ve yet to lead in a match. And as questions grow, answers need to be had from head coach Mike Norris. 

Norris is in his second year as head coach of the club after leading the team to a second-place finish in the regular season last year. When asked about the possibility of pressure growing after the unprecedented start, Norris said that the pressure has been there “from day one.”

“I cannot be driven by my day-to-day and the longer vision of the pressure of the job,” he said. “We’ve got a belief in how we want to play, how we operate. We’ve got to stick with the process of that. While we do it, we have to review and see what is working, what’s not working.

“I’ll be showing up for the team and being there for what they need from me as we approach getting back together as a group next week.”

Maria Sanchez reportedly requests trade from Houston Dash

Mar 23, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Dash forward Maria Sanchez (7) warms up before the match between Racing Louisville and Houston Dash at Shell Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Maria Sanchez, who signed one of the biggest deals in NWSL history just four months ago, has reportedly requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

ESPN was the first to report the news, which was confirmed by multiple sources.

In a statement to ESPN, the team said: “​​Maria Sanchez is under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the Dash worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. At the time, it was the largest contract in NWSL history – something that was eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

The winger was a restricted free agent in the offseason, meaning that Houston could match any offer from another team and retain her rights. Should the team trade Sanchez, her contract would remain as it has been signed with the league. That limits the number of teams that could take on her contract. 

In three starts with the Dash this season, Sanchez has zero goals and an assist. The Dash are 1-2-1 through four games and have allowed a league-worst 10 goals.

The team hired a new coach, Fran Alonso, in December. Earlier this year, former goalkeeper coach Matt Lampson was fired for violating the league’s Coach Code of Conduct and Anti-Fraternization policy. 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close at midnight ET on Friday.

Canada beats U.S. Hockey 6-5 in thrilling World Championship win

UTICA, NEW YORK - APRIL 14: Team Canada raises the Championship Trophy after winning The Gold by defeating The United States in OT during the 2024 IIHF Women's World Championship Gold Medal game at Adirondack Bank Center on April 14, 2024 in Utica, New York. (Photo by Troy Parla/Getty Images)

Canada got its revenge on Sunday, winning the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship and taking down the U.S. in a 6-5 overtime classic.

Marie-Philip Poulin, a longtime star for Canada, got her first two goals of the tournament, while Danielle Serdachny had the game-winner. 

"I hate to say you're not trying to rely on it, expect it, but I know I've grown to expect it," Canada coach Troy Ryan said of Philip-Poulin. "Tonight was just a whole other level. I could see in her eyes every time we called her name that she was ready to go. It's just special."

The win came after Canada lost 1-0 to the U.S. in the group stage of the tournament. On Sunday, the two teams met for the 22nd time in 23 tournaments in the gold medal game – and the action between the two teams delivered. 

Among those scoring for the U.S. were Megan Keller, Alex Carpenter, Hilary Knight, Laila Edwards and Caroline Harvey. Julia Gosling, Emily Clark and Erin Ambrose had the other three goals for Canada, giving them their 13th World title after falling to the U.S. in last year’s title game in Toronto. 

This year’s game was held in New York, and it was the second-highest scoring final between the two teams. The U.S. won a world championship 7-5 in 2015. 

"Oh man, that feels good to win it on U.S. soil," Canada goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens said after the game. "We owed it to them and owed it to ourselves to win that one."

Canada also denied Knight a record 10th World Championship win, although she did become the most decorated player in women’s world championship history with 14 medals. After the game, Poulin gave Knight a hug on the ice. 

"We just said 'that was unbelievable,'" Poulin said.

U.S. coach John Wroblewski echoed the sentiment that it was an outstanding game after being asked about ending the game on a power-play after leaving too many players on the ice. 

"Instead of talking about the isolated events of tonight's game, I think that normally that's an interesting storyline,” he said. “But I think the entity of an amazing 6-5 game is an amazing hockey game that took place."

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