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Megan Rapinoe, Ali Krieger show there’s life after the USWNT

Megan Rapinoe and Ali Krieger both plan to retire at the end of their NWSL seasons. (Michael Thomas Shroyer/USA TODAY Sports)

The U.S. women’s national team is back in camp this week, playing two friendlies against Colombia as they continue to navigate the post-World Cup era without a permanent head coach. Perhaps ironically, some of the biggest names in American soccer in 2023 — Megan Rapinoe and Ali Krieger — won’t be taking part in those games, not due to injury but because they’ve moved on from national duty.

For a long time, contract structures and consistency of competition dictated that players usually ended their careers with international play in mind. They typically considered themselves USWNT players first and club players second.

But the ongoing pursuit of a final NWSL trophy for retiring stars indicates just how far the world of women’s soccer has come from that attitude. Both Rapinoe (OL Reign) and Krieger (Gotham FC) will want to ride out their NWSL postseasons as long as they possibly can.

New space to grow

Rapinoe got to control the narrative surrounding her USWNT exit. The legendary forward announced she’d be retiring from both club and country at the end of 2023 after former USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski made it clear she was in his plans for this year’s World Cup. Teammate Julie Ertz followed a similar trajectory but chose not to finish out the NWSL season with Angel City, the club she joined on a one-year contract after a long hiatus from professional soccer.

Krieger had a less ceremonious final few years with the national team, returning from a strangely imposed exile by Jill Ellis to help the U.S. secure a fourth World Cup in 2019. She also faded away during the Andonovski era, playing in her final match with the team in January 2021. The defender nonetheless continued progressing as a player in the NWSL, from which she plans to retire at the end of this season.

Krieger’s move from Orlando to Gotham for a fresh start in 2022 also didn’t go quite as planned, with the team struggling to score and sliding to last place in the NWSL standings by the end of the season. But one of the bright spots of an otherwise difficult season was Krieger’s increased comfort at center back. Later into her career, the 39-year-old has shifted centrally to maintain a steady pace of play.

Positioning in the central defense is something that takes time to develop, and Krieger’s penchant for the position emerged in slow motion. But her success in 2023 has her on the shortlist for NWSL Defender of the Year, giving brand-new life to a career that is nearing its end.

In a way, Krieger’s moment in the spotlight at the end of 2023 is a sign to players who don’t get to write their own USWNT ending that there is still meaning to retiring at the league level. Other players with similar stories who greatly impacted their team’s seasons were Angel City’s Sydney Leroux and Houston’s Jane Campbell. Also notable for next year will be the final club season of Canadian legend Christine Sinclair, who plans to retire from international play at the end of this year.

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Krieger and Rapinoe won two World Cup titles together with the USWNT in 2015 and 2019. (Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Changing tides

This mindset shift has a lot to do with the way player contracts with U.S. Soccer have drastically changed in recent years. The USWNT ratified their historic CBA in 2022, earning the exact same wages and benefits as their male counterparts for the same amount of work.

But the CBA change also moved the team away from the safety net of longer-term contracts, which the team had operated under for over a decade. Players theoretically now find themselves less entrenched in the USWNT system, making far more money per appearance than they were in the past, but no longer tying their long-term salaries to their place on the national team. This means less job security at the international level, which shifts a player’s home base to their club.

This has fortunately coincided with rising wages in the women’s club game, both in the NWSL and abroad. Players can now envision themselves having long careers in domestic play, as opposed to primarily on the national team. Playing for the USWNT is a dream for many players, but if that pinnacle is never reached or not held for very long, it doesn’t have to spell the end of a fulfilling, winning soccer career.

Even players who are still with the U.S. can feel the shift and tone. San Diego Wave superstar Alex Morgan made it clear earlier this year that she wanted to miss as few games as possible for her club, a mission that ultimately led the team to the NWSL Shield in 2023. That sentiment was echoed throughout the USWNT player pool, most recently by Lynn Williams in defense of the Challenge Cup. Players understand the balance necessary to compete at both levels, but a renewed intensity by the best players in the league paid dividends in the most competitive season in NWSL history.

Keep the story going

There might be a pause in the NWSL postseason during this international break, but Rapinoe and Krieger should feel pretty good about their chances to go all the way. Quarterfinalists tend to do well in the league’s expanded postseason format, with three of the last four finalists entering the playoffs as quarterfinalists.

Both Rapinoe’s OL Reign and Krieger’s Gotham FC looked ready for the cagey chess matches that make up knockout soccer in their quarterfinal wins. Rapinoe and Krieger were also instrumental in their teams reaching the postseason itself, with Rapinoe scoring a brace and Krieger making a goal-line save on Decision Day.

In addition to tactics, they benefit from the galvanizing force that overcomes a team when they want to send an esteemed colleague out on a high. Much has been made of Rapinoe’s attempts to win her first NWSL Championship — the Reign made the finals in 2014 and 2015 before enduring a long road of futility that resulted in their first playoff win in eight years in the 2023 quarterfinals. Krieger has been similarly close, losing the 2016 championship by the the closest margin in soccer, a penalty shootout.

Rapinoe and Krieger have the opportunity to go head-to-head to finish their respective careers with a storybook ending, but they have one more game to get through first. For now, they’ll wait while teammates handle international duty and return refreshed with the finish line in sight.

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

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Crypto.com Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a Change.org petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

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