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Mexico showcases bright future on historic NWSL game tour

BRIDGEVIEW, IL – APRIL 08: Karla Nieto #16 of the Mexican National Team celebrates with Alexia Delgado #6 after scoring in the first half against the Chicago Red Stars at SeatGeek Stadium on April 08, 2023 in Bridgeview, Illinois. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — As Mexico’s first-ever match against the Chicago Red Stars neared the hour mark on Saturday, Diana Ordoñez saw the ball in the back of the net before the Red Stars could even react. Taking two steps in front of the penalty area, Ordoñez found acres of space with which to line up a golazo from distance, giving Mexico their fourth goal in an eventual 5-2 win, on a day when the best of the sport were on display.

The MexTour has been a wildly successful endeavor on the men’s side for years, as the Mexico men’s national team connects with fans in the U.S. who might not have the opportunity to travel and watch them in their home country. The men’s team most recently visited Chicago last June for a pre-World Cup friendly against Ecuador in front of 60,000 people at Soldier Field, solidifying the team as one of the most popular in the city and arguably the entire country.

The women’s national team is working on building that kind of following in the inaugural year of MexTour W after a few rocky years on the international stage. Mexico has missed the last two Women’s World Cups with performances during Concacaf qualifying tournaments that don’t reflect the growth in talent in the region in recent years. But Saturday was all about the future, as Mexico drew more than 6,000 fans out to SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, the Red Stars’ home venue.

“When I heard Mexico was coming to play, I was like man, this crowd is going to be rowdy. So I was excited,” said Chicago defender and acting captain Arin Wright, happily sporting a Mexico jersey after the match ended.

The Red Stars were undoubtedly the away team in their home stadium on Saturday, with boos accompanying yellow card challenges and raucous cheers for every Mexico goal-scoring opportunity.

The crowd didn’t leave empty-handed. Mexico found spaces in and around a short-handed Red Stars defense to score five total goals, including a number of strikes from distance complemented by quality footwork in the penalty area. Ordoñez and Maria Sanchez led the charge, each scoring against Chicago just a week after doing the same for the Houston Dash in the NWSL.

“I felt like it was a great day for people that are football people,” said Red Stars head coach Christ Petrucelli. “It’s probably the first time we’ve ever been booed in our own stadium. But it’s OK, it was part of the fun.”

After a number of years when Mexican talent fell outside the NWSL talent pipeline, the door to more overlap between the U.S. and Mexico is appearing to open. Sanchez, Ordoñez, Katie Johnson and Scarlett Camberos are the highest-profile Mexican-American players to rise through the NCAA system and eventually find their way to the NWSL, while American talent is increasingly finding a home in Liga MX Femenil. Most notably, UCLA product and USWNT prospect Mia Fishel is on a goal-scoring tear for Tigres Femenil.

“I think there should be more Mexican players in our league,” Wright said after the game. “I mean, watching this game right there, it shows that they can keep up and that they bring a lot of different talent that we don’t have here in this league. And I think our league could thrive having a little bit more of their technical ability.”

Red Stars midfielder Jill Aguilera, who plays for the Puerto Rico national team, agrees that more opportunities for cross-competition are only good for the region. Saturday’s game was a quick turnaround for Aguilera, as Puerto Rico will play their own version of a club friendly against Liga MX Femenil side Tijuana in California early this week.

“I played Mexico a year ago, somewhat close to today,” she said. “So I was definitely used to the crowd, I knew that it would feel somewhat like an away game. I expected that.”

While the Red Stars did their best to quiet the Mexico crowd, most emphatically with Julia Bianchi’s Olimpico goal off a corner kick, they were also open about their desire to see many of the fans return, perhaps sporting their club colors next time around. The Red Stars’ home outside of Chicago’s city limits has long been a topic of conversation, as the team attempts to connect with the vibrant community northeast of the quiet suburb where they play.

“I think that we struggle a bit, everyone knows, to get fans out here to SeatGeek. So we were really excited to have them come in and have our players really experience that atmosphere that Mexico can bring,” said Wright.

“Overall, we’re just grateful to have as many people as we did out here, and the more we can get fans like this to our regular season games, the better for everyone,” echoed Aguilera.

Wright believes the way to draw crowds back is to continue being active with outreach, and the scheduling of international friendlies is an easy way to make the Red Stars a relevant part of the footballing conversation in the greater Chicagoland community.

“Chicago is a melting pot. It’s so diverse, it has so many different cultures,” she says. “So can we get more games against other countries? That’s how you get more fans is more visibility, and reaching different countries and different fan bases.”

Despite the result, the Red Stars relished the opportunity to be a part of the global game, and Wright is eager for more opportunities.

“The players are gonna be happy to do it,” she said. “Ask us to go to Mexico, twist our arm, we’ll be there.”

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

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

Other former players contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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