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Spirit owner Michele Kang wants to create ‘innovation lab’ for her clubs

Washington Spirit majority owner Michele Kang talks with forward Trinity Rodman after a game during the 2022 season. (EM Dash/USA TODAY Sports)

Washington Spirit owner Michele Kang has big goals for women’s soccer.

After acquiring a majority stake in the Spirit in 2022, Kang is set to take control of the Olympique Lyonnais women’s team within the next month. And she expects to add at least one more team to the fold by the end of the year, with the eventual goal to own at least one team on each continent, she told ESPN.

“Women’s soccer around the world needs investment,” Kang told ESPN. “It’s not just the U.S. For us to take women’s soccer to the next level — Europe, Asia, South America, Latin America — they all need to come up. I wanted to accelerate that trend.”

By focusing on women’s soccer teams as independent businesses, rather then sharing identities and operations with men’s teams, Kang believes she can change the game.

Take performance training. Kang wants her clubs to train “women as women,” tailoring programs to their physiology rather than copy-and-pasting approaches from men’s sports. Women’s soccer has seen an alarming number of injuries in the last year, particularly ACL tears, yet research specific to women athletes is rare.

Dawn Scott, who joined the Spirit last November as senior director of performance, has held similar positions with the U.S. and England women’s national teams. She raised the alarm over the lack of research soon after joining the Spirit, and she is leading a group of 14 employees with the Spirit to bring a fresh approach to the team.

Kang sees in Scott’s performance staff the potential for ideas and tools that could be shared across all the teams in her new women’s soccer organization.

“We’re going to create some sort of an innovation lab,” Kang said. “It’s going to be dedicated, the staff and everything else, toward the Spirit. To some extent, because we started (with) the Spirit, this is going to be where we start developing most of the things. All the methodology, training methodology, all that stuff will be shared. Staff will go back and forth and will train the trainers.

“Other teams will have their own team (of staff) and we will localize. We’re not just going to say one size fits all, but here is some basic science, basic technology, things that have worked. Let’s customize it to make it work. There are some differences in European-style football vs. American, so we’re going to customize the fundamental science, technology, research. It will be all shared and then we’ll figure out how to spread those methodologies so that everyone can benefit from what we are investing in.”

Kang also has plans to build training facilities. For Lyon, that means creating a facility dedicated to the women’s team to take the place of the current facility shared with the men’s team. For the Spirit, that will mean building a permanent training facility by 2025 or 2026, a luxury for a team that has spent years bouncing between venues.

“The idea is that the same design will be transported to Lyon for the women’s team,” Kang told ESPN. “Whatever team, we will clearly have to customize a little bit, but the idea is that level of training center, performance center is going to be made available for every team under our umbrella, so if you walk into Spirit or Lyon, the training center will look the same inside and they’ll have access to the best technology, best equipment, best medical care, nutrition.”

While Parsons told ESPN he is “100% all-in” on focusing on the Spirit, and that nothing will change with the new club being under shared ownership, he came on as coach with the knowledge of what Kang hoped to build.

“What Michele has also done is made clear that this isn’t just two clubs — there will be more clubs,” Parsons said. “I knew that before I joined — not which clubs and which countries, but this is the model, this is the vision.”

While certain best practices will be shared, each team will have its own identity.

“I want to make sure that each team is champion in its own country,” Kang said. “We’re not sacrificing one team for the benefit of another. We’re going to give everything and anything that each team needs to be successful. They’ll maintain their own identity, fandom — those are all very local, not central, or global.”

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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