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‘A gut feeling’: Michelle Cooper’s big decision leads to Kansas City

Michelle Cooper went No. 2 to the Kansas City Current after a trade at the NWSL Draft on Thursday night. (Kyle Ross/USA TODAY Sports)

PHILADELPHIA — Even with Angel City’s No. 1 pick already turned in, Duke sophomore Michelle Cooper found herself in the middle of the biggest bombshell moment of the 2023 NWSL Draft.

The MAC Hermann trophy winner went No. 2 on Thursday, selected by the Kansas City Current after a league-shaking trade that sent U.S. women’s national team forward Lynn Williams to Gotham FC. Cooper is joining one of the most ambitious sides in the league, which acquired a number of high-profile players in the offseason, including Brazilian superstar Debinha and two-time USWNT world champion Morgan Gautrat.

Those kinds of big moves build a level of excitement and expectations that can threaten to swallow a young prospect whole. But on one of the biggest days of her young soccer career, Cooper made sure to keep things in the family.

“I don’t think I’ve completely digested quite yet that my life is gonna do a 180 as of today,” the 20-year-old told Just Women’s Sports the morning of the draft from a hotel room in Philadelphia, as she and her family and coaches prepared for the next step in her career.

The decision to go pro and leave Duke University two years early wasn’t an easy one, especially as many players still choose to exhaust their college eligibility before jumping to the NWSL and beyond. It’s only been four years since Tierna Davidson became the first player to forgo her final year of college and become the first non-senior to enter the NWSL draft.

Cooper’s move reflects both a personal decision and a shifting of norms.

“I made sure to talk with my mom, my sister, especially, and kind of get their viewpoints on it,” Cooper said. “And once I ultimately decided the dreams that I want to chase, going pro would help chase those dreams.”

She’s gotten nothing but support from her coaches at Duke, who have been with her every step of the way, but the final decision ultimately had to be hers.

“It’s definitely like a gut feeling, and that’s something that I trusted,” she said.

Once a top prospect decides to go pro, moving on to the NWSL isn’t a guarantee. Cooper has been tested at the U.S. youth levels and is coming off a season in which she recorded a team-high 19 goals and 11 assists for Duke. Increasingly, homegrown talent have the opportunity to join a growing global market, with past top prospects like Catarina Macario and Jessie Fleming making the choice to go to Europe instead.

(Chris Leduc/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

When Cooper announced she’d be turning pro, she had to make another personal decision, and again she kept things close to home.

“Ultimately, I’m really close with my family, my mother and my sister, and I didn’t want to be too far away from them, and make sure that they can still visit me and I can still be in close contact with them,” she said. “And that was a lot easier if I stayed in the NWSL.”

Cooper admits entering the draft is daunting, but she went into the process with an open mind. After she had been selected Thursday night, Kansas City general manager Camille Levin Ashton confirmed that Cooper had trained with the Current during Duke’s offseason and had gotten a feel for their environment.

Even before her name was called, Cooper had high praise for the project the Current are building in Kansas City, saying their investment in facilities is one of the greatest examples of league progress, and she described their vision as one other clubs now have to follow.

Current head coach Matt Potter said at the draft that the feeling is mutual.

“The one common denominator is [Cooper and others] have all said, ‘We promise we’ll work hard.’ And the fact that they can follow through with that with the environment we have, the facilities and resources we have, that’s all a top, top player wants,” Potter said.

(Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

With her focus now 100 percent on soccer, Cooper also began to field offers from apparel brands, something she didn’t feel she always had time for in college even with the opportunities that came from Name, Image and Likeness rights.

“I honestly didn’t have a lot of experience with NIL (Name, Image and Likeness),” she said. “I was always making sure that I was just focused on doing my part on the field and staying present with my teammates off the field, and obviously making sure that the classroom part is staying up to par as well.”

When the time did come to choose a brand, she followed her instincts once again, signing with New Balance.

“It was a no-brainer for me,” she said. “It’s a private, family-owned company. And that’s honestly what I’m all about, like I said earlier, just being close to my family.”

(Photos courtesy of New Balance)

With the draft finally over, Cooper has the entire world of professional soccer in front of her, joining a league she’s been watching for a long time. When asked if there are current NWSL players she’d like to emulate, she had a typically well-rounded answer.

“Diana Ordoñez, who likes to score headers, that’s one thing I want to do,” she said. “There’s people like Debinha who are just super creative and savvy on the ball, something else that I want to do. And then there’s people like Ali Krieger, who makes slide tackles and puts in the hard work.”

For a player who says she enjoys a game-winning assist as much as a goal, it’s not surprising that, as she transitions into the NWSL, she’s most excited about the connections she’s going to make.

“I’m excited to get to know new people and play with big names, people who’ve made history in women’s soccer,” she said. “To learn from them, to get to know who they are as people, to make friends. That’s what I’m most excited for.”

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

Midge Purce-Backed Docuseries ‘The Offseason’ to Drop This Summer

cast of the offseason nwsl reality series
'The Offseason' follows a group of NWSL stars as they prepare for preseason play. (The Offseason)

The Offseason, a reality series created by Gotham and USWNT star Midge Purce, has officially confirmed its streaming debut, Purce announced in Cannes on Tuesday.

The six-episode, half-hour docuseries will stream this summer on X, though a specific premiere date hasn't yet been set.

The Offseason was filmed in Miami, two weeks before the NWSL preseason. It's a crucial time for athletes, a period where they prepare to join their respective teams and compete for both starting and roster spots. Production designed all the facilities, bringing in top-tier trainers, masseuses, chefs, and gym equipment to create a high-level training environment, ensuring the players were in peak condition, per the show's release. Throughout filming, athletes lived together in one house — a reality TV conceit rife for entertainment.

The series follows a number of NWSL stars, including Purce (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Maria Sanchez (Houston Dash), Lo’eau LaBonta (Kansas City Current), Michelle Alozie (Houston Dash), Taylor Smith (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Nikki Stanton (OL Reign), Ally Watt (Orlando Pride), Taryn Torres (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Paige Nielsen (Angel City FC), and Ify Onumonu (Utah Royals).

"We wanted to create a series that truly captures the essence of what it means to be a professional athlete," said Purce. "This series has always been about more than just sports — it's about the human experience behind the athlete, as well."

The show promises a behind-the-scenes look at professional women's sports, teasing major life decisions, on-field tensions, and players taking stock of the environments they'll be entering once their preseason trip is over. The series delves into the real-life challenges faced by the athletes, including club trades, contract negotiations, burnout, and the relentless pressure from outsiders commenting on the players' personal lives.

The Offseason's official trailer, released on Tuesday, shows snippets of Hubly contemplating retirement, Sanchez joining the group after signing a high-profile contract, and a healthy amount of banter about on-field achievements.

The spirit of the series is reflected in its producers: Box To Box Films is known for their sports content (Drive to Survive, Break Point, Full Swing), whereas 32 Flavors is the creative force behind Vanderpump Rules and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. The series was funded by Seven Seven Six, and executive produced by Purce.

Lilia Vu adds Meijer LPGA Classic to tour wins record

Lilia Vu won in her first tournament in two months. (Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Lilia Vu won her fifth LPGA Tour event on Sunday, taking home the Meijer LPGA Classic title in her first tournament since March. 

The world No. 2 had been sidelined with a back injury, but returned with a vengeance. She began the day eight shots back of leader Grace Kim, and survived a three-hole playoff against Kim and former champion Lexi Thompson to take the title. 

“I think this is the most meaningful win,” said Vu, “because there was a time two months ago where I was just crying on the range not being sure if I would ever play a tournament again without pain.”

A two-time major champion, Vu hadn’t before won the Meijer LPGA Classic, but a birdie on the third playoff hole helped secure it. She’s now 2-for-3 in LPGA Tour playoffs. 

She said on Sunday that being unable to defend her title at the Chevron Championship was the “breaking point” in her season.

“Not being able to compete there really killed me,” she said. “I feel like I thought I was taking the steps in the right direction, but I’m glad that I was able to take a couple months off and reevaluate my body, let it recover, do what I needed to do to get back out here again.

“And we did the right thing and took two months off. I think it hurt me not to play competitive golf because I literally live for competitive golf, but we did the right thing and that’s why I’m here today.”

Top tennis players pull out of Olympics citing health reasons

Aryna Sabalenka will not play in the Olympics. (Photo by ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images)

Ons Jabeur and Aryna Sabalenka joined a growing list of tennis stars opting out of the Olympics on Monday.

Sabalenka, the reigning Australian Open champion and world No. 3, told reporters in Berlin that she was looking after her health while citing WTA tournament participation requirements. The Belarusian had struggled with a stomach bug during the French Open, where she lost in the semifinals of a major for the first time since 2022. 

“Especially with all the struggles I was having last month, I feel like I need to take care of my health. … It’s too much with the scheduling,” Sabalenka said. “It’s just too much. I made the decision to take care of my health.”

Similarly, Jabeur cited the health risks that come with the change of surface. The world No. 10 has been battling knee injuries this season, and lost in the French Open quarterfinals to Coco Gauff. 

Players will spend the next few weeks playing on grass in the lead-up to Wimbledon, while the Olympics will be played at Roland-Garros and be held on clay. 

“After consulting with my medical team regarding attending the Olympics in Paris, we have decided that the quick change of surface and the body’s adaptation required would put my knee at risk and jeopardize the rest of my season,” Jabeur posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Unfortunately, I will not be able to participate in the 2024 Paris Olympics. I have always loved representing my country in any competition, However, I must listen to my body and follow my medical team’s advice.”

The two join Emma Raducanu in opting out of the Olympics. Raducanu – who has dealt with a number of injuries since her US Open win in 2021 – cited the changing surface as “not worth the risk.”

Jaedyn Shaw Breaks NWSL Record for Most Goals Scored as a Teenager

Jaedyn Shaw of the san diego wave
Jaedyn Shaw is now holds the record for most NWSL goals as a teenager. (Julia Kapros-USA TODAY Sports)

Jaedyn Shaw continues to make NWSL history, surpassing Trinity Rodman for the most NWSL goals by a teenager on Saturday. 

She did it in a game against Rodman's Washington Spirit in the 20th minute of the 1-1 draw. It brings her total to 13 league goals, after making her NWSL debut at 17 years old in July 2022. 

The goal is her third this season. Shaw currently leads Wave alongside Makenzy Doniak. 

Shaw has also been a member of the USWNT, alongside Rodman, netting seven goals over 14 national team appearances. If she gets called up to this summer’s Olympics under Emma Hayes, it will mark her first official tournament with the USWNT.

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