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Lynn Williams praises Naomi Girma as USWNT ‘bright spot’ at World Cup

(Ulrik Pedersen/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

If there was one bright spot for the U.S. women’s national team at the 2023 World Cup, it was Naomi Girma.

In the absence of Becky Sauerbrunn, Girma stepped up in tandem with veteran Julie Ertz to lock down the backline. Their teamwork at center-back resulted in three shutouts and just one goal allowed, which came against the Netherlands in the group stage.

While Girma’s impact could be seen on the field, it also was felt off it. On the latest episode of Just Women’s Sports‘ “Snacks” podcast, USWNT forward Lynn Williams described how the young defender helped lift her teammates.

“I think that is one of the hardest things to do is to almost forget about everything in that last game,” Williams said. “[The World Cup] didn’t go how we wanted it to, but you were such a bright spot on the team, I think on the field but also off the field. I feel like you just always brought, like, a positivity to the environment.”

The 2023 World Cup served as Girma’s first major tournament, and at 23 years old, she already is stepping into a leadership role with the USWNT and gaining wisdom that will help her in the years to come.

“I think it’s hard and it’s so fun to see you do it so young, to speak up in meetings, even if it’s something as simple as a question, because you don’t want to sound silly,” Williams continued. “I just felt like, even if you were nervous, you did it with so much grace and you were just like, ‘What do we feel about this?’ And it was something that I don’t even think a lot of people thought about. So your attention to detail is far beyond your years.”

While Girma admitted that she was nervous to ask questions, she also said her time at Stanford helped her to feel empowered to do so. While with the Cardinal, she never had anyone shut her down when she asked questions, which helped her as she’s stepped into the NWSL with the San Diego Wave and onto the international stage with the national team.

The atmosphere on the USWNT also has helped make it easier to ask questions, Girma said.

“When you’re younger it’s a little harder, because it’s easy to default and let other people do it,” she said. “I also think in this group, like it was very much said, it doesn’t matter how old you are, it doesn’t matter how many caps you have, if you have something to say, say it.

“Without that encouragement from leaders on the team, it’s harder for younger players to feel comfortable and to not feel like, ‘Oh, like I’m gonna get shut down.’ … It’s really just like, we’re nervous and we make it up in our head. … I think that encouragement from leaders on the team was really, really helpful, too.”

The maturity Girma has shown in just two years in the NWSL and with the USWNT has shown through, as Williams pointed out.

“It’s so funny, because you talked about wanting to work on your leadership side but it’s your second year in the league,” Williams said. “It’s so crazy. I feel like when I was in my second year in the league, I was like, I got to worry about myself, good luck to everybody else. Like I only have the capacity to worry about me and that’s what’s going to help the team. I just feel like you’re so mature to recognize that you have something to give and you want to grow outside yourself.”

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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