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NWSL August Player of the Month: Sarah Gorden anchors Angel City

Sarah Gorden was critical to Angel City’s late push for a 2023 playoff spot. (EM Dash/USA TODAY Sports)

August was a disjointed month in the NWSL, as the league took an extended regular season break to finish the Challenge Cup group stage and make room for World Cup absences. With only two regular season games throughout the month, sample sizes for top performers have been small, while World Cup players have had variable availability.

Within that context, for the first time this season, our Player of the Month is a defender — and one who was not destined for international duty in 2023. A number of teams are making strong playoff pushes based on their ability to hold onto leads and grit out results, placing extra importance on defenders.

Here are our top performers for the month of August in the NWSL, beginning with our choice for Player of the Month.

Sarah Gorden, D, Angel City FC

Angel City FC is unbeaten in nine games across all competitions, with six of those wins coming in the regular season. Two of those games were in August, as the Los Angeles club makes a surge toward the playoffs.

Angel City’s newfound attacking tenacity has been critical to their success, but they’ve also been adept at turning close games into results. The player at the center of those efforts is center-back Sarah Gorden, who’s been remarkably steady in her first full season with the club.

Gorden is in the top five in American Soccer Analysis’ g+ metric for the August regular season, due to her excellent 1v1 defending and closing speed that allows her to interrupt opponents’ attacks. The Angel City defense gave up just two goals in two regular season games in August, securing a draw and the club’s first win ever against OL Reign.

In a season without many defensive stalwarts, Gorden has stood out, and now Angel City is finding the success it’s been looking for. Gorden surely has to be on the shortlist for 2023 NWSL Defender of the Year, as she gives her team a shot at its first-ever playoff berth.

Honorable Mentions

Morgan Weaver, F, Portland Thorns

Weaver notched a goal and an assist in two regular season games in August, as Portland went undefeated to regain the top spot on the NWSL table. Weaver is overshadowed at times by higher-profile teammates, such as Golden Boot leader Sophia Smith, but she serves as the motor that helps Portland’s attacking machine run.

Messiah Bright, F, Orlando Pride

Speaking of end-of-the-year shortlists, Messiah Bright’s case for Rookie of the Year is getting stronger by the game. The Pride dominated a struggling Chicago Red Stars team in their first regular season game of the month, with Bright scoring a brace in just 60 minutes played. The 2023 second-round pick now has six goals on the season, launching herself into the Golden Boot conversation as a rookie.

Abby Dahlkemper, D, San Diego Wave

Abby Dahlkemper made a welcome return to the NWSL in August, after a back injury had held her out of competitive play for almost a year. Slotting back into San Diego’s starting defense, the World Cup champion helped seal two much-needed regular season wins as the Wave surged into third place. She capped her return month with a goal, opening the scoring in San Diego’s 2-1 win over Orlando on Friday.

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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