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JWS’ NWSL Best XI: Naming the top players in 2022

Chicago’s Mallory Pugh and San Diego’s Naomi Girma were standouts for their clubs this season. (Jamie Sabau/USA TODAY Sports)

NWSL playoff contention came down to the last game of the regular season on Oct. 2, proving just how competitive this year has been. Players’ exhilarating performances kept game results and league standings unpredictable all the way from May to October.

As the playoffs head into the semifinal round this Sunday, we recognize the NWSL talent that stood a head above the rest with Just Women’s Sports’ picks for the 2022 Best XI of the Year.

Goalkeeper

AD Franch, Kansas City Current

With 66 saves and a 72.5 percent save percentage this season, AD Franch helped her team reach the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Kansas City improved from last place in 2021 to fifth this year thanks in large part to a 13-game unbeaten streak that included five shutouts.

One of Franch’s most memorable plays came against the Washington Spirit in July, when she saved a penalty shot in stoppage time. Her efforts preserved a 1-0 win for the Current and extended their unbeaten streak to six at the time. The 31-year-old’s show-stopping performance in the quarterfinals on Sunday helped Kansas City pull off a 2-1 win and advance to a semifinal matchup with OL Reign.

Defenders

Carson Pickett, North Carolina Courage

Carson Pickett makes an impact no matter where she is on the field. She finished the season as the league leader in chances created (52) and tied for the league lead in assists (six) while also recording a goal for the Courage. Defensively, Pickett had a 71 percent tackle success rate, 36 interceptions, six blocks and 32 clearances. Named to the NWSL Team of the Month three times this year, she helped the Courage rise from last in the league standings to seventh, one draw away from earning the final playoff spot.

Naomi Girma, San Diego Wave FC

In an impressive first season in the NWSL, Naomi Girma was named to three NWSL Teams of the Month and earned Rookie of the Month in May and September. Playing every minute of every game she appeared in, the 2022 No. 1 draft pick recorded an 83 percent success rate in distribution and a 71 percent success rate in duels. She helped the semifinal-bound San Diego Wave concede just 21 goals, the second-best mark in the league this season.

Kristen Edmonds, Kansas City Current 

The first player to appear in 50 games across all competitions for her club, Kristen Edmonds has been a game-changer on the Current’s backline. Winning 69.3 percent of her duels, 50 percent of her aerial duels and 62.8 percent of her tackles, Edmonds has also been critical in possession, completing 81 percent of her passes and making 12 key passes. In September, she recorded a game-tying assist in stoppage time against the Portland Thorns to keep Kansas City one point ahead of the Thorns in the standings at the time.

Sofia Huerta, OL Reign

Starting 18 of 19 games without being subbed off, Sofia Huerta helped the OL Reign backline defense concede a league-best 19 goals this season. The tenacious wingback recorded 10 blocks, 20 interceptions and 18 clearances en route to the Reign’s NWSL Shield. She also applied pressure on the attack with 14 shots and one goal, while ranking third in the league with nine big chances created and registering four assists and 36 key passes.

Midfielders

Rose Lavelle, OL Reign

Like many of her USWNT teammates, Rose Lavelle is having arguably the best season of her NWSL career. Ranked second in the league for possession won in the final third, she averaged a 60 percent tackle success rate across the field. The 27-year-old has been productive on the attack, with five goals, an assist and 25 key passes. She also successfully distributed 80.6 percent of her passes and hit her target on long balls 72.4 percent of the time.

Hina Sugita, Portland Thorns FC

Hina Sugita has been unstoppable in possession in her first season with the Thorns. With an 82 percent passing success rate, the patient midfielder completed nine successful crosses and a whopping 42 key passes. She directly contributed to nearly 20 percent of the Thorns’ 49 goals while scoring five of her own — including two game-winners — and recording four assists.

Sophie Schmidt, Houston Dash

Starting all 18 games she appeared in this season, Sophie Schmidt was the backbone of the Dash midfield that helped carry the team to its first NWSL playoff appearance in franchise history. The well-rounded defensive midfielder dominated in possession, tackles, duels, aerial duels and long passes, and she read the game exceptionally with 40 interceptions. Accumulating three goals and one assist, she demonstrated a knack for shooting from anywhere, including loose balls in front of net and one-timer rockets from outside the 18-yard box.

Forwards

Alex Morgan, San Diego Wave FC

For the first time since joining the league in 2013, Alex Morgan won the NWSL Golden Boot with a career-high 15 goals in 17 games. Her three braces tied for second in the league in 2022, and she became the third player in league history to score four goals in one game. Her 11th goal this season was the 50th of her NWSL career, making her the fifth player to reach that milestone. Morgan’s efforts helped San Diego finish third in league play and become the first expansion team to reach the NWSL playoffs in its inaugural season.

Sophia Smith, Portland Thorns FC

The Player of the Month in June, Sophia Smith was a menace in the final third all season, leading the league with 76 shots and 48 shots on goal. She ranked second in the Golden Boot race with 14 goals, just one behind Morgan. From June 8 to Aug. 5, Smith scored in five straight games, a stretch that included three of her four braces this season. The USWNT star showed this season just how dominant she can be with both feet, scoring nine goals with her right and five with her left. Her three assists also tied her with Morgan and Mallory Pugh as the league leaders in combined goals and assists with 17.

Mallory Pugh, Chicago Red Stars

Mallory Pugh can orchestrate games with her dribbling, set-up plays, finishing and defending, recording an 80 percent success rate on tackles in 2022. She finished the season as a top-five scorer with 11 goals and tied with Pickett for the league lead in assists with six. To cap an impressive campaign in which she scored five game-winning goals, Pugh notched the goal that earned the Red Stars the final NWSL playoff spot in a 2-0 win over Angel City FC.

JWS’ Best XI Second Team

GK — Phallon Tullis-Joyce, OL Reign

D — Becky Sauerbrunn, Portland Thorns

D — Alana Cook, OL Reign

D — Tatumn Milazzo, Chicago Red Stars

D — Emily Fox, Racing Louisville FC

M — Debinha, North Carolina Courage

M — Sam Coffey, Portland Thorns

M — Lo’eau Labonta, Kansas City Current

F — Kerolin, North Carolina Courage

F — Megan Rapinoe, OL Reign

F — María Sánchez, Houston Dash

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.

Barcelona Beat Lyon to Win Back-to-Back Champions League Titles

Barcelona's Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas celebrating after beating Lyon at the 2024 Champions League final
Ballon d'Or winners Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas helped Barcelona to a second-straight UWCL title on Saturday. (Ramsey Cardy - Sportsfile/UEFA via Getty Images)

Barcelona was crowned champion of the Champions League on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Lyon in Bilbao.

Alexia "La Reina" Putellas, who recently re-signed with Barcelona, came off the bench to score the team's second goal. Fellow Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmatí provided the team’s first. After the game, defender Lucy Bronze said Putellas was nicknamed "the queen" for a reason.

"Alexia is the captain of the team and she's the queen of Barcelona for a reason,"  defender Lucy Bronze told DAZN. "She's got the quality to do that in the last minute of the Champions League final when we were up against it at the end and it just sealed the win for us. It was amazing."

The victory marked Barcelona's first win over Lyon in a UWCL final, having previously gone up against the French side at both the 2019 and 2022 Champions League finals. It's also Barcelona's second Champions League title in a row.

"It's hard to win it once, but to do it back-to-back, Lyon showed how difficult it is and this team has finally done that," Bronze said. "I think we go down in history as one of the best teams in Europe."

This season, the team also secured a quadruple for the first time in club history, having already won Liga F, the Copa de la Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. The win ensures that coach Jonatan Giráldez — who has officially departed the team to join the NWSL's Washington Spirit — leaves Europe a champion.

"It was an incredible game. I am really happy, it's one of the best days of my life for sure," Giráldez told broadcaster DAZN after the game. "We did an amazing job. I am very proud of all of them."

Following the win, Putellas said her team "can't ask for anything else."

"Our objective was to win four out of four," the Spain international told reporters. "We have achieved everything we wanted. Every minute of sacrifice has been worth the effort — and I'd say that not after the game, but before, just entering in the stadium, with all the support we had here, it was worth it."

2024 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Aitana Bonmatí said that the crowd support made it "feel like Camp Nou."

"I am on cloud nine right now," she said. "It is an historic day which we will remember forever."

Sun’s Alyssa Thomas Ejected After Flagrant 2 on Sky Rookie Angel Reese

Angel Reese said there were "no hard feelings" stemming from Alyssa Thomas's flagrant foul. (Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Angel Reese might have gotten knocked down on Saturday, but she got right back up again. 

Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas was ejected from the Sun’s 86-82 win over Chicago following a flagrant foul 2 on Reese — the first of her career. While the two were battling for a rebound, Reese took a clothesline hold around the neck courtesy of Thomas before hitting the ground.

After the game, Reese told reporters that there were "no hard feelings" and she appreciated Thomas for playing her hard beneath the basket.

"I know she purposely probably didn’t do it towards me," Reese said. "But just being able to come out there and just be strong and stand on two feet, it was going to be a tough game and that’s what I’m built for. And my teammates had my back throughout the whole game. So I was prepared for it."

She also didn’t buy into the idea that it was a "Welcome to the WNBA" moment, but thanked Thomas "sending a message" because it helped her get back up and "keep pushing."

"It’s not just because I’m a rookie. I’m a player. I’m a basketball player. They don’t give a damn if I’m a rookie. I mean, I want them to come at me every day. I want them to come at everybody," she added. "I mean, they’re not supposed to be nice to me. I hope y’all know that. They’re not supposed to be nice to me or lay down because I’m Angel Reese or because I’m a rookie."

Reese finished the game with 13 points, five rebounds, and two assists over 33 minutes.

Barcelona to Face Lyon in Champions League Rematch This Weekend

UEFA Women's Champions League Final"Barcelona FC - Olympique Lyonnais"
Saturday's game will be the third UWCL final meeting for Barcelona and Lyon, having previously gone up against each other in 2019 and 2022. (ANP via Getty Images)

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off in Bilbao on Saturday, with a couple of familiar foes set to face off for the trophy.

Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, making its 11th final appearance since 2010, will go head to head with a Barcelona side making its fourth final appearance in a row.

This will be the third time these two teams meet in the UWCL title game, having previously appeared in the 2019 and 2022 finals. Lyon won both of those prior games against Barcelona, alongside a total of eight Champions League trophies. That’s double that of any other club, with Eintracht Frankfurt coming in a distant second with four. 

Should Barcelona win, this would be the team's third title — breaking a tie for the third in the UWCL total titles race. 

But as these teams return to the UWCL final, it also marks the end of an era for both clubs. The game will be the last for both club managers, as Barcelona’s Jonatan Giráldez and Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor depart for new jobs after the season's end.

Giráldez is set to leave for the NWSL's Washington Spirit, while Bompastor will take over for incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes at Chelsea. Both coaches have earned one UWCL trophy during their tenures, while Bompastor also brought two Champions League trophies to Lyon as a player. She was the first coach to win a UWCL trophy as both a coach and player.

This season, Barcelona is looking for its first quadruple, having won a fifth Liga F title alongside the Copa de La Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. 

"We hope he can go out with the four trophies because we know how competitive and ambitious he is," Barcelona midfielder Patri Guijarro told ESPN. "It has been a winning era with him in charge and for him to go out with all four trophies would be historic and incredible."

But Lyon's Damaris Egurrola is excited about her team's chances of overcoming Barcelona once again — and to do it in front of family and friends.

"Lyon have something special," she told Forbes ahead of the weekend's final. "We have a great team and we have the players with enough talent to win any match."

The game will be a homecoming for Egurrola, who began her professional career with Athletic Bilbao.

"I’ve been thinking of this day and night," she said. "I’ve been dreaming of playing this match. Having the opportunity to play in San Mames is amazing. This is where it all started for me."

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off Saturday, May 25th at 12 PM ET and is free to stream on DAZN.

World No. 1 Iga Swiatek Headlines a Stacked 2024 French Open

Iga Swiatek serves against Coco Gauff during the group stage of the 2023 WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico
Iga Swiatek serves against Coco Gauff during the group stage of the 2023 WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico. (Robert Prange/Getty Images)

The 2024 French Open starts on Sunday, with a match schedule that promises to wrap the short clay court season up in style.

Looking for her fourth title at the major is three-time Roland Garros champion and World No. 1 Iga Swiatek, considered the favorite to win the whole Slam. Three of her four major titles have come at the French tournament. 

Swiatek's career record at the French Open is a dominating 28-2, and she's currently on a 16-game winning streak fueled by victories at tune-up tournaments in Madrid and Rome.

But that doesn't mean she won't face some serious challengers along the way. Get to know some of the Polish tennis champ's strongest competitors.

Aryna Sabalenka

Sabalenka is ranked No. 2 in the world and faced Swiatek in the finals at both Madrid and Rome. She lost in three sets in Madrid, which included a close third-set tiebreak, before losing in straight sets at the Italian Open. 

She enters the French Open having won the Australian Open in January, successfully defending her title in the first Slam of the season. At last year’s French Open, Sabalenka reached the semifinals — a career best — before being ousted by Karolina Muchová in three sets.

Season record: 25-7

Coco Gauff

Currently sitting at No. 3 in the world, the highest-ranked American on the schedule is none other than Coco Gauff. Gauff won her first major at the US Open last year, and reached the semifinals of this year’s Australian Open. She faced Swiatek in the semifinals of the Italian Open last week, losing in straight sets. 

But her first major final came at the French Open in 2022, before being ousted by Swiatek in the quarterfinals at last year’s French Open. The two are on a crash course for a meeting before the finals, as Gauff anchors the other quadrant on Swiatek’s side of the draw, should they both advance deep into the competition.

Season record: 25-8

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