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NWSL Challenge Cup: Best XI


With the Challenge Cup championship only days away, we are crowning our tournament Best XI ahead of Saturday’s tilt between NJ/NY Gotham FC and the Portland Thorns.

In no particular order…

GK: Ashlyn Harris, Orlando Pride

Harris strung together a series of outstanding performances during the Challenge Cup, earning two clean sheets and maintaining an 84.2% save success rate throughout Orlando’s four games. Most notably, Harris stopped two penalty kicks within a week’s time — one against the Washington Spirit and one against NJ/NY Gotham FC — earning the honor of Budweiser’s Player of the Week in the second week of the tournament.

D: Brooke Hendrix, Racing Louisville FC

A staple in Louisville’s backline, Hendrix notched 16 clearances, 4 blocks and 3 interceptions through the group stage of the Challenge Cup, as well as a 60% success rate in tackles and a 65.2% success rate in duels. The defender also scored a goal during the team’s inaugural match, equalizing for Louisville in stoppage time against Orlando.

D: Gina Lewandowski, NJ/NY Gotham FC

A key component in securing Gotham FC’s championship berth, Lewandowski’s passing precision was heavily relied upon as she boasted an impressive 83% passing success rate through 360 minutes of play, completing 176 of 212 attempted passes and also adding 23 clearances. In the defensive third, Lewandowski maintained 85% passing accuracy, averaging 53 passes per 90 minutes.

D: Sarah Gorden, Chicago Red Stars

Also a force on the backline was Sarah Gorden, who was dominant across the board. Gorden maintained an 80% success rate in tackles, a 73.3% success rate in duels, and a 100% success rate in aerial duels. Still not impressed? The defender also notched nine clearances, one block and two interceptions, helping limit all West Division opponents to five goals total. 

D: Kelli Hubly, Portland Thorns

The unsung hero of the Portland defense, Hubly posted phenomenal stats throughout the tournament — a 100% success rate in tackles, a 68.2% success rate in duels, and a 75% success rate in aerial duels — while also tallying 26 clearances, two blocks, and eight interceptions. Likewise dominant was her passing accuracy, as she completed 131 of 156 attempted passes for an 84% passing success rate. Often overlooked among the Thorns’ star names, Hubly is as reliable as they come in the defensive third. 

M: Debinha, North Carolina Courage

Perhaps one of the most dominant offensive players of the Challenge Cup, Debinha scored three goals (two of which came in the same match), played seven key passes and maintained a 60% success rate in long passes, as she helped lift the Courage to a 2-1-1 record in tournament play. When paired with teammates Lynn Williams and Jessica McDonald, the Brazilian international was nearly unstoppable, taking 16 total shots throughout four games.

M: Kristie Mewis, Houston Dash

Though Mewis only appeared in two matches for the Dash, her tournament performance was certainly of note. The midfielder scored twice in a 3-1 victory over Kansas City NWSL, earning herself Budweiser Player of the Week honors for her impressive showing. In the two games that Mewis did not appear in, the Dash failed to score, a telling sign of just how valuable Mewis was.  

M/F: Cece Kizer, Racing Louisville FC

Called a “hidden gem” by Racing Louisville coach Christy Holly, Kizer boasted a 66.7% goal conversion rate through four games, scoring two goals on only three shots while also assisting another. Kizer made history in her first Challenge Cup appearance, scoring Louisville’s first-ever goal against the Orlando Pride. If her Challenge Cup performances prove anything, it’s that the 24 year old could prove to be a cornerstone player for the NWSL’s newest club. 

F: Midge Purce, NJ/NY Gotham FC

Yet another key player in punching Gotham’s ticket to the championship game, Purce bagged two goals in the highest-scoring match in Challenge Cup history, as Gotham beat North Carolina 4-3. In 269 minutes played, the forward added four interceptions, a successful cross and two key passes, linking with teammates Carli Lloyd and Paige Monaghan to wreak havoc on opposing defenses.

F: Trinity Rodman, Washington Spirit

Making headlines throughout the Challenge Cup was rookie Trinity Rodman, who started three of four matches for the Washington Spirit and logged her first professional goal against the NC Courage. The 18-year-old was selected second overall in this year’s NWSL draft, and following her tournament performance, some wonder if she should have gone first. Rodman tallied 11 shots, six of which were on target, while also adding 11 key passes and an assist. 

F: Jessica McDonald, North Carolina Courage

Playing an integral role in five of the nine goals scored by the Courage during the Challenge Cup, McDonald recorded three assists and two goals in 343 minutes of tournament play, as well as four shots on target and an 83.3% success rate in long passes. After opting out of the 2020 Fall Series due to COVID-19 concerns, it seems that the forward has not missed a beat in her return to the Courage. 

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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