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NWSL Challenge Cup: Top 10 Plays of the Opening Round

BRYAN BYERLY/ISI PHOTOS

The NWSL Challenge Cup is officially heading to the knockout stage. Before the quarterfinals begin this Friday, take a look at the Top 10 plays of the opening round.

 

10. WE WANT WHATEVER LYNN WILLIAMS IS EATING

We’re not sure if the defenders were standing still or if Williams is just that fast. Even after getting tripped up on the right flank at half field, Williams relentlessly pushes onto goal, cutting across her defender and finishing the ball front post with spectacular poise and composure. Coach Andonovski, are you taking notes?

 

9. CASEY SHORT HITS THE BUZZER BEATER

Short may be a defender, but she knows how to get forward and find the back of the net. McCaskill drops a bomb into the box and Short does the rest, heading it home to give Chicago a 1-0 lead in the 85th minute. The Red Stars would hold on to win their first game of the tournament against Utah.

 

8. SHERIDAN ONLY HAS ONE MODE: BEAST MODE

Kailen Sheridan is an absolute animal. Here, the Sky Blue goalkeeper blocks a rip from point-blank range on a breakaway in order to preserve a shutout against OL Reign. If Sheridan was our keeper, we might get a little too comfortable having her back there.

 

7. WARNING: HIGH VOLUME OF TIKI-TAKA INBOUND

Plays like these remind us why it’s called the beautiful game. A quick slip ball in from the flank and an outside of the foot flick by Groom sets Kristie Mewis up to perfectly knock the ball home. We could watch this play on repeat. Forever.

 

6. DUNN GETS IT DONE

Crystal Dunn is known as one of the most versatile players in all of soccer. Typically positioned as a left-back, Dunn has recently stepped into a new role as an attacking central midfielder, earning her first goal of the tournament off a diagonal ball from Williams. We’re secretly convinced Dunn could step in goal and still be a star.

5. MEET OUR NEW SECRETARY OF DEFENSE, AUBREY BLEDSOE

You can get as close as you want to the goal before you shoot, but frankly, it doesn’t matter, because the Washington Spirits’ goalkeeper is an absolute brick wall. Bledsoe makes an incredible reactionary save against the Chicago Red Stars here, blocking the shot with just her left fist. Bledsoe’s heroics helped her team pick up up their first win of the tournament.

 

4. THREE WORDS: THE. GREAT. HORAN.

Coach Andonovskis’ notes: ‘Horan is a total stud.’ The Portland Thorns’ Meghan Klingenberg chips a dinker into the box, setting up Horan, who scores a powerful diving header. Her extra effort gave Portland an advantage over Washington Spirit that resulted in a 1:1 tie for the clubs. For Horan, it’s not a matter of ‘if,’ but ‘when.’ #facts

 

3. KAWASUMI’S HAIL MARY

Remember that epic goal Carli Lloyd hit in the Women’s World Cup final game in 2015, catching the Japanese goalkeeper off her line? Well, Nahomi Kawasumi, a Sky Blue FC forward and member of Japan’s national team, said ‘watch this’ against the Houston Dash. Kawasumi picks her head up, sees Jane Campbell far out of her goal, and cleverly chips the ball into the back of the net, helping her team to a 2-0 win.

 

2. NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES. SOME WEAR LAUREN BARNES’ JERSEY

Defenders don’t always get enough credit, but when they do, they certainly deserve it. Barnes does a full 180 here, shifting from her mark to pick up an open opposing forward in the box. Her perfectly timed slide tackle blocks Kawasumi’s rocket shot, preserving OL Reign’s 0-0 draw with Sky Blue FC.

 

1. IT’S A BIRD, IT’S A PLANE, IT’S SHEA GROOM

Groom took flight on this play, heading the ball back post off a brilliant cross delivered from teammate Rachel Daly. Groom’s goal doubled Houston’s lead en route to a 2-0 win against OL Reign. Meanwhile, we’re still crunching the numbers in trying to calculate just how Groom was able to stay up for so long.

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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