All Scores

Most intriguing NWSL free agents still testing the waters

North Carolina Courage midfielder Debinha helped her team with a hat trick this weekend. (Jaylynn Nash/USA TODAY Sports)

After the 2022 NWSL season, free agents flooded the transfer market, as all six-year veterans became unrestricted in their ability to pursue new deals with teams. While the process will pay dividends for years to come, finalized deals have been slow to arrive as teams look toward the upcoming college draft and begin to put their rosters together.

A number of top veteran free agents re-signed with their current clubs, such as Christine Sinclair, Sophie Schmidt, Yuki Nagasato and Ifeoma Onumonu. Those moves were undeniably influenced by free agency, but not quite the splash announcements fans might have been expecting.

Gotham FC has been the only team so far to get deals with new players over the line, though their announcement of USWNT national Kelley O’Hara’s signing might have been slightly premature. They officially signed goalkeeper Abby Smith to shore up the position after the retirement of Ashlyn Harris. They also improved their defense with the signing of Kansas City standout Kristen Edmonds on Thursday.

Most teams are likely still negotiating with the free agents they had on their rosters in 2022 or are sitting back to evaluate the brand-new free-agency market. O’Hara’s announcement provided a welcome spark to the NWSL offseason, but other clubs have been slow to follow suit.

There is a wealth of talent still testing the waters, with a few notable names sticking out as players head toward the new year without deals in place.

Debinha, North Carolina Courage

It seems likely that Debinha will either come to contract terms with North Carolina or leave the NWSL entirely before moving to a different team in the league. Debinha has superstar talent as one of the best attacking midfielders in the world. Even with greater cap space and extended reserves of allocation money, there are few teams that can even afford to pursue the 31-year-old without radically shaking up the rosters they’ve already built. It would be amazing to see a home-run swing from another NWSL contender, but if Debinha wants to make a big money move, she might have to leave the U.S.

Teams that should be interested: All of them. Dark horse: Orlando (combined with re-signing Marta, who similarly might be looking outside the NWSL for her next adventure)

Morgan Gautrat, Chicago Red Stars

Gautrat has already told Chicago she won’t be returning in 2023, and she’ll have a number of teams interested in her services. NWSL teams aren’t always known for their midfield hold-up play, and a number of clubs could use a healthy Gautrat as a tempo-setter. The two-time World Champion was arguably Chicago’s most important player as the club made a run to the 2021 NWSL Championship, maintaining possession and influencing play off the ball when the Red Stars held their defensive shape. If teams are looking for a player who excels with and without the ball, Gautrat would be a savvy pick-up. The question mark might simply be the 29-year-old’s injury history, though she looked as good as ever when she returned to the field late in 2022.

Teams that should be interested: San Diego, Angel City, Gotham

Desiree Scott played an integral role in Kansas City's run to the 2021 NWSL championship game. (Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Desiree Scott, Kansas City Current

“She better be signing a new [contract],” Kansas City midfielder Lo’eau Labonta said of teammate Scott after the 2022 NWSL Championship. The Current’s unlikely run to the final showcased just how many teams could use a player like the Canadian international. She’s an imposing defensive midfield presence and a proven locker-room leader who hasn’t seemed to miss a step in the 12th year of her professional career. Scott has been a part of the original FC Kansas City roster since 2013, and while the Current are poised for one of the best set-ups in the league, Scott might be interested in testing the waters. Kansas City could also view Alex Loera as her successor.

Teams that should be interested: Gotham, San Diego, Kansas City

Megan Rapinoe, OL Reign

Rapinoe has said she wants to stay in Seattle, and longtime coach Laura Harvey seems amenable to the idea, so the hold-up for the Reign might simply be coming to contract terms with one of the biggest stars in the sport. Rapinoe consistently had a place on the USWNT roster in 2022, with next year’s World Cup on the horizon, and she played a significant role in OL Reign’s surge to the NWSL Shield. The Reign, though, have a number of big stars on their roster, and figuring out a salary-optimizing one- or two-year deal might take some time.

Teams that should be interested: OL Reign — in getting the deal done

Tobin Heath, OL Reign

With Heath rehabbing from offseason surgery after another year riddled with injuries, the question surrounding her NWSL future has less to do with which teams would like to have a player of her experience and talent level, and more with what terms they’d be willing to offer her. Heath signed a one-year deal with the Reign upon her return to the league in 2022, and she’ll likely be looking at similar offers for 2023. Still, she remains one of the biggest names in women’s soccer, and teams might be waiting to see how the rest of free agency shakes out before putting together an offer that matches her stature.

Teams that should be interested: Angel City, San Diego, Orlando, Chicago

Katie Johnson, San Diego Wave

Katie Johnson has been something of an NWSL journeywoman in her career, playing for Seattle, Sky Blue, Chicago and most recently San Diego, who released her to pursue free agency. She can play both as an attacker and behind the front line, and she has a knack for connectivity that fits either a false No. 9 or No. 10 role. She scored a rocket for Chicago in the 2021 semifinals and was effective for San Diego before going down with an injury. She’s probably less effective off the bench than when given time to ease into a match, but she quietly provides value when on the pitch.

Teams that should be interested: Houston, Orlando, Louisville

Julie Ertz has not played in an NWSL game since May 2021. (Stephen Brashear/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Julie Ertz, Angel City

There still hasn’t been much information regarding Ertz’s interest in returning to the NWSL in 2023 (though she posted her most soccer-related piece of content in months this week), but USWNT January camp is rapidly approaching and could provide a tip in either direction. What messaging Ertz gets from the U.S. as the team prepares for the 2023 World Cup might convince her to make her way back, at which point she’ll have her pick of teams willing to make an offer to add her to their midfield.

Teams that should be interested: Angel City, Chicago, San Diego, Kansas City, Gotham

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

2023 MVP Breanna Stewart Drops 31 Points in Liberty’s Huge Win Over Fever

breanna stewart and jonquel jones of the new york liberty celebrate win over indiana fever
Stewie and the Liberty dominated the court throughout Thursday's Fever home opener. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

The New York Liberty dominated Indiana on Thursday night, winning by a whopping 36 points in the Fever's home opener. 

A sold-out crowd of 17,274 was in attendance to watch as star rookie Caitlin Clark finished the 102-66 defeat with nine points, seven rebounds, and six assists. It’s the first time since January 2021 — her freshman season at Iowa — that Clark's been held to single-digit scoring. 

"The physicality is definitely up there... I'm easily pushed off screens," she told reporters after the loss. "The game seems a little fast for me right now. The more I play and the more comfortable I get, it's going to slow down a little bit. It will be easier for me to make reads, see things develop."

The Fever were outscored by a combined margin of 57 points in their first two games — the largest two-game point deficit in WNBA season-opening history, according to @ESPNStatsInfo.

"We've got to get to a level of toughness," Fever coach Christie Sides in her own postgame remarks. "When things are going south on us, we're not stopping the bleeding."

"I have great perspective on everything that happens," Clark added. "It was the same in my college career. There were some moments that were absolutely amazing. And there were some moments I was not happy with how I played and how my team performed. That's just life, that's just basketball."

Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu, who herself experienced a rocky rookie season following a much-hyped college career, offered up some insight on the matter.

"In this league, there are tough defenses all centered around not letting you get the ball, trapping, not letting you score," Ionescu said. "There were many factors that played into what was a tough first season for me in the league, but it helps you be able to figure it out. You have to have those experiences."

But it was reigning league MVP Breanna Stewart that truly stole the show, racking up 31 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals, and two blocks on the night.

"In general, I just wanted to come out more aggressive coming off of last game," Stewart said after putting up the 24th 30-point game in her career.

Stewart she also commended the fans inside Indianapolis's packed Gainbridge Fieldhouse, noting that she hopes that level of support to continue across the WNBA.

"This is how you want every game to be and when it's a sell-out crowd, it gives you a similar playoff atmosphere feel," she said. "People want to be a part of this and the thing now is to continue to sustain it, continue to take the momentum that we have and turn it into something more."

WNBA Commissioner Admits to ‘Faulty’ Charter Rollout

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert at 2024 wnba draft
Cathy Engelbert at the 2024 WNBA Draft in New York. (Cora Veltman/Sportico via Getty Images)

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert admitted to a "faulty rollout" of the new charter travel initiative on Thursday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Ahead of Tuesday's season opener, it was announced that the only teams flying private this week would be Indiana and Minnesota. The announcement came mere days after the league made a new charter flight program for all WNBA teams public. At the time, they said it would be implemented "as soon as we have the planes."

But as two teams out of 12 chartered to their first games of the season, others like the Atlanta Dream and Chicago Sky were forced to fly commercial.

A town hall meeting between Engelbert and the players was held in response to the confusion. Everything from the league's new media rights deal to private travel was covered in the meeting, with players submitting their questions ahead of time. Sky center Elizabeth Williams told Sun-Times reporter Annie Costabile afterwards that cross-country flights were prioritized.

"Flights that are across the country like [the Lynx] going to Seattle, crossing multiple time zones, or flights that usually require a connection, those were the priorities," Williams said. "That’s why New York didn’t go to DC with a charter, but Minny goes to Seattle."

What’s unclear under that metric is that the Atlanta Dream played the Los Angeles Sparks on Wednesday, which could technically be classified as a cross-country flight. 

On Tuesday, rookie forward Angel Reese shared a photo on her Instagram story lamenting the league's use of commercial flights.

"Just praying that this is one of the last commercial flights the Sky has to fly," Reese posted. The team still has at least three commercial flights awaiting them in the near future.

"Obviously, I think all teams should be able to get chartered," Reese told the Sun-Times. "But I know moving forward... going in the right direction, being able to have some teams [chartering] is cool. Within the next weeks, everybody will be flying charter, which will be really good."

On Thursday, Lindsay Schnell of USAToday Sports confirmed that the league intends to have all teams on charter flights by May 21st.

Brazil Wins Bid for 2027 Women’s World Cup Host

fifa womens world cup trophy on display
The FIFA Women's World Cup trophy on display in Bangkok after Brazil was announced as the 2027 host country. (Thananuwat Srirasant - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Brazil has been named the host for the 2027 Women’s World Cup, with FIFA announced early Friday. 

The decision came after a vote at the 74th FIFA Congress in Bangkok, with Brazil earning 119 votes to the joint European bid’s 78. 

This will be Brazil’s first time hosting the Women’s World Cup, with the country having hosted the men’s World Cup twice before in 1950 and 2014. It will also be the first Women’s World Cup held in South America. The tournament will follow the same 32-team format as the 2023 WWC in Australia and New Zealand.

Brazil winning the bid was not entirely surprising after FIFA issued a report just last week, stating that the Brazilian bid had pulled ahead as host following technical inspection. After evaluation, Brazil was given a score of 4.0 out of 5, compared to the 3.7 awarded to the Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Brazil ranked higher in a number of key areas, including stadiums, accommodations, fan zones, and transport infrastructure. Though considered to be a frontrunner, the US and Mexico withdrew their joint bid prior to the technical inspection period, saying they would instead focus their efforts on 2031.

On Friday, Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) president Ednaldo Rodrigues called it a "victory." 

"We knew we would be celebrating a victory for South American women's soccer and for women," he told reporters. "You can be sure, with no vanity, we will accomplish the best World Cup for women."

"We are working on a transformation, not only for the country but for the continent," added bid team operational manager Valesca Araujo.

Brazil intends to use 10 of the venues utilized at the 2014 men’s World Cup, including holding the final in Rio de Janeiro on July 25th. The CBF's proposal outlines that the 2027 tournament run from June 24th through the end of July. Last summer’s World Cup began at the end of July and concluded on August 19th.

Another notable element of Brazil's newly unveiled plan to grow of the women’s game is that "all [men’s] clubs wishing to take part in high-level national and continental competitions must now provide a structure for a women’s team." While the definition of "structure" was not specifically identified, the country has set targets with CONMEBOL to help increase the number of women’s club teams in the country.

In last week's inspection findings, FIFA noted that selecting Brazil as the next WWC host could "have a tremendous impact on women's football in the region."

Chelsea Eyes Weekend Finale With WSL Title in Sight

chelsea players celebrate win against tottenham in the wsl
Chelsea beat Tottenham on Wednesday, moving to the top of the table in an effort to win departing coach Emma Hayes some silverware. (John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Chelsea did what they needed to do on Wednesday in order to make Saturday's slate of season-ending WSL fixtures interesting: Beat Tottenham.

The Blues are now number one in the league, with an edge over Manchester City on goal differential thanks to an eight-goal outing against Bristol City last week. 

Yesterday's result tees up a league finale for the books as Chelsea looks to send coach Emma Hayes off with another trophy to add to her cabinet. The Blues will play FA Cup winner Manchester City at Old Trafford on Saturday, while City is away at Aston Villa.

"We will be leaving nothing on the pitch, we will be giving everything and no matter what the result is," Chelsea midfielder Erin Cuthbert said after Wednesday's win. "At least we can look each other in the eye and say we gave everything."

It makes for a thrilling end to Chelsea's Emma Hayes era, as the decorated WSL coach will take over the USWNT in June. And it comes after Hayes all but conceded the title race early this month after Chelsea fell to Liverpool 4-3.

"I think the title is done," Hayes said at the time. "Of course, mathematically, it's not, but I think the title is done. Our job between now and the end of the season is to keep pushing until the end, but I think it will be very difficult.

"We will never give up. But the title is far from us; it's not in our hands. I think City are deserving, their consistency has put them in that position. Of course, we will go to the end, but I don't think the title will be going to us this year."

Be it mind games or Hayes truly thinking her team was that far off, her words lit something in Chelsea. Their following two performances showed the team’s determination to have a shot at some silverware.

As for Saturday's schedule, Hayes believes her team is facing the "tougher of the two games."

"It's a fitting finale for me, being my final game," she told BBC Sport. "As I said to the players if someone gives you a second chance in life, make sure you don't need a third one. We're in the position we want to be in, and we'll give it everything on Saturday no matter what."

Start your morning off right with Just Women’s Sports’ free, 5x-a-week newsletter.