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Sophia Smith, Portland Thorns lead JWS’ NWSL Best XI for June

2022 NWSL MVP Sophia Smith leads the reigning champion Portland Thorns into the new season. (Soobum Im/Getty Images)

June is coming to a close, which means it’s time for Just Women’s Sports‘ NWSL Best XI of the month.

The league released its Best XI on Monday, featuring players voted on by members of the NWSL Media Association. There is slight overlap in the JWS lineup, with four players earning the double spotlight and seven new players getting recognized.

Seven teams are represented in JWS’ lineup, including the top five in the league standings. Portland leads the way with three players, while San Diego and Houston each have two. The Wave, in fact, have two players making their second consecutive JWS Best XI appearance. (You can read our Best XI for May here.)

Forwards

Sophia Smith, Portland Thorns FC

The NWSL’s Player of the Month, Sophia Smith contributed a goal or an assist in each of Portland’s four games in June as her speed continues to be a nightmare for defenders. Most notably, she had two goals and one assist in a 4-0 win over the Houston Dash on June 12.

Nichelle Prince, Houston Dash

The Houston Dash forward scored four goals in June to move into fourth place in the Golden Boot race. Her biggest performance came on June 3, when she scored the first-ever hat trick in Dash history during a 5-0 win over the Orlando Pride. She also scored the game-winner in Houston’s thrilling 4-3 victory over the North Carolina Courage.

Alex Morgan, San Diego Wave FC

Alex Morgan added five goals in June, bringing her season tally to 11 and surpassing last year’s Golden Boot total in less than half the number of games. She was a menace in San Diego’s 3-0 win over NJ/NY Gotham FC on June 19, recording a brace and an assist.

Midfielders

Maria Sánchez, Houston Dash

Maria Sánchez has been an integral part of the Houston Dash’s attack, especially in their 4-3 win over the Courage when she contributed a goal and two assists. On June 3 against the Orlando Pride, she had arguably the best play of the month, connecting with Rachel Daly on a perfect long-ball assist from the middle of the park to the top of the box.

Lo’eau LaBonta, Kansas City Current

Lo’eau LaBonta played a key role as the Kansas City Current regained momentum in June. After going winless through May 30, the Current have been unbeaten since then, recording a win and two draws. LaBonta held the team steady with a 76 percent passing success rate and 60 percent tackle success rate.

Denise O’Sullivan, North Carolina Courage

Flying under the radar at times next to Debinha, Denise O’Sullivan has been a dominant presence in the Courage midfield with an 83.8 percent passing success rate and 60.7 percent success rate in tackles. On June 19 against the Dash, the Irish national team player scored a bullet of a goal from the top of Houston’s defense to open the scoring just five minutes into the match.

Defenders

Lauren Barnes, OL Reign

New teammate Tobin Heath describes Lu Barnes as the smoothest outside back in the league, and Barnes has certainly been showing it both on and off the ball. Hitting her targets 70 percent of the time and winning over half of her tackles, Barnes consistently creates big scoring chances and pushes up the field to make overlapping runs and give the Reign a dangerous passing option from the left fullback position. 

Naomi Girma, San Diego Wave FC

Making her second consecutive JWS Best XI appearance, the May Rookie of the Month has developed further into one of the most reliable players in the league. Playing every minute in June, she connected on her passes 84 percent of the time and won 70.8 percent of her duels.

Kelli Hubly, Portland Thorns FC

The most exciting part of Kelli Hubly’s month is that she scored her first NWSL career goal — a perfect header off of a Sophia Smith corner kick. Goals aside, Hubly’s composure and distribution have helped steady Portland’s backline as they’ve gone 3-0-1 in the month of June. With an 81 percent passing success rate, she is the only one on the team who’s played every minute of every game so far.

Natalia Kuikka, Portland Thorns FC

An NWSL June Best XI honoree as well, Natalia Kuikka has been one of the strongest defenders in the league this month. She played every minute for the Thorns in June, connecting on 77 percent of her passes while helping create chances and contributing to Portlands’ three shutouts. In a 6-0 win over the Orlando Pride, she also recorded her first goal of the season.

Goalkeeper

Alyssa Naeher, Chicago Red Stars

Coming into June without a shutout in 2022, Alyssa Naeher recorded three consecutive clean sheets to kick off the month. The only two goals the USWNT keeper conceded came in the fourth match, a 2-2 draw with the Current. 

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

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Crypto.com Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a Change.org petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

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