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NWSL playoffs: What to know heading into the semifinals

Portland Thorns forward Morgan Weaver makes a play for the ball against San Diego Wave defender Kaleigh Riehl. (Craig Mitchelldyer/USA TODAY Sports)

The NWSL playoffs continue Sunday with the semifinals. Four teams remain, and only two will advance to the NWSL Championship on Sunday, Oct. 29.

Just Women’s Sports takes a look at this weekend’s matchups.

Portland Thorns vs. San Diego Wave FC

When: 5 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)
Where: Providence Park, Portland
Regular Season Series Record: San Diego advantage, 1-0-1

While Portland bested San Diego twice in the preseason Challenge Cup, the Wave won the regular season series, recording a victory and a draw in two games against the Thorns.

The last time these two teams faced off, Kristen McNabb and Alex Morgan each found the back of the net in a 2-0 win for San Diego. In the previous match, Christine Sinclair and Sophia Smith gave Portland a 2-0 lead, but San Diego’s Taylor Kornieck notched a late brace to end the game in a tie.

Morgan played hero in the Wave’s first-round matchup against the Chicago Red Stars, scoring the game-winning goal in extra time front of an NWSL record crowd. But the Wave will face a tough test in the Thorns, who have already sold approximately 18,000 tickets to Sunday’s game.

Portland holds an equal to Morgan in her fellow MVP candidate Sophia Smith, and an equal to Rookie of the Year and Defender of the Year candidate Naomi Girma in fellow DOY candidate Becky Sauerbrunn. Can the Wave continue their improbable run in their first season in the league?

OL Reign forward Ally Watt brings the ball toward Kansas City Current keeper AD Franch. (Amy Kontras/USA TODAY Sports)

OL Reign vs. Kansas City Current

When: 7:30 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)
Where: Lumen Field, Seattle
Regular Season Series Record: Split, 1-1-0

OL Reign and Kansas City split their regular season matchups. The Current took a 1-0 victory on July 17, the most recent meeting between the clubs, but the Reign won 1-0 the first time around, showcasing just how evenly matched they are.

Kansas City has shown its brilliance throughout its second season in the city, including a 13-match unbeaten streak. But what’s most amazing about the Current is that anyone can play the hero. On Sunday, it was Kate Del Fava, who scored her first-ever NWSL goal to send the team to the semifinals. At other times, it’s been Lo’eau LaBonta or AD Franch.

OL Reign didn’t win the Shield for nothing. They’ve got two of the best defenders in the league in Alana Cook and Sofia Huerta, and Phallon Tullis-Joyce has been outstanding in net during her first year as starter.

Plus, both Laura Harvey and Matt Potter have been nominated for Coach of the Year. In short? It’s hard to tell which team will win this round, but this game is definitely a must-watch.

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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