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NWSL power rankings: Portland Thorns take first

Portland Thorns defender Becky Sauerbrunn scores Portland’s second goal during an NWSL match between the Orlando Pride and the Portland Thorns on Sunday, June 19, 2022, at Providence Park in Portland, OR. (Photo by Diego Diaz/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Two months down, five to go.

The NWSL just wrapped up Week 8, its last weekend of games before the two-week international break at the end of June. While players on international duty continue into other tournaments throughout July, including Euros and Concacaf, the NWSL will return to play on July 1. Teams have been starting to solidify their places in the standings, but the coming month might shake things up as key players remain absent from their clubs while on international duty.

For now, here are the final power rankings before June’s two-week international break begins. (Click here for the last edition of the power rankings.)

12. Orlando Pride (2-5-2) —

Frankly, the Pride are not having a good time. They’ve conceded 24 goals in nine games played, most recently suffering a 6-0 loss to the Thorns. Though acting head coach Seb Hines says they need to go over fundamentals at practice, like tackles and runs, it’s hard to believe the effort from the players is the problem, especially when they had a reasonably strong start to the season. They’ve been dealing with behind-the-scenes situations like the suspension of head coach Amanda Cromwell and assistant coach Sam Greene, and many NWSL players recently took to Twitter to express their feelings about the Pride buying out the contract of Amy Turner. The Orlando players’ on-field energy is on the decline, and they could probably benefit from some time to recharge.

11. Racing Louisville FC (2-4-3) —

No. 11 is a tough spot because no team in this league truly deserves it. But with a “meh” performance from Louisville on Friday, they don’t have any reason to be ranked higher or lower from where they were last week. One of the key takeaways coming out of this week for Racing is that Jess McDonald and Nadia Nadim have an undeniable connection. Nadim subbed into the game against Washington in the second half to score a brace and help Louisville come back from a 2-0 deficit, both her goals assisted by McDonald. The duo should give the team confidence that their attack is going to be okay after trading star forward Cece Kizer to Kansas City so she could play in her hometown.

10. NJ/NY Gotham FC (3-4-0) -2

Sunday saw the second loss in a row for Gotham FC, and the second straight loss to the Wave in which NJ/NY conceded three or more goals. They put up a reasonable fight and forced a lot of turnovers, but they still need to address the problem they’ve been having in the midfield when it comes to creating chances for the forwards, and, in general, getting shots on goal, an area in which they’re last in the league. Though Gotham outshot the Wave 13-12 and held over 55 percent of the possession, San Diego more than doubled their shots on goal, 7-3.

9. North Carolina Courage (2-4-1) -2

With just seven games played, the Courage are not yet proving themselves to be a playoff team. They can score goals, but defensively they’ve recorded just one shutout and 12 goals against. There is, however, a lot to be said about their mental strength with how they were able to come back from a 4-1 deficit to lose only 4-3 against the Dash, especially after three of Houston’s goals were scored in a 10-minute span. While they shouldn’t have let those four goals happen in the first place, it was more about what the Dash did than what the Courage didn’t. North Carolina had a bit of a slump at the beginning of the second half, like teams sometimes do, and Houston pounced on that, which most clubs aren’t often able to execute to the extent in which they did.

8. Washington Spirit (1-3-6) +2

The Spirit had the obviously stronger performance over Racing Louisville in a 2-2 draw on Friday. Washington held strong possession and made good service to their high numbers in the box before letting Racing gain more control in the second half. After two months in which the Spirit played a condensed schedule that included more games than every team, Washington finally — FINALLY — can catch a breather. Well, some of them, at least. Seven are on international duty.

7. Kansas City Current (2-4-3) +2

The Current had to battle hard to come out with a 2-2 draw against the dominant Chicago Red Stars. Giving up a lead and a penalty kick six minutes later, new addition Cece Kizer, from a trade with Racing Louisville, was the energy Kansas City needed when she took on a player down the flank and finished the game-tying goal to help extend the Current’s unbeaten streak to four games. According to head coach Matt Potter, the team did everything that was asked of them — a small but important step as they continue to find their stride this season. In two games with the club, Kizer is already making a noticeable impact, and the Current will likely only get stronger as they adjust to her presence.

6. Angel City FC (4-4-1) —

With an even split of four wins and four losses, Angel City is walking a fine line with their higher position in the power rankings. What’s good is they can keep up with the league’s top teams, like they did in the second half of a 1-0 loss to the OL Reign on Saturday. What’s not good is their inconsistent results have made it difficult to be confident they can hold a spot in the top half of the standings. They’ve only scored three goals in the last month, and their overall goal differential of minus-2 doesn’t help their case.

5. OL Reign (4-2-3) —

Will the OL Reign have a breakthrough? That remains the big question for the quality team that has been fairly quiet through the first part of the season. They’ve had just four goals in seven games and have never scored more than once in a game during that span. But at least scoring is their only problem. They dominated the first half of their 1-0 win over Angel City after putting on lots of high pressure. Star goalscorer Kim Little and Tobin Heath have yet to officially join the squad, but when they do, it’s safe to expect the Reign to only get stronger. And, announced this week is newly-signed Olympic gold medalist Jordyn Huitema also stepping into the forward line. 

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4. Houston Dash (4-2-3) —

The Dash like to keep their fans guessing with drastically different score lines every game. This past week was no different when they overtook the North Carolina Courage in a thrilling 4-3 victory, redeeming themselves from a 4-0 loss to the Thorns on June 12. Other than that recent loss to Portland, the Dash have proven a strong ability this season to quickly adjust to the way their opponents are playing and are particularly dangerous on the counterattack. When they have momentum they’ll go wild and score three goals in a 10-minute span, like they did against the Courage on Sunday. As mentioned, no one knows what their next move is, and that’s what makes them one of the most dangerous teams in the league right now.

3. Chicago Red Stars (4-1-4) -2

Chicago’s drop in the power rankings has nothing to do with their performance on the weekend and everything to do with the Thorns and Wave simply getting better results. Mal Pugh is, yet again, a force. She notched a goal and an assist on the weekend, bringing her goal count to six and giving the Red Stars more reason to worry about how they’ll match their current dominance without their star forward during the international break. The team hasn’t lost a match with Pugh on the field. But the success they found in Saturday’s 2-2 draw against Kansas City Current was largely thanks to defense. Even with steady defense alone, they should make it through the international break without throwing away how far they’ve come as a team since the Challenge Cup. A lot of credit for their progress goes to the young players, who get better with every game and could step up big when needed.

2. San Diego Wave FC (5-2-3) +1

It’s a good thing the Wave excel at capitalizing on their chances. Their possession against Gotham FC on Sunday wasn’t the tidiest, yet they still managed a 3-0 win. Two of those goals came from Alex Morgan. She now has 11 of the team’s season total of 16. Similar to the problem the Red Stars will have with the absence of Pugh, it remains unclear who will be able to step up big when Morgan’s at the Concacaf championships for two weeks in July. But there is certainly a lot to look forward to in giving players like Amirah Ali more time on the field to show the league what they can do.

1. Portland Thorns FC (4-1-4) +1

It’s simple: After a 6-0 win against the Orlando Pride, there’s no reason to keep the Thorns from moving into first this week. They’re on a five-game unbeaten streak, with multiple goals in each of those matches, suggesting they’ve solved their problem with finishing that they had earlier in the season. They lead the league in goals with 21 and have the best goal differential at 14. Dominance.

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

Alyssa Naeher’s goalkeeper jersey sells out in less than three hours

uwnt goalie alyssa naeher wears jersey on the field with club team chicago red stars
USWNT star keeper Alyssa Naeher's new replica NWSL jersey was an instant success. (Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in the NWSL's 12-year history, fans can now buy their own goalkeeper jerseys. And while replica goalkeeper jerseys representing all 14 NWSL teams hit the market on Wednesday, some didn't stick around for long. 

Fans across women's soccer have long vocalized their discontent over the position's lack of availability on social media, often comparing the shortcoming to the widespread availability of men’s goalkeeper jerseys. And as the NWSL has grown, so has demand — and not just from those in the stands. 

"To have goalkeeper kits available for fans in the women’s game as they have been for so long in the men’s game is not only a long-awaited move in the right direction, it’s just good business," said Washington Spirit goalie Aubrey Kingsbury in an team press release. "I can’t wait to see fans representing me, Barnie [Barnhart], and Lyza in the stands at Audi!"

Business does, in fact, appear to be booming. Alyssa Naeher’s Chicago Red Stars kit sold out less than three hours after the league's announcement. Jerseys for other keepers like DiDi Haračić, Abby Smith, Michelle Betos, Katelyn Rowland, and Bella Bixby aren’t currently available via the Official NWSL Shop, though blank goalkeeper jerseys can be customized through some individual team sites. Jerseys start at $110 each.

"This should be the benchmark," said Spirit Chief Operations Officer Theresa McDonnell. "The expectation is that all players’ jerseys are available to fans. Keepers are inspiring leaders and mentors with their own unique fan base who want to represent them... I can’t wait to see them all over the city."

Simone Biles talks Tokyo Olympics fallout in new interview

gymnast simone biles on a balance beam
Biles' candid interview shed light on the gymnast's internal struggle. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Decorated gymnast Simone Biles took to the popular Call Her Daddy podcast this week to open up about her experience at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, revealing she thought she was going to be "banned from America" for her performance.

After Biles botched her vault routine due to a bout of the "twisties," she withdrew from the team final as well as the all-around final in order to focus on her mental health. She later reentered the competition to win bronze in the individual balance beam final.

In her interview with podcast host Alex Cooper, Biles admitted to feeling like she let the entire country down by failing her vault attempt.

"As soon as I landed I was like 'Oh, America hates me. The world is going to hate me. I can only see what they’re saying on Twitter right now,'" she recalled thinking. "I was like, ‘Holy s---, what are they gonna say about me?'"

"I thought I was going to be banned from America," she continued. "That’s what they tell you: Don’t come back if not gold. Gold or bust. Don’t come back."

Widely regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time, Biles has hinted at a desire to join her third Olympic team in Paris, though her participation won't be confirmed until after the gymnastics trials in late June. She holds over 30 medals from the Olympic Games and World Artistic Gymnastics Championships combined, and if qualified, would be a sure favorite heading into this summer’s games.

Caitlin Clark reportedly nearing $20 million+ Nike deal

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever poses for a portrait at Gainbridge Fieldhouse during her introductory press conference
WNBA-bound Caitlin Clark is said to be closing in on a monumental NIke deal. (Photo by Matt Kryger/NBAE via Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark is reportedly close to cementing a hefty endorsement deal with Nike.

The Athletic was the first to break the news Wednesday evening, commenting that the deal would be worth "eight figures" and include her own signature shoe. On Thursday afternoon, the publication tweeted that the deal would top $20 million, according to lead NBA Insider Shams Charania. Both Under Armour and Adidas are said to have also made sizable offers to the college phenom and expected future WNBA star.

The new agreement comes after Clark's previous Nike partnership ended with the conclusion of the college basketball season. She was one of five NCAA athletes to sign an NIL deal with the brand back in October, 2022. 

Considering Clark's overwhelming popularity and Nike's deep pockets, the signing's purported value doesn't exactly come as a shock. New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu’s deal with the brand is reportedly worth $24 million, while NBA rookie and No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama’s deal is rumored to weigh in at $100 million. And in 2003, LeBron James famously earned $90 million off his own Nike deal. 

Clark’s star power continues to skyrocket, with the NCAA championship averaging 18.9 million viewers and the 2024 WNBA Draft more than doubling its previous viewership record. Following the draft, Fanatics stated that Clark's Indiana Fever jersey — which sold out within an hour — was the top seller for any draft night pick in the company’s history, with droves of unlucky fans now being forced to wait until August to get their hands on some official No. 22 gear.

In Wednesday's Indiana Fever introductory press conference, the unfailingly cool, calm, and collected Clark said that turning pro hasn’t made a huge impact on how she’s conducting her deals.

"If I’m being completely honest, I feel like it doesn’t change a ton from how I lived my life over the course of the last year," she said. "Sponsorships stay the same. The people around me, agents and whatnot, have been able to help me and guide me through the course of the last year. I don’t know if I would be in this moment if it wasn’t for a lot of them."

Star slugger Jocelyn Alo joins Athletes Unlimited AUX league

softball star jocelyn alo rounds the bases at an oklahoma sooners game
Former Oklahoma star Jocelyn Alo has signed with Athletes Unlimited. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Former Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo has signed on with Athletes Unlimited and will compete in the AU Pro Softball AUX this June.

The NCAA record holder in career home runs (122), total bases (761), and slugging percentage (.987), Alo was originally drafted by the league in 2022 but opted instead to join the newly debuted Women’s Professional Fastpitch

Alo currently plays for independent pro softball team Oklahoma City Spark, with team owner Tina Floyd reportedly on board with her recent AUX signing. AUX games are scheduled for June 10-25, while the Spark's season will kick off June 19th. Alo will play for both. 

Among those joining Alo on the AUX roster are former James Madison ace pitcher Odicci Alexander and former Wichita State standout middle infielder Sydney McKinney.

According to Alo, the decision to play in the Athletes Unlimited league was fueled by her desire to propel women's sports forward as well as provide more exposure to a sport that's given her "so many opportunities."

"Not only to challenge myself more, but just for the growth of the game," Alo said, explaining her reasoning to The Oklahoman. "I genuinely believe that professional softball can be a career for girls."

Joining AUX is also one more step in her plan toward representing Team USA at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

"I’m constantly thinking about how can I do these little things right in these four years to prepare me for the biggest stage of softball," she told The Oklahoman. "I definitely want to play in the Olympics, for sure."

Alo further expressed enthusiasm in the hope that the rise of other women’s sports, like women’s basketball and the NWSL, will push softball’s professional viability even higher.

"We’re seeing the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) get their stuff going, I see the WNBA starting to get hot," she continued. "I feel like the softball community is like, 'All right, it’s our turn and it’s our turn to just demand more.'"

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