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11 priceless moments from the NWSL season

(Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

The 2021 NWSL season has officially come to a close, with the Washington Spirit crowned as league champions.

In an unprecedented year, NWSL players overcame extraordinary circumstances off the field to continue delivering incredible moments on it, from stunning debut goals to record-breaking accomplishments.

In honor of the thrilling season that was, and in homage to the NWSL’s Best XI, we are counting down the 11 most priceless moments from the season, presented by MasterCard. Let’s get to it.

11. Trinity Rodman’s first goal

Trinity Rodman announced herself to the league on April 10 when she scored her first NWSL goal in a Challenge Cup match against the North Carolina Courage, beating her defender and drilling a long ball past the keeper. The finish foreshadowed the Spirit attacker’s seven goals during the regular season and playoffs, as Rodman stretched opponents’ backlines all season long.

In a momentous rookie season, Rodman led her team to an NWSL Championship, won Rookie of the Year and was named to the Best IX First Team. Not bad for someone who is still just 19 years old.

10. Ashlyn Harris’ PK streak

Ashlyn Harris went on a tear over the summer, stopping a staggering five straight penalty kicks for the Orlando Pride. Harris also surpassed the NWSL all-time save record this year, notching her 469th save in Orlando’s 1-0 win over NJ/NY Gotham FC in August.

9. Ebony Salmon’s electric debut

Ebony Salmon broke onto the NWSL scene in historic fashion, scoring mere seconds after entering her first Racing Louisville game. The English attacker’s highlight-reel goal earned her the top play on that evening’s “SportsCenter Top 10.”

Salmon went on to notch six goals and three assists in 20 matches and 14 starts with the team, finishing the season as Racing Louisville’s leading scorer.

8. Racing Louisville wins Women’s Cup

Racing Louisville put an exclamation mark on their debut season, winning the inaugural Women’s Cup title in front of a home crowd at Lynn Family Stadium in August. The championship match was epic, with Louisville outlasting FC Bayern Munich in sudden-death penalty kicks to take home the Cup.

The win raised Louisville’s profile on the international women’s soccer scene in its first year as a club.

7. Kansas City nabs club’s first win

Kansas City captured their first win in August after a slow start to their inaugural season. Defeating OL Reign 2-1 at home, the expansion club notched the most significant of its three wins against the eventual No. 2 playoff seed. Kansas City ended its first season with a new name, the Kansas City Current, debuting the crest during the club’s final game of the year.

6. Angel City makes a splash with Christen Press signing

Angel City FC made headlines before even taking the pitch when the expansion club announced the acquisition of superstar Christen Press in August. The U.S. women’s national team forward had long hoped to play professional soccer in her hometown of Los Angeles and finally got the opportunity when she inked a two-year contract with ACFC.

Press told the Los Angeles Times after her signing: “For it to really be happening, to be able to bring professional soccer back to Los Angeles and to be a part of that team, is nothing but a dream come true.”

5. Eugénie Le Sommer’s stunning first goal 

After leading Lyon to three-straight Division 1 Féminine titles from 2017-20, Eugénie Le Sommer brought her world-class attacking talents to OL Reign. The French star scored her first NWSL goal in July, putting her defender on skates before delivering a skillful, must-see finish.

In her 17 regular-season appearances with OL Reign, Le Sommer notched seven goals and three assists, guiding the club to a semifinal berth.

4. NWSL players make a statement

The NWSL underwent a reckoning midway through the 2021 season after Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly went public with their accusations of sexual coercion and abuse against former North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley. The report in The Athletic spurred turnover at the top of the NWSL, with commissioner Lisa Baird resigning the day after the allegations were revealed.

Games were postponed the following weekend, and players demanded the NWSL institute sweeping changes with regards to player safety and transparency. When clubs returned to the pitch the following Wednesday, players across the league made a collective statement, pausing at the six-minute mark to stand at the center of the field in solidarity with Shim and Farrelly, who had been pressured into staying silent for six years.

The move reverberated around the women’s soccer world, with teams in foreign leagues showing their support. The NWSL’s stand instigated an overdue — and ongoing — conversation around power and silence in women’s soccer.

3. Carli Lloyd’s Philly send-off

Carli Lloyd received a send-off befitting her historic and unprecedented career, after the soccer legend announced her retirement at the age of 39. Gotham FC honored Lloyd’s contribution to the sport and the league by hosting a farewell game in Philadelphia, near her hometown of Delran, N.J., in October.

Playing in front of fans at Subaru Park, Lloyd expressed her gratitude after the match, calling it “the most special evening of my career.”

2. Ashley Sanchez’s ridiculous chip

Ashley Sanchez scored one of the most consequential goals of her career when she delivered the go-ahead finish to send the Washington Spirit past OL Reign and to the NWSL Championship.

The 22-year-old did it in style, too, chipping Sarah Bouhaddi, one of the most league’s most seasoned goalkeepers, to clinch the 2-1 semifinal victory. The poise Sanchez showed to find the back of the net from a ridiculous angle — and when the stakes were highest — made it one of the best goals of the season.

1. Kelley O’Hara heads home NWSL championship game-winner

The Washington Spirit took home the club’s first-ever NWSL championship after beating the Chicago Red Stars 2-1 in an extra-time thriller. Heading home the final goal was Kelley O’Hara, the seasoned USWNT veteran who has long called Washington D.C. her adopted “home.”

In her first season with the club, O’Hara provided the NWSL’s youngest team invaluable leadership and motivation. So, it was only fitting that she scored the deciding goal, her first of the season.

Overcoming Richie Burke’s firing, ownership infighting and a breach in COVID-19 protocols which resulted in two forfeits, the Spirit miraculously finished the season on a nine-game undefeated streak. With NWSL Golden Boot winner Ashley Hatch, Rookie of the Year Trinity Rodman and Goalkeeper of the Year Aubrey Bledsoe, the Spirit had championship-level talent, and O’Hara’s header capped one of the most exciting and dominant runs in NWSL history.

USWNT to face Costa Rica in final Olympic send-off

uswnt sophia smith and tierna davidson celebrate at shebeilves cup 2024
The USWNT will play their final pre-Olympic friendly against Costa Rica on July 16th. (Photo by Greg Bartram/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

U.S. Soccer announced Tuesday that the USWNT will play their last home game on July 16th in the lead-up to the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.

The 2024 Send-Off Match against Costa Rica will take place at Washington, DC’s Audi Field — home to both the Washington Spirit and DC United — at 7:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, July 16th. The friendly rounds out a four-game Olympic run-up campaign under incoming head coach Emma Hayes’ side, with the last two set to feature the finalized 2024 U.S. Olympic Women’s Soccer Team roster.

Hayes will appear on the USWNT sideline for the first time this June, helming the team as they embark on a two-game series against Korea Republic hosted by Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado on June 1st followed by Allianz Stadium in St. Paul, Minnesota on June 4th. 

The team is then scheduled to meet a talented Mexico squad on July 13th at Gotham FC’s Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, where the Olympic-bound lineup will attempt to rewrite February’s shocking 2-0 loss to El Tri Femenil in the group stages of this year’s Concacaf W Gold Cup. And while clear roster favorites have emerged from both of this year’s Gold Cup and SheBelives Cup rosters, a spate of recent and recurring injuries means making it to the Olympics is still largely anyone’s game.

Broadcast and streaming channels for the USWNT's final July 16th friendly at Audi Field include TNT, truTV, Universo, Max, and Peacock.

Caitlin Clark’s WNBA start to serve as 2024 Olympic tryout

Clark of the Indiana Fever poses for a photo with Lin Dunn and Christie Sides during her introductory press conference on April 17, 2024
The talented Fever rookie is still in the running for a ticket to this summer's Paris Olympics. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The USA Basketball Women's National Team is still considering Caitlin Clark for a spot on the Paris Olympics squad, says selection committee chair Jennifer Rizzotti. 

On Monday, Rizzotti told the AP that the committee will be evaluating the college phenom’s Olympic prospects by keeping a close eye on her first few weeks of WNBA play with Indiana.

The move is somewhat unconventional. While Clark was invited to participate in the 14-player national team training camp held earlier this month — the last camp before Team USA’s roster drops — she was unable to attend due to it coinciding with Iowa’s trip to the NCAA Women’s Final Four.

Judging by the immense talent spread throughout the league in what might be their most hyped season to date, competition for a piece of the Olympic pie could be fiercer than ever before.

"You always want to introduce new players into the pool whether it's for now or the future," said Rizzotti. "We stick to our principles of talent, obviously, positional fit, loyalty and experience. It's got to be a combination of an entire body of work. It's still not going to be fair to some people."

Of course, Clark isn’t the first rookie the committee has made exceptions for. Coming off an exceptional college season that saw her averaging 19.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 4 assists per game for UConn, Breanna Stewart was tapped to represent the U.S. at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil less than two weeks after being drafted No. 1 overall by the Seattle Storm. Eight years prior, fellow No. 1 pick Candace Parker punched her ticket to the 2008 Games in Beijing just two weeks after making her first appearance for the L.A. Sparks.

In the lead-up to Paris’ Opening Ceremony on July 26th, USA Basketball Women’s National Team is scheduled to play a pair of exhibition games. They'll first go up against the WNBA's finest at the July 20th WNBA All-Star Game in Phoenix before facing Germany in London on July 23rd.

While an official roster announcement date hasn’t yet been issued, players won’t find out if they’ve made this year’s Olympic cut until at least June 1st.

WNBA teams make history with 2024 season ticket sell-outs

Arike Ogunbowale on the wnba court for the dallas wings
The Dallas Wings are now the third team to sell out their entire season ticket allotment in WNBA history. (Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)

For the first time in history, three different WNBA teams have completely sold out of season ticket plans well before the league's May 14th kick-off.

Call it the Caitlin Clark effect, attribute it to this year’s tenacious rookie class, or look to the skyrocketing visibility of veteran players across the board. But no matter the cause, facts are facts: Tickets to the 2024 WNBA season are selling like never before. 

On Monday, the Dallas Wings became the third team to sell out of season ticket memberships in the league’s 27-year history. The announcement from Arlington came shortly after the Atlanta Dream issued their own season ticket sell-out statement, also on Monday, and almost seven weeks after the back-to-back WNBA Champion Las Vegas Aces made headlines by becoming the first-ever WNBA team to sell out their season ticket allotment.   

According to the Wings, season ticket memberships will fill nearly 40% of the 6,251 seats inside their home arena, College Park Center. The club also said that their overall ticket revenue has ballooned to the tune of 220% this year, spanning not just season tickets but also a 1,200% increase in single ticket sales. There’s currently a waitlist to become a Dallas season ticket holder, a status that comes with extra incentives like playoff presale access and discounts on additional single-game tickets. 

In Atlanta, season tickets aren't the only thing flying off the shelves. The Dream also announced that they broke their own record for single-game ticket sales during a recent limited presale campaign. Sunday was reportedly their most lucrative day, with five different games totally selling out Gateway Center Arena. Individual tickets for all upcoming matchups will hit the market this Thursday at 8 a.m., while a waitlist for season ticket memberships will open up next Tuesday at 10 a.m.

"Excitement around women's sports, particularly basketball, is at an all-time high and nowhere is that felt more than here in Atlanta," Dream president and COO Morgan Shaw Parker said in the team’s statement. "We’ve continued a record-setting growth trajectory over the past three years under new ownership — both on and off the court — and 2024 is shaping up to be our best season yet."

As of Tuesday, season ticket sales revenue for Caitlin Clark’s hotly anticipated Indiana Fever debut haven’t yet been announced by the club. But if these numbers are any indication — not to mention the explosive demand for Fever away games felt by teams around the country — it won’t be long before we see some scale-tipping figures coming out of Indianapolis.

Nelly Korda ties LPGA record with fifth-straight tournament win

Nelly Korda of the United States celebrates with the trophy after winning The Chevron Championship
Nelly Korda poses with her trophy after acing her fifth-straight tour title at The Chevron Championship on Sunday. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

25-year-old American pro golfer Nelly Korda secured her spot in LPGA history on Sunday, notching her fifth-straight title at this weekend's Chevron Championship in The Woodlands, Texas.

Ranked No. 1 in the world by Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, Korda joins Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sörenstam (2005) as just the third LPGA player to rack up five consecutive tour wins. She is also the third No. 1-ranked player to capture The Chevron Championship victory since the rankings debuted in 2006, accompanied by Lorena Ochoa and Lydia Ko.

The Florida native shot three-under 69 in Sunday's final, besting Sweden's Maja Stark despite Stark's valiant come-from-behind attempt in the 18th. Korda finished with a four-day total of 13-under 275, celebrating her two-stroke win by cannonballing into Poppie's Pond, much to the crowd's delight. She left The Club at Carlton Woods with $1.2 million from an overall purse of $7.9 million.

It wasn't long ago that the two-time major champion's current winning streak seemed unimaginable. After maintaining her No. 1 position for 29 weeks, Korda underwent surgery to remove a blood clot from her left arm in 2022. She returned to the course not long after, but failed to win a single tournament in 2023 before seeing a surge in form during the first four months of 2024. As of today, she hasn't lost a tournament since January.

Korda will attempt a record sixth-straight win at next week's JM Eagle LA Championship at Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles, where she'll vie for a cut of the $3.75 million purse.

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