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Five NWSL stars playing their way into World Cup consideration

Racing Louisville midfielder Savannah DeMelo is one of the uncapped players making a case for the World Cup. (EM Dash/USA TODAY Sports)

The U.S. women’s national team is in a unique position going into this year’s World Cup roster release. With the NWSL still in the swing of the regular season, USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski has the benefit of watching league games every week — but few chances for head-to-head comparisons before the team convenes for camp in June.

A number of U.S. mainstays, including Rose Lavelle, are still dealing with lingering injuries, while others, such as Catarina Macario, have removed themselves from World Cup consideration entirely. Still others are struggling to find World Cup-level form.

Meanwhile, several players without any international experience are stepping up in league play and making their cases for the USWNT roster. Andonovski doesn’t get to guide his team through any more international friendlies before committing to the group that will chase the USWNT’s fifth World Cup star, and these stars with little U.S. experience are making his decisions that much more difficult.

Aubrey Kingsbury, GK, Washington Spirit

Aubrey Kingsbury is the only player on this list with a cap for the U.S., earned against Uzbekistan in April 2022. And with Alyssa Naeher, Adrianna Franch and Casey Murphy all having up-and-down seasons, a clear argument could be made that the American goalkeeper with recent USWNT experience having the steadiest 2023 so far is actually the Washington Spirit No. 1. Washington is tied with Gotham FC for fewest goals conceded this season with eight, with Kingsbury a steady presence behind a new Spirit defensive line.

When Franch had a surge in form for Kansas City late in 2022, Kingsbury became the first goalkeeper out of the player pool after having been brought in consistently for USWNT camps in recent years. One has to wonder if the combination of familiarity with the U.S. system and commanding league form could be enough to give her the edge on the third goalkeeper spot on the plane to New Zealand.

Jaedyn Shaw, F, San Diego Wave

If there’s been one major theme of the NWSL season thus far, it’s been the youth movement. And more than one teenager likely is ready for the international stage. Jaedyn Shaw’s role within the San Diego attack has only grown as she develops into her first full season as a professional. The 18-year-old’s versatility has been on display, with crafty movement front of goal and an ability on the ball that can find seams behind an opponent’s backline.

“Jaedyn’s vision and ability to pick a pass that breaks a back line is some of the best I’ve seen in the game,” Wave head coach Casey Stoney said after last Friday’s match, in which Shaw place a perfectly weighted ball in for an assist. Shaw can play both as a forward or as a deeper-sitting playmaker, and her current form indicates she should be a legitimate consideration for the spot left open by Catarina Macario’s injury.

Savannah DeMelo, M, Racing Louisville

If there was a “pure form” index for players across all NWSL competitions, Savannah DeMelo would surely be at the very top of the list. The 25-year-old has eight goal contributions in all comps since mid-April with five goals and three assists, the most in the NWSL in that time span. An audacious playmaker, DeMelo is willing to open defenses up by shots from distance as well as by finding the runs of her teammates in behind opponents’ backlines.

She also has experience with both a single and a double pivot defensive midfield structure behind her, something the U.S. has experimented with throughout 2022 and the early months of 2023. She’s not afraid of risky passes forward, and she provides a dynamism that the U.S. might need with Rose Lavelle still returning from injury. The only mark against the midfielder’s rise in league domination is that her current run of form comes in a section of Louisville’s schedule that includes two games apiece against the struggling Kansas City Current and Chicago Red Stars.

Sam Staab, D, Washington Spirit

While it hasn’t been an incredible season of defense to this point in the NWSL, Sam Staab has stood apart from the field. Staab has shown an impressive amount of durability and mental focus in 2023, having not missed a single start since the beginning of her NWSL career. She also had to be the foundation of a new-look center-back pairing after the departure of Emily Sonnett, but even with the added pressure, she is holding down one of the NWSL’s most efficient defenses.

What also makes Staab an exciting USWNT prospect is what she provides to a team in distribution. The 26-year-old has impressive long ball vision, hitting the kind of diagonal passes that the U.S. prefers when trying to progress the ball forward. She also has the ability to take long throw-ins when the Spirit are in the attacking third, giving an extra edge in set-piece configuration for her team. With a number of center-backs in the USWNT rotation struggling to find their form and Becky Sauerbrunn still returning to the pitch, Staab deserves a long look.

Olivia Moultrie, M, Portland Thorns

Olivia Moultrie is the second teenager on this list, but she plays in Portland’s midfield like the seasoned pro she actually is. The 17-year-old has two goals and two assists in the 2023 NWSL season thus far, and she has looked increasingly like the kind of player the USWNT could use on the ball in the midfield. She — like DeMelo — plays in the attacking midfield, and she doesn’t give the ball away easily, connecting over 81% of her passes this season despite a willingness to try to thread balls forward to connect with the Thorns’ attack.

There’s also an argument to be made for continuing to build for the future, with Moultrie a likely successor to the USWNT’s current crop of creative midfielders. She’s got a good attacking rapport with striker Sophia Smith, and her numbers year over year have improved with the more time she’s gotten in a professional midfield system. She can move the ball calmly under pressure, something that the U.S. could use not only in future years but also right now, with the World Cup on the horizon.

Esme Morgan Signs With Washington Spirit

Esme Morgan of England inspects the pitch prior to the UEFA Women's EURO 2025 qualifying match between England and France
The England national will join the Spirit in DC on July 15th. (Naomi Baker - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

English defender Esme Morgan has signed with the Washington Spirit, the club announced Thursday. 

Morgan had been with WSL side Manchester City since 2017, with one year remaining on her contract. She’ll now make a move to the NWSL, with City receiving a fee for the move. 

"I wanted to join the Spirit because they have the ambition and tools to be the best team in the NWSL, and trying to achieve that will be a great but enjoyable challenge," Morgan said in a club statement.

"On an individual level too, the opportunity to work under Jonatan [Giráldez], one of the world's best coaches, is really exciting and I look forward to learning from him and pushing myself to become the best player I can be, hopefully helping the team to success."

According to ESPN, Morgan’s lack of playing time under City manager Gareth Taylor played a key role in her decision to leave the league championship runners-up. She’ll join the Spirit in Washington, DC on July 15th, but won’t be able to begin play until August. 

Spirit president Mark Krikorian called Morgan an "exceptional talent" and added that the club is "thrilled" to add her to the roster.

"I think she’s pretty talented," Giraldez told reporters on Friday. "A young player with a great future, but with experience already in a great league and with the national team. She’s been surrounded by great players and also great coaches, so she can give us experience."

Ledecky Goes for 4 at Olympic Swimming Trials

Swimmer katie ledecky swimming at Toyota US Open
Decorated swimmer Katie Ledecky is aiming to make her fourth-straight Olympic squad. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Swimming Trials begin this weekend, running from June 15th through June 23rd in Indianapolis, with Katie Ledecky eyeing her fourth-straight Summer Games.

While traditionally held in Omaha, Indiana's Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, has been fitted with a 50-meter pool to host the meet that will determine the 2024 Paris Olympics roster.

All eyes will be on seven-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky, who will be competing in the 200-meter, 400-meter, 800-meter, and 1500-meter freestyle — all events in which she’s been an Olympic champion. 

Rival Ariarne Titmus had her trials last week, breaking the world record in the 200-meter freestyle. Ledecky’s 200 is intended to qualify her for the Olympic relay. Meanwhile stateside, Katie Grimes stands to be a challenger in the 1500-meter freestyle has already qualified for the Paris Olympics in the 10km open water event.

Other competitors of note include 47-year-old Gabrielle Rose, who stands to become the oldest US Swimming Olympic qualifier in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke.

Additionally, Kate Douglass — an NCAA and World Champion — is a favorite to make her first Olympic team in the 200-meter IM and 200-meter breaststroke. Simone Manuel, an Olympic champion in the 100-meter freestyle, is also looking to make her third-straight Olympics.

Where to watch: The Trials will be streaming all week on Peacock, with later qualifying heats airing live on USA Network and event finals airing in primetime on NBC.

Orlando and Kansas City Shoot for 13 in NWSL Weekend Action

NWSL's T. Chawinga #6 of the Kansas City Current passes the ball during the first half of their game against the Utah Royals FC
The Kansas City Current hopes to extend its NWSL unbeaten streak to 13 with a win over Chicago. (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

The 13th match weekend is fast approaching in the NWSL, with two season-long unbeaten streaks on the line.

League-leaders Kansas City and Orlando will attempt to survive the weekend with their unbeaten runs intact, as the Current host Chicago on Friday and the Pride travel to North Carolina for Saturday's match.

But while Kansas City and Orlando have been the gold standard this year, they're still a number of wins away from tying Washington's record for longest unbeaten streak in a single NWSL season. In 2021, the Spirit went 20 games without a loss en route to the club's first NWSL championship.

Both Gotham and Louisville are carrying momentum into their matchup on Saturday. Louisville is unbeaten in three games, and they’re looking to finally leapfrog Chicago and claim sixth place in the league standings. Gotham, on a seven-game unbeaten run, is into fifth place.

Portland and Seattle will face off in the Cascadia Clash this weekend, with Golden Boot contender Sophia Smith absent, as the decorated forward was shown a red card last weekend for time-wasting on the bench.

The Reign could use a win against their long-time rivals, as a difficult start has 13th-place Seattle registering only two wins amid nine losses so far this season.

Elsewhere in the league, 2024 expansion teams Bay FC and Utah meet for the first time this weekend, as both look to rise from the bottom half of the standings. And Washington will ride a four-game winning streak into Saturday's game against a San Diego side that's earned two hard-fought draws in recent weeks.

Watch more: "Sophia Smith is INNOCENT!" on The Late Sub with Claire Watkins

WNBA All-Star Voting Starts on June 13th

Phoenix Mercury mascot Scorch waving a 2024 WNBA All-Star flag at a 2023 home game.
Phoenix Mercury will host the 20th-annual All-Star Game on July 20th, 2024. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Voting for the 2024 AT&T WNBA All-Star Game opened at 2 PM ET today and runs through June 29th.

All active WNBA players are eligible to make the All-Star Game, set for July 20th in Phoenix. Unlike previous formats that featured two voted-in All-Star squads, this year’s contest pits a single All-Star team against the already-decided Olympic-bound USA Women’s National Team.

Fans can submit a daily ballot nominating up to 10 athletes via WNBA.com or the WNBA App.

Fan-submitted ballots account for 50% of vote, with the other 50% split equally between current WNBA players and members of the media. The top 10 athletes will automatically make the All-Star Game, with league coaches then voting from a pool of the next 36 to complete Team WNBA’s 12-player roster. The final lineup will be announced on July 2nd.

This year's All-Star Game format presents an opportunity for fans to vote for players they might consider Olympic snubs. Indiana rookie Caitlin Clark and Dallas’s Arike Ogunbawole seem like shoo-ins given the discussion surrounding their Olympic omissions, while Connecticut stars Brionna Jones and DeWanna Bonner are also expected to snag All-Star nods.

And after a career-high 20-point, 10-rebound double-double in last night’s 83-75 loss to the Sun, Chicago rookie Angel Reese could also secure a spot.

Regardless, it won't necessarily be smooth sailing for Team USA, as history has tended to favor the underdog. 

The first USA vs. All-Stars matchup took place in 2021, with the league’s squad humbling the Tokyo Olympians 93-85. With 26 points, Ogunbawole was named All-Star Game MVP after barely missing the Olympic cut. Could she and Clark turn the tables on Team USA this year?

Watch more: "Were Caitlin Clark and Arike Ogunbowale snubbed?" by Expert Adjacent

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