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NWSL: Where do teams stand at the international break?

San Diego Wave forward Alex Morgan celebrates with teammates. (Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The San Diego Wave have taken the NWSL by storm. The expansion club leads the league standings at the international break in its first season.

The Wave can’t get too comfortable, though. New talent, shifts in form and national team call-ups could shake up the table.

Where teams stand at the international break

San Diego Wave FC

The Wave (5-2-3) have been stellar in their start to the regular season, capping off their early run through the season with an emphatic 3-0 win over Gotham FC. Veteran forward Alex Morgan has served at the Wave’s anchor, scoring a league-leading 11 of San Diego’s 16 goals.

But as Morgan and fellow attacking force Taylor Kornieck report to international duty for the USWNT and Swedish international Sofia Jakobsson heads out for the Euros, the Wave’s humming attack could be tested.

Portland Thorns

Speaking of a humming attack, the Portland Thorns have been on a goal-scoring tear, leading the NWSL in goal differential at plus-14. The Thorns have managed to rack up an average of 2.3 goals per match while only conceding 0.8 goals per game, a promising stat for the Portland club.

Sophia Smith, the team’s leading scorer, and Becky Sauerbrunn, the club’s defensive anchor, will be with the USWNT for the Concacaf W Championship come July, presenting Portland with a challenge. The Thorns, however, have impressive depth and may fair better than other teams in terms of international player absences.

Chicago Red Stars

Like San Diego and Portland, Chicago’s attack is propelled by a red-hot USWNT striker. Mallory Pugh leads the Red Stars with six goals and two assists, helping the club a 4-1-4 record to start the season. Sitting on a seven-game unbeaten streak heading into the international break, Chicago has some padding to cushion the potential blow of Pugh’s national team duty.

Houston Dash

Houston has endured a roller coaster start to the NWSL regular season, sitting fourth in the standings with a 4-2-3 record.

Canadian international Nichelle Prince and England’s Rachel Daly have been solid for the Dash, notching five and four goals, respectively. A feisty team, leading the league in successful tackles per match with 16.1, Houston knows how to put together a win. The Dash, however, need to find some consistency and will hope a thrilling 4-3 win ahead of the break will be just the momentum they need.

OL Reign

OL Reign have all the talent — and more on the way — but has yet to live up to its potential. The Seattle club recently signed Tobin Heath, Kim Little and Jordyn Huitema to join a stacked lineup that includes Rose Lavelle, Jess Fishlock, Bethany Balcer and Sofia Huerta. With only a total of seven goals scored, OL Reign are second to last in goals per match at 0.8, even with their attacking firepower.

Heading into the break, OL Reign will look to get their team in sync in the final third and hopefully get Tziarra King more minutes on the pitch while doing so.

Angel City FC

The expansion club was dealt a crippling blow in its penultimate match ahead of the international break. Marquee player Christen Press tore her ACL, sidelining the star forward for the season. Without Press, the likes of Simone Charley and Jasmyne Spencer will have to step up as the new headliners of ACFC’s forward line.

Washington Spirit

Perhaps no team needs a break more than the Washington Spirit. The club weathered a packed start to the season, with coach Kris Ward relying on heavy rotation to rest his star players. Now, seven Spirit players will be away from the team as Ashley Hatch, Aubrey Kingsbury, Kelley O’Hara, Trinity Rodman, Ashley Sanchez, Emily Sonnett and Andi Sullivan head to the Concacaf W Championship with the USWNT.

Washington enters the international team break on a 10-game winless streak and is in need of some synergy once the squad is rested and reunited.

Gotham FC

There were high hopes for Gotham FC ahead of the 2022 season, with many even referring to their campaign as a “win-now” scenario. The NJ/NY club has looked anything but “win now,” posting a 3-4-0 record on the year. Gotham’s attack has struggled, with the team only scoring five total goals for a discouraging 0.7 goals per match.

Heading into the international break, Gotham FC will need to build out its midfield, securing the lineup so Kristie Mewis can be released into the attack.

Racing Louisville

Racing Louisville heads into the break after a promising 2-2 draw against the Washington Spirit. Nadia Nadim’s return from her ACL injury has buoyed the team, with the veteran scoring in her first two 2022 appearances with the club. Nadim’s potential to link up with Jessica McDonald could bode well for a Racing Louisville team that appears to be slowly growing into their season.

Kansas City Current

Kansas City was dealt a devastating blow to start the season, with new acquisitions Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams both sidelined due to injury.

Though down the standings and without key players, the Current have some positives to hold on to. Kansas City ranks third in the league in big chances created, according to FotMob, with Kristen Hamilton headlining the team’s attack. If the Current can button up their defense and convert more of their opportunities up the pitch, the club may be able to move up the table.

Orlando Pride

The Orlando Pride has had a trying 2022, falling to 11th in the NWSL standings at the international break.

With five losses on the season and a staggering goal differential of minus-15, Orlando could use a pick-me-up. The team stumbled into the break after falling to the Thorns 6-0 in a thumping from the Portland side, following up their 5-0 thrashing from the Dash. With coach Amanda Cromwell on leave pending an investigation into alleged retaliation in violation of league policy, Orlando will look to turn around a rocky regular-season start on and off the pitch.

North Carolina Courage

The Courage have struggled since taking home the Challenge Cup title in May.

After several COVID-19 absences, North Carolina seems to be growing into their season. Debinha and Kerolin have been explosive for the Courage, while Carson Pickett continues to dominate the flanks. Though North Carolina is currently last in the standings, the team holds a level goal differential, forecasting a promising next leg of the 2022 campaign.

Rose Lavelle hoping to return to play ‘in the next couple of weeks’

uswnt midfielder rose lavalle trains on a soccer field in florida
When healthy, Rose Lavelle is a trusted asset in the USWNT's midfield. (Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

Rose Lavelle is hoping to return to the field soon. 

The 28-year-old midfielder has been sidelined with a lower leg injury since the Gold Cup in early march. Since then, she has yet to play for new club Gotham FC in the NWSL. She also missed a potential USWNT appearance at the SheBelieves Cup in April, where senior team newcomer Jaedyn Shaw saw success assuming Lavelle's role in the attacking midfield. 

At the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee media showcase on Monday, Lavelle told reporters that she’s doing well and hopes to be back soon.

"I’m doing good — I’m hoping I’ll be back in the next couple weeks," Lavelle said. "It’s frustrating to start the year off with an injury, just because I feel like you come off preseason and you’re revving to go, so it’s so annoying."

Lavelle is still looking to compete for one of just 18 Olympic roster spots. When healthy, she ranks as one of the national team’s most trusted assets, but considering this most recent injury, her health is an obvious concern. Faced with an onslaught of experienced competitors and young talent, incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes will have some big decisions to make when selecting the Paris-bound squad — a reality Lavelle seems to be taking in stride as she works to regain full fitness.

"We have so many special players, we have so much depth, and so many different weapons to utilize on and off the bench," Lavelle said. "Unfortunately that means really good players are going to get left off, too. And I think for all of us, it’s just about being ready for whatever role is given to us, embracing that, and looking to put it into a collective picture so that we can go into the Olympics ready to go."

Kate Paye tapped to take VanDerveer’s place at Stanford

new stanford head coach kate paye spins a basketball on the court
Stanford associate head coach Kate Paye has officially been promoted to head women's basketball coach. (Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports)

Stanford has found its replacement for legendary head women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer in associate head coach Kate Paye.

The Cardinal confirmed the hiring on Tuesday via a press release. Paye was largely expected to replace the longtime head coach, as the college mentioned they were still negotiating Paye's contract when they announced VanDerveer's retirement.

In Tuesday's statement, Paye reported that she was "humbled" to have been tapped to lead the women’s program.

"Stanford University has been a central part of my life for as long as I can remember and I am humbled to have the opportunity to lead its women’s basketball program," Paye said. "I’d first like to thank Tara, who has played such a pivotal role in my career for her friendship and guidance. It’s not what she’s done, but how she’s done it, that has had such a profound impact upon me."

A Woodside, California native, Paye played under VanDerveer from 1992 to 1995, taking home a national title her freshman year. After graduation, Paye briefly joined San Diego State as an assistant coach before making her professional debut with the ABL's Seattle Reign in 1996. After finishing her playing career with the WNBA's Seattle Storm, she joined the team’s coaching staff in 2007 and has been with the organization ever since, picking up another national title win — this time as associate head coach — in 2021. Paye's brother John played quarterback for Stanford from 1983 to 1986, while also serving as a point guard on the basketball team.

In her own response, VanDerveer said that she was "grateful" that Stanford picked Paye to follow in her stead. Last week, the decorated coach stated that this year would be her last after 38 seasons at the helm and three national titles under her belt.

"She has long been ready for this opportunity and is the perfect leader for Stanford at this time of immense change in college athletics," VanDerveer noted. "Kate was the choice for this job and I am confident she will achieve great success as head coach."

After a record-breaking Draft Night, WNBA roster cuts loom

2023 WNBA no. 1 draft pick Aliyah Boston playing for the indiana fever
Despite going No. 1 overall in the 2023 WNBA Draft, Aliyah Boston had to fight hard to make it onto Indiana's roster. (Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

The 2024 WNBA Draft has officially concluded, leaving the newly minted rookie class facing a tough road ahead.

Only 144 roster slots are available throughout the league’s 12 teams, the reason why the players are sometimes referred to as the “144.” And Monday’s draft picks are set to join a large group of established players competing for those same roster spots, from seasoned veterans to young athletes determined to prove their value on the court.

Last year, just 15 of the league’s 36 draftees made it onto their drafting team's opening-day squad.

In reality, there are oftentimes fewer than 144 spots available, as not every team maxes out their roster. Per the league's CBA, each team roster must maintain a minimum standard of 11 players, but those lists can include players out with injuries or on other forms of leave. Players can also be assigned to short-term hardship contracts, something waived players must be prepared for at any point during the season.

Earlier this week, Laeticia Amihere — a 2022 national champion with South Carolina who currently plays for the Atlanta Dream — took to TikTok to provide some insight into the WNBA training camp process. 

"You can either get drafted on Draft Night, or you can get signed by a team," she said. "Once that happens, you go to training camp literally like two weeks later... Basically everybody's got to try out. There's 12 roster spots, and there's like 18 people at the at the trial."

@laeticiaamihere Replying to @dantavius.washington #wnba #draft ♬ original sound - Laeticia Amihere

Amihere also had an important point to make: Getting cut does not signify a player’s abilities. 

"If you get cut after training camp, that does not mean you're not good," she said. "That does not mean that player sucks, don't stop supporting that player. Literally, there's so many reasons somebody can get cut."

"If you guys look at the best players in the league, most of them have bounced around teams," she added. "And I promise you it is not a bad thing, it's just how the league is."

Things, however gradually, are changing. With Golden State's WNBA team scheduled to launch in time for the 2025 season, league expansion is just around the corner. On Monday, Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced that the league is aiming to grow to 16 teams by 2028. But by then, it might be too little too late for the generation of talent emerging from an increasingly competitive NCAA system.

WNBA draft shatters records with 2.45 million viewers

wide shot of BAM during the 2024 WNBA Draft
It wasn't just attendees that were glued to the on-stage action at the 2024 WNBA Draft. (Photo by Melanie Fidler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Monday night’s WNBA draft added to the nationwide uptick in record-breaking women's sports viewership, pulling in 2.45 million viewers throughout the nearly two-hour broadcast and peaking at 3.09 million, according to an ESPN release. 

That number shatters the previous draft viewership record — 601,000 in 2004 — which was fueled primarily by then-No. 1 pick Diana Taurasi entering the league after UConn's historic three-peat March Madness performance.  

The 2023 WNBA draft drew 572,000 viewers, the most for any televised WNBA event since 2.74 million tuned in to NBC for a Memorial Day matchup between the New York Liberty and Houston Comets back in 2000.

While many came to watch Caitlin Clark get drafted No. 1 overall, it’s important to note that viewership didn’t take a massive dip after the superstar shooter left the stage. The numbers show that a bulk of the audience stuck around to watch the remainder of the show, making 2024's event not just the most-viewed WNBA draft in history, but also the most-viewed WNBA program to ever air on ESPN platforms.

Draft Day's popularity is yet another sign indicating an expected rise in WNBA regular season viewership. Clark and Iowa's NCAA tournament showdown with the Chicago Sky-bound Kamilla Cardoso's South Carolina side drew a record 18.7 million to ABC's Sunday afternoon broadcast. Banking on this trend, 36 of Indiana's upcoming 40 games are set to be shown on national television. In-person ticket sales are also soaring, leading the defending WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces to re-home their matchup with the Fever to a venue that can accommodate some 6,000 more fans.

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