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Pride coaches revel in USWNT equal pay win: New from NWSL camp

Orlando Pride head coach Amanda Cromwell, former USWNT player (Courtesy of the Orlando Pride)

Women’s soccer took over the globe this past week, with six tournaments in the FIFA window. Amid the chaos of flipping between channels and live streams, it was perhaps easy to forget that NWSL training camps were rolling on, despite many teams missing players on international duty.

Throughout the week, clubs brought in new staff members, players found out about the U.S. women’s national team’s equal pay settlement and teams made progress in their on-field tactics.

Rest assured, we’re here to catch you up on what you might have missed this past week in the NWSL.

Beers are on Michelle Akers

Orlando Pride coaches Amanda Cromwell and Michelle Akers, both former USWNT players, were not convinced their multitude of young players fully grasped the context of the national team’s equal pay resolution with U.S. Soccer. So, after the deal was announced on Tuesday morning, they went home to celebrate.

“Hallelujah, it’s about time,” Cromwell said.

“‘Hell yeah,’ that was my reaction,” said Akers, later adding, “Beers are on me. It’s so exciting.”

Akers, a 1991 and 1999 World Cup champion and regarded as one of the best women’s soccer players of all time, was a part of the USWNT’s initial movements in the fight for equal pay. In 1995, Akers and a group of other veteran players rejected their contracts from U.S. Soccer and sat out of the training camp leading into the 1996 Olympics.

Called into the same camp, Cromwell was one of the younger players at the time, fighting for a spot on the national team roster.

“We’re asking our fellow teammates like, ‘What do you want us to do?’” she said. “It was really scary for some of us like, ‘What do we do in this situation? How do we fight with you, but also maintain our position to be on this team?’”

Cromwell recalled the team agreed to respect every player’s decision, recognizing they were all on the same page about pushing for higher salaries. Having recently come across a handful of her USWNT contracts from the ’90s, Cromwell said the low numbers were “shocking.”

“It would be really interesting for people to see that,” she said.

Standing on the Pride’s training grounds in Sylvan Lake Park in Sandon, Fla., where Akers used to train with the national team, the now 56-year-old said it’s been rewarding to see how much the conditions of the locker rooms and offices have improved since she was a player.

“I’m just so excited and thrilled and have such respect for the fight of every single player, and to stick with it for so many years, especially this last group,” Akers said.

‘Players don’t work for me’

Chris Petrucelli was announced as the Chicago Red Stars’ new head coach on Friday following what Chief Business Officer Vicky Lynch said was a long and careful search process.

In the wake of multiple allegations of emotional abuse and sexual misconduct against former Red Stars coach Rory Dames, Petrucelli said he’s focused on creating a positive and supportive environment where players can feel safe and unafraid to make mistakes.

“When you talk about any organization that includes athletes, the athletes always come first,” Petrucelli said on Tuesday. “The players, for me, are more important than anything else, and I view my role as a support role. I don’t view my role as a person in a position of power or things like that. I view my role as trying to help players reach their goals, try and help the team reach their goals. I work that way.

“I work with the players. Players don’t work for me.”

After a season of reckoning in the NWSL, during which multiple coaches were ousted over accusations of abuse and the commissioner resigned, Petrucelli wants to come into 2022 with a forward-thinking mindset. He expressed his commitment to support the players “in their dreams and desires” both on and off the field.

Coming to work in the NWSL was an easy decision for Petrucelli, who won a national championship as coach of the Notre Dame women’s team and was a two-time winner of the National Coach of the Year award.

“When you sit back and talk to the players, and you see the quality of the people that you have here, I think any coach would want to come work for them,” he said.

Finding ‘current’ identity

Similar to many NWSL teams this year, the Kansas City Current are navigating preseason with a lot of new players and staff members.

Head coach Matt Potter, hired in early January, applauded the team’s veteran leadership for helping build the Current’s identity and leading the way for the younger players, seven of whom are first-timers in the NWSL.

“That type of group who have experience in the league and on these types of stages have been instrumental in allowing those new players to express themselves in a manner that they’re getting to show their talents, too,” Potter said.

The Current, who debuted as an NWSL expansion team last season and finished last in the league, have recently begun working out their big-picture tactical strategy for 2022, such as their defensive and possession structures.

“I feel that we’re making progress,” he said. “We’re trying to focus on the behavior we want to see, and in doing so, it has a great vibe to it. The camp has had a really good kind of energy, and that’s what I would applaud, but that’s been player-led for sure.”

Kristen Hamilton, 29, said the veterans were reminiscing recently about the different NWSL teams they’ve played on together, a familiarity that’s already shining through in their on-field chemistry. Before arriving in Kansas City, Hamilton was teammates with Lynn Williams, Sam Mewis and Hailie Mace on the North Carolina Courage from 2017-21, and before that with Kristen Edmonds on the Western New York Flash.

“We’ve been pretty comfortable with everyone gelling together,” Hamilton said.

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

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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