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Portland’s Christen Westphal Dishes On The NWSL’s Fall Series

Defender Christen Westphal on field /JWS
Defender Christen Westphal on field /JWS

Christen Westphal plays as a defender for the Portland Thorns of the NWSL. Prior to playing for Portland, Westphal also played for Reign FC and the Boston Breakers. She spoke to Just Women’s Sports about the upcoming Fall Series and how her and the Thorns are using the four games to build off their Challenge Cup performance. 

Editor’s note: the Thorns’ first match against OL Reign has been postponed to September 30th due to the poor air quality resulting from the fires in Oregon and Washington. 

What was it like returning home after the Challenge Cup?

Being in the bubble can be mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting at times. Coming home and having a few weeks off before having to be back in the market for these games for the Fall Series was pretty crucial for myself, and probably other girls across the league. It was a chance to just regroup and recharge. Because I don’t think when you’re in that environment, you fully comprehend how much it takes a toll and all those aspects. But then I think after being able to have that space and time, coming back into training and everything can be refreshing. It’s good to be back with the team and be around the girls and just have an opportunity to be able to play some more games and get more games and as a group.

You play OL Reign for your first game of the Fall Series. What are your expectations heading into that matchup?

We played them in the Challenge Cup, so I think playing them for out first game in the Fall Series is great because right out of the gate, it’s a game that even if it’s a friendly, or whatever we are going to call it, it’s going to be a good game because it’s the Reign versus the Thorns. So I think that’s really exciting to start the Fall Series with that kind of game.

The format of these fall games are obviously very different from the tournament format at the Challenge Cup. How do you feel about that?

I think the Fall Series is great in the sense that it kind of mimics what a regular season looks like for us. In the Challenge Cup, it was pretty hard, especially because they’re having games every three days, every four days. That’s really hard on your body and mentally. This is good to be able to have it mimic more of a regular season, in the sense we get the rest, time to prepare for the games and everything like that. I think it’s better for that sense of normality and that it’s more like a regular season than a tournament.

Do you have any concerns about  playing outside of a bubble this time around?

Because the bubble was so successful in terms of protecting us and keeping us safe, I think naturally there’s going to be concerns when that format is now different. New concerns come to the forefront. I think that it’s natural and kind of inevitable in a sense to have concerns, but we also had concerns before the bubble, and it ended up a success.

Has either the league or your team done anything specifically to address some of these concerns? 

I’m not sure if there’s anything that our team has done specifically. I know that the league has been great, especially going into the bubble with listening to concerns and making sure those concerns were met. So I don’t feel that will be any different as we step into these games. There’s so many different aspects of having us travel and all these different kinds of things. I know concerns have been raised, but I haven’t personally been involved in hearing them or discussing them.

And how do you feel about traveling for games?

I don’t know if all the details have been completely ironed out to be honest. I think it’s nice in the sense that we’re playing the Reign, because we’ll probably just bus, which will definitely be the safest in terms of traveling as a team. So I think that’s good. I’m not really sure what it looks like when traveling to Utah. I bet we’ll fly, I’m not really sure what that looks like.

Your team fell short by one goal in the Semifinals of the Challenge Cup to Houston who ended up winning it all.  What are some of your team’s goals for these games?  

When the Fall Series was first presented, it seemed different in the sense of, like, it’s only four games, and then we go into an off season. But I think we’ve tried to fit our mentality with the sense of using these four games as an opportunity for growth for the 2021 season. We’re one of the teams with the most players that are still in the market, so our group is essentially the same as it was in the Challenge Cup. That’s a really unique opportunity to be able to push the boundaries of our comfort zones and try things that maybe we weren’t ready to try in the Challenge Cup. And I think it’s a huge opportunity for growth as a team and honestly, individually. Going into it, obviously we’re going to compete and want to win, but we’re also seeing it as an opportunity to just kind of grow off of what happened in the Challenge Cup.

What are some of your personal goals?

For me, coming to the Thorns and having an opportunity to contribute to the team, I think it’s forced me to want to grow as I’m playing outside back. As with the team, I want to work hard every day in training and not just be going through the motions. In every one of these four games, I want to perform and contribute to the team and work on some areas where I thought I could have done better in Utah.

You mentioned that we’ve seen some changes with rosters across the league. There are a lot of players who have been either loaned to teams in Europe or signed there. How do you think that will affect the Fall Series? 

I honestly think with players going to Europe, it’s going to open up opportunities for other players on other teams to step in and see how they do. I think it could be a cool opportunity for players that maybe didn’t see that much time in Utah. Now they’ll get some NWSL games under their belt. I don’t think there will be a huge drop off for the league or anything like that. I don’t see it having a drastic impact on the games. I think it’s mostly a cool opportunity for younger players and for players who are looking to get an opportunity.

USWNT Kicks Off 2024 Olympic Tournament Against Zambia

uswnt vs. zambia olympics graphic
The USWNT kicks off their group stage run against Zambia today at 3 PM ET. (Just Women's Sports)

The USWNT begins their 2024 Olympic campaign today, taking on Zambia in their first group stage match.

The team will be looking for a positive first result, before taking on Germany and then Australia in a fast and furious schedule kicking off in Nice before traveling west down the coast to Marseille.

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 13: USWNT coach Emma Hayes stands on the field before a game between Mexico and USWNT
The USWNT is entering a new era under head coach Emma Hayes. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

The road to Olympic gold starts now

While eight of the 12 teams competing in the group stage will move on to the August 3rd quarterfinals — including two countries advancing on a third-place tiebreak — first week successes can dictate a path to the medal rounds.

"There's top footballing nations in this tournament. I don't think shocks in the women's game exist anymore — I think we have to reframe our focus a little bit and have respect for the rest of the world," US head coach Emma Hayes told the media this week.

"We've learned a lot and we've grown a lot," added USWNT forward Sophia Smith. "We're just looking at this tournament and not backwards because there's really no point in doing that."

Barbra Banda of Zambia's Olympic soccer team celebrates after scoring at the 2023 World Cup
Zambia star Barbra Banda has extensive experience facing USWNT players. (Hannah Peters - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Sizing up the USWNT's Olympic challengers

Hayes’s words could prove true from the jump. While FIFA world No. 92 Zambia weighs in as Group B's lowest-ranked team, they're definitely capable of setting the USWNT on their heels. This will be the first-ever meeting between the two nations, though Zambia has both Tokyo Olympics and 2023 World Cup experience under their belt.

Case and point? Starting striker Barbra Banda currently leads the NWSL's Golden Boot race, firmly placing herself in the MVP conversation while routinely going head-to-head with USWNT players.

"I know what a threat she can be," US defender Emily Fox said this week. "Their entire team is a threat, especially with their transition. But we're ready for it."

Hayes has emphasized cohesion from her starting group, indicating fans could see this afternoon's starting XI mirror the lineups utilized in the last two tune-up friendlies. The US defeated Mexico 1-0 before drawing Costa Rica 0-0 in their final two games before traveling to training camp in France.

Where to watch USWNT vs. Zambia

Today’s Olympic group stage match between the USWNT and Zambia kicks off at 3 PM ET with live coverage on NBC platforms.

Team Canada’s Olympic Drone Controversy Explained

Team Canada with their flag at the 2024 Concacaf Women's Gold Cup
Team Canada faces repercussions after flying a drone over New Zealand's practice session. (Logan Riely/Getty Images)

The 2024 Paris Games haven't even officially begun, yet the Olympic soccer tournament has already been rocked by a controversy spurred by defending gold medalists Canada.

New Zealand lodged a formal complaint to the IOC on Tuesday, alleging that a Team Canada support staff member spied on their training session in Saint-Étienne using drone surveillance. 

In response, the Canadian Olympic Committee immediately confirmed the incident and apologized, promising to conduct an "independent external review."

Local police saw the drone and arrested "Non-accredited analyst" Joseph Lombardi on Monday, charging him with "flying an unmanned aircraft over a prohibited area." He has since pleaded guilty and accepted a suspended eight-month prison sentence in addition to a €45,000 fine.

Team Canada has since dismissed Lombardi, sending him along with his direct supervisor Jasmine Mandor home from the Games and officially removing the pair from the team.

CanWNT head coach Bev Priestman looks up during a match.
Head coach Bev Priestman has removed herself from Canada's Olympic opener against New Zealand. (Logan Riely/Getty Images)

Canada boss Priestman to miss opening match

Canada head coach Bev Priestman accepted the decision to sit out her squad's Olympic group stage opener against New Zealand on Thursday.

"On behalf of our entire team, I first and foremost want to apologize to the players and staff at New Zealand Football and to the players on Team Canada," Priestman said in a statement.

"I am ultimately responsible for conduct in our program. Accordingly, to emphasize our team’s commitment to integrity, I have decided to voluntarily withdraw from coaching the match on Thursday," Priestman added. "In the spirit of accountability, I do this with the interests of both teams in mind and to ensure everyone feels that the sportsmanship of this game is upheld."

New Zealand has also reportedly asked FIFA that to bar Canada from earning any points in the opening match, regardless of the outcome.

USA Basketball Bounces Back in Final Olympic Tune-Up

Team USA celebrates their exhibition win over Germany on Tuesday
Team USA will meet Germany again in the Olympic group stage.(Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

Team USA definitively bounced back from their WNBA All-Star Game defeat on Tuesday, routing Germany 84-57 at the USA Basketball Showcase in London.

A'ja Wilson put up 19 points and 14 rebounds in the win, leading the team ahead of Breanna Stewart's 15 points. Wilson is now averaging 16.5 points per game for the US, tying Team WNBA All-Star coach Cheryl Miller for the highest in team history.

Napheesa Collier of Team USA at the USA vs. Germany basketball showcase in London
Napheesa Collier returned to the court for Team USA on Tuesday. (Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Team USA raises their game

Team USA is still building chemistry after spending a little more than one week as a unit, shoring up vulnerabilities highlighted in their weekend loss to Team WNBA.

The team looked more cohesive in London, with Napheesa Collier returning to the starting lineup after missing a number of weeks with a plantar fascia injury. They also saw quality performances off the bench, with Jewell Loyd scoring in double digits and both Alyssa Thomas and Jackie Young keeping head coach Cheryl Reeve's rotations steady.

Returning to Europe for the first time since her 2022 wrongful detainment in Russia, Brittney Griner did not feature for the US due to load management.

For Germany, Dallas Wings star Satou Sabally took the court for the first time since the team's February Olympic qualifier, playing 26 minutes as Germany prepares for their Olympic debut in Paris.

"It was a breath of fresh air to get out of All-Star and come here," Sabrina Ionescu told reporters after the London Showcase. "There's one goal and it's to win." 

Breanna Stewart lays up the ball in Team USA's win over Germany on Tuesday
Breanna Stewart and Team USA begin their Olympic campaign against Japan on July 29th. (Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

All eyes are on gold

USA Basketball seems to be improving by the day, but the short runway to Paris could present a challenge for Reeve and her staff as the team looks to grow throughout the tournament — and hopefully hit their stride in time for the medal rounds.

"It's a tune-up game," Stewart said on Tuesday. "We don't want to peak too soon."

What's next for Team USA?

The US will start their Olympic group stage campaign with a game against Japan on July 29th, before playing a blockbuster August 1st matchup against a strong Belgium side. They'll later face Germany once again in their August 4th Olympic group stage finale.

1v1 With Kelley O’Hara: What Has Emily Sonnett Learned From Past USWNTs?

Emily Sonnett chats with her former USWNT teammate Kelley O'Hara
Emily Sonnett joins host Kelley O'Hara for a conversation about the upcoming Paris Olympics in the latest episode of '1v1.' (Just Women's Sports)

In the latest episode of Just Women's Sports' 1v1 With Kelley O'Hara, Gotham FC and USWNT defender Emily Sonnett joins Olympic gold medalist and retired USWNT star Kelley O'Hara for a one-on-one conversation about the upcoming Paris Olympics.

We hear from Sonnett about her first impressions of new USWNT coach Emma Hayes, her international competition journey so far, and what advice from past USWNT players she's planning to take into the 2024 Summer Games.

Subscribe to Just Women's Sports on YouTube to never miss an episode.

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