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Portland’s Simone Charley on the NWSL Fall Series and Life Post-Bubble

Football player Simone Charley on field / JWS
Football player Simone Charley on field / JWS

imone Charley is a forward for the Portland Thorns. In college, Charley played soccer and ran track and field for Vanderbilt University where she was named to the 2019 SEC Class of Women’s Legends.

Your first game was pushed back due to the fires in the Pacific Northwest. How was it dealing with that in practices and games?

Luckily, the air quality has improved a lot. It’s pretty much fine now, but for a while it was bad. We just bunkered down indoors — that’s pretty much all you could do. And yeah, our first game was originally pushed back about a week and a half. They delayed it two more times after that because they thought that the air quality would improve, but it didn’t. They just kept having to push it back further and further. It was pretty crazy.

Well, luckily you are safe and you guys were eventually able to play your first game of the Fall Series and beat Utah. How was it being back on the pitch? 

I’m pretty proud of how well our team played. We’ve been working hard these past few weeks and we have a lot of new faces this year, so we’ve had to develop a new team chemistry. I think that as more time has passed, we’ve had more time to play with each other and it’s all starting to come together. So, yeah, I was pretty excited with our performance and how it all played out.

What are your thoughts on the format of these games, since this is obviously very different from the Challenge Cup? 

I like the idea that now we get to play for something bigger than ourselves. We are playing for the Verizon Community Shield and Mimi’s Fresh Tees, which is a really cool organization that makes t-shirts in support of social justice causes. Being able to play for something so much bigger than ourselves and something that will impact our community is a really cool opportunity. I’m enjoying it so far.

Are there any safety concerns you or your team have had given traveling for games while we are still in a pandemic? And if so, how has the team and the league handled these concerns?

The whole series looks a little different than the bubble in Utah. We’re going to have to travel when we go to Seattle and Utah and we’ve had many team meetings about it. We’ve talked about how to do it safely and how to take as many precautions as we can. We’ve had a lot of conversations about it and we’ve figured out a plan that everyone is comfortable with. It was definitely not an easy discussion, though, because it’s for sure not the same as the bubble that we had in Utah.

How have you felt since returning from life in the bubble? Other players have said that the bubble was fairly draining for them. Was that a similar experience for you?

Yeah, I kind of felt removed from the real world and real life for the month and a half we were in the bubble. Returning home afterwards was very weird, especially because I was used to everything being so structured — where you have to be at a certain place at a certain time. In the bubble, everyone is masked up and being as strict as possible all the time. You come back to the actual world and it’s not as strict. When I first got back, I was a little paranoid, like, “Oh my gosh. What’s happening? I can touch things? This is crazy.” It was definitely an adjustment for me, but it was nice to come back.

Are you all still getting tested for COVID once a week?

We’re actually getting tested twice a week right now. I was joking with my friend the other day because I can’t even count how many times I’ve been tested, and it’s like you get it down to a science. It’s like, okay, I like this nostril better and remember to breathe out as soon as they start. But, yeah, because games were a lot more frequent in the bubble, we were getting tested more often because you’d have to be tested before and after every game. It was upwards of three or four times a week. Sometimes even more. And now it’s around twice a week, which is still a good amount.

What are your team’s goals for the remainder of the Fall Series?

Like I was saying earlier, it’s a pretty cool opportunity to play for something bigger than ourselves. I think that’s definitely something in the back of our minds. We want to have the opportunity to give back to our community by wearing the Community Shield. We also want to build for next year. We have a lot of new faces and a lot of young people on our team, so this is a great time to just get more experience under our belt and look forward to the next season.

You came out strong with a goal in your first game against Utah. Do you have any personal goals you are striving for in the last few games?

Just getting more experience and more games under my belt. I want to be consistent and help to continue the momentum that we had as a team throughout the rest of the fall series.

A big storyline before the Fall Series were all of the trades and loans that occurred with some big-name players. How do you think that has affected, if at all, your team or the league in general?

A lot of people decide to go play abroad, which is a pretty cool opportunity. With everything going on, I think that a lot of people thought that playing overseas would be best for them. I do think it’s affected teams who lost a lot of their players, but it also gives more people an opportunity to grow and it allows other players to step up and get more minutes on the field. I think now it’s a cool opportunity to play in the US because you’re going to see players who you wouldn’t normally get to see play.

Alyssa Naeher’s goalkeeper jersey sells out in less than three hours

uwnt goalie alyssa naeher wears jersey on the field with club team chicago red stars
USWNT star keeper Alyssa Naeher's new replica NWSL jersey was an instant success. (Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in the NWSL's 12-year history, fans can now buy their own goalkeeper jerseys. And while replica goalkeeper jerseys representing all 14 NWSL teams hit the market on Wednesday, some didn't stick around for long. 

Fans across women's soccer have long vocalized their discontent over the position's lack of availability on social media, often comparing the shortcoming to the widespread availability of men’s goalkeeper jerseys. And as the NWSL has grown, so has demand — and not just from those in the stands. 

"To have goalkeeper kits available for fans in the women’s game as they have been for so long in the men’s game is not only a long-awaited move in the right direction, it’s just good business," said Washington Spirit goalie Aubrey Kingsbury in an team press release. "I can’t wait to see fans representing me, Barnie [Barnhart], and Lyza in the stands at Audi!"

Business does, in fact, appear to be booming. Alyssa Naeher’s Chicago Red Stars kit sold out less than three hours after the league's announcement. Jerseys for other keepers like DiDi Haračić, Abby Smith, Michelle Betos, Katelyn Rowland, and Bella Bixby aren’t currently available via the Official NWSL Shop, though blank goalkeeper jerseys can be customized through some individual team sites. Jerseys start at $110 each.

"This should be the benchmark," said Spirit Chief Operations Officer Theresa McDonnell. "The expectation is that all players’ jerseys are available to fans. Keepers are inspiring leaders and mentors with their own unique fan base who want to represent them... I can’t wait to see them all over the city."

Simone Biles talks Tokyo Olympics fallout in new interview

gymnast simone biles on a balance beam
Biles' candid interview shed light on the gymnast's internal struggle. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Decorated gymnast Simone Biles took to the popular Call Her Daddy podcast this week to open up about her experience at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, revealing she thought she was going to be "banned from America" for her performance.

After Biles botched her vault routine due to a bout of the "twisties," she withdrew from the team final as well as the all-around final in order to focus on her mental health. She later reentered the competition to win bronze in the individual balance beam final.

In her interview with podcast host Alex Cooper, Biles admitted to feeling like she let the entire country down by failing her vault attempt.

"As soon as I landed I was like 'Oh, America hates me. The world is going to hate me. I can only see what they’re saying on Twitter right now,'" she recalled thinking. "I was like, ‘Holy s---, what are they gonna say about me?'"

"I thought I was going to be banned from America," she continued. "That’s what they tell you: Don’t come back if not gold. Gold or bust. Don’t come back."

Widely regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time, Biles has hinted at a desire to join her third Olympic team in Paris, though her participation won't be confirmed until after the gymnastics trials in late June. She holds over 30 medals from the Olympic Games and World Artistic Gymnastics Championships combined, and if qualified, would be a sure favorite heading into this summer’s games.

Caitlin Clark reportedly nearing $20 million+ Nike deal

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever poses for a portrait at Gainbridge Fieldhouse during her introductory press conference
WNBA-bound Caitlin Clark is said to be closing in on a monumental NIke deal. (Photo by Matt Kryger/NBAE via Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark is reportedly close to cementing a hefty endorsement deal with Nike.

The Athletic was the first to break the news Wednesday evening, commenting that the deal would be worth "eight figures" and include her own signature shoe. On Thursday afternoon, the publication tweeted that the deal would top $20 million, according to lead NBA Insider Shams Charania. Both Under Armour and Adidas are said to have also made sizable offers to the college phenom and expected future WNBA star.

The new agreement comes after Clark's previous Nike partnership ended with the conclusion of the college basketball season. She was one of five NCAA athletes to sign an NIL deal with the brand back in October, 2022. 

Considering Clark's overwhelming popularity and Nike's deep pockets, the signing's purported value doesn't exactly come as a shock. New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu’s deal with the brand is reportedly worth $24 million, while NBA rookie and No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama’s deal is rumored to weigh in at $100 million. And in 2003, LeBron James famously earned $90 million off his own Nike deal. 

Clark’s star power continues to skyrocket, with the NCAA championship averaging 18.9 million viewers and the 2024 WNBA Draft more than doubling its previous viewership record. Following the draft, Fanatics stated that Clark's Indiana Fever jersey — which sold out within an hour — was the top seller for any draft night pick in the company’s history, with droves of unlucky fans now being forced to wait until August to get their hands on some official No. 22 gear.

In Wednesday's Indiana Fever introductory press conference, the unfailingly cool, calm, and collected Clark said that turning pro hasn’t made a huge impact on how she’s conducting her deals.

"If I’m being completely honest, I feel like it doesn’t change a ton from how I lived my life over the course of the last year," she said. "Sponsorships stay the same. The people around me, agents and whatnot, have been able to help me and guide me through the course of the last year. I don’t know if I would be in this moment if it wasn’t for a lot of them."

Star slugger Jocelyn Alo joins Athletes Unlimited AUX league

softball star jocelyn alo rounds the bases at an oklahoma sooners game
Former Oklahoma star Jocelyn Alo has signed with Athletes Unlimited. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Former Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo has signed on with Athletes Unlimited and will compete in the AU Pro Softball AUX this June.

The NCAA record holder in career home runs (122), total bases (761), and slugging percentage (.987), Alo was originally drafted by the league in 2022 but opted instead to join the newly debuted Women’s Professional Fastpitch

Alo currently plays for independent pro softball team Oklahoma City Spark, with team owner Tina Floyd reportedly on board with her recent AUX signing. AUX games are scheduled for June 10-25, while the Spark's season will kick off June 19th. Alo will play for both. 

Among those joining Alo on the AUX roster are former James Madison ace pitcher Odicci Alexander and former Wichita State standout middle infielder Sydney McKinney.

According to Alo, the decision to play in the Athletes Unlimited league was fueled by her desire to propel women's sports forward as well as provide more exposure to a sport that's given her "so many opportunities."

"Not only to challenge myself more, but just for the growth of the game," Alo said, explaining her reasoning to The Oklahoman. "I genuinely believe that professional softball can be a career for girls."

Joining AUX is also one more step in her plan toward representing Team USA at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

"I’m constantly thinking about how can I do these little things right in these four years to prepare me for the biggest stage of softball," she told The Oklahoman. "I definitely want to play in the Olympics, for sure."

Alo further expressed enthusiasm in the hope that the rise of other women’s sports, like women’s basketball and the NWSL, will push softball’s professional viability even higher.

"We’re seeing the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) get their stuff going, I see the WNBA starting to get hot," she continued. "I feel like the softball community is like, 'All right, it’s our turn and it’s our turn to just demand more.'"

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