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Rising star Ashley Sanchez on USWNT Camp and her rookie NWSL season

Soccer player Ashley Sanchez on field/ JWS
Soccer player Ashley Sanchez on field/ JWS

Ashley Sanchez is a forward for the Washington Spirit. Drafted 4th overall in the 2020 NWSL Draft, she was recently called up to the USWNT for their October training up. She sat down with JWS to talk about her decision to leave UCLA early, her experience with the national team, and a rookie season like no other.

A few weeks ago, you were called into the USWNT October camp. Can you talk a bit about what that experience was like? 

I would say it was a little bit of a different experience than any other camp I’ve been to. We weren’t really allowed to leave our rooms or the hotel. And unlike the Challenge Cup, we weren’t able to order any delivery, except on two off-days when they sanitized all of the food coming in.

We also got tested three times a day. During the first couple of days, we were all quarantining in our rooms until we got two or three negative test results back. We couldn’t leave the hotel at all and we were pretty much only able to walk around the two floors that we had to ourselves. So, all in all, it was a little strange.

But really, I was just happy to even have this opportunity to participate at a camp during these weird times. And even though it was a bit intense, I learned a lot.

Aside from very strict safety protocols, were there any other surprises that stood out?

Definitely the intensity and competitiveness. Every training, you had to be on your game and just compete. Everything was just so fast-paced. It took me a day or two to adjust to the speed of everything because you’re just like, “Holy crap, what is going on?” And then eventually you kind of get used to it and get in your own flow.

Overall, how would you judge your performance?

I thought I did well. My coaches talked to Vlatko [Andonovski] and they discussed how I did, but from my perspective, I think I did well. Coming out of this, there are always areas to improve on. So with this experience, I now know what I need to do and I’m going to work on that and just continue working to get better.

This was your second call-up to the senior roster, right? How did this camp compare to your first?

So technically it’s my second call-up, but my first one I was like 16. Back then I was just so young. This was the first camp where I felt mature enough to compete and play at a high enough level to stick with everyone.

I would say I learned a bit more this time around because I felt like I was actually able to do what they were asking. Whereas when I was younger, I was little. I knew I couldn’t really hang and it wasn’t much of a learning experience from a hands-on perspective. It was more like, “Okay, every training you just have to try to do your best.” Whereas now I’m like, “Okay, I can do this. I belong here.”

Onto some more technical stuff, how was Vlatko’s coaching style? Did anything stand out to you from a coaching perspective? 

He’s incredibly smart. He knows the game really well. There are these moments when we’re training where he’s pretty quiet, which can feel pretty intense. But then he’ll step in, stop play, and tell you exactly what you could be doing better. So in a lot of ways, he’s very observational and just analyzing every little detail as we’re playing.

And in terms of next steps, where do you see yourself in regards to this USWNT program? 

I have no idea. Obviously, I hope to be continuously called in. I’m just going to keep working on what Vlatko told me to work on, and hopefully I just keep getting invited to camps.

This year has been pretty crazy on a bunch of different levels, especially for you. In January you were drafted 4th overall after leaving UCLA early. Can you talk about that decision to leave school and enter the NWSL?

I had a really good experience at UCLA, but I felt like it was time for me to take that next step. It just seemed like the right move to try and improve my game even more and put myself in an uncomfortable situation. At that time, I just felt like that was the best thing for me. And now looking back, I do not regret that decision whatsoever.

Your rookie season started with the NWSL Challenge Cup. What was this first taste of the pro life like for you? 

Honestly, it was just weird. Thankfully, our team was able to bond throughout that entire experience. We have a really young group of players, so I’m glad we were able to build such strong relationships.

But it just felt like the longest month of my life. It was just so strange. On one hand, I’m glad it happened, because if I were at school, I wouldn’t have been able to play at all. So, I’m just grateful for the opportunity to play, but it was definitely just the weirdest situation I’ve ever been through.

Thinking back to that Cup, I don’t really remember what my mind was thinking at the time. It was just like, “I guess this is the new normal.” It felt like I blacked out throughout the whole thing.

Despite it being weird, you were able to grind it out and win the Future Legend Award for the tournament. What was that like, and did it feel like validation giving your decision to go pro early?

I definitely wanted to come in and make my mark, but I wasn’t looking for any type of award or anything. I came into this year and was like, “Okay, I need to get better.” I just wanted to improve as much as I could and adapt to this playing style in fast games, as quickly as possible.

I knew going into Utah that we only had a couple of games, so I had to really take advantage of this situation of being able to play. But obviously, winning that award was great. So, I’m definitely happy about that!

A few weeks later, you got right back into the swing of things for the NWSL Fall Series. The Washington Spirit had a pretty great run, and you ended up placing third. How was everyone’s mindset compared to during the Challenge Cup?

After the Challenge Cup, we weren’t even sure if there were going to be more games. But then once the Fall Series was announced, our competitive mindset turned back on.

We had a couple of starters that were injured for these games. I think that put a little bit more pressure on me. I was like, “I need to come out even more, and try to be somewhat of a bigger presence on the field because we were missing our two captains, Andi [Sullivan] and Tori [Huster].”

But I think the girls really stepped up. We had a strong game plan going in, and everyone chipped in. Our bench was incredibly strong and the girls that came in each game did a great job. I think third place was a great step forward for us.

So after a unique and successful rookie season, what are your goals moving forward as we look toward 2021?

My goals for next year are to get called into national team camp regularly and to also have more of an impact for the Spirit. Going into next season, I definitely want to focus on scoring more goals and creating more goals for my teammates.

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Lastly, any plans during this offseason?

I’m just enjoying my time back home. In California, there isn’t much that you can do during this quarantine, and because everything is closed right now, I will probably head back to DC at some point to train with some of my coaches and my teammates who are still there. But right now, I’m just going to rest up and focus on my training so that I can be ready for next season.

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

Other former players contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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