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Sofia Huerta, Kristie Mewis start fresh at USWNT camp

(Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

The United States women’s national team’s January camp comes to a close Friday. Twenty-six players participated in Vlatko Andonvski’s first camp of 2022, with the USWNT coach calling in a youth-heavy roster to kick off the new year.

Next up for the national team is February’s SheBelieves Cup, making the training camp in Austin, Texas even more consequential. Here is what we learned from the final days of training camp.

Back in the mix

A handful of players who have competed for USNWT roster spots in prior years received call-ups for the January camp.

Notably, Sofia Huerta made the trip to Austin after earning her eighth and ninth caps in the USWNT’s 2021 year-end friendlies against Australia. The OL Reign star made her debut with the U.S. in 2017 against New Zealand and notched an assist.

After falling off the squad’s radar in 2018, Huerta earned her place back in the USWNT rotation after a stellar club season. In 2021, OL Reign coach Laura Harvey shifted Huerta down the pitch to outside back, a position she has thrived in for club and country.

“When I stopped being called in, it was like just being able to reflect on what I felt like I didn’t do and what caused me to get out of the pool, and I think the biggest thing was probably just mindset and mentality,” Huerta said during a press conference from USWNT camp on Thursday. “Being able to have confidence in myself and work on my weaknesses, but again just more importantly, the mental side and being able to stay afloat and have a positive attitude.”

Midfielder Kristie Mewis has provided a blueprint for players looking to make a return to the USWNT under Andonvski, working her way back into the national team pool during the Tokyo Olympic cycle. After years away from the squad, Mewis has received steady call-ups since 2020, culminating in a roster spot on the Olympic team.

The 30-year-old is not slowing down anytime soon either, eyeing a place on the 2023 World Cup squad and recently signing with NWSL’s Gotham FC through 2024.

“I want to make the biggest impact I possibly can,” Mewis said of her offseason trade to Gotham FC. “I want to be one of the best midfielders in the league. I want the team to rely on me to be really successful in that pocket in the midfield.”

As for the USWNT, Mewis is embracing the spirited nature of January camp.

“It’s been really intense and competitive, and I think that’s exactly what the point of this whole thing was, to just be really competitive, get back into it for this new year,” she said.

Defensive depth

The defensive roster called into January camp looks markedly different from the World Cup-winning and Olympic bronze-medal backline USWNT fans grew used to seeing.

While Tierna Davidson carved out a spot with precious minutes during the Tokyo Olympics, for the most part, Kelley O’Hara, Abby Dahlkemper, Becky Sauerbrunn and Crystal Dunn have served as the team’s last line of defense. With Dunn out due to pregnancy, and Sauerbrunn not participating in USWNT training because of an egg-freezing procedure, new players are getting a shot to prove themselves on the backline.

Defensive depth has long been a question for the national team, especially at the outside back position. Huerta’s call-up may have come at the perfect time for precisely that reason. She can fill the role of an attacking defensive player who dominates the flanks, a necessity in the USWNT’s current system.

“January is definitely a really competitive camp,” Huerta said. “Everyone is ready to compete and to prove themselves to be called in again.”

Naomi Girma carried on the long tradition of the No. 1 NWSL draft pick receiving an early call-up to the USWNT. The San Diego Wave FC defender joined other No. 1 overall draft picks Emily Fox, Sophia Smith, Davidson, Andi Sullivan, Rose Lavelle, Emily Sonnett and Morgan Gautrat in Austin.

SheBelieves awaits

The USWNT will play its first matches of 2022 during the SheBelieves Cup, kicking off with the team’s matchup against the Czech Republic on Feb. 17 in Carson, Calif.

One of the loudest criticisms following the Tokyo Olympics was the lack of youth on the roster, with some calling on the squad to begin to cycle in new talent. Now that Andonovski has gotten a chance to see many representatives of the next generation, SheBelieves will offer an early sign of his intentions for the USWNT moving into summer’s Concacaf W Championship.

Will Catarina Macario make the trip from France, or will her Lyon club duties keep her from reuniting with the USWNT in February? Will attacking giants Christen Press, Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe reclaim their spots on the frontline, or will NWSL powerhouses Midge Purce, Ashley Hatch, Mallory Pugh and Trinity Rodman get their shot? Will Sauerbrunn and Julie Ertz return to hold down the defense?

The SheBelieves Cup certainly won’t serve as the definitive roster for the World Cup cycle, but it could provide insight into who is rising to the top of Andonovski’s pool of players.

Clare Brennan is an associate editor at Just Women’s Sports.

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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