All Scores

Sophia Smith dazzles in front of coaches who see the best in her

Sophia Smith got back to her scoring ways against Jamaica on Thursday. (Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Sophia Smith is getting used to scoring braces. She’d done it in three consecutive games for club and country in June as the U.S. women’s national team prepared for group play at the Concacaf W Championship.

But in her first-ever World Cup qualifying match on Monday, she didn’t find the back of the net in a 3-0 win over Haiti, snapping her streak. On a hot evening in which she was unusually quiet and unable to make plays with precision in the attacking third, head coach Vlatko Andonovski said afterward that he didn’t think it was her best game.

So, he had a meeting with her ahead of Thursday’s match against Jamaica.

“She’s a perfectionist,” Andonovski said. “She wants to score a goal, two goals, which is great, but sometimes it can be counterproductive … I did have a meeting with her and talked about that to reassure her that regardless of what the game is going to be, regardless of what this game is going to look like or the next game was going to look like, she will be a starter for this team, just because we know how good she is now and we can see her potential and how good she can be in the future.”

Smith took the field on Thursday ready to fly. Five minutes into the game, she buried the opening goal, a world-class finish off the outside of her foot. Three minutes later, the brace master scored her second goal in what would eventually be a 5-0 win for the USWNT. After Mexico lost to Haiti in the night cap, the USWNT officially qualified for the 2023 World Cup.

“Soph is an incredible young player,” Andonovski said of the 21-year-old. “To be a starter on the best team in the world is not easy. It comes with a lot of weight. She wants to be the best every time she steps on the field … She does have potential to be one of the best players in the world and I think that she demonstrated that in the first half, which I thought was an incredible 45 minutes for her.”

Andonovski’s history with Smith stretches back to 2020, when she earned her first cap and was later promoted to the starting lineup. One coach who has been aware of Smith’s potential even longer than Andonovski, however, was the manager on the other side of the field Thursday — Jamaica head coach Lorne Donaldson.

When Smith and forward partner Mallory Pugh were young teenagers, they spent hours training with Donaldson, the club president of Real Colorado, outside of team practices. Smith would drive an hour and a half with her mother to Denver from their home in Windsor.

“He is probably the most important person when it comes to who has helped me get to where I am today,” Smith told Just Women’s Sports in June. “He believed in me and saw potential in me and knew exactly how to make me be better and reach my potential, so absolutely Lorne Donaldson is someone from Colorado who has changed my life and helped me become the person and player that I am.”

On Thursday in Monterrey, Mexico, Donaldson was witness to a bittersweet, full-circle moment as Smith scored two goals against his team at the highest level of women’s soccer.

“They played with me for a long time,” Donaldson said of Smith and Pugh after the game. “They’re like family. We’re still family. You give [Sophia] half a chance, she’s going to take it. Excellent footballer. So, I don’t expect less from her. I mean, we talk about her a lot in meetings. She’s a special talent.”

Pugh also buried a one-timer shortly after Smith’s second goal, but the goal was called back for offsides.

Smith’s early goals dug Jamaica into a hole they never could climb out of, three days removed from an upset win over Mexico in the opener.

“It’s super important,” Smith said. “We always want to get on the front foot early, and I think we did just that. They were two great assists and I think when we can start the game like that, it’s always going to be a good, fun game to play in.”

Smith and the USWNT conclude group play on Monday, when they meet Mexico at 10 p.m. ET. The hosts were expected to be the USWNT’s toughest competition in the group stage, and now Mexico will be playing to survive in World Cup qualifying after dropping its first two games.

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

Rose Lavelle hoping to return to play ‘in the next couple of weeks’

uswnt midfielder rose lavalle trains on a soccer field in florida
When healthy, Rose Lavelle is a trusted asset in the USWNT's midfield. (Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

Rose Lavelle is hoping to return to the field soon. 

The 28-year-old midfielder has been sidelined with a lower leg injury since the Gold Cup in early march. Since then, she has yet to play for new club Gotham FC in the NWSL. She also missed a potential USWNT appearance at the SheBelieves Cup in April, where senior team newcomer Jaedyn Shaw saw success assuming Lavelle's role in the attacking midfield. 

At the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee media showcase on Monday, Lavelle told reporters that she’s doing well and hopes to be back soon.

"I’m doing good — I’m hoping I’ll be back in the next couple weeks," Lavelle said. "It’s frustrating to start the year off with an injury, just because I feel like you come off preseason and you’re revving to go, so it’s so annoying."

Lavelle is still looking to compete for one of just 18 Olympic roster spots. When healthy, she ranks as one of the national team’s most trusted assets, but considering this most recent injury, her health is an obvious concern. Faced with an onslaught of experienced competitors and young talent, incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes will have some big decisions to make when selecting the Paris-bound squad — a reality Lavelle seems to be taking in stride as she works to regain full fitness.

"We have so many special players, we have so much depth, and so many different weapons to utilize on and off the bench," Lavelle said. "Unfortunately that means really good players are going to get left off, too. And I think for all of us, it’s just about being ready for whatever role is given to us, embracing that, and looking to put it into a collective picture so that we can go into the Olympics ready to go."

Kate Paye tapped to take VanDerveer’s place at Stanford

new stanford head coach kate paye spins a basketball on the court
Stanford associate head coach Kate Paye has officially been promoted to head women's basketball coach. (Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports)

Stanford has found its replacement for legendary head women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer in associate head coach Kate Paye.

The Cardinal confirmed the hiring on Tuesday via a press release. Paye was largely expected to replace the longtime head coach, as the college mentioned they were still negotiating Paye's contract when they announced VanDerveer's retirement.

In Tuesday's statement, Paye reported that she was "humbled" to have been tapped to lead the women’s program.

"Stanford University has been a central part of my life for as long as I can remember and I am humbled to have the opportunity to lead its women’s basketball program," Paye said. "I’d first like to thank Tara, who has played such a pivotal role in my career for her friendship and guidance. It’s not what she’s done, but how she’s done it, that has had such a profound impact upon me."

A Woodside, California native, Paye played under VanDerveer from 1992 to 1995, taking home a national title her freshman year. After graduation, Paye briefly joined San Diego State as an assistant coach before making her professional debut with the ABL's Seattle Reign in 1996. After finishing her playing career with the WNBA's Seattle Storm, she joined the team’s coaching staff in 2007 and has been with the organization ever since, picking up another national title win — this time as associate head coach — in 2021. Paye's brother John played quarterback for Stanford from 1983 to 1986, while also serving as a point guard on the basketball team.

In her own response, VanDerveer said that she was "grateful" that Stanford picked Paye to follow in her stead. Last week, the decorated coach stated that this year would be her last after 38 seasons at the helm and three national titles under her belt.

"She has long been ready for this opportunity and is the perfect leader for Stanford at this time of immense change in college athletics," VanDerveer noted. "Kate was the choice for this job and I am confident she will achieve great success as head coach."

After a record-breaking Draft Night, WNBA roster cuts loom

2023 WNBA no. 1 draft pick Aliyah Boston playing for the indiana fever
Despite going No. 1 overall in the 2023 WNBA Draft, Aliyah Boston had to fight hard to make it onto Indiana's roster. (Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

The 2024 WNBA Draft has officially concluded, leaving the newly minted rookie class facing a tough road ahead.

Only 144 roster slots are available throughout the league’s 12 teams, the reason why the players are sometimes referred to as the “144.” And Monday’s draft picks are set to join a large group of established players competing for those same roster spots, from seasoned veterans to young athletes determined to prove their value on the court.

Last year, just 15 of the league’s 36 draftees made it onto their drafting team's opening-day squad.

In reality, there are oftentimes fewer than 144 spots available, as not every team maxes out their roster. Per the league's CBA, each team roster must maintain a minimum standard of 11 players, but those lists can include players out with injuries or on other forms of leave. Players can also be assigned to short-term hardship contracts, something waived players must be prepared for at any point during the season.

Earlier this week, Laeticia Amihere — a 2022 national champion with South Carolina who currently plays for the Atlanta Dream — took to TikTok to provide some insight into the WNBA training camp process. 

"You can either get drafted on Draft Night, or you can get signed by a team," she said. "Once that happens, you go to training camp literally like two weeks later... Basically everybody's got to try out. There's 12 roster spots, and there's like 18 people at the at the trial."

@laeticiaamihere Replying to @dantavius.washington #wnba #draft ♬ original sound - Laeticia Amihere

Amihere also had an important point to make: Getting cut does not signify a player’s abilities. 

"If you get cut after training camp, that does not mean you're not good," she said. "That does not mean that player sucks, don't stop supporting that player. Literally, there's so many reasons somebody can get cut."

"If you guys look at the best players in the league, most of them have bounced around teams," she added. "And I promise you it is not a bad thing, it's just how the league is."

Things, however gradually, are changing. With Golden State's WNBA team scheduled to launch in time for the 2025 season, league expansion is just around the corner. On Monday, Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced that the league is aiming to grow to 16 teams by 2028. But by then, it might be too little too late for the generation of talent emerging from an increasingly competitive NCAA system.

WNBA draft shatters records with 2.45 million viewers

wide shot of BAM during the 2024 WNBA Draft
It wasn't just attendees that were glued to the on-stage action at the 2024 WNBA Draft. (Photo by Melanie Fidler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Monday night’s WNBA draft added to the nationwide uptick in record-breaking women's sports viewership, pulling in 2.45 million viewers throughout the nearly two-hour broadcast and peaking at 3.09 million, according to an ESPN release. 

That number shatters the previous draft viewership record — 601,000 in 2004 — which was fueled primarily by then-No. 1 pick Diana Taurasi entering the league after UConn's historic three-peat March Madness performance.  

The 2023 WNBA draft drew 572,000 viewers, the most for any televised WNBA event since 2.74 million tuned in to NBC for a Memorial Day matchup between the New York Liberty and Houston Comets back in 2000.

While many came to watch Caitlin Clark get drafted No. 1 overall, it’s important to note that viewership didn’t take a massive dip after the superstar shooter left the stage. The numbers show that a bulk of the audience stuck around to watch the remainder of the show, making 2024's event not just the most-viewed WNBA draft in history, but also the most-viewed WNBA program to ever air on ESPN platforms.

Draft Day's popularity is yet another sign indicating an expected rise in WNBA regular season viewership. Clark and Iowa's NCAA tournament showdown with the Chicago Sky-bound Kamilla Cardoso's South Carolina side drew a record 18.7 million to ABC's Sunday afternoon broadcast. Banking on this trend, 36 of Indiana's upcoming 40 games are set to be shown on national television. In-person ticket sales are also soaring, leading the defending WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces to re-home their matchup with the Fever to a venue that can accommodate some 6,000 more fans.

Start your morning off right with Just Women’s Sports’ free, 5x-a-week newsletter.