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Takeaways from USWNT’s SheBelieves Cup draw with Czech Republic

Alana Cook (Just Women’s Sports / Jesse Louie)

The main message coming out of the U.S. national team’s 2022 debut is that the “new kids” are going to be alright.

Fielding the youngest starting lineup since 2018, the squad recorded a 0-0 draw against the Czech Republic in their first game of the SheBelieves Cup on Thursday.

There is still a ways to go in the process of building an effective 2023 FIFA World Cup roster, but coach Vlatko Andonovski said he’s happy with where the young team’s level is currently at.

The players showed flashes of chemistry on Thursday, especially between Catarina Macario and Rose Lavelle, and the quality of play will only get sharper as the team continues to train and play together. The NWSL starting in March will also be a game changer, as every player except Macario is only two weeks into preseason, with fitness levels nowhere near game ready.

Read on for the takeaways from game one of the SheBelieves Cup.

Calm in the center, chaotic on the flanks, and it works

The backline was an interesting but effective mix. Center backs Alana Cook and Tierna Davidson provided a steady, calm presence while the fullbacks were free to run wild. Somehow, at one point, right back and team captain Kelley O’Hara ended up in the left corner of the attacking third. 

O’Hara, starting left back Emily Fox and second-half sub Emily Sonnett demonstrated an impressive level of comfort in carrying the ball through opponents, sending crosses and starting plays in Czech’s half. 

In the center, Cook and Davidson held the composure, producing 90 and 85 percent passing completions, respectively. Andonovski says he expects them to play together a few more times, at least, going forward. 

Veteran Becky Sauerbrunn, who came on in the second half for her 200th cap on Thursday, will be subbed with Davidson throughout the tournament. Sauerbrunn has a limit of 95 minutes of playing time in the SheBelieves Cup.

Trinity Rodman has steady first USWNT performance

The 2021 NWSL Rookie of the Year made her long-awaited USWNT debut, subbing on for Mallory Pugh in the 61st minute. Right away, she added energy to the pitch and threatened the backline after getting an early chance on goal.

Rodman is already known as one of the best playmakers in the NWSL. Against Czech Republic, she sent a familiar ball into the 18-yard box for her Washington Spirit teammate Kelley O’Hara, almost identical to the game-winning play that the two made in the league championship in November when O’Hara buried a header goal off a long lob from Rodman.

The 19-year-old has strong work ethic and natural talent, and as Becky Sauerbrunn says, “Anyone with eyeballs can see that.” But it’s clear Rodman will need at least a couple more matches with the national team to really settle into her groove and do the damage everyone in the NWSL knows she’s capable of.

“I was excited to see her,” Andonovski said of Rodman against Czech Republic. “I know the players around her were excited to see her there. I just think this is the first of many for her, so she definitely needs more minutes, more caps, more games and I have no doubt that she’s going to perform even better.”

Honorable mentions for Sophia Smith, Kristie Mewis

While Catarina Macario and Woman of the Match Rose Lavelle had the most impact in the attacking third, Sophia Smith and Kristie Mewis also made a difference in energy and creating opportunities.  

The first 21st-century-born player to be named to a USWNT roster, Smith made her 11th cap on Thursday. She impressed with her hunger and ability to create goal-scoring opportunities for herself, even though she often hung back to complement O’Hara’s forward runs.  

Subbing on for Morgan Gautrat at the start of the second half, Mewis made creative plays almost at the level of the Lavelle-Macario duo. Her passes should become more effective once the other midfielders and forwards have had more games together and time to get on the same page.

Hopes for Sunday

In the USWNT’s next game on Sunday against New Zealand, it would be good to see Aubrey Bledsoe, Ashley Hatch and Sofia Huerta get some playing time, and to see the midfielders sharpen their positioning to be more dangerous and to create more opportunities for themselves and teammates. 

Bledsoe, the 2021 NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year, is the only player on the roster without an international cap. Casey Murphy played in goal on Thursday and, as she has in all three of her caps, impressed everyone. At this point, it’s clear she can handle the high-pressure environment of the world stage. Now it’s Bledsoe’s turn.

With the US having a tough time breaking down Czech Republic’s low block, it might be worth giving Hatch a turn in the nine or a forward position, considering she’s the reigning NWSL Golden Boot champion and third-fastest goal scorer in USWNT history after scoring in 24 seconds against Australia in November. 

Sofia Huerta fits seamlessly into the USWNT’s fullback style of pushing up the field and contributing crosses. 

Next up: the USWNT plays New Zealand at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday. The game will be televised on ABC.

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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