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The three biggest questions facing the USWNT in its upcoming friendlies

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The United States women’s national team’s Summer Series kicks off Thursday with an international friendly against Portugal, followed by games against Jamaica and Nigeria.

The Houston-based series will serve as an inflection point for the USWNT ahead of this summer’s Olympics. While certain roster spots, like back line pillars Becky Sauerbrunn and Abby Dahlkemper, feel locked in, others are still up in the air.

Only 18 players will make the Olympic roster, with the series providing a final opportunity for athletes to state their case.

Here are the biggest unanswered questions heading into the USWNT’s June friendlies.

Can Kristie Mewis make the team?

Kristie Mewis’s career has undergone a renaissance over the last two years. The Dash midfielder received her first national team call-up under coach Vlatko Andonovski in 2019 when the midfielder was named to a 24-player identification training camp. Mewis went on to lead the Houston Dash to the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup championship, earning herself subsequent USWNT call-ups.

After six years away from the team, Mewis logged her first USWNT cap with Andonovski in a November 2020 friendly against the Netherlands. Mewis put an exclamation point on her return to the pitch, scoring a goal in the game’s 70th minute, a record 2,722 days after her first goal with the national team.

“It was truly such a rewarding thing. I had wanted to be back on that field with that team for so long. It was definitely really special,” Mewis told JWS back in February when asked about the goal.

Battling back from an ACL injury and making her triumphant return to the USWNT would’ve been an extraordinary comeback story in its own right, but Mewis has continued to shine for club and country. In the 2021 NWSL season, Mewis has appeared in four games for the Dash, netting one goal and two assists. Mewis wasn’t awarded much playing time in the national team’s April friendlies, however, making her recent NWSL dominance all the more consequential.

Fighting for a spot in a stacked midfield which includes Rose Lavelle, sister Sam Mewis, Lindsey Horan and Julie Ertz, Mewis has the likes of Lyon-phenom Catarina Macario and the Spirit’s Andi Sullivan to contend with. With Ertz out on injury, the Summer Series could provide Mewis the extended minutes necessary to stamp her ticket to Tokyo.

Who is the backup goalkeeper?

Alyssa Naeher has secured her role as the starting goalkeeper for the national team following a dominant 2019 World Cup performance.

Andonovski’s attention now turns to Naeher’s backup. Adrianna Franch and Jane Campbell have both been called into the national team’s June camp. Franch was previously on the 2019 World Cup roster, while Campbell has been receiving consistent USWNT call-ups as of late.

Both keepers have started the NWSL season strong, Franch for the Thorns and Campbell for the Dash. In her five regular-season games with Houston, Campbell has one clean sheet and a 68.4 percent successful save rate. Franch executed a notable penalty save to win the Thorns the 2021 Challenge Cup and has three clean sheets in Portland’s five regular-season games. If one or both of the keepers get minutes in the upcoming slate of friendlies, that may indicate who Andonovski is learning toward as second in line to Naeher.

What’s going on with Julie Ertz and Tobin Heath?

The term “indispensable” can be carelessly thrown around, but in the case of Julie Ertz and Tobin Heath, it’s hard to think of two more critical players. Both USWNT veterans, however, will miss the June friendlies due to injury.

Heath has been off the pitch since the beginning of 2021 after incurring a knee injury while playing with Manchester United. Ertz has been missing from action after suffering an MCL injury during a May 16 Red Stars game against the Thorns.

Heath seems to be a bit further along on her road to recovery and will at least participate in the USWNT June training camp. Andonovski has stated that he expects Ertz to join in the team’s send-off series in July.

As the team’s holding midfielder, Ertz plays a crucial role on both sides of the ball, connecting the back line to the midfield. Outside of being one of the most dangerous players with the ball at her feet, Heath also fills an essential role in Andonovski’s high press. If Health and Ertz’s rehab timetables don’t allow for a trip to Tokyo, the door could open for rising stars like Sophia Smith, Catarina Macario or Andi Sullivan to make their Olympic debut.

Tune in: USWNT vs Portugal, June 10 at 8:30 p.m. on FS1.

New Washington Spirit Head Coach Jonatan Giráldez Arrivin DC

head coach Jonatan Giráldez
Jonatan Giráldez joins the NWSL from FC Barcelona Femení. (Ramsey Cardy/UEFA via Getty Images)

Five months after announcing that the Washington Spirit had hired Barcelona Femení coach Jonatan Giráldez as the team's new head coach, Giráldez has joined the club in Washington, DC.

Giráldez is coming off of a successful season with the Spanish side, having won UEFA Women's Champions League, Copa de la Reina, Supercopa, and Liga F in his final season to complete a lauded Quadruple.

While Giráldez was finishing out his tenure in Europe, Adrián González filled in as Spirit interim head coach. González has also seen success, leading the team to its third-place standing with a 9-3-1 record through 13 games.

“I’m thrilled to join the Spirit and begin this next chapter with the club,” Giráldez said in an official team statement. “To be part of the vision Michele Kang has for the Spirit and women’s soccer globally is an exciting opportunity.”

Giráldez has worked at Barcelona since 2019, initially coming on as an assistant coach before moving up to head coach in 2021. The team went 30-0-0 on the season under Giráldez during his first year as manager.

He brings along with him Andrés González and Toni Gordo, who will serve as the Spirit's Fitness Coach and Club Analyst, respectively.

US Track & Field Olympic Trials Touch Down in Oregon

Sha’Carri Richardson competes in the women’s 200-meter preliminary round during the USATF Outdoor Championships
Sha’Carri Richardson will have some competition this week as athletes vie for an Olympic berth. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Track & Field Trials begin on June 21st, kicking off a 10-day quest to determine who will represent the US in Paris this summer.

The crucial meet will take place in Eugene, Oregon, where the top three finishers in each event will punch their ticket to the 2024 Olympics. As with this past week's US Swimming Trials, even the most decorated athletes must work to earn their spot — and one bad performance could undermine four years of preparation.

Reigning 100-meter World Champion Sha'Carri Richardson headlines this year's field, as the 24-year-old looks to qualify for her second Olympic Games and compete in her first. Richardson is a world champion in both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint, but missed the Tokyo Olympics due to testing positive for THC shortly after the last US Olympic Trials.

Other standouts include 400-meter Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who's currently the most decorated athlete in the active women's US Track & Field pool. McLaughlin-Levrone qualified to run in the 200-meter and 400-meter flat races alongside the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympic Trials, but opted to focus solely on her signature event.

800-meter specialist Athing Mu will also be a huge draw this week, as the Olympic gold medalist looks to shake off a lingering hamstring injury while pursuing her second Summer Games. Gold medal-winning pole vaulter Katie Moon will also attempt to qualify for her second-straight Olympic Games.

Ole Miss star McKenzie Long could be Richardson's greatest competition in the 100-meter and 200-meter events, as well as Richardson's Worlds teammate Gabby Thomas in the 200-meter. In field events, watch for Oregon senior Jaida Ross going head-to-head with reigning world champion Chase Jackson in the shot put, as both push for their first Olympic team berth.

Regardless of why you tune in, the US Olympic Trials are a perpetually thrilling and sometimes brutal qualification process. If you're able to make your way to the head of the pack, a shot at Olympic glory might just be waiting at the finish line.

Fans can catch live coverage throughout the Trials via NBC, USA, and Peacock.

Top Teams Square Off in NWSL Weekend Slate

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda
Orlando Pride, led by forward Barbra Banda, will take on Utah in this weekend's NWSL action. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As the NWSL season continues, a few top-performing clubs will have a chance to boost their standings this weekend.

First-place Kansas City will travel to Providence Park to take on fifth-place Portland, as the Current look to keep their unbeaten streak intact. And in New Jersey, third-place Washington will take on fourth-place Gotham FC, with both teams attempting to extend multi-game unbeaten streaks.

A six-point gap has opened between the fifth and sixth spot on the NWSL table — with just six points also separating the league's top five. Kansas City, Orlando, Washington, Gotham, and Portland have recently proven themselves to be a cut above the rest of the competition. With eight postseason spots up for grabs and half the season behind us, a pattern is forming that indicates the playoff race could come down to spots six through eight on the NWSL table.

Of those top five teams, only Orlando faces an opponent in the bottom half of the league this weekend: The Pride will take on 14th-place Utah, who nonetheless are coming off a win — just their second of the season — over Bay FC last weekend.

But despite Kansas City and Orlando having yet to lose a game, Gotham might be the squad coming into the weekend with the most momentum.

Clutch goals from Rose Lavelle and rookie Maycee Bell gave the Bats a 2-0 midweek win over San Diego on Wednesday, in a rematch of the 2024 Challenge Cup. Gotham's unbeaten streak dates all the way back to April, as rising availability and sharpened form have honed this year's superteam into a contender.

Bottom line? As the NWSL season passes the halfway mark, some matches might begin to feel more like playoff previews than mere regular season battles.

Chelsea Gray Returns From Injury in Aces Win Over Seattle

las vegas aces chelsea gray and kelsey plum celebrate a win over the seattle storm
Gray has been sidelined with a foot injury since the 2023 WNBA Finals. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Chelsea Gray made her return to the basketball court on Wednesday, helping the Aces to a 94-83 win over the Seattle Storm. 

The lauded point guard missed the first 12 games of the season, having been injured in last year’s WNBA Finals. The left foot injury caused her to miss Game 4 of the championship series, and she’s continued to rehab it through the beginning of the 2024 season. 

Her return on Wednesday was capitalized by the fact that she needed just 20 seconds to make an impact and record her first assist. While she finished with just one point, she had seven assists, four rebounds, and two blocks to go alongside it in 15:30 minutes. Gray's contributions on the night brought her career assist record up to 1,500.

"I probably went through every emotion leading up to today," Gray said after the game. "I was a little anxious all day. It's been a long time since I've been out on that court. But the fans were amazing from the time I came out to warm up to the time I checked in the game. It was a rush and a feeling I missed a lot."

It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far for Las Vegas, who have lost five of their last seven games. Gray, who averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in 2023, has proven herself a much-needed addition to the team’s lineup.

"Felt like my heart," Aces coach Becky Hammon said when asked how she felt hearing the crowd erupt for Gray's return. "She's the leader of our team. I thought she did a wonderful job too."

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