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‘There’s no other leader like Sinc’: Christine Sinclair adds NWSL Shield to historic year

(Craig Mitchelldyer / ISI Photos / Getty Images)

Before the Portland Thorns took the field for the second half against the Houston Dash on Sunday, Christine Sinclair did something she doesn’t normally do.

Ahead 1-0 and 45 minutes away from clinching the red and black’s second-ever NWSL Shield, the captain gathered her team into a huddle and talked to them with an intensity not often seen from the quiet, humble leader.

She only does it once or twice a year.

“That’s her,” Thorns head coach Mark Parsons said after the game. “She knows the moment where she needs to share the wisdom.”

The Thorns went on to hold their lead in the second half, secure the win, and claim the 2021 Shield as the NWSL club with the most points in the regular season.

“There’s no other leader like Sinc,” said Parsons. “She’s the best of the best on the pitch; she’s the best of the best off the pitch. She leads by example by having the highest standards in every moment in everything she does.”

The NWSL Shield adds to a memorable year for Sinclair, who also captained the Canadian national team to their first-ever Olympic gold, and the Thorns to both the Challenge Cup and International Champions Cup titles.

Portland hasn’t lost a title since the 2020 Challenge Cup. In last year’s Fall Series, Sinclair scored six goals, including a hat trick against OL Reign, throughout the final three matches to lead the Thorns to first place.

Parsons summed it up in the simplest, most accurate way: “Sinc wins trophies.”

On a personal level, the Burnaby, B.C. native has also been nominated for the 2021 Ballon d’Or. Since the award was cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19, it’ll be the first one handed out since her historic 185th goal that made her international soccer’s all-time leading scorer.

She’s also top of her league. There are no official all-time stats for the NWSL, but according to a CBC article, Sinclair had 61 goals at the end of the 2021 Challenge Cup, while Lynn Williams had 59, and with Sinclair’s five regular-season goals and Williams’ seven, the two are tied at 66, making them the active players with the most all-time league goals. (Chelsea’s Sam Kerr still holds the NWSL record, with 88).

It makes sense why Sinclair would prefer a quieter leadership style. Her talent speaks volumes on its own.

“She’s not the type of ‘rah-rah’ leader you would expect captains to be,” said Thorns teammate and goalkeeper Bella Bixby. “She leads by example, and she leads with just a presence that we respond really well to when she’s around.”

“I think she’s someone we all look to in terms of how to manage the game and just locking it down for us.”

But humility is also just naturally who Sinclair is. She’s never been drawn to the media or sponsorships, always turns reporters’ questions about her into answers about the team, and repeatedly says that for her it’s never been about the records, it’s about being a good teammate.

“When I talk about players that I’ve learned from as a coach and as a person, I often think of many, but no one like Sinc,” said Parsons.

“She always puts everyone else first, and as a result we have not just the best player, but the best leader on our club and we’re proud of it.”

All this isn’t to say Sinclair doesn’t have her moments of being human. She’s been caught swearing in frustration at a game or getting upset with teammates. On Sunday, she was subbed out in the 75th minute, fuming and ignoring high fives on her way to the bench after playing through a nasty hit to the ankles from Dash midfielder and Canadian teammate Sophie Schmidt.

Schmidt has been playing with Sinclair the longest of anyone on the current national team. They’ll return to Canada this week, along with the rest of the Canadian squad, to start the Celebration Tour for the Olympic gold, beginning Oct. 23 in Ottawa, Ont.

Sinclair hasn’t made any indications of retiring as the Canadians head into preparations for the 2023 FIFA World Cup. She’ll have just turned 40 by the time the tournament begins.

She certainly doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

On Sunday, Parsons was impressed with her counter pressing and the way she set up the attack.

“She’s looking as good, as effective and as intense even in our fourth game in 10 days,” he said. “In the first half she was counter pressing and setting attacks up. It was just like her first game of the four games in 10 days.”

After one more regular season game on Oct. 30 against the North Carolina Courage, the Thorns will move onto the Nov. 14 semifinals where they have clinched home-field advantage.

Being backed by Sinclair’s leadership provides a sense of composure for Portland as they look to finish strong on a dominant season.

“[She’s] often there for me,” said Parsons. “Oftentimes I lean on her for support, if I ask her about the right thing that can help the team at the right time. She’s always, always set me up to help the team in the best way I can.”

Jessa Braun is an editorial intern at Just Women’s Sports. She is also the Head of North American Content for the Women’s Sports Alliance. You can follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.

KC Current GM Camille Ashton Resigns

KC Current GM Camille Ashton
Former KC Current GM Camille Ashton left the undefeated organization early this week. (Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

Kansas City Current general manager Camille Ashton has resigned, the club announced Wednesday.

The staffing shakeup comes as somewhat of a surprise after the Current started off the season undefeated under new head coach Vlatko Andonovski, sitting second in the NWSL standings through 10 games.

No further details were given about her departure, other than that the club "wishes her the best in her future endeavors."

"I am thankful for my time in Kansas City," Ashton said in a team statement. "It was important to me to dedicate my time and efforts to ensure a successful 2024 season by building the championship-caliber roster that's currently near the top of the table. I am proud of what we have accomplished here. I look forward to the next step in my personal and professional journey."

Ashton, who played in the league from 2014-17, helped rebuild the Current roster, including picking up then-free agent Debinha in 2023 — the biggest free agency signing of that offseason. This past offseason, she brought in international players Temwa Chawinga and Bia Zaneratto

But the club has also encountered some rough patches throughout Ashton's tenure. Following her daughter's dismissal from the Current last year, mother of 2023 draft pick Mykiaa Minniss also accused the club of mistreatment during the preseason. While both the league and NWSL Players Association looked into the comments, no formal reprimand or consequences were publicly issued.

Players like Lynn Williams, Alex Loera, and Cece Kizer voiced concerns over what they described as unexpected trades, with Kizer adding that there was "no conversation this could happen." Williams, meanwhile, was informed of her trade moments prior to its execution while she was in New Zealand with the USWNT.

"There could be a lot of debate about that on its own, but at the end of the day, that’s the mechanism that we work with right now in the league," Ashton told reporters earlier this year when quested about the Current's player trade procedures.

While the club made an NWSL championship appearance in 2022 — the year Ashton came on as general manager — the 2023 season kicked off with the team firing head coach Matt Potter just three games into the season and hours before a road game. 

At the time, the club cited "issues around his leadership and employment responsibilities" as the reasoning, though players were reportedly confused with the decision making.

Last October, the Current hired former UWSNT coach Vlatko Andonovski as head coach, in addition to giving him the title of "sporting director." Whether or not that role overlapped with Ashton’s responsibilities as general manager was cause for some speculation.

NWSL Honors UWSNT Great Lauren Holiday With Impact Award

Lauren Holiday at nwsl impact award event
USWNT legend Lauren Holiday has long been involved with social activism off the pitch. (NWSL)

The NWSL announced today that the annual civically focused Nationwide Community Impact Award would now be known as the Lauren Holiday Award in honor of the National Soccer Hall of Famer.

Since 2021, the award has recognized one NWSL player each season for their character and contributions to community service off the pitch, according to a league release. The winner of the newly retitled award receives $30,000 toward a charitable organization of their choice.

"The NWSL is proud to honor Lauren Holiday as the namesake of this award recognizing exemplary athletes and their commitment to service and activism," said NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman. "Lauren’s influential work in the community and her outstanding character both on and off the field epitomize the values we look to uphold and celebrate in the NWSL every day. 

"I can think of no one more deserving of this recognition than Lauren and look forward to seeing the continued positive impact this program has on our clubs and communities with her example guiding our efforts."

In a statement, Holiday said that throughout her career she has always "believed in the power of giving back and creating positive change." A two-time Olympic gold medalist, World Cup winner, and former NWSL MVP, Holiday founded the Jrue & Lauren Holiday Social Impact Fund alongside husband and fellow professional athlete JRue Holiday.

The fund contributes to programs that combat systemic racism and socioeconomic inequality. Holiday has also long been an advocate for legislation to help close the racial inequality gap in maternal health.

"This award is a testament to the important work that athletes are doing to strengthen and uplift their communities every day and I am deeply humbled to take on its namesake," Holiday said. "I hope it inspires others to continue their efforts in making a lasting impact on the lives of those around them."

Waylaid Seattle Rookie Nika Mühl Makes WNBA Debut

seattle storm's nika muhl guarding indiana fever's caitlin clark
Mühl spent her first few pro minutes repeating her college assignment: guarding Caitlin Clark.(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Seattle rookie Nika Mühl made her long awaited WNBA debut in last night’s 85-83 win over Indiana after missing the first four games of the season due to visa issues. 

A Croatian national, Mühl had been waiting on P-1 visa approval in order to work legally in the US. While the paperwork came through Friday, she had to travel to Canada in order to get her status changed.

The former UConn star poked fun at the delay ahead of the game, walking into Climate Pledge Arena wearing a t-shirt displaying her approved visa.

Mühl checked into the game on Monday in the third period to a standing ovation, immediately diving over the baseline to save a loose ball. She spent her first few minutes of the game the same way she completed her career at UConn: guarding Caitlin Clark

Mühl, who had two rebounds in two and a half minutes, held Clark to five points, a rebound, and a turnover when the two were matched up. 

"I threw her in the fire," Storm coach Noelle Quinn said with a smile after the game. "It’s tough to come into the game at that rate and think that you’re going to stop the player, but I like… her physicality, her poise, her confidence. She took an open shot and I thought that was a great look for her. We’ll continue to put her in the mix in practice, and she’ll have opportunities to show what she can do on the defensive end to start."

An instant fan favorite, the UConn star donned the No. 1 jersey — in part because her usual No. 10 was retired by Seattle after Sue Bird, who wore it for her entire WNBA career, retired last year. Mühl's new number was chosen by none other than Bird herself. 

"I actually FaceTimed Sue and asked her what number I should wear. She took a day to think about it and came back to me with an answer of No. 1," Muhl said in a WNBA video posted to social media. "When I asked her why No. 1, she basically said 'This is a new beginning, but you’re not starting from scratch.' I loved that whole analogy and story, so Sue actually picked it and I love it."

WNBA Confirms Toronto Expansion Team for 2026

Fans at a game between the Chicago Sky and the Minnesota Lynx in Toronto
Canadian fans asked and the WNBA delivered: Toronto's getting a team. (Jordan Jones/NBAE via Getty Images)

The WNBA is officially expanding to Toronto, with the league announcing its 14th franchise early Thursday. 

Kilmer Sports Ventures has been awarded the team, said WNBA commissioner Cathy Englebert at a press conference attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, and others. 

"Growing internationally, I’ve been trying to think through next steps on a global platform," Engelbert told the Associated Press ahead of the official announcement. "It helps us reach new audiences and bring in new partners. The thing I love about going to another country is that the young girls and boys get to see professional basketball for women is important, too."

The CBC was the first to report on the expansion franchise back on May 10th. 

With the Golden State Valkyries set to begin play next year, the Toronto franchise will begin play in 2026. The goal, per the WNBA, is to then add two more franchises by 2028 for a total of 16. 

Toronto will play at Coca-Cola Coliseum, which holds 8,700 seats. On occasion, the team will play games in Scotiabank Arena. The WNBA has previously hosted sold-out preseason games at Scotiabank Arena and Edmonton’s Rogers Place. There are also plans to play games in Vancouver and Montreal, according to majority owner Larry Tanenbaum. 

This will be the first WNBA franchise outside of the United States, and joins PWHL Toronto as just the second professional women’s sports team in the city.

"Our Toronto sports franchises are thriving but, we have been missing one critical piece — women’s professional sports," Tanenbaum told the AP. "The world is finally taking notice of something that’s been there all along — the immense talent, passion and competition in women’s sports. 

"I saw an opportunity and knew we were in the right place at the right time to bring Canada’s first WNBA team to Toronto. And now we have, making sports history."

Similar to Golden State, the Toronto franchise paid a $50 million expansion fee. They’ve also committed to building a dedicated practice facility, but will train at the University of Toronto’s Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport in the meantime. 

"Women’s sports is good business," Tanenbaum said. "Just look around — it’s not a moment, but a movement and it’s just the beginning."

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