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Top 10 Plays of the NWSL Fall Series

HOUSTON, TX – OCTOBER 4: Debinha #10 of the North Carolina Courage takes a shot at the goal during a game between North Carolina Courage and Houston Dash at BBVA Stadium on October 4, 2020 in Houston, Texas.
10. NICHELLE PRINCE IS ROYALTY

The Houston Dash’s Sophie Schmidt pings a long-ball from midfield to Nichelle Prince, her fellow Dash and Canadian national team teammate. In a footrace, Prince beats the Orlando Pride defender to the ball, smashing a half-volley over the goalkeeper and into the back of the net. Prince’s clinical finish gave her team an early lead in a 3-1 victory over Orlando. After winning the Challenge Cup, Houston came in second in the Fall Series thanks to the efforts of Prince and her teammates.

 

9. KUMI YOKOYAMA’S BANGER

A deflected shot sends the ball flying through to the air, landing just outside the box at the feet of Kumi Yokoyama. The Washington Spirit forward tracks the ball down before losing her defender, curling a shot that deflects off the back post and into the net. Yokoyama’s absolutely wicked spin helped Washington walk away with the 1-0 win and a third place finish in the series overall.

 

8. DEBINHA: A CLASS ACT

Another NWSL season comes to a close, and Debinha is still underrated. Here, teammate Meredith Speck reads Orlando’s defense perfectly, stealing the ball and driving toward goal, patiently waiting for Debinha to get into position. The Brazilian superstar takes the beautifully weighted pass on a full-sprint before placing the ball back corner. Debinha’s smooth finish gave the North Carolina Courage a 3-0 lead before a second half comeback from the Orlando Pride ended the match in a 3-3 draw.

 

7. BETHANY BALCER GOT TEKKERS

‘Tis spooky season folks, and OL Reign looked scary good in this play. Steph Cox plays it in to teammate Sofia Huerta, who cheekily dummies the pass, allowing it to run into Bethany Balcer’s tracks. Behind Utah’s defensive line, Balcer hits a beautiful curler into the far post’s side panel, boosting her team to an eventual 2-2 draw with the Royals.

 

6. TZIARRA KING DOESN’T NEED REDBULL

She’s already got wings. The height Utah Royals’ Tziarra King got off this header goal is inhuman. Open on the right flank, Brittany Ratcliffe plays a cross into the box near the six. King flexes her hops, flying far above Reign’s defenders, and heads the ball back into the front post corner. Throughout the Fall Series, the rookie King was a consistent bright spot for Utah. We don’t expect this is the last time we’ll be singing her praises.

 

5. CHRISTINE SINCLAIR: STILL THE GOAT

The Portland Thorns’ Lindsey Horan and Christine Sinclair are the epitome of a dynamic duo. In typical fashion, Horan plays some tiki-taka on the left flank before playing a dangerous diagonal ball back to Sinclair. The Canadian superstar drills the ball into the far corner, putting it completely out of reach of OL Reign’s goalkeeper. Sinclair led the league with six goals in the Fall Series, double the amount of the next highest scorer. What are we supposed to do for the rest of the year if we can’t watch Sinclair dominate the NWSL?

 

4. SHEA GROOM CATCHES AIR

Shea Groom first took flight on a spectacular goal during the Challenge Cup. And surprise, surprise, she did it again. The Houston Dash’s Brianna Visalli jumpstarts the counterattack by winning a critical tackle in her defensive end before slotting the ball ahead to Kristie Mewis, who chips it into the box. Groom comes flying in and heads the ball with major conviction. Groom’s strike helped her finish the Fall Series as the second-leading goal scorer while Mewis was first in assists.

 

3. ECKERSTROM READS FORWARDS LIKE THEIR BOOKS

Portland Thorns’ keeper Britt Eckerstrom was an absolute beast throughout the Fall Series. She led the league in saves, denying what could have been 19 goals while only allowing 3 to get past her all tournament. In the early moments of this match against OL Reign, midfielder Shirley Cruz floats a bomb into the box, finding Bethany Balcer, who heads the ball toward the top-shelf. But Eckerstrom makes an incredible leap to push the ball over the crossbar with her left hand. Needless to say, Eckerstrom played a vital role in helping Portland walk away with the Fall Series Community Shield.

 

2. A STAR IS BORN: SOPHIE SMITH

How could we forget Smith’s brilliant header, which she scored within just three minutes of entering her first professional career match? Meghan Klingenberg of the Portland Thorns initiates the action by picking off a pass before playing a line-drive into the penalty area. Smith connects with the pass, heading it into the far corner for a spectacular start to her NWSL career. The number one draft pick has Portland fans walking away from the Fall Series with a new trophy on their shelves and sky high expectations for the years to come.

 

1. ONE WORD: DEBINHA

The title says it all. Debinha’s goal made SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays for a reason. There’s a chance the net is still smoking after this bullet from the North Carolina midfielder. After receiving the ball back from her teammate Lynn Williams, Debinha turns inside and dummies her defender before immediately lifting her head to smash a shot from outside the 18. The ball carries to the back post upper 90, popping the back of the net. Once again Debinha has left fans wondering if she isn’t, in fact, the most dangerous player in the league.

Alyssa Naeher’s goalkeeper jersey sells out in less than three hours

uwnt goalie alyssa naeher wears jersey on the field with club team chicago red stars
USWNT star keeper Alyssa Naeher's new replica NWSL jersey was an instant success. (Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in the NWSL's 12-year history, fans can now buy their own goalkeeper jerseys. And while replica goalkeeper jerseys representing all 14 NWSL teams hit the market on Wednesday, some didn't stick around for long. 

Fans across women's soccer have long vocalized their discontent over the position's lack of availability on social media, often comparing the shortcoming to the widespread availability of men’s goalkeeper jerseys. And as the NWSL has grown, so has demand — and not just from those in the stands. 

"To have goalkeeper kits available for fans in the women’s game as they have been for so long in the men’s game is not only a long-awaited move in the right direction, it’s just good business," said Washington Spirit goalie Aubrey Kingsbury in an team press release. "I can’t wait to see fans representing me, Barnie [Barnhart], and Lyza in the stands at Audi!"

Business does, in fact, appear to be booming. Alyssa Naeher’s Chicago Red Stars kit sold out less than three hours after the league's announcement. Jerseys for other keepers like DiDi Haračić, Abby Smith, Michelle Betos, Katelyn Rowland, and Bella Bixby aren’t currently available via the Official NWSL Shop, though blank goalkeeper jerseys can be customized through some individual team sites. Jerseys start at $110 each.

"This should be the benchmark," said Spirit Chief Operations Officer Theresa McDonnell. "The expectation is that all players’ jerseys are available to fans. Keepers are inspiring leaders and mentors with their own unique fan base who want to represent them... I can’t wait to see them all over the city."

Simone Biles talks Tokyo Olympics fallout in new interview

gymnast simone biles on a balance beam
Biles' candid interview shed light on the gymnast's internal struggle. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Decorated gymnast Simone Biles took to the popular Call Her Daddy podcast this week to open up about her experience at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, revealing she thought she was going to be "banned from America" for her performance.

After Biles botched her vault routine due to a bout of the "twisties," she withdrew from the team final as well as the all-around final in order to focus on her mental health. She later reentered the competition to win bronze in the individual balance beam final.

In her interview with podcast host Alex Cooper, Biles admitted to feeling like she let the entire country down by failing her vault attempt.

"As soon as I landed I was like 'Oh, America hates me. The world is going to hate me. I can only see what they’re saying on Twitter right now,'" she recalled thinking. "I was like, ‘Holy s---, what are they gonna say about me?'"

"I thought I was going to be banned from America," she continued. "That’s what they tell you: Don’t come back if not gold. Gold or bust. Don’t come back."

Widely regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time, Biles has hinted at a desire to join her third Olympic team in Paris, though her participation won't be confirmed until after the gymnastics trials in late June. She holds over 30 medals from the Olympic Games and World Artistic Gymnastics Championships combined, and if qualified, would be a sure favorite heading into this summer’s games.

Caitlin Clark reportedly nearing $20 million+ Nike deal

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever poses for a portrait at Gainbridge Fieldhouse during her introductory press conference
WNBA-bound Caitlin Clark is said to be closing in on a monumental NIke deal. (Photo by Matt Kryger/NBAE via Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark is reportedly close to cementing a hefty endorsement deal with Nike.

The Athletic was the first to break the news Wednesday evening, commenting that the deal would be worth "eight figures" and include her own signature shoe. On Thursday afternoon, the publication tweeted that the deal would top $20 million, according to lead NBA Insider Shams Charania. Both Under Armour and Adidas are said to have also made sizable offers to the college phenom and expected future WNBA star.

The new agreement comes after Clark's previous Nike partnership ended with the conclusion of the college basketball season. She was one of five NCAA athletes to sign an NIL deal with the brand back in October, 2022. 

Considering Clark's overwhelming popularity and Nike's deep pockets, the signing's purported value doesn't exactly come as a shock. New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu’s deal with the brand is reportedly worth $24 million, while NBA rookie and No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama’s deal is rumored to weigh in at $100 million. And in 2003, LeBron James famously earned $90 million off his own Nike deal. 

Clark’s star power continues to skyrocket, with the NCAA championship averaging 18.9 million viewers and the 2024 WNBA Draft more than doubling its previous viewership record. Following the draft, Fanatics stated that Clark's Indiana Fever jersey — which sold out within an hour — was the top seller for any draft night pick in the company’s history, with droves of unlucky fans now being forced to wait until August to get their hands on some official No. 22 gear.

In Wednesday's Indiana Fever introductory press conference, the unfailingly cool, calm, and collected Clark said that turning pro hasn’t made a huge impact on how she’s conducting her deals.

"If I’m being completely honest, I feel like it doesn’t change a ton from how I lived my life over the course of the last year," she said. "Sponsorships stay the same. The people around me, agents and whatnot, have been able to help me and guide me through the course of the last year. I don’t know if I would be in this moment if it wasn’t for a lot of them."

Star slugger Jocelyn Alo joins Athletes Unlimited AUX league

softball star jocelyn alo rounds the bases at an oklahoma sooners game
Former Oklahoma star Jocelyn Alo has signed with Athletes Unlimited. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Former Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo has signed on with Athletes Unlimited and will compete in the AU Pro Softball AUX this June.

The NCAA record holder in career home runs (122), total bases (761), and slugging percentage (.987), Alo was originally drafted by the league in 2022 but opted instead to join the newly debuted Women’s Professional Fastpitch

Alo currently plays for independent pro softball team Oklahoma City Spark, with team owner Tina Floyd reportedly on board with her recent AUX signing. AUX games are scheduled for June 10-25, while the Spark's season will kick off June 19th. Alo will play for both. 

Among those joining Alo on the AUX roster are former James Madison ace pitcher Odicci Alexander and former Wichita State standout middle infielder Sydney McKinney.

According to Alo, the decision to play in the Athletes Unlimited league was fueled by her desire to propel women's sports forward as well as provide more exposure to a sport that's given her "so many opportunities."

"Not only to challenge myself more, but just for the growth of the game," Alo said, explaining her reasoning to The Oklahoman. "I genuinely believe that professional softball can be a career for girls."

Joining AUX is also one more step in her plan toward representing Team USA at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

"I’m constantly thinking about how can I do these little things right in these four years to prepare me for the biggest stage of softball," she told The Oklahoman. "I definitely want to play in the Olympics, for sure."

Alo further expressed enthusiasm in the hope that the rise of other women’s sports, like women’s basketball and the NWSL, will push softball’s professional viability even higher.

"We’re seeing the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) get their stuff going, I see the WNBA starting to get hot," she continued. "I feel like the softball community is like, 'All right, it’s our turn and it’s our turn to just demand more.'"

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