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Where USWNT’s new players stand after first friendly against Australia

Goalkeeper Casey Murphy shined in her USWNT debut Friday. (Steve Christo/Corbis via Getty Images)

The U.S. women’s national soccer team traveled to Australia on a mission to give their less experienced players an opportunity against a world-class opponent.

On Saturday, the team accomplished that mission. Nine players with fewer than 10 caps saw the field, leading the USWNT to a 3-0 win over the Matildas in a friendly rematch of the Olympic bronze-medal game this past summer (a 4-3 win for U.S.).

As the USWNT prepares to face Australia again on Tuesday, head coach Vlatko Andonovski has plenty of talent to work with as he begins to build his 2023 World Cup roster. Despite stellar performances from the younger players in the Australia opener, it’s safe to assume only a few of those new faces will stick around since the USWNT still has a solid core of veterans — most of whom helped bring home the program’s fourth World Cup title in 2019.

If there’s one new player we should be confident about coming out of Saturday’s game, it’s goalkeeper Casey Murphy. The 25-year-old made eight saves in the win, including a few key stops in the final 10 minutes of the first half, earning her Player of the Match. Her ability to make those saves in front of a record-breaking Australian crowd of 36,109, and against strikers like NWSL all-time leading goal scorer Sam Kerr, shows she can rise to the occasion. Murphy stepped up in another high-pressure situation three weeks ago with her NWSL team, holding the Washington Spirit scoreless through regulation of their quarterfinal game until the eventual league champions scored in extra time.

Ashley Hatch, the player who buried the game-winner against Murphy in that quarterfinal, also rocketed onto the scene Saturday. In her third cap and first start with the USWNT, Hatch scored in the first 24 seconds to record the third-fastest goal in USWNT history. The 26-year-old has natural goal-scoring instincts, doesn’t take scoring opportunities for granted and has shown no signs of having a “weaker foot.” Of the 11 goals she scored in the NWSL this season, five were with her right foot, four were with her left and two came off her head.

If Andonovski is looking for goal scorers, Hatch is arguably the best option right now. But if he’s searching for goal scorers with versatility, that’s where Hatch will have to step up her game. Her ball distribution needs some work compared to other strikers in the mix for the USWNT.

While USWNT veterans Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan and Andi Sullivan started in the midfield on Saturday, the frontline had less experience, and it showed in their inability to connect with the midfielders at times.

One of those players was Midge Purce, who has a bright future on this team even if her ascent has been gradual. She missed a couple of key shots against Australia, but she made an impact on the game in other ways, most notably beating her defender down the right flank and finding Lavelle with a perfectly placed cross for the USWNT’s second goal. What makes Purce’s case even stronger is her versatility. With the experience of playing fullback, the 26-year-old often pressures opponents to make back passes out of the USWNT’s defensive third, a skill not all forwards can execute as well.

Forward Bethany Balcer subbed in for her first cap in the 78th minute as the first former NAIA player to appear for the USWNT. She was excellent off the ball, forcing Australia into pressure with her ball-hawking. On the ball, the 24-year-old should look to take her space more instead of trying to pass too early, which will likely come once she gets more comfortable with the team.

The other forward Andonovski subbed in Saturday was Morgan Weaver, a speedy and smart player who has a knack for setting up scoring opportunities with clever passes. Entering the game in the 74th minute, she brought energy to the frontline and became the lone forward as the team moved to a 5-4-1 formation in the last 10 minutes. Given Weaver’s high work rate, it would make sense for her to get more playing time on Tuesday.

On the backline, Sofia Huerta is another tireless player who earned her eighth cap against Australia. Subbing in as a fullback at the start of the second half, she quickly made an impact with her playmaking abilities, setting up Purce with a header that led to Lavelle’s goal just three minutes into the half. The next step for Huerta is making runs up the field herself to get involved in the attack.

Emily Fox looked more comfortable carrying the ball out of the back Saturday. That energy didn’t necessarily translate to the other end, where she was slow in defensive transition. Of the eight shots Australia had in the first half, Fox could have done a better job preventing at least three. For the sake of her development, Andonovski said he’s already told her she’ll be invited to January camp.

Alana Cook earned her third cap at center back next to Tierna Davidson, but played like anything but one of the USWNT’s newcomers. While the experienced U.S. midfield struggled to shut down the middle of the park in their own half, Cook was an expert at reading Australia’s runs. And once the ball was at her feet, she stayed composed, consistently threading good balls through the middle while opposing players clawed at her back. The OL Reign defender lets the ball do the work, which is the kind of calmness the team needs to build up the attack.

This match didn’t offer much of an opportunity to evaluate midfielder Ashley Sanchez, who subbed on for her first cap in the 84th minute, when the USWNT’s main focus was keeping the ball out of their third and the play had turned sloppy. She brought good energy as the U.S. held on for the shutout, but if she gets more time Tuesday, she’ll need to deliver better first touches and quicker, simpler passes. She likes to carry the ball and find space for herself, which works when teammates aren’t providing options, but an easy pass is usually there instead.

Goalkeeper Bella Bixby and defender Imani Dorsey were the only other uncapped players on the roster who didn’t make an appearance Saturday. Expect them to get time Tuesday.

Andonovski has some tough roster decisions to make in the coming months as the U.S. gears up for the 2023 World Cup. The opening match with Australia allowed him to assess players’ technical abilities on the high-stakes international stage. Tuesday should give him a better opportunity to evaluate tactics now that the new players are more familiar with each other.

Kickoff of the second match between the U.S. and Australia is Tuesday at 4:05 a.m. ET on ESPN.

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

Caitlin Clark dunks on Michael Che in surprise SNL appearance

(Julia Hansen/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Caitlin Clark made a surprise appearance on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, which quickly went viral.

The Iowa star showed up on the show’s Weekend Update segment to playfully call out Michael Che’s history of making jabs at women’s sports.

It started when Che joked that Iowa should replace Clark’s retired No. 22 “with an apron.” 

When Clark entered, Che said that he was a fan. But Clark wasn’t convinced – especially not when co-host Colin Jost brought the receipts of Che’s jabs.

“Really, Michael? Because I heard that little apron joke you did,” she said, before making him read some jokes of her own in retaliation. Clark finished her segment by shouting out the WNBA greats that came before her. She then got in one final dig – bringing Che a signed apron as a souvenir. 

When Che promised to give it to his girlfriend, Clark delivered her last playful dig of the night.

“You don’t have a girlfriend, Michael,” she said.

Afterward, SNL castmember Bowen Yang told People that the 22-year-old and teammates Gabbie Marshall, Kate Martin and Jada Gyamfi – who joined her at Studio 8H – “were so cool.”

“She's so charming and witty,” Yang said. “They were just the most stunning, noble people.

“Athletes just have this air about them. They know they're amazing. I mean, these are people who have numeric attachments and values to their performance. That's something that comedians never have.”

Portland Thorns, in uncharted territory, start NWSL season winless

Portland has started the season winless through four games for the first time. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

The Portland Thorns continue to struggle to start the NWSL season, falling 2-0 to the North Carolina Courage over the weekend to remain winless through their first four games. 

It’s uncharted territory for Portland, who has never started the NWSL regular season without a win in four games before.

Following the loss, defender Becky Sauerbrunn voiced her frustrations with the start. 

“It’s hard to find a lot of encouraging things, but what I find encouraging is that people are frustrated,” she said. “People are pissed off that we’re not doing well. We care, and I think that’s really important.” 

She also added that while the team will reflect individually, “there’s going to be no finger pointing.”

“We’re going to look at ourselves and figure out what we should have done, or I should have done better,” she said. “There is a list of things that I could have done better, and I’m going to make sure I know every single thing and watch this game back.”

The Thorns currently sit at the bottom of the league table with just one point, having allowed 10 goals – tied for the worst in the league. They’ve yet to lead in a match. And as questions grow, attention turns to head coach Mike Norris. 

Norris is in his second year as head coach of the club after leading the team to a second-place finish in the regular season last year. When asked about the possibility of pressure growing after the unprecedented start, Norris said that the pressure has been there “from day one.”

“I cannot be driven by my day-to-day and the longer vision of the pressure of the job,” he said. “We’ve got a belief in how we want to play, how we operate. We’ve got to stick with the process of that. While we do it, we have to review and see what is working, what’s not working.

“I’ll be showing up for the team and being there for what they need from me as we approach getting back together as a group next week.”

Maria Sanchez reportedly requests trade from Houston Dash

Mar 23, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Dash forward Maria Sanchez (7) warms up before the match between Racing Louisville and Houston Dash at Shell Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Maria Sanchez, who signed one of the biggest deals in NWSL history just four months ago, has reportedly requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

ESPN was the first to report the news, which was confirmed by multiple sources.

In a statement to ESPN, the team said: “​​Maria Sanchez is under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the Dash worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. At the time, it was the largest contract in NWSL history – something that was eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

The winger was a restricted free agent in the offseason, meaning that Houston could match any offer from another team and retain her rights. Should the team trade Sanchez, her contract would remain as it has been signed with the league. That limits the number of teams that could take on her contract. 

In three starts with the Dash this season, Sanchez has zero goals and an assist. The Dash are 1-2-1 through four games and have allowed a league-worst 10 goals.

The team hired a new coach, Fran Alonso, in December. Earlier this year, former goalkeeper coach Matt Lampson was fired for violating the league’s Coach Code of Conduct and Anti-Fraternization policy. 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close at midnight ET on Friday.

Canada beats U.S. Hockey 6-5 in thrilling World Championship win

UTICA, NEW YORK - APRIL 14: Team Canada raises the Championship Trophy after winning The Gold by defeating The United States in OT during the 2024 IIHF Women's World Championship Gold Medal game at Adirondack Bank Center on April 14, 2024 in Utica, New York. (Photo by Troy Parla/Getty Images)

Canada got its revenge on Sunday, winning the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship and taking down the U.S. in a 6-5 overtime classic.

Marie-Philip Poulin, a longtime star for Canada, got her first two goals of the tournament, while Danielle Serdachny had the game-winner. 

"I hate to say you're not trying to rely on it, expect it, but I know I've grown to expect it," Canada coach Troy Ryan said of Philip-Poulin. "Tonight was just a whole other level. I could see in her eyes every time we called her name that she was ready to go. It's just special."

The win came after Canada lost 1-0 to the U.S. in the group stage of the tournament. On Sunday, the two teams met for the 22nd time in 23 tournaments in the gold medal game – and the action between the two teams delivered. 

Among those scoring for the U.S. were Megan Keller, Alex Carpenter, Hilary Knight, Laila Edwards and Caroline Harvey. Julia Gosling, Emily Clark and Erin Ambrose had the other three goals for Canada, giving them their 13th World title after falling to the U.S. in last year’s title game in Toronto. 

This year’s game was held in New York, and it was the second-highest scoring final between the two teams. The U.S. won a world championship 7-5 in 2015. 

"Oh man, that feels good to win it on U.S. soil," Canada goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens said after the game. "We owed it to them and owed it to ourselves to win that one."

Canada also denied Knight a record 10th World Championship win, although she did become the most decorated player in women’s world championship history with 14 medals. After the game, Poulin gave Knight a hug on the ice. 

"We just said 'that was unbelievable,'" Poulin said.

U.S. coach John Wroblewski echoed the sentiment that it was an outstanding game after being asked about ending the game on a power-play after leaving too many players on the ice. 

"Instead of talking about the isolated events of tonight's game, I think that normally that's an interesting storyline,” he said. “But I think the entity of an amazing 6-5 game is an amazing hockey game that took place."

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