All Scores

USWNT by position: Context and concerns for each group

Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, Sophia Smith and the USWNT will look to bounce back from two losses in October. (Richard Sellers/Soccrates/Getty Images)

When the U.S. women’s national soccer team scheduled friendlies against England and Spain for an October trip abroad, no one quite knew what to expect. The USWNT hadn’t faced many nations in the top 10 of the FIFA rankings since the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, and player absences continued to pile up.

Still, what happened on the trip proved a shock to the system, as the U.S. lost two games in a row for the first time since 2017.

Losses have served as an important part of the World Cup cycle for the USWNT in the past, but the performances against England and Spain nevertheless have fans taking a long look at the panic button.

While a number of issues the USWNT faced this week provide context to the performances on the field, the team also returns to home soil with legitimate causes for concern.

Execution in the midfield

Context

It’s both impossible and unfair to ignore the off-the-field circumstances surrounding the USWNT this week. The Sally Yates report for U.S. Soccer, which detailed years of abuse in the NWSL, dropped just five days before the matchup against England.

For days, players had to field incredibly heavy questions from the news media, some about their direct employers, while also turning their attention to the upcoming matches. While USWNT players have never shied away from using their platform, the toll became evident throughout the week.

The USWNT didn’t lack for energy in their blockbuster battle at Wembley Stadium. Despite a number of significant absences, they were able to keep up in a sometimes frantic transition battle in which they didn’t see much of the ball.

Against Spain, though, the team ran out of gas, mentally switching off on the corner kick that led to Laia Codina’s opening goal—a cleanup shot after the U.S. got caught flat-footed in a goalmouth scrum. The USWNT trailed going into halftime and struggled to force the issue in the second half.

Concerns

There’s no shame in a letdown once the adrenaline wears off, especially after the week the USWNT players had, very far from home. But that letdown only makes the success of Vlatko Andonovski’s system all the more important, as it becomes the backbone that players can rely on when they aren’t firing on all cylinders.

While some progress has been made, top 10 opponents can still make the USWNT feel uncomfortable with concerning ease.

The midfield style, which still prioritizes a ball-winning No. 6 covering superhuman amounts of space, doesn’t lend itself to either Andi Sullivan’s or Sam Coffey’s strengths. Lindsey Horan and Rose Lavelle generate turnovers by pressing opponents’ backlines, but that aggressiveness means the players behind them can be caught in isolation.

We saw during the Concacaf W Championship how the approach can work against teams that concede possession. But neither England nor Spain are that kind of opponent. Against the Lionesses, the USWNT only held the ball for 31.3% of the match, and they paired that with 67.7% passing accuracy.

England and Spain were not able to seize as many opportunities from turnovers as they could have, so the results in both games could have been worse based on the lack of cohesion in the midfield.

img
Megan Rapinoe started on the left wing against both England and Spain. (Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

Evaluating the attack

Context

It feels like every time the USWNT takes the field, another important player is missing. In addition to the previously known absences of Catarina Macario, Christen Press, Tierna Davidson, Sam Mewis, Julie Ertz, Kelley O’Hara and more, the U.S. traveled to Europe without Mallory Pugh, who left camp for a family matter, and without Alex Morgan, who is working through a knee injury.

Adding to the list of October casualties, Emily Fox suffered a concussion against England, resulting in another call-up for North Carolina Courage defender Carson Pickett. Pickett is more than capable of showing what she can do on the world stage, but the last-minute nature of her call-up didn’t set her up for success against Spain.

Concerns

When faced with limited options, the USWNT pulled a few interesting cards. Sophia Smith moved centrally as the team’s main playmaker, and she shined against England. On the wing, Trinity Rodman’s consistent minutes were new at the international level, and she stepped up in big moments.

Other decisions felt distinctly less interesting than they could have been, especially on the left side of the pitch. Megan Rapinoe started both matches at left wing, a decision likely made when Pugh left camp. Rapinoe is clearly an essential locker room presence, and she remains a late-game sub who can turn the tide, but Pugh’s off-ball work was missed in both games.

There’s nothing wrong with seeing what your depth chart can do in the face of injury, but the slotting in of Rapinoe speaks to a larger lethargy. There have been opportunities to bring new forwards into the player pool in recent months, but Andonovski has not taken advantage. Plus, Rapinoe already has so much experience under her belt, so what are she and the coaching staff learning from these losses?

img
Naomi Girma's performance against England proved one of the highlights of the European trip. (David Rogers/Getty Images)

What to make of the defense

Context

As with the attack, there are both injuries and absences to take into account when looking at the USWNT defense.

By the second game in the international break, the team started two outside backs who originally joined the squad due to injuries to other players. Crystal Dunn is still working her way back to fitness, and both Kelley O’Hara and Emily Sonnet were missing. The U.S. traveled with just three center-backs: Becky Sauerbrunn, Alana Cook and Naomi Girma.

Girma was a revelation against England, with a sense of spacing and an understanding of how and when to go to ground. Andonovski has avoided pairing her with Sauerbrunn in 2022, which possibly has to do with both players being more comfortable on the left side of the central defense. But it could also mean that Tierna Davidson and Abby Dahlkemper, both out due to injury, still have opportunities to get back in the rotation.

Concerns

The USWNT defense can get overwhelmed when opponents break through. In these matches, they weren’t helped by turnovers in the midfield. Still, in top-tier international competition defenders frequently are called upon for quick decision-making and one-on-one urgency, which the U.S. lacked in both matches.

The USWNT defense can get overwhelmed when opponents break through. In these matches, they weren’t helped by turnovers in the midfield. Still, in top-tier international competition defenders frequently are called upon for quick decision-making and one-on-one urgency, which the U.S. lacked in both matches.

The USWNT’s penchant for prioritizing distribution over defensive comfort can cost them against top teams. While sometimes the only way for players to improve is through the kind of competition we saw this week, the defense has not looked settled or confident yet.

The issue doesn’t always lie in physical attributes but instead can come down to confidence in making decisions. Andonovski needs to decide how long he can wait for the defense to improve before making the call that the group isn’t coming together.

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Crypto.com Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a Change.org petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

Start your morning off right with Just Women’s Sports’ free, 5x-a-week newsletter.