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USWNT World Cup player preview: Get to know Ashley Sanchez

USWNT midfielder Ashley Sanchez has said her World Cup role didn’t necessarily match her expectations. (John Todd/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Plenty of new faces are heading Down Under with the U.S. women’s national team for the World Cup. Just Women’s Sports is taking a look at a few of the newcomers and introducing them to fans new and old.

Ashley Sanchez

Age: 24 years old
Position: Midfielder
USWNT debut: Nov. 30, 2021 vs. Australia
Total caps: 25

How has she looked in her NWSL season?

Sanchez has had a strong start to the NWSL season with the Washington Spirit, who sit two points out of the top spot in the standings at the World Cup break. She’s developing into her role as a midfielder in her third season, and her growth can be credited in part to the Spirit bringing back Mark Parsons as their head coach. Yet while Parsons has directed his players to funnel the ball through Sanchez, from there the attacking midfielder has taken the role and made it her own.

Through 13 matches, Sanchez has four goals and one assist. In 19 matches last season, she had three goals and five assists; through 25 matches in 2021, she had five goals and no assists. She also been creating chances, with 31 shots, 13 of those on target. Her pass completion has been solid as well, with the midfielder completing 68.6% of her passes. Where Sanchez thrives, though, is in the air, having controlled 71 aerials.

What does she bring to the USWNT?

While Sanchez is still coming into her own, she brings a pressing ability to the midfield that the team could use. She also brings instant chemistry with best friend, Spirit teammate and USWNT forward Trinity Rodman, who could prove just as valuable in Australia and New Zealand. Spirit midfielder Andi Sullivan and goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury and also join the pair on the USWNT roster, which Sanchez has said will be helpful as she navigates her first World Cup.

“There’s not a lot of people that have that many players on their club team on this team,” she told Just Women’s Sports. “But it’s just been nice having people that can relate and you can go to that you’re close with. And it is a special experience being that it’s all of our first World Cups are kind of going through and navigating with each other.”

Sanchez possesses similarities in technical control to Rose Lavelle. While she’s not as smooth, she does hold the ability to move and shift quickly, giving her a skillset that varies from Lavelle just enough to make it difficult for opposing defenses to know what to look for between the two.

The way she pays attention to those around her, and moves accordingly, should be a boon for a USWNT offense as it looks to break down opposing defenses. And Sanchez’s ability to match her teammates helps her to know how to create those chances.

“I feel like, being in the midfield, we’re obviously always moving off each other. But I feel like sometimes in the game, when you might not have had too many attacking opportunities, just try something different,” she said. “Even if it doesn’t work out, you try something once and maybe the defense steps because they think you’re gonna do it again, or that might move them in certain ways. So even if it doesn’t work out initially, it might work out the next time, or it might open up something different.

“So I feel like we’re in a unique position where we can kind of do stuff like that. Obviously defense is probably not going to play the risky paths. It’s nice to be able to be in a position where you can win.”

What have USWNT coaches and teammates said about Sanchez?

Vlatko Andonovski, head coach: “She’s got special qualities on the ball. It’s not easy to synchronize her movements right away because she hasn’t played much with Alex (Morgan]) but when they do it, I think it worked very well. We are very happy where she’s at, positionally and happy where she’s at in the time of her stage of development.”

Kelley O’Hara, defender: “She’s a player than I think has a really bright future and has already done some really big things. As a player, you’ve gotta decide, like, who do I want to be, what do I want to become. And I think that’s something that she’s doing right now. … I think the way I describe her is really crafty, super technical, fun player to watch. … When everybody thinks of Ashley Sanchez, that’s what they think of.”

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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