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Alex Morgan scores against Canada, but youth is the future for USWNT

In her return to the USWNT, Alex Morgan has set an example for the next generation. (Jaime Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images)

The last time Alex Morgan took the field against Canada, her two teammates on the front line were much different, and much older.

In that Olympic semifinal last August, Morgan exited early as the U.S. women’s national team’s offense failed to produce. It ended in a one-goal loss, the first time the United States had lost to Canada in over 20 years.

Back then, Tobin Heath (33 at the time) and Lynn Williams (28) joined the 33-year-old Morgan on the attack. This time, in the USWNT’s Concacaf title-clinching 1-0 win over Canada on Monday night, she was the oldest forward by nine years, with 24-year-old Mallory Pugh and 21-year-old Sophia Smith playing beside her, and Trinity Rodman (20) and Midge Purce (26) eventually subbing in with a few minutes to play.

Alex Morgan shoots her game-winning penalty kick against Canada in the Concacaf final. (Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images)

This time, Morgan did not exit early, though the team struggled to produce in the first half.

This time, she was the hero, and her young teammates got to see exactly what it takes to win at the international level.

“She’s a winner,” USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “She knows how to win big games. She knows how to perform in big games. She’s won World Cups, she’s won Olympics, she’s won big tournaments. That doesn’t come overnight. So for her to be on the field to showcase that, and to have Mal and Soph next to her, that is a big win for us. That’s a big win for this team and for this country.

“Those two are going to have to take it over, and what better way to learn than from one of the best?”

The opening 45 minutes were full of “what ifs” and Herculean saves from Canadian goalie Kailen Sheridan. Perhaps the best chance of the match came with a few minutes left in the first half, when a perfect cross from Sofia Huerta found Smith in front of the net. The pass was so perfectly placed, curving around the Canadian defenders, that Smith seemed surprised when it reached her. Her touch was too strong, and Sheridan ended up meeting her at the goal line. There was a bit of a commotion as Smith fell forward over Sheridan. Her body went over the goal line, but Sheridan and the ball stayed outside, preserving the scoreless tie.

Pugh has played in 77 matches for the USWNT, recording 24 goals and 26 assists in that span, while Smith has played in 20 with eight goals and three assists.

The USWNT celebrate with the Concacaf W Championship trophy Monday night in Mexico. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Still, the two don’t have nearly as much experience as players like Morgan at the international level. Since the Olympics last year, USWNT fans have questioned Andonovski’s roster decisions, especially when it comes to opting for veterans over younger talent. But Morgan has the experience, and just over two years removed from giving birth to daughter Charlie, she still looks to be in her prime.

“She doesn’t want to stop growing, she doesn’t want to stop developing,” Andonovski said. “She wants to expand her game in any way possible, and she has been doing that day in and day out.”

With 118 goals in 196 matches for the United States, the forward is forever etched into soccer lore. And when Rose Lavelle was fouled in the box with 14 minutes left in regular time, she had a chance to add another line to her legendary list of accomplishments.

“I could tell (she was locked in),” Andonovski said. “That’s why she played almost 90 minutes. If I didn’t feel like she was performing, she was probably going to come out early. I thought she was tremendous.”

Morgan had always been tabbed to take the penalty kick, Vlatko said, if the opportunity arose when she was on the field.

They stuck with the decision, despite the presence of Sheridan — Morgan’s teammate in San Diego — in the net. The Canadian goalie is familiar with Morgan’s tendencies, but when the ball sailed into the right corner of the net, Sheridan went left.

“Before the final, I did speak to Alex about how she feels about taking the penalty, because obviously she was going against her club teammate,” Andonovski said. “But she wanted to take it, and her answer was with confidence, which gave me confidence as well.”

As the ball hit nylon, the cheers erupted from the stands, and Morgan celebrated with her youthful counterparts.

The veteran saved the day after her squad missed several quality chances throughout the contest. But after the match, Andonovski didn’t dwell on the ones that didn’t go in, instead choosing to focus on the opportunities they did generate. At times, the front line looked faster and more skilled than Canada, which ran out virtually the same lineup the United States saw during the Olympics.

The way players like Smith and Pugh performed impressed Andonovski, who praised their improvement from the Concacaf opener to the final victory.

“I am very happy with the gradual improvements that we had,” he said. “It is very obvious that our team is significantly younger than the previous time we played Canada. We changed our lineup, five players in that starting lineup. Those players are going to be here for at least three, maybe four World Cups, so get used to it.”

Morgan is closer to the end of her USWNT career at this point, but she’s leaving the squad with plenty to remember her by.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

Rose Lavelle hoping to return to play ‘in the next couple of weeks’

uswnt midfielder rose lavalle trains on a soccer field in florida
When healthy, Rose Lavelle is a trusted asset in the USWNT's midfield. (Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

Rose Lavelle is hoping to return to the field soon. 

The 28-year-old midfielder has been sidelined with a lower leg injury since the Gold Cup in early march. Since then, she has yet to play for new club Gotham FC in the NWSL. She also missed a potential USWNT appearance at the SheBelieves Cup in April, where senior team newcomer Jaedyn Shaw saw success assuming Lavelle's role in the attacking midfield. 

At the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee media showcase on Monday, Lavelle told reporters that she’s doing well and hopes to be back soon.

"I’m doing good — I’m hoping I’ll be back in the next couple weeks," Lavelle said. "It’s frustrating to start the year off with an injury, just because I feel like you come off preseason and you’re revving to go, so it’s so annoying."

Lavelle is still looking to compete for one of just 18 Olympic roster spots. When healthy, she ranks as one of the national team’s most trusted assets, but considering this most recent injury, her health is an obvious concern. Faced with an onslaught of experienced competitors and young talent, incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes will have some big decisions to make when selecting the Paris-bound squad — a reality Lavelle seems to be taking in stride as she works to regain full fitness.

"We have so many special players, we have so much depth, and so many different weapons to utilize on and off the bench," Lavelle said. "Unfortunately that means really good players are going to get left off, too. And I think for all of us, it’s just about being ready for whatever role is given to us, embracing that, and looking to put it into a collective picture so that we can go into the Olympics ready to go."

Kate Paye tapped to take VanDerveer’s place at Stanford

new stanford head coach kate paye spins a basketball on the court
Stanford associate head coach Kate Paye has officially been promoted to head women's basketball coach. (Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports)

Stanford has found its replacement for legendary head women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer in associate head coach Kate Paye.

The Cardinal confirmed the hiring on Tuesday via a press release. Paye was largely expected to replace the longtime head coach, as the college mentioned they were still negotiating Paye's contract when they announced VanDerveer's retirement.

In Tuesday's statement, Paye reported that she was "humbled" to have been tapped to lead the women’s program.

"Stanford University has been a central part of my life for as long as I can remember and I am humbled to have the opportunity to lead its women’s basketball program," Paye said. "I’d first like to thank Tara, who has played such a pivotal role in my career for her friendship and guidance. It’s not what she’s done, but how she’s done it, that has had such a profound impact upon me."

A Woodside, California native, Paye played under VanDerveer from 1992 to 1995, taking home a national title her freshman year. After graduation, Paye briefly joined San Diego State as an assistant coach before making her professional debut with the ABL's Seattle Reign in 1996. After finishing her playing career with the WNBA's Seattle Storm, she joined the team’s coaching staff in 2007 and has been with the organization ever since, picking up another national title win — this time as associate head coach — in 2021. Paye's brother John played quarterback for Stanford from 1983 to 1986, while also serving as a point guard on the basketball team.

In her own response, VanDerveer said that she was "grateful" that Stanford picked Paye to follow in her stead. Last week, the decorated coach stated that this year would be her last after 38 seasons at the helm and three national titles under her belt.

"She has long been ready for this opportunity and is the perfect leader for Stanford at this time of immense change in college athletics," VanDerveer noted. "Kate was the choice for this job and I am confident she will achieve great success as head coach."

After a record-breaking Draft Night, WNBA roster cuts loom

2023 WNBA no. 1 draft pick Aliyah Boston playing for the indiana fever
Despite going No. 1 overall in the 2023 WNBA Draft, Aliyah Boston had to fight hard to make it onto Indiana's roster. (Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

The 2024 WNBA Draft has officially concluded, leaving the newly minted rookie class facing a tough road ahead.

Only 144 roster slots are available throughout the league’s 12 teams, the reason why the players are sometimes referred to as the “144.” And Monday’s draft picks are set to join a large group of established players competing for those same roster spots, from seasoned veterans to young athletes determined to prove their value on the court.

Last year, just 15 of the league’s 36 draftees made it onto their drafting team's opening-day squad.

In reality, there are oftentimes fewer than 144 spots available, as not every team maxes out their roster. Per the league's CBA, each team roster must maintain a minimum standard of 11 players, but those lists can include players out with injuries or on other forms of leave. Players can also be assigned to short-term hardship contracts, something waived players must be prepared for at any point during the season.

Earlier this week, Laeticia Amihere — a 2022 national champion with South Carolina who currently plays for the Atlanta Dream — took to TikTok to provide some insight into the WNBA training camp process. 

"You can either get drafted on Draft Night, or you can get signed by a team," she said. "Once that happens, you go to training camp literally like two weeks later... Basically everybody's got to try out. There's 12 roster spots, and there's like 18 people at the at the trial."

@laeticiaamihere Replying to @dantavius.washington #wnba #draft ♬ original sound - Laeticia Amihere

Amihere also had an important point to make: Getting cut does not signify a player’s abilities. 

"If you get cut after training camp, that does not mean you're not good," she said. "That does not mean that player sucks, don't stop supporting that player. Literally, there's so many reasons somebody can get cut."

"If you guys look at the best players in the league, most of them have bounced around teams," she added. "And I promise you it is not a bad thing, it's just how the league is."

Things, however gradually, are changing. With Golden State's WNBA team scheduled to launch in time for the 2025 season, league expansion is just around the corner. On Monday, Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced that the league is aiming to grow to 16 teams by 2028. But by then, it might be too little too late for the generation of talent emerging from an increasingly competitive NCAA system.

WNBA draft shatters records with 2.45 million viewers

wide shot of BAM during the 2024 WNBA Draft
It wasn't just attendees that were glued to the on-stage action at the 2024 WNBA Draft. (Photo by Melanie Fidler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Monday night’s WNBA draft added to the nationwide uptick in record-breaking women's sports viewership, pulling in 2.45 million viewers throughout the nearly two-hour broadcast and peaking at 3.09 million, according to an ESPN release. 

That number shatters the previous draft viewership record — 601,000 in 2004 — which was fueled primarily by then-No. 1 pick Diana Taurasi entering the league after UConn's historic three-peat March Madness performance.  

The 2023 WNBA draft drew 572,000 viewers, the most for any televised WNBA event since 2.74 million tuned in to NBC for a Memorial Day matchup between the New York Liberty and Houston Comets back in 2000.

While many came to watch Caitlin Clark get drafted No. 1 overall, it’s important to note that viewership didn’t take a massive dip after the superstar shooter left the stage. The numbers show that a bulk of the audience stuck around to watch the remainder of the show, making 2024's event not just the most-viewed WNBA draft in history, but also the most-viewed WNBA program to ever air on ESPN platforms.

Draft Day's popularity is yet another sign indicating an expected rise in WNBA regular season viewership. Clark and Iowa's NCAA tournament showdown with the Chicago Sky-bound Kamilla Cardoso's South Carolina side drew a record 18.7 million to ABC's Sunday afternoon broadcast. Banking on this trend, 36 of Indiana's upcoming 40 games are set to be shown on national television. In-person ticket sales are also soaring, leading the defending WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces to re-home their matchup with the Fever to a venue that can accommodate some 6,000 more fans.

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