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Three things to know about USWNT at Concacaf World Cup Qualifying

Taylor Kornieck (20) celebrates her first goal with the USWNT. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

On Monday, the U.S. women’s national team will embark on its mission to qualify for the 2023 FIFA World Cup.

The Concacaf qualifying tournament takes place in Monterrey, Mexico from July 4-18. The top four teams qualify for the World Cup, and the champion automatically advances to the 2024 Olympics as well.

In the group stage, the USWNT faces Haiti (July 4), Jamaica (July 7) and Mexico (July 11), while the other group has Canada, Costa Rica, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago. Jamaica and Haiti, ranked 51st and 60th in the world by FIFA, will both give the U.S. tough competition, but No. 26 Mexico is expected to be the USWNT’s most challenging opponent in the group stage.

All USWNT games can be streamed on Paramount+, where you can get free access until July 19 by using the offer code “GLORY.”

Last week, the U.S. played a two-game friendly series against Colombia in preparation for Concacaf, winning 3-0 on Saturday and 2-0 on Tuesday.

Here are three things to know heading into the tournament based on the USWNT’s most recent game action.

Starting lineup predictions

Head coach Vlatko Andonovski said after the second game against Colombia on Tuesday that the players already know what their starting lineup will look like in Mexico. 

And for everyone else, “It’s not hard to predict who it’s going to be,” he said.

Chances are good that the lineup throughout the group stage will look very similar to last Saturday’s: Casey Murphy (GK), Emily Fox (FB), Alana Cook (CB), Becky Sauerbrunn (CB), Kelley O’Hara (FB), Andi Sullivan (M), Lindsey Horan (M), Rose Lavelle (M), Mallory Pugh (F), Ashley Hatch (F) and Sophia Smith (F).

If NWSL form factors into these decisions, then the biggest surprise will be to see Alex Morgan on the bench. She leads the league with 11 goals, three ahead of second-place finisher Sophia Smith and already surpassing last year’s Golden Boot champion, Ashley Hatch.

Pugh and Smith are all but certain to feature as two of the three starting forwards. Dynamic, fast, and strong on the dribble, the young attackers have had their spots solidified for months.

After Andonovski’s postgame comments Saturday, Hatch seems assured to start in the nine position.

“Ashley is here in camp and even starting the first game for a reason,” Andonovski told reporters. “She has goal-scoring abilities, she has a very good feeling for a goal, to find herself in good moments to score a goal. We think she’s going to get to play a lot and help us in the upcoming games.”

In the midfield, Andonovski alluded to Horan and Lavelle as starters. Although they each missed penalty kicks on Tuesday, Andonovski said they will continue to be the designated penalty takers because of their starting spots.

Defender Carson Pickett started Tuesday’s game and played all 90 minutes, but she was only on the 26-player squad for June and won’t be traveling to Mexico. Other left fullback Emily Fox started Saturday’s game, but was playing limited minutes in the series.

“The situation with Emily is very clear that she is a starter in the left back position and she has been proving that every camp she comes into,” Andonovski said.

Kelley O’Hara’s leadership has been important to Andonovski, as well as that of Becky Sauerbrunn, who served as captain on Saturday. Their past experience with the national team will help set the competitive bar on the field. Also in the back, Alana Cook and Casey Murphy have had consistently strong performances ever since becoming regulars at camp over six months ago. They’ll likely get the start as well.

The six situation

The biggest question mark in the USWNT’s Concacaf roster is the No. 6 position. Andi Sullivan is the only defensive midfielder making the trip to Mexico, and she’s been dealing with a quad injury. She’ll be a starter in the tournament if healthy, but on Tuesday, she didn’t dress. 

Jaelin Howell and Sam Coffey play at the six for their clubs, but did not see the field on Tuesday when Sullivan was out. Instead, Kristie Mewis and Lindsey Horan split the responsibilities in front of the backline. As midfielders who usually play higher, they’ll both likely have a slight learning curve at the position. There’s no doubt they’ll be able to adapt, but it’s notable that Andonovski decided to go with them over Howell, who has been participating in camps and acclimating to the international environment for months.

Ability to score

The USWNT was clearly ironing out tactics and chemistry in the two friendlies, which weren’t the prettiest of results, but the players have the talent to find ways to win even when things aren’t going according to plan. Both goals in the second match came from defenders. Sofia Huerta forced an own goal to put the U.S. on the board, and then Kelley O’Hara knocked one in from the top of the box near the end of the match.

Andonovski wasn’t worried that the forwards weren’t the ones to get the job done. It was difficult to get them open with five Colombian players surrounding them at all times, but the games served as a good test for Concacaf competition.

“Biggest takeaway is that we do have a very good team,” he said. “We found a way to score goals in different ways. Even though today, I would say, was not our best performance, we still managed to score goals.”

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.

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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