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USWNT roster: Will we see any changes before 2023 World Cup?

Sophia Smith celebrates a goal against Nigeria with USWNT teammates Rose Lavelle and Mallory Pugh. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

The United States women’s national team finished their series of September friendlies against Nigeria this week, with one dominant performance and one much closer scoreline.

With all eyes on the World Cup next summer, the U.S. took some important steps forward while also showing their hand for the months ahead, including a crucial friendly against Euro champions England on Oct. 7. Here are our biggest questions coming out of the USWNT’s most recent results:

Is the player experimentation period over?

During the Concacaf W Championship, the USWNT roster struck a balance of veteran leadership and new faces due to both unforeseen absences and a desire to add youthful creativity to the squad. That group expertly navigated World Cup qualifying, winning the title over rivals Canada without conceding a single goal in the tournament.

While qualifying was by all quantifiable measures a success, roster tinkering is still expected as the team moves into its final year of World Cup preparation. At the top of the priority list for the U.S. are identifying defensive midfield strengths, making decisions at outside back and addressing goalkeeper depth. The question of the center forward position also remains eternal, as the team waits for generational talent Catarina Macario to return from an ACL injury.

With a number of NWSL players unexpectedly rising in form, and other U.S. nationals performing well outside of the domestic league, September seemed like a good opportunity for coach Vlatko Andonovski to tweak the group of players on the bubble. Instead of bringing new players into camp, however, he made very few changes between the July and September rosters.

Andonovski’s ideology seems to prioritize chemistry over sheer form, despite a renewed commitment by U.S. Soccer to operate otherwise. That chemistry was on scintillating display at times this past week, but the USWNT did ultimately leave players off of September’s roster who have been performing well, and brought in players with high ceilings who have been underperforming for their clubs.

Andonovski showed his preference for the World Cup qualifying group over former champions Abby Dahlkemper and AD Franch. He also called up midfielder Sam Coffey, the 24th person in for Concacaf, while leaving North Carolina Courage outside back Carson Pickett at home.

These small roster moves create a bigger picture that indicates the USWNT might be done evaluating new players, and is more committed to cohesion while waiting for other key contributors to return. With the World Cup still months away, and the team not necessarily dominating competition, that level of tunnel vision could be a mistake. One simply has to look at the way Macario’s injury upended the team’s attack right before a crucial part of the calendar, highlighting how a lack of versatility can undermine the depth of the player pool.

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Sam Coffey played all 90 minutes in her USWNT debut Tuesday. (Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Is the formation set?

Andonovski has been married to the 4-3-3 formation ever since taking over the team in 2019 and hasn’t experimented much with other formations outside of emergencies. Sticking strictly to one system isn’t always conducive to national team play, since simply getting the best players on the field at once can be paramount. Especially if the U.S. isn’t bringing new players into camp, they could stand to develop the versatility of their style of play.

Against Nigeria, the starting XI mirrored that of the Concacaf W championship game, but the team appeared to employ slight formational changes.

With the current 4-3-3, the USWNT at times struggles to shore up its spine down the middle while creating room for all of its best attacking talent. While Lindsey Horan and Rose Lavelle can run box-to-box, the U.S. midfield frequently plays in what you might envision as an upside-down triangle, with one defensive midfielder holding court and two attacking midfielders pushing forward into the final third. All too often, however, that midfield gets bypassed in favor of the center backs distributing the ball either out wide or up to the forwards.

In the games against Nigeria, it appeared the team was experimenting with different ways to create overloads and get the midfield more involved. At times, Sophia Smith would drift behind Alex Morgan when the U.S. had possession, allowing Lavelle to shift to the right and creating an overload on that side. Together, they opened up channels that we didn’t see from the USWNT in Monterrey, and they resisted the impulse to slow down unnecessarily when their center backs were distributing the ball.

Smith performed well in the role, scoring a brace in game one, but Andonovski could also be saving that underlying striker option for Macario’s return. Macario and Morgan play the No. 9 position very differently, giving the U.S. a chance to present opponents with varied starting looks when both are healthy.

But with a player underneath her, Morgan actually has the room to employ her full skill set, including her off-the-ball work that has flown under the radar for years. It opened up scoring opportunities in both of the games against Nigeria, including Lavelle’s game-winner on Tuesday when Mallory Pugh was filling the underlying striker role.

Those slight changes don’t necessarily reflect the wholesale experimentation fans might be looking for, but they do at least present the next step in building roster cohesion from a sometimes tepid attack in July. The starting group looked in sync against Nigeria, and they’ll need that level of creativity to unlock England in October.

What does this week say about next year’s roster?

Despite the lack of overall roster rotation since Concacaf, the U.S. appears to have both a settled core and number of questions still to answer.

The USWNT’s preferred starters in the first Nigeria match performed well on every line. That group controlled the match comfortably, and if the game was a simulation of a World Cup group stage match, they executed in a way you’d expect from the No. 1 team in the world.

The second half of that match — and much of the second game — showed just how much uncertainty there is about the rest of the squad. Getting Coffey acclimated to the defensive midfield at the international level appears to be a priority, with the 23-year-old playing a full 90 in her USWNT debut. Sofia Huerta was excellent in game one, but a missed-timed header in game two created space for Uchenna Kanu’s equalizer and laid bare her lingering defensive discomfort.

Midfielder Taylor Kornieck, called up for both World Cup qualifying and September friendlies, saw no playing time this week and does not seem to be high on the current depth chart. Megan Rapinoe is a preferred 60th-minute sub, and she showed why after earning the assist on Lavelle’s game-winner on Tuesday. Hailie Mace, brought in after an injury to Kelley O’Hara, got time at left back in both games, but Emily Fox has appeared to cement her starting spot at the position.

Ultimately, this week was about the starters more than it was about determining depth. Roster stability is important, but it would still be fair for USWNT fans to look at the team 10 months away from a major tournament and say, “Is this it?”

The answer is both yes and no. Crystal Dunn is very close to returning to play, and it couldn’t come at a better time for the USWNT. Dunn is not only a positive locker room force, but she also can play the No. 8, push forward in the attack, or even take over either outside back position. Her presence in camp this week served as a reminder that there are very talented players still working their way back to the team.

And if anything, this summer has shown that there’s room for them on the roster. It’s hard not to look at the current USWNT defense and wonder what it might look like with Tierna Davidson at the height of her powers, or what the midfield with Sam Mewis could become. Macario, Christen Press, Lynn Williams, Trinity Rodman and others will give the USWNT coaching staff much to consider when selecting the final attacking group.

What we also learned from the USWNT’s path to the 2019 World Cup roster is that it’s still too early to count anybody out. USWNT-capped players like Jaelin Howell, Dahlkemper, Franch, Julie Ertz and even Tobin Heath could all see their numbers called depending on the needs of the team.

England will present the U.S. with the sternest test it’s seen this year, and if that game doesn’t go the USWNT’s way, there are plenty of players waiting in the wings.

Claire Watkins is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering soccer and the NWSL. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

LPGA Star Lexi Thompson Announces Retirement From Professional Golf

pro golfer lexi thompson on the course
Thompson turned pro in 2010 and went on to win 11 LPGA tournaments, capturing her first title in 2011 at the Navistar LPGA Classic. (Adam Hunger/Getty Images)

Pro golfer Lexi Thompson is retiring, she announced on Tuesday. This will be her final season on the LPGA Tour.

The 29-year-old has been playing professionally for the past 15 years. The two-time Olympian and six-time Solheim Cup competitor said that she’d been contemplating retirement for a few months, coming to the conclusion that it was time to step away.

"While it is never easy to say goodbye, it is indeed time," Thompson posted to Instagram. "At the end of 2024, I will be stepping away from a full professional golf schedule. I'm excited to enjoy the remainder of the year as there are still goals I want to accomplish.

"I'm looking forward to the next chapter of my life. Time with family, friends, and my trusted companion Leo. I will always look for ways to contribute to the sport and inspire the next generation of golfers. And of course, I look forward to a little time for myself."

Thompson is set to play at the US Women’s Open in Pennsylvania starting Thursday. Speaking from Lancaster Country Club, Thompson told reporters that she’s currently taking it "day by day."

"I'm not going to say yes or no on how many events I'll play or if I do," she said. "I'm just going to take it day by day and see how I feel, especially going into next year, but I'm very content with this being my last full-time schedule year."

Thompson also cited mental health as a factor in her decision to retire.

"I think we all have our struggles, especially out here," she said. "Unfortunately in golf you lose more than you win, so it's an ongoing battle to continue to put yourself out there in front of the cameras and continuing to work hard and maybe not seeing the results you want and getting criticized for it. So it's hard.

"I will say, yes, I've struggled with it — I don't think there's somebody out here that hasn't. It's just a matter of how well you hide it, which is very sad."

This will be Thompson’s 18th-straight year participating in US Women’s Open. At just 12 years old, she was the youngest golfer to qualify for the 2007 tournament, later making her first cut at the major in 2009 at 14.

Thompson turned pro in 2010 and went on to win 11 LPGA tournaments, capturing her first title in 2011 at the Navistar LPGA Classic. 

The retirement came as a surprise to many, including decorated LPGA standout Nelly Korda

"She's had such an amazing career," Korda said Tuesday. "I've gotten to be on the team with her a couple times representing our country. I think she does an amazing job for the Tour. She spends so much time going to each pro-am party. She really dedicated her time to growing the game.

"It's sad to see that she's obviously leaving and not going to be out here with us anymore, but she's had an amazing career, and I wish her the best in this new chapter of her life."

Argentina Women’s National Team Stars Quit Over Pay, Conditions Dispute

Julieta Cruz of Argentina controls the ball during the FIFA Women's World Cup
The team qualified for the 2023 Women's World Cup, but failed to make it through the group stage. (Ulrik Pedersen/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

Argentina women's national football team starting goalkeeper Laurina Oliveros, defender Julieta Cruz, and midfielder Lorena Benítez have officially left the team after a dispute over a lack of pay and conditions.

The news comes while the team is away at training camp during the FIFA international window. Argentina is scheduled to play two international friendlies at home against Costa Rica on May 31st and June 3rd — matches that Argentina's soccer association is refusing to pay its players for, according to Cruz and Benítez.

"We reached a point in which we are tired of the injustices, of not being valued, not being heard and, even worse, being humiliated," Cruz, a defender, wrote in an Instagram post published early this week. "We need improvements for Argentina's women's soccer national team, and I am not only talking about finances. I speak about training, having lunch, breakfast."

Argentina qualified for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, but failed to make it out of the group stage after losing to Italy and Sweden and drawing with South Africa. That stands in stark contrast to the men’s team, which won the 2022 FIFA World Cup behind star forward Lionel Messi. 

In her own Instagram post, Benítez alleged that players were provided only a ham and cheese sandwich and a banana as food during training camp, and that their families were being charged 5,000 pesos per ticket to see them compete against Costa Rica.

"And so millions of things we've been through, being FOOLED over and over again," Benítez added.

Goalkeeper Oliveros’s message was more concise than her teammates: "My wish for this year and the following? That generations to come may enjoy and be happy running behind the round, as perhaps at some point we were." 

Clark, Martin Square Off in First Pro WNBA Matchup

Kate Martin #20 of the Las Vegas Aces and Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever look on during the game
Things looked a little different Saturday night as the former Iowa teammates went head-to-head in Las Vegas. (Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa teammates Caitlin Clark and Kate Martin shared the court once again on Saturday, this time as professionals.

It was Martin’s Aces that got the 99-80 win over Clark’s Fever in Las Vegas. The pair's former coaches Lisa Bluder, Jan Jensen, Jenni Fitzgerald, and Raina Harmon were all in attendance to watch their Hawkeyes — Clark, Martin, and former national player of the year Megan Gustafson — take the court.

"It’s super special. It’s cool for our program, cool for Lisa, for Coach Jan, for all of them," Clark said in a pregame press conference. "They’ve known me since I’ve been 13 years old and now I’m 22 getting to live out my dream and they’ve been a huge part of that and helping me get here and helping Megan and Kate to get here too. It’s a great moment for them and I’m sure they’re not complaining about a trip to Vegas."

As for her college teammate, Clark had nothing but good things to say ahead of the showdown. 

"I’m just really happy for her and everything Coach [Becky] Hammon says about her is so true," she said. "Every person that played at Iowa and was around her knows that to be true. She’s the ultimate teammate, ultimate person, ultimate leader."

In the end, Martin stole the show with 12 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes, while Clark amassed eight points, seven assists, and five rebounds over 29 minutes of playing time. 

"It was weird," Martin admitted after the game. "I'm not going to lie — just looking out on the court and seeing her in a different jersey than me, it was obviously different. But it's really fun. We're both living out our dreams right now."

The Aces next meet the fever on July 2nd at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Barcelona Beat Lyon to Win Back-to-Back Champions League Titles

Barcelona's Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas celebrating after beating Lyon at the 2024 Champions League final
Ballon d'Or winners Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas helped Barcelona to a second-straight UWCL title on Saturday. (Ramsey Cardy - Sportsfile/UEFA via Getty Images)

Barcelona was crowned champion of the Champions League on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Lyon in Bilbao.

Alexia "La Reina" Putellas, who recently re-signed with Barcelona, came off the bench to score the team's second goal. Fellow Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmatí provided the team’s first. After the game, defender Lucy Bronze said Putellas was nicknamed "the queen" for a reason.

"Alexia is the captain of the team and she's the queen of Barcelona for a reason,"  defender Lucy Bronze told DAZN. "She's got the quality to do that in the last minute of the Champions League final when we were up against it at the end and it just sealed the win for us. It was amazing."

The victory marked Barcelona's first win over Lyon in a UWCL final, having previously gone up against the French side at both the 2019 and 2022 Champions League finals. It's also Barcelona's second Champions League title in a row.

"It's hard to win it once, but to do it back-to-back, Lyon showed how difficult it is and this team has finally done that," Bronze said. "I think we go down in history as one of the best teams in Europe."

This season, the team also secured a quadruple for the first time in club history, having already won Liga F, the Copa de la Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. The win ensures that coach Jonatan Giráldez — who has officially departed the team to join the NWSL's Washington Spirit — leaves Europe a champion.

"It was an incredible game. I am really happy, it's one of the best days of my life for sure," Giráldez told broadcaster DAZN after the game. "We did an amazing job. I am very proud of all of them."

Following the win, Putellas said her team "can't ask for anything else."

"Our objective was to win four out of four," the Spain international told reporters. "We have achieved everything we wanted. Every minute of sacrifice has been worth the effort — and I'd say that not after the game, but before, just entering in the stadium, with all the support we had here, it was worth it."

2024 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Aitana Bonmatí said that the crowd support made it "feel like Camp Nou."

"I am on cloud nine right now," she said. "It is an historic day which we will remember forever."

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