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Should the next USWNT coach be a woman? It’s complicated

U.S. Soccer and Vlatko Andonovski parted ways on Thursday after a disappointing World Cup campaign. (Brad Smith/USSF/Getty Images)

Since 2000, all but one of the major women’s football tournaments — which include the World Cup, the Euros and the Olympics — have been won by teams led by women coaches. That streak may continue this weekend, as Sarina Wiegman leads England against Jorge Vilda’s Spain in the 2023 World Cup final.

The USWNT job has been a different story in recent years, with NWSL championship-winning coach Vlatko Andonovski holding the reins since the end of 2019. His tenure ended this week, as he and U.S. Soccer mutually agreed to part ways after the USWNT’s worst-ever performance at a World Cup. The search for his successor has already begun with the Paris Olympics less than a year away, and a number of strong candidates have already been contacted about their interest in the role, according to reports.

There’s no doubt that the USWNT wants a manager to bring them back to their winning ways. What is less clear is how much gender, for one, should play a role in the hiring process.

As a new era for the four-time World Champions quickly approaches, a familiar question hangs over it: How much should the demographic of the head coach of the USWNT matter? And what does the number of qualified options from traditionally marginalized communities say about coaching development in the U.S. and abroad?

Jill Ellis, former two-time World Cup-winning coach of the USWNT, has said that she believes the next manager should simply be the best fit.

“There’s certainly good female coaches out there,” she told reporters at a FIFA technical briefing Thursday in Sydney. “So what I would hope in this process is it’s robust, it’s diverse, but at the end of the day, this is a critical hire … and I think it has to be the right person.

“We need to make sure we’re creating and providing opportunities for women,” she continued. “But not just giving them the opportunities, making sure they’re supported and they’re educated and they’re ready to take those responsibilities and those opportunities.”

Jill Ellis led the USWNT to two World Cup titles in 2015 and 2019. (Harry How/Getty Images)

Adjusting the pipeline

Ellis makes a salient point, which is that the question of “qualified” coaching doesn’t exist in a vacuum. With women’s soccer still an emerging sport as compared to the men’s game, only in recent years have former women’s professional soccer players been empowered with the background necessary for some of the biggest coaching jobs in the world.

The NWSL currently hosts a free U.S. Soccer coaching C-license course for select interested players to start the journey toward higher-level managerial licensing. Those courses run through A-licenses and are increasingly expensive with each tier. There is also the U.S. Pro-license, a newer top-level course that fewer than five women coaches have ever reached, including current USWNT interim manager Twila Kilgore and OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey.

Gaining the expertise is important, but anyone who understands the bureaucratic realities of federation circles also knows that sometimes the most difficult barrier can be simply getting into the right rooms. USWNT legend Brandi Chastain, who holds an A-license and has served as a volunteer assistant at Santa Clara University for decades, spoke about that disparity last week.

“I’ve been asking to participate with our youth national teams for a while and have not gotten any traction,” she said on “The 91st” show. “I’m an A-licensed coach, I’ve been a volunteer at Santa Clara University probably for about 25 years, I coach youth soccer, I’ve been on the national team for 192 caps.”

Even more dire are the opportunities for women of color in U.S. Soccer circles, as the dropout rate for girls of color in American youth soccer is twice that of white girls who live in the suburbs. Steps are being taken to try to bridge the gap at the player level, but with the coaching pipeline still an uphill battle for all women, marginalized identities are sidelined even as the player demographics of the USWNT itself are changing.

“I think it’s essential that we look at putting women and people of color in leadership positions — that’s owning teams, that’s sitting on boards, that’s owning media divisions, being true decision-makers in women’s sports,” USWNT star Christen Press told Just Women’s Sports this week.

Who is in federation decision-making roles, who aligns budgets and sets goals for the future, and who makes sure that the next coach is set up to succeed bear a big responsibility. They must avoid deferring to the easiest choice, while also committing to a healthy coaching pyramid for qualified candidates.

Surveying the landscape

Harvey and Kilgore are clearly educated and qualified for consideration for the role, and Chastain would like to be in that conversation someday. But it is also true that the U.S. both needs to raise their competitive level to remain relevant on the world stage, and will always represent something greater than just goals on the field.

At the 2019 World Cup, nine of the 24 teams were coached by women. In 2023, that number grew to 11 coaches out of 32 teams. While every program has to make their own judgment calls on who is the best-suited to lead their national teams, the global gap appears to be widening.

Since the players union achieved a landmark equal pay deal with the U.S. Federation, there’s clearly demand for the team to further move the needle, and empowering a qualified coach who is also a woman fits that need. There are also highly qualified coaches in the NCAA system who would require substantial contracts in order to leave the relative stability of college for one of the most tumultuous and high-profile positions in women’s soccer. A lot can be solved by greater investment, even at the top.

Andonovski only made a fraction of the salary of U.S. men’s national team head coach Gregg Berhalter. The ability to attract top-level coaching talent — even as the USWNT is possibly seen as a program in decline — is paramount to achieving both short- and long-term goals.

It’s not enough to simply offer a woman a job that itself does not have the resources necessary to succeed. As even Andonovski found, a coach’s legacy can be made or broken on the field, despite whatever progress may be seen off of it.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

New Washington Spirit Head Coach Jonatan Giráldez Arrivin DC

head coach Jonatan Giráldez
Jonatan Giráldez joins the NWSL from FC Barcelona Femení. (Ramsey Cardy/UEFA via Getty Images)

Five months after announcing that the Washington Spirit had hired Barcelona Femení coach Jonatan Giráldez as the team's new head coach, Giráldez has joined the club in Washington, DC.

Giráldez is coming off of a successful season with the Spanish side, having won UEFA Women's Champions League, Copa de la Reina, Supercopa, and Liga F in his final season to complete a lauded Quadruple.

While Giráldez was finishing out his tenure in Europe, Adrián González filled in as Spirit interim head coach. González has also seen success, leading the team to its third-place standing with a 9-3-1 record through 13 games.

“I’m thrilled to join the Spirit and begin this next chapter with the club,” Giráldez said in an official team statement. “To be part of the vision Michele Kang has for the Spirit and women’s soccer globally is an exciting opportunity.”

Giráldez has worked at Barcelona since 2019, initially coming on as an assistant coach before moving up to head coach in 2021. The team went 30-0-0 on the season under Giráldez during his first year as manager.

He brings along with him Andrés González and Toni Gordo, who will serve as the Spirit's Fitness Coach and Club Analyst, respectively.

US Track & Field Olympic Trials Touch Down in Oregon

Sha’Carri Richardson competes in the women’s 200-meter preliminary round during the USATF Outdoor Championships
Sha’Carri Richardson will have some competition this week as athletes vie for an Olympic berth. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Track & Field Trials begin on June 21st, kicking off a 10-day quest to determine who will represent the US in Paris this summer.

The crucial meet will take place in Eugene, Oregon, where the top three finishers in each event will punch their ticket to the 2024 Olympics. As with this past week's US Swimming Trials, even the most decorated athletes must work to earn their spot — and one bad performance could undermine four years of preparation.

Reigning 100-meter World Champion Sha'Carri Richardson headlines this year's field, as the 24-year-old looks to qualify for her second Olympic Games and compete in her first. Richardson is a world champion in both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint, but missed the Tokyo Olympics due to testing positive for THC shortly after the last US Olympic Trials.

Other standouts include 400-meter Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who's currently the most decorated athlete in the active women's US Track & Field pool. McLaughlin-Levrone qualified to run in the 200-meter and 400-meter flat races alongside the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympic Trials, but opted to focus solely on her signature event.

800-meter specialist Athing Mu will also be a huge draw this week, as the Olympic gold medalist looks to shake off a lingering hamstring injury while pursuing her second Summer Games. Gold medal-winning pole vaulter Katie Moon will also attempt to qualify for her second-straight Olympic Games.

Ole Miss star McKenzie Long could be Richardson's greatest competition in the 100-meter and 200-meter events, as well as Richardson's Worlds teammate Gabby Thomas in the 200-meter. In field events, watch for Oregon senior Jaida Ross going head-to-head with reigning world champion Chase Jackson in the shot put, as both push for their first Olympic team berth.

Regardless of why you tune in, the US Olympic Trials are a perpetually thrilling and sometimes brutal qualification process. If you're able to make your way to the head of the pack, a shot at Olympic glory might just be waiting at the finish line.

Fans can catch live coverage throughout the Trials via NBC, USA, and Peacock.

Top Teams Square Off in NWSL Weekend Slate

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda
Orlando Pride, led by forward Barbra Banda, will take on Utah in this weekend's NWSL action. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As the NWSL season continues, a few top-performing clubs will have a chance to boost their standings this weekend.

First-place Kansas City will travel to Providence Park to take on fifth-place Portland, as the Current look to keep their unbeaten streak intact. And in New Jersey, third-place Washington will take on fourth-place Gotham FC, with both teams attempting to extend multi-game unbeaten streaks.

A six-point gap has opened between the fifth and sixth spot on the NWSL table — with just six points also separating the league's top five. Kansas City, Orlando, Washington, Gotham, and Portland have recently proven themselves to be a cut above the rest of the competition. With eight postseason spots up for grabs and half the season behind us, a pattern is forming that indicates the playoff race could come down to spots six through eight on the NWSL table.

Of those top five teams, only Orlando faces an opponent in the bottom half of the league this weekend: The Pride will take on 14th-place Utah, who nonetheless are coming off a win — just their second of the season — over Bay FC last weekend.

But despite Kansas City and Orlando having yet to lose a game, Gotham might be the squad coming into the weekend with the most momentum.

Clutch goals from Rose Lavelle and rookie Maycee Bell gave the Bats a 2-0 midweek win over San Diego on Wednesday, in a rematch of the 2024 Challenge Cup. Gotham's unbeaten streak dates all the way back to April, as rising availability and sharpened form have honed this year's superteam into a contender.

Bottom line? As the NWSL season passes the halfway mark, some matches might begin to feel more like playoff previews than mere regular season battles.

Chelsea Gray Returns From Injury in Aces Win Over Seattle

las vegas aces chelsea gray and kelsey plum celebrate a win over the seattle storm
Gray has been sidelined with a foot injury since the 2023 WNBA Finals. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Chelsea Gray made her return to the basketball court on Wednesday, helping the Aces to a 94-83 win over the Seattle Storm. 

The lauded point guard missed the first 12 games of the season, having been injured in last year’s WNBA Finals. The left foot injury caused her to miss Game 4 of the championship series, and she’s continued to rehab it through the beginning of the 2024 season. 

Her return on Wednesday was capitalized by the fact that she needed just 20 seconds to make an impact and record her first assist. While she finished with just one point, she had seven assists, four rebounds, and two blocks to go alongside it in 15:30 minutes. Gray's contributions on the night brought her career assist record up to 1,500.

"I probably went through every emotion leading up to today," Gray said after the game. "I was a little anxious all day. It's been a long time since I've been out on that court. But the fans were amazing from the time I came out to warm up to the time I checked in the game. It was a rush and a feeling I missed a lot."

It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far for Las Vegas, who have lost five of their last seven games. Gray, who averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in 2023, has proven herself a much-needed addition to the team’s lineup.

"Felt like my heart," Aces coach Becky Hammon said when asked how she felt hearing the crowd erupt for Gray's return. "She's the leader of our team. I thought she did a wonderful job too."

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