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USWNT injuries: When Macario, Press and more could return

Catarina Macario’s continued ACL recovery kept her out of the World Cup for the USWNT. (Howard Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

A number of U.S. women’s national team stars missed out on the 2023 World Cup due to injury, and the team felt their absence on the pitch.

What is the status for these injured players? And when could they return to the USWNT?

Becky Sauerbrunn

The 38-year-old defender missed what would have been her fourth World Cup due to a foot injury she suffered in April. After being left off the USWNT roster, she was upfront about the injury, noting that while a World Cup return would have been “possible,” doctors warned that it would be “aggressive” for her to get back in time.

Sauerbrunn has continued to rehab the injury and intends to return this season for the NWSL’s Portland Thorns. She also could rejoin the USWNT for its September friendlies against South Africa, although no updates have been given on her status.

Mallory Swanson

Swanson tore the patellar tendon in her left knee during an April friendly against Ireland, ruling her out for the World Cup. Her surgery went well, and Swanson even said that she felt as though she might defy the odds to make the summer tournament.

Ultimately, the 25-year-old forward wasn’t fit for the trip to Australia and New Zealand. But Swanson has been seen doing rehab recently, and even getting in a couple of touches in July. “Recovery has been good,” she told Just Women’s Sports.

Still, there is no update as to when Swanson could return, although the typical timeline for recovery from such an injury is six months.

Abby Dahlkemper

Dahlkemper underwent back surgery in December, and earlier this month the 30-year-old defender made her return to the pitch for the NWSL’s San Diego Wave.

“It felt great,” Dahlkemper said of her return. “I am just so happy to be back. I feel like it’s been a really long journey. I, throughout my career have fortunately been healthy up until last year. So I’ve never really experienced a long time out like I did. Just proud of myself, I’m happy. Excited to be back with the team.

“It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life, physically and mentally. Having to have back surgery at my age is kind of uncommon, so to go in there and have it be not known how it’s going to do, how I’m going to heal, how I’m going to feel coming back was really scary. But I leaned in and trusted my gut. … Everyone helped me along the way and I really wouldn’t be back here today playing if it wasn’t for everyone helping me and the support.

“I tried to take it one day at a time. Definitely a lot of lows, but I celebrated the highs as well. Just happy and really proud of myself. I feel like when you go through adversity that’s when you learn the most about yourself.”

Dahlkemper has not played a full 90 since her return, but she played 45 minutes in the team’s Challenge Cup match on Aug. 6.

Sam Mewis

Mewis underwent arthroscopic surgery on her right knee in August 2021. While she initially was slated for an eight-week absence from the pitch, she just had a follow-up surgery in January, and she has not played for the USWNT in two years.

It is unknown when the 30-year-old midfielder could make her return, though she shared a video of her recovery process in July. In a video captioned “6 months today!” Mewis is seen doing weight-lifting exercises, including lower body exercises such as deadlifts and lunges. The midfielder appears to be regaining range of motion and strength in her right knee.

Still, there remains no timetable for Mewis’ return.

“Obviously, I haven’t played in a while,” she told Goal in July. “I’m just doing my rehab and taking it one day at a time, but I think my message is just in moments like that, in moments of difficulty, just try to find that new purpose, if you can, and apply yourself to that.”

Catarina Macario

Catarina Macario tore her ACL last June and had some setbacks in her recovery journey, which resulted in her missing out on the World Cup. She signed a three-year deal with Chelsea in June, though, and recently was seen at training with the Women’s Super League club as its preseason gets underway.

The WSL season is set to kick off in October, with Chelsea playing Tottenham on Oct. 1. The 23-year-old midfielder could make her return before that, however, if she gets a call-up from the USWNT for the September friendlies.

Tobin Heath

One of the more senior members of the USWNT, Heath has not suited up for the red, white and blue since October 2021. Throughout 2022, she struggled with injuries, including a hamstring injury that ended her season with Arsenal. She later joined OL Reign, appearing in five matches, before once again being sidelined with an injury.

She underwent season-ending knee surgery in September 2022 and has been seen doing limited training. In February, Andonovski said that Heath was “absolutely” still under consideration for World Cup selection. While the 35-year-old forward did not return for the World Cup, her playing days are “definitely not” over yet, she told UPROXX in August.

Christen Press

Press’ recovery journey has not been linear. In June, the 34-year-old forward returned to the practice field in cleats, but she remained on the season-ending injury list for Angel City FC. And then in July she announced she would have to undergo a fourth surgery to repair her knee.

Following the fourth surgery, Press has not shared a recovery timeline, although she has said she wants to return to professional soccer. It’s unlikely that will come during the 2023 NWSL season, so the soonest fans could see Press back in action may be 2024.

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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