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USWNT injury list: Players they most need back for World Cup

Emily Sonnett and Julie Ertz are two players the USWNT hopes to bring back into the fold. (Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

We were reminded this week just how monumental the U.S. women’s national team’s list of injuries is, as head coach Vlatko Andonovski gave a rundown of over 10 players working their way back into the fold during his media availability Monday. Some players are well on their way back, while a few have more nebulous timelines that warrant more reflection ahead of the World Cup next summer.

While every injured player brings talent that almost any national team would welcome, there are a few players in key positions that the U.S. could use back on the pitch sooner rather than later.

Defense

Emily Sonnett

This is maybe a less obvious pick, but hear me out. When dealing with further attrition to the wide areas of the USWNT backline, Andonovski brought in Hailie Mace, who has played many different roles for her NWSL clubs. Mace was called up as an outside back, but she’s recently played wingback for her club and spent time as a No. 10 or defensive midfielder (not my favorite place for her.) In short, Mace was brought in to play the same role Emily Sonnett has filled for the team for ages: a catch-all defender who can train well and slot onto the field in a pinch. Sonnett had an excellent year at center-back for Washington in 2021, and she has experience as the team’s Swiss Army Knife. They might miss her more than you think.

Kelley O’Hara

The USWNT has featured very attacking-minded outside backs in recent months. Emily Fox and Sofia Huerta have done a fine job when the USWNT is in possession, with crisp crosses and good recovery speed in defensive transition. But against top opponents, one has to wonder if the backline is missing a certain amount of dexterity out wide. O’Hara has historically been strong in both areas, and her vision from wide positions can be helpful in advancing the ball. And do not count out Casey Krueger, who featured on the team’s 2021 Olympic roster as a defensive option at outside back and now works her way back from the birth of her son, Caleb.

Tierna Davidson

While much of the focus is on the outside-back positions, the USWNT’s center-back situation is less settled than one might think. Naomi Girma has excelled in her fast track to a spot with the first team, and Becky Sauerbrunn hasn’t missed a step in NWSL play. But Andonovski seems against playing the two together since they both sit on the left side. This has placed heavy responsibility on the shoulders of Alana Cook, who has looked equal parts steady and shaky in international play. Davidson is working her way back from the third serious injury of her young career, but she was a bright spot in a tough Tokyo Olympic campaign and should provide a healthy amount of competition to the central defense.

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Sam Mewis had surgery on her right knee last August. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Midfield

Sam Mewis

The players with the least concrete return timelines are those whose roles the USWNT consistently misses the most: Sam Mewis and Julie Ertz. Connectivity in the midfield has been an issue for the USWNT for over a year, to the point where Andonovski has adjusted his game plan at times to avoid it against other top nations. Mewis is not a holding midfielder, nor is she a drifting playmaker who pushes toward the opponent’s backline. But therein lies the point: The USWNT does not have a replacement for her — a possessor who allows the other midfielders to focus on their most natural positions — in their current midfield pool. If Mewis’ knee issue continues to linger, the U.S. might have to commit to a replacement (they have a good candidate, but she’s currently listed as a defender.)

Julie Ertz

No one knows if or when Julie Ertz might return to professional soccer, and Andonovski was reluctant to speculate this week on her timeline for a return. Her unknown status is what makes the current USWNT approach all the more confounding, as their 4-3-3 formation requires a defensive midfielder of Ertz’s physical profile to protect dangerous areas and break up the other team’s possession. Andi Sullivan and Sam Coffey are capable No. 6s, but Sullivan has looked hesitant when asked to pressure in front of her own penalty area. The USWNT would be giving something up to implement a “buddy system” in front of the backline, and Andonovski seems reluctant to try, but Ertz is the only player who can consistently make the current system work.

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Catarina Macario said recently that her knee is feeling "good" after tearing her ACL in June. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Attack

Catarina Macario

Almost too obvious to mention, but the USWNT attack has stayed in Macario mode even after the 23-year-old tore her ACL right before the Concacaf W Championship. During the team’s subsequent friendlies, Sophia Smith has taken on a proto-Macario role, starting centrally and at times drifting into the USWNT midfield to help progress the ball. Those experiments didn’t always set the team up for a scintillating attack, especially when they were missing Mallory Pugh in October. But the vision remains of Macario returning as a false No. 9 and Smith pushing further wide with a new wealth of experience. Much of the USWNT’s attack is riding on Macario returning to score goals and allow the rest of the forward lines to be their best selves.

Christen Press

I simply do not believe that the backup position to Pugh’s starting role at left wing is as secure as Andonovski has projected it to be. Megan Rapinoe is a crucial leader in the locker room and lethal in dead-ball situations. But if the USWNT can take 26 players to the 2023 World Cup, they need someone who can be effective for a full 90 minutes in the off-chance Pugh is not available for every match. Press has the experience and class on the ball to connect with the midfield and provide defensive cover for whichever outside back is playing behind her. She can also be clinical from distance, an attribute that can break a close game open when other attacking options fail.

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

Nelly Korda Continues Unprecedented LPGA Run

LPGA golfer Nelly Korda poses with Mizuho Americas Open trophy
Nelly Korda took home the title at the Mizuho Americas Open on Sunday. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Nelly Korda continued her unprecedented LPGA run on Sunday, winning her sixth tournament in the last seven starts. 

The 25-year-old Florida native took home the title at the Mizuho Americas Open, becoming the first LPGA player to record six wins in a single season since 2013 — and that’s with three majors and a little over half the season left to play.

"Oh, my gosh, six," Korda said after the win. "I can't even really gather myself right now with that, the head-to-head that Hannah and I had pretty much all day. Wasn't my best stuff out there today, but fought really hard on the back nine."

Korda is just the fourth player on tour to win six times before June 1st, joining LPGA Hall of Famers Babe Zaharias (1951), Louise Suggs (1953), and Lorena Ochoa (2008).

Should her victory run continue, Korda could break the current record for single-season wins, currently set at 13 by Mickey Wright in 1963.

Korda ended Sunday's tournament one shot ahead of Hannah Green, finishing the 18th with a par putt to win it all.

"I mean, to lose to Nelly kind of like is — it's sad, but then it's also Nelly Korda," Green said of her second-place finish. "You know, like she's obviously so dominant right now. To feel like second behind her is quite nice. Unfortunately the bogey on the last has a little bit of a sour taste."

Next up is the US Women’s Open, a tournament that Korda has yet to win in her career. 

"Obviously it's on the top of my priority list," she said. "I just know there is never any good when you put more pressure on yourself. Just going to stay in my bubble that week and take it a shot at a time."

Earlier this year, Korda became the fastest player to collect $2 million in prize money over a single season. This latest win earned her an additional $450,000, bringing her season total up to $2,943,708.

Caitlin Clark Signs Multi-Year Deal with Wilson, Gets Signature Basketball Collection

caitlin clark poses with wilson basketball
Clark is just the second athlete to get a signature basketball collection with Wilson. (Wilson Sporting Goods)

Caitlin Clark has signed a multi-year endorsement deal with Wilson Sporting Goods that will include a signature basketball collection, the brand announced early Tuesday. 

According to Boardroom, Clark is just the second athlete to develop a signature collection with Wilson, with the first being Michael Jordan in the 1980s. In addition to her basketball collection, she will also "test, advise and provide feedback on a range" of related products. 

Three Clark-branded white-and-gold Wilson basketballs have already dropped. Each ball features laser-cut engravings of some of the guard's most memorable moments at Iowa, where she became the all-time leading scorer in Division I college basketball history.

Three Wilson basketballs from Clark's collection have already dropped. (Wilson Sporting Goods).

"I think it is super special, and it's been fun for me," Clark told Boardroom. "I feel like I was just that young kid who had those basketballs that I would store in the garage. I'm just very lucky and fortunate to partner with Wilson to create something that everyone can enjoy. It connects with a lot of generations, and it'll be fun to see kids walking around holding them."

The No. 1 overall pick at the 2024 WNBA Draft, Clark has been building up a slate of major endorsements since turning pro. Current partnerships include Gatorade and Panini, and she’s also close to signing a signature shoe deal with Nike worth a reported $28 million.

New York Liberty off to First 4-0 Start in 17 Years

sabrina ionescu of the new york liberty on the court
Sabrina Ionescu led the undefeated Liberty to a 74-63 win over Seattle Monday night. (Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images)

The New York Liberty are 4-0 on the season for the first time since 2007. 

The 2023 WNBA title finalists notched a 74-63 win over Seattle on Monday night, with Sabrina Ionescu dropping 20 points alongside eight assists. After the game, Ionescu told reporters she thought the team was coming together a bit easier than they did last year.

"I think having a year together, we don't nearly have to communicate as much on the court anymore," she said. "Because we can just play off one another and read. And that's obviously been the growth of this team, is being able to play a season together last year."

The team’s defense has also contributed heavily to the season's winning start. Last night, the Liberty held Jewell Loyd to just 13 points and nine rebounds. Loyd let the Storm in scoring, with only two other players in double digits, while Nneka Ogwumike missed her second straight game with an ankle injury. 

Storm free agency acquisition Skylar Diggins-Smith had eight points, and is averaging 14.5 points and 5.8 assists per game this season. In her postgame remarks, Storm head coach Noelle Quinn called on others to give her grace in her return. 

"There needs to be respect about the fact that she's had two children and hasn’t played in 20 months," said Quinn. "She’s not going to come overnight and be who she was 20 months ago and we have to respect that and honor that. And I do.

"My grace as a coach is to know she’s working her butt off every day. You guys don’t see it. Every single day. Two children. Not one, two. Not many can do that."

Australia’s Sam Kerr Ruled Out for 2024 Paris Olympics With ACL Injury

sam kerr playing for the australian womens national team
A longtime Matildas mainstay, Kerr has made 128 appearances for Australia alongside 69 career goals. (Joe Prior/Visionhaus via Getty Images)

Australia has confirmed that captain and star striker Sam Kerr will miss the Paris Olympics due to an ACL injury suffered early this year. 

Kerr, who also stars for Chelsea, tore her ACL in January. While unlikely that she would recover in time for the Olympics, Football Australia (FA) hadn’t confirmed her status until Tuesday when the team revealed its squad for upcoming warm-up games. 

In a statement, the FA said that Kerr remained on the sidelines and will continue her rehab program at Chelsea. 

"Attacker Amy Sayer (ACL) and forward Sam Kerr (ACL) remain on the sidelines with long term injuries," the report read. "Kerr and Sayer will continue their rehabilitation programmes in their home club environments and subsequently will not be available for selection for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games."

Tuesdays 23-player squad is a "strong guide" to the final Olympic lineup, according to coach Tony Gustavsson, but others like injured midfielders Katrina Gorry and Aivi Luik could potentially figure into the conversation. 

"[They] most likely will be physically available to be part of an Olympic roster," Gustavsson said of Gorry and Luik. "This window will be a tough one for me and my staff in terms of evaluating players, where they are, and then the final selection process for Paris."

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