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USWNT starting XI: Projecting lineup changes vs. Portugal

Rose Lavelle has been a game-changer in the USWNT’s first two matches at the World Cup. (Robin Alam/USSF/Getty Images )

The U.S. women’s national team will round out their 2023 World Cup group stage campaign against Portugal at 3 a.m. ET on Tuesday, likely needing to win and retain their +2 goal differential over the Netherlands to advance out of Group E in first place.

The USWNT’s group-stage performances have not mirrored their difficulties at the Tokyo Olympics, but the reigning World Champions did not look dominant against the Dutch, leaving room for Portugal to spoil their plans. With very little rotation through two games, head coach Vlatko Andonovski will need to weigh his lineup changes carefully to both secure a win and manage player fitness for the prospective knockout rounds.

Adjustments will come at a premium, and nothing in this tournament is guaranteed. Here are some of the decisions facing Andonovski as he sets his starting lineup for Game 3.

Dynamism in the attack

Andonovski made the decision to use just one substitute against the Netherlands, building Rose Lavelle’s minutes from 27 in the tournament opener to a full second half. He left four other available subs on the board despite not changing his starting lineup, raising fitness questions for a matchup in which the U.S. needs to earn all three points to retain their place atop Group E.

Andonovski’s gamble will come at a price, meaning the balance of retaining continuity while not burning out key starters could take precedence over any tactical tweaks he wants to explore. Sophia Smith and Trinity Rodman showed fatigue at different points of the USWNT’s 1-1 draw against the Netherlands, indicating they might need to be relieved on the wings in order to be fresh for a Round of 16 game. The most obvious replacements would be Lynn Williams and Alyssa Thompson, both of whom are capable of burning a backline.

But straight-up replacements for the wingers would mean the team needs another start from 34-year-old Alex Morgan at center forward. Morgan has had to cover a lot of ground as both a striker and a playmaker in the team’s first two matches, and there’s no exact replacement for her on the USWNT’s bench, though Williams can line up centrally as well.

Too much change all at once can be detrimental to attacking cohesion, which the U.S. has been developing through the group stage. Andonovski will likely prefer to retain at least one of the players from his favored front three, depending on who is the most fit to continue. This match should also be a good opportunity for Megan Rapinoe to make an impact off the bench and provide service that was sometimes missing against the Dutch.

Balance in the midfield

With the U.S.’s midfield looking less than convincing against the Dutch, Andonovski might prefer to insert Lavelle into the starting lineup while keeping Lindsey Horan and Andi Sullivan in their same roles. Savannah DeMelo has performed admirably in two starts in the attacking midfield despite her international inexperience, combining well with the attack to get the ball into dangerous areas.

But there’s still no one quite as adept at controlling the USWNT’s creativity like Lavelle, who has been a game-changer in both of her appearances thus far. If she’s available for anywhere near 60 minutes against Portugal, she could be the difference between a fast start and a match that turns into a grinding result.

Horan’s star turn as the savior against the Netherlands likely only solidifies Andonovski’s desire to rely on the Olympique Lyon midfielder, but she will also need to save her legs for a potentially deep run in the knockout rounds. Even if Horan and Sullivan start the match, the U.S. coach should be more willing to insert a player like Kristie Mewis or Ashley Sanchez into the midfield later in the match.

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Naomi Girma has partnered well with Julie Ertz at center-back despite their inexperience together. (Ulrik Pedersen/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

Control in the defense

The U.S. has faced only one shot on goal so far in the tournament, with Jill Roord’s strike to pull the Netherlands ahead in Game 2 the only blemish against the backline. Julie Ertz and Naomi Girma have looked comfortable as center-back partners despite their relative lack of time together, and Emily Fox and Crystal Dunn have been given room to problem-solve from the outside-back positions.

Now, Andonovski has to make sure his starters don’t lose their sharpness, nor sacrifice the communication and chemistry they have been building. The center-backs present an intriguing issue, since inserting Alana Cook would theoretically relieve Ertz instead of Girma — Girma plays on the left of the formation, with Cook and Ertz’s experience coming on the right. If Andonovski wants to give the young Girma time to rest, he’d likely have to either shift Ertz to the left or start Emily Sonnett alongside Cook.

The team’s outside-back options are slightly more straightforward, with Sofia Huerta an option on the right, Fox to the left and Kelley O’Hara on either side. Huerta can hurt a backline with her precise crossing ability and might be a good fit for a game against a team like Portugal in a mid-block formation. But Portugal also has players who are dangerous on the ball in transition, which might lend itself to a more pragmatic approach with O’Hara on the right and Fox on the left.

Projected starting lineup

GK: Alyssa Naeher

D: Sofia Huerta, Julie Ertz, Naomi Girma, Emily Fox

M: Andi Sullivan, Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle

F: Lynn Williams, Alex Morgan, Alyssa Thompson

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

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Crypto.com Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a Change.org petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

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