All Scores

USWNT roster bubble: What we learned from New Zealand games

Trinity Rodman notched three assists in two games during the USWNT’s trip to New Zealand. (Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

The U.S. wrapped up their January game schedule in New Zealand on Friday, kicking off 2023 with two big wins, nine goals scored and none conceded. The trip was as much about getting acclimated to long travel in the World Cup host country as it was about friendly competition, but now that we’re under six months away from the tournament, every game matters.

Here are my three main takeaways from the 4-0 and 5-0 wins, which provided some insight into final roster decisions.

The USWNT’s attacking depth is ridiculous

No matter who is healthy in July, the U.S. is going to have to leave multiple world-class attackers off the World Cup roster due to sheer force of numbers.

Take a look at the list of attacking players who have been in camp in the last calendar year and wonder at the potential: Sophia Smith, Trinity Rodman, Alex Morgan, Catarina Macario, Mallory Swanson, Ashley Hatch, Lynn Williams, Midge Purce, Megan Rapinoe and Alyssa Thompson have all gotten minutes with the U.S. and made an impact. The USWNT took seven forwards to the 2019 World Cup, which puts the numbers at odds with the current player pool before even considering other players who deserve looks, like Christen Press and Mia Fishel.

In New Zealand, the team was without Macario, Rapinoe and Smith and still didn’t miss a beat in the attack. Midge Purce, whom coach Vlatko Andonovski placed on the bubble late in 2022, did everything but get on the scoresheet in the team’s first match. The Gotham FC forward was the biggest bright spot in the USWNT attack during a tepid first half.

If Purce came back with a vengeance, then Trinity Rodman set the whole house on fire. The 20-year-old notched three assists in two games, providing passing outlets and attacking dangerously off the dribble. Rodman has just three USWNT starts in her career thus far, but she looked calm and collected as she collaborated well with the rest of the frontline. Lynn Williams also looked sharp in her first minutes with the U.S. since last February, scoring one goal and notching one assist off the bench in two games.

But perhaps the best example of Andonovski’s looming impossible attacking decisions is Ashley Hatch. Hatch has been in with the U.S. for an extended period of time dating back to December 2021, but she has struggled to get on the field as other players have risen around her. Competing positionally with both Alex Morgan and Catarina Macario, Hatch also doesn’t have the versatility to play both centrally and out wide like a number of her teammates.

And yet, there she was scoring in New Zealand, making the most of the minutes granted to her. Hatch probably still has a steep climb onto the 2023 World Cup roster, but her job is to make the decision as difficult as she possibly can. That level of competition is good for the team at large, with every player making an impact in preparation even if they don’t get the call in July.

The midfield still feels thin

Andonovski made one major positional concession last week when he put Rose Lavelle and Ashley Sanchez on the field together as a No. 8 and a No. 10, superseding the stretched dual No. 10 we saw at times in 2022.

The new spacing allowed Andi Sullivan to play at her best as the team’s defensive midfielder. The Spirit captain moved confidently and passed around New Zealand’s mid-block press. It’s obvious that the team’s Plan A is to rely heavily on Sullivan, and reconfiguring the playmakers around her to provide defensive support and passing lanes paid dividends in the second half of the first match and the entirety of the second.

Plan B in midfield personnel, however, feels as thin as ever. Andonovski started Taylor Kornieck as the No. 6 in the first half of the first match, and the San Diego midfielder didn’t appear ready for the role thrust upon her in her very first USWNT start. Portland Thorns defensive midfielder Sam Coffey didn’t get time in either match, with Kornieck coming off the bench in the second match to close things out.

In general, the midfield roster as constructed feels full of too many specialists, which has resulted in only a few players getting consistent starts. Kornieck is great in the air and has strong passing vision to break lines, but she’s not a No. 6 defensively. Kristie Mewis is another reliable option as a No. 8 off the bench, and Sanchez effectively gives them another creative attacker when she’s on the pitch.

But if the plan is to have Lavelle or Horan play as true No. 8s, the team appears to be relying too heavily on its specialists without giving experience to the players who could become starters with time. Sanchez proved this week that she has a unique skill set worth adjusting for, but other roles remain unclear.

The backline is very attacking-minded

We can attribute some of this to the way the U.S. wanted to play New Zealand, who were missing a number of key players, but the USWNT defense once again shined in attacking possession rather than defensive transition.

Sofia Huerta excelled as an attacking generator in the second match, and what she brings as a crosser will likely cement her place on the 2023 World Cup roster. Crystal Dunn looked her sharpest at left back in the second match, combining in passing triangles that unlocked New Zealand’s defensive formation.

Naomi Girma started both matches and was given the freedom to push forward and find the best passing lanes through New Zealand’s defense. But in the very brief moments the U.S. had to scramble on counterattacks, the defense felt somewhat shaky.

Casey Murphy started the second match in goal. The 26-year-old had one cautious punch off a corner kick turn into a chance opportunity, upon which the USWNT benefitted from a foul call to calm the danger. Murphy has all the tools to be a great international goalkeeper, but even in limited action, her occasional hesitation in goal is obvious enough to set the defense on edge. The U.S. has struggled at times to defend set pieces over the last year, and the communication didn’t always seem crisp last week.

Overall, the team appeared collectively calm, like they had righted some structural imbalances from late in 2022 and were having fun. As the schedule turns to the SheBelieves Cup in February, these games provided several lessons the U.S. will want to carry with them.

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

Barcelona to Face Lyon in Champions League Rematch This Weekend

UEFA Women's Champions League Final"Barcelona FC - Olympique Lyonnais"
Saturday's game will be the third UWCL final meeting for Barcelona and Lyon, having previously gone up against each other in 2019 and 2022. (ANP via Getty Images)

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off in Bilbao on Saturday, with a couple of familiar foes set to face off for the trophy.

Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, making its 11th final appearance since 2010, will go head to head with a Barcelona side making its fourth final appearance in a row.

This will be the third time these two teams meet in the UWCL title game, having previously appeared in the 2019 and 2022 finals. Lyon won both of those prior games against Barcelona, alongside a total of eight Champions League trophies. That’s double that of any other club, with Eintracht Frankfurt coming in a distant second with four. 

Should Barcelona win, this would be the team's third title — breaking a tie for the third in the UWCL total titles race. 

But as these teams return to the UWCL final, it also marks the end of an era for both clubs. The game will be the last for both club managers, as Barcelona’s Jonatan Giráldez and Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor depart for new jobs after the season's end.

Giráldez is set to leave for the NWSL's Washington Spirit, while Bompastor will take over for incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes at Chelsea. Both coaches have earned one UWCL trophy during their tenures, while Bompastor also brought two Champions League trophies to Lyon as a player. She was the first coach to win a UWCL trophy as both a coach and player.

This season, Barcelona is looking for its first quadruple, having won a fifth Liga F title alongside the Copa de La Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. 

"We hope he can go out with the four trophies because we know how competitive and ambitious he is," Barcelona midfielder Patri Guijarro told ESPN. "It has been a winning era with him in charge and for him to go out with all four trophies would be historic and incredible."

But Lyon's Damaris Egurrola is excited about her team's chances of overcoming Barcelona once again — and to do it in front of family and friends.

"Lyon have something special," she told Forbes ahead of the weekend's final. "We have a great team and we have the players with enough talent to win any match."

The game will be a homecoming for Egurrola, who began her professional career with Athletic Bilbao.

"I’ve been thinking of this day and night," she said. "I’ve been dreaming of playing this match. Having the opportunity to play in San Mames is amazing. This is where it all started for me."

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off Saturday, May 25th at 12 PM ET and is free to stream on DAZN.

World No. 1 Iga Swiatek Headlines a Stacked 2024 French Open

Iga Swiatek serves against Coco Gauff during the group stage of the 2023 WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico
Iga Swiatek serves against Coco Gauff during the group stage of the 2023 WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico. (Robert Prange/Getty Images)

The 2024 French Open starts on Sunday, with a match schedule that promises to wrap the short clay court season up in style.

Looking for her fourth title at the major is three-time Roland Garros champion and World No. 1 Iga Swiatek, considered the favorite to win the whole Slam. Three of her four major titles have come at the French tournament. 

Swiatek's career record at the French Open is a dominating 28-2, and she's currently on a 16-game winning streak fueled by victories at tune-up tournaments in Madrid and Rome.

But that doesn't mean she won't face some serious challengers along the way. Get to know some of the Polish tennis champ's strongest competitors.

Aryna Sabalenka

Sabalenka is ranked No. 2 in the world and faced Swiatek in the finals at both Madrid and Rome. She lost in three sets in Madrid, which included a close third-set tiebreak, before losing in straight sets at the Italian Open. 

She enters the French Open having won the Australian Open in January, successfully defending her title in the first Slam of the season. At last year’s French Open, Sabalenka reached the semifinals — a career best — before being ousted by Karolina Muchová in three sets.

Season record: 25-7

Coco Gauff

Currently sitting at No. 3 in the world, the highest-ranked American on the schedule is none other than Coco Gauff. Gauff won her first major at the US Open last year, and reached the semifinals of this year’s Australian Open. She faced Swiatek in the semifinals of the Italian Open last week, losing in straight sets. 

But her first major final came at the French Open in 2022, before being ousted by Swiatek in the quarterfinals at last year’s French Open. The two are on a crash course for a meeting before the finals, as Gauff anchors the other quadrant on Swiatek’s side of the draw, should they both advance deep into the competition.

Season record: 25-8

Chicago Sky Upset New York to End Liberty’s Unbeaten Streak

chicago sky's angel reese on the court against new york liberty
Angel Reese registered a near double-double against a strong Liberty side. (Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Liberty’s unbeaten streak came to an end on Thursday as Angel Reese and the Chicago Sky got the upset win over New York with a final score of 90-81. 

Angel Reese stood out with a near double-double, registering 13 points and nine rebounds. She’s currently the only rookie this season to exceed 10 points in her first three games, and the first player in Sky history to begin their career with three consecutive double-digit scoring games, per ESPN Stats & Info.

The outcome may not have come as a surprise to Liberty stars Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones, who sung Reese’s praises ahead of the game.

"She’s a workhorse," Stewart told The Post. "She doesn’t stop. She’s tough, she’s strong, she’s tough to box out and good at cleaning up for her team offensively and defensively."

"I feel like she’s an energizer bunny," Jones added. "She doesn’t stop moving, she doesn’t stop crashing the boards. Just someone that is gonna be relentless in her approach to getting to the glass and playing tough."

It was the first time Chicago has met New York this season. The game was especially meaningful for new Chicago head coach Teresa Weatherspoon, who led the Liberty for seven years as a player and joined the team's Ring of Honor in 2011.

"This place means a lot to me... I played in that jersey, I adored that jersey, I adored every player that I had an opportunity to play with. The love that I received even today was overwhelming," Weatherspoon reflected after the game.

Following the win, Sky guard Dana Evans had some kind words for her coach.

"I mean, it's just special. She's special," Evans said. "She just breeds confidence in each and every one of us. We love her. We just wanted to go so hard and play hard for her, and I feel like this one was really for her. We really wanted this for her more than anything."

Thursday's victory brings Chicago's record to 2-1, a somewhat unlikely feat given that their offseason featured starter Kahleah Copper getting traded to Phoenix. The Connecticut Sun are now the only undefeated team left in the league this season, and will formidable foes for the Sky as they take their winning streak on the road to Chicago this weekend.

New USWNT Coach Emma Hayes Embracing the Challenge

United States Women's Head Coach Emma Hayes
The ex-Chelsea skipper has officially arrived in the US — now it's time to get down to business. (USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Emma Hayes has officially begun her tenure as USWNT manager ahead of the team’s June friendlies.

Hayes made the rounds on Thursday, appearing on the Today Show and speaking with select media about her goals and underlying principles with the team. It’s a quick turnaround for the decorated coach, who just won the WSL with Chelsea last weekend.

One thing that she won’t do, however, is shy away from the high expectations that come with managing the US. The squad is looking to reinstate its winning reputation at the Paris Olympics this summer following a disappointing World Cup in 2023. 

"I know the challenge ahead of me. There is no denying there is a gap between the US and the rest of the world," she told ESPN. "We have to acknowledge that winning at the highest level isn't what it was 10 years ago. It's a completely different landscape. And my focus is going to be on getting the performances required to play at a high level against the very best nations in the world."

While Hayes was formally hired six months ago to lead the USWNT, her deal stipulated that she remain with Chelsea through the conclusion of their season. In her stead, Twila Kilgore has led the team, with the coach "drip feeding subliminal messages" to the roster on Hayes’s behalf.

"It's a bit ass-upwards," Hayes joked to reporters. "I know about the staff, and the team, and the structure behind it. We got all of that. Now it's time, I need to be with the team."

With Olympics now just two months away, Hayes dropped hints this week regarding her thought process behind building the roster, saying there’s still time for players to make their case.

"You can't go to an Olympics with a completely inexperienced squad. We need our experienced players, but getting that composition right, that's my job between now and June 16th," she said on the Today Show.

"What I can say from my time [in the US] is, I've always loved the attitude towards performance and the expectation to give everything you've got," she later affirmed to reporters.

And as for winning gold?

"I'm never gonna tell anyone to not dream about winning," she added. "But… we have to go step by step, and focus on all the little processes that need to happen so we can perform at our best level.

"I will give it absolutely everything I've got to make sure I uphold the traditions of this team."

Start your morning off right with Just Women’s Sports’ free, 5x-a-week newsletter.