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USWNT tracker: How World Cup hopefuls fared in NWSL openers

Trinity Rodman carried the ball all the way from midfield to score the game-winning goal for the Spirit on Sunday. (Amber Searls/USA TODAY Sports)

The NWSL kicked off its 10th regular season over the weekend, with a renewed emphasis on league serving as a testing ground for players looking to impress in the months ahead of the 2023 World Cup.

Not surprisingly, there were several notable moments for players both in the USWNT core and on the cusp of the roster, as the pressure to perform only increases from here.

Goals, Goals, Goals

The USWNT attacking player pool got off to a hot start for their respective club teams, having used the January and February camps to hone sharpness before league kickoff.

Out of 14 goals scored across six NWSL matches, current USWNT prospects scored seven of them: Mallory Swanson, Alex Morgan, Trinity Rodman, Sophia Smith, Lynn Williams, Alyssa Thompson and Midge Purce.

Rodman showcased her ability on the ball while scoring the game-winner against OL Reign. Picking the ball up near midfield off of a throw-in in the 54th minute, Rodman dribbled into space in front of the Reign penalty area and slotted the ball into the back of the net from the top of the box to give Washington a 1-0 win.

Reigning NWSL MVP Smith became the first NWSL player to score in three consecutive season openers, notching an early goal in Portland’s 4-0 rout of the Orlando Pride. After Canada captain Christine Sinclair got to the endline against the Pride defense, Smith made a smart, delayed run into Orlando’s penalty area. Left all alone, Smith received the ball and roofed it to double Portland’s scoreline in the 22nd minute. The 22-year-old also recorded an assist in the win.

Thompson and Williams swapped open-play goals in Angel City’s home opener against Gotham FC. Thompson got on the board first, putting the Los Angeles club up 1-0 just 11 minutes into her professional career. The 18-year-old’s speed and clinical finishing belie her inexperience at the professional level, where she looked immediately comfortable and poised for a call-back to USWNT camp.

Williams then delivered a perfectly timed, in-seam shot into the far post to give Gotham the 2-1 win. Returning to the NWSL after a hamstring injury kept her out for the entirety of the 2022 regular season, Williams again had some bad injury luck. The forward fell awkwardly on her elbow early, requiring a splint for the rest of the game, though she laughed off the injury afterward, saying “It’s an arm. I need my legs to play soccer.”

Swanson, Morgan and Purce’s tallies came from well-taken penalties, though all three players were also active in influencing the play outside of the scoresheet. Purce also registered a savvy assist on Williams’ game-winner. On the other end, USWNT No. 1 goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher made an error tipping the ball over the bar in Chicago’s 3-2 loss to San Diego, allowing for a Wave equalizer.

Midfield madness

The USWNT’s strength in the attack showed up in full force, but question marks in the midfield weren’t particularly cleared up by NWSL play this weekend. Taylor Kornieck played just one half for San Diego as a deep-lying attacking option behind Morgan, though she was effective in turning play in the Wave’s favor on the way to a late 3-2 win Saturday.

Crystal Dunn played 62 minutes in the Thorns’ midfield, the most since her return from pregnancy, as Portland completely dominated the middle third of the pitch against the Pride. Dunn’s growing midfield role for Portland provides a sharp contrast to her use as an outside back for the USWNT, as does the steady work Sam Coffey, who still sits on the USWNT bubble at defensive midfielder.

The biggest midfield head-scratcher came from OL Reign, who slotted longtime USWNT utility defender Emily Sonnett into the defensive midfield in place of Canada international (and usual starter) Quinn. Sonnett has traditionally played center back in the NWSL, most recently with the Washington Spirit. On Sunday, the 29-year-old looked uncomfortable in her positioning and distributive responsibilities as the Reign failed to find the back of the net. The defensive breakdown that led to Rodman’s game-winning goal allowed excess space in the middle of the pitch, turning what is usually a Reign strength into a moment of weakness.

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Gotham FC's Kelley O'Hara defends Angel City's Alyssa Thompson in their club team debuts. (Kiyoshi Mio/USA TODAY Sports)

Early season fitness watch

This weekend brought both welcome returns and knocks to watch. Red Stars defender Casey Krueger made a short-lived return to the pitch after the birth of her son on Saturday, leaving the match in the 13th minute with what appeared to be a neck injury. After the match, head coach Chris Petrucelli said the team thinks she “will be fine,” with a possible return to April USWNT camp on the horizon.

Krueger’s Chicago teammate, Tierna Davidson, also made a long-awaited return to the club’s defense, getting 82 minutes in her first start back from the Challenge Cup ACL tear that sidelined her for most of 2022.

Kelley O’Hara played the first half for Gotham FC, her new club team, after missing the second half of the 2022 season with a lingering hip injury. Megan Rapinoe did not play for the Reign, listed on the injury report as out with a calf injury. Rapinoe has been in and out with the U.S. in recent months as she recovers from injuries, and with other players beginning to peak in the attack, her ongoing fitness is worth keeping an eye on heading into the summer months.

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

Clark, Martin Square Off in First Pro WNBA Matchup

Kate Martin #20 of the Las Vegas Aces and Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever look on during the game
Things looked a little different Saturday night as the former Iowa teammates went head-to-head in Las Vegas. (Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa teammates Caitlin Clark and Kate Martin shared the court once again on Saturday, this time as professionals.

It was Martin’s Aces that got the 99-80 win over Clark’s Fever in Las Vegas. The pair's former coaches Lisa Bluder, Jan Jensen, Jenni Fitzgerald, and Raina Harmon were all in attendance to watch their Hawkeyes — Clark, Martin, and former national player of the year Megan Gustafson — take the court.

"It’s super special. It’s cool for our program, cool for Lisa, for Coach Jan, for all of them," Clark said in a pregame press conference. "They’ve known me since I’ve been 13 years old and now I’m 22 getting to live out my dream and they’ve been a huge part of that and helping me get here and helping Megan and Kate to get here too. It’s a great moment for them and I’m sure they’re not complaining about a trip to Vegas."

As for her college teammate, Clark had nothing but good things to say ahead of the showdown. 

"I’m just really happy for her and everything Coach [Becky] Hammon says about her is so true," she said. "Every person that played at Iowa and was around her knows that to be true. She’s the ultimate teammate, ultimate person, ultimate leader."

In the end, Martin stole the show with 12 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes, while Clark amassed eight points, seven assists, and five rebounds over 29 minutes of playing time. 

"It was weird," Martin admitted after the game. "I'm not going to lie — just looking out on the court and seeing her in a different jersey than me, it was obviously different. But it's really fun. We're both living out our dreams right now."

The Aces next meet the fever on July 2nd at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Barcelona Beat Lyon to Win Back-to-Back Champions League Titles

Barcelona's Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas celebrating after beating Lyon at the 2024 Champions League final
Ballon d'Or winners Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas helped Barcelona to a second-straight UWCL title on Saturday. (Ramsey Cardy - Sportsfile/UEFA via Getty Images)

Barcelona was crowned champion of the Champions League on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Lyon in Bilbao.

Alexia "La Reina" Putellas, who recently re-signed with Barcelona, came off the bench to score the team's second goal. Fellow Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmatí provided the team’s first. After the game, defender Lucy Bronze said Putellas was nicknamed "the queen" for a reason.

"Alexia is the captain of the team and she's the queen of Barcelona for a reason,"  defender Lucy Bronze told DAZN. "She's got the quality to do that in the last minute of the Champions League final when we were up against it at the end and it just sealed the win for us. It was amazing."

The victory marked Barcelona's first win over Lyon in a UWCL final, having previously gone up against the French side at both the 2019 and 2022 Champions League finals. It's also Barcelona's second Champions League title in a row.

"It's hard to win it once, but to do it back-to-back, Lyon showed how difficult it is and this team has finally done that," Bronze said. "I think we go down in history as one of the best teams in Europe."

This season, the team also secured a quadruple for the first time in club history, having already won Liga F, the Copa de la Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. The win ensures that coach Jonatan Giráldez — who has officially departed the team to join the NWSL's Washington Spirit — leaves Europe a champion.

"It was an incredible game. I am really happy, it's one of the best days of my life for sure," Giráldez told broadcaster DAZN after the game. "We did an amazing job. I am very proud of all of them."

Following the win, Putellas said her team "can't ask for anything else."

"Our objective was to win four out of four," the Spain international told reporters. "We have achieved everything we wanted. Every minute of sacrifice has been worth the effort — and I'd say that not after the game, but before, just entering in the stadium, with all the support we had here, it was worth it."

2024 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Aitana Bonmatí said that the crowd support made it "feel like Camp Nou."

"I am on cloud nine right now," she said. "It is an historic day which we will remember forever."

Sun’s Alyssa Thomas Ejected After Flagrant 2 on Sky Rookie Angel Reese

Angel Reese said there were "no hard feelings" stemming from Alyssa Thomas's flagrant foul. (Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Angel Reese might have gotten knocked down on Saturday, but she got right back up again. 

Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas was ejected from the Sun’s 86-82 win over Chicago following a flagrant foul 2 on Reese — the first of her career. While the two were battling for a rebound, Reese took a clothesline hold around the neck courtesy of Thomas before hitting the ground.

After the game, Reese told reporters that there were "no hard feelings" and she appreciated Thomas for playing her hard beneath the basket.

"I know she purposely probably didn’t do it towards me," Reese said. "But just being able to come out there and just be strong and stand on two feet, it was going to be a tough game and that’s what I’m built for. And my teammates had my back throughout the whole game. So I was prepared for it."

She also didn’t buy into the idea that it was a "Welcome to the WNBA" moment, but thanked Thomas "sending a message" because it helped her get back up and "keep pushing."

"It’s not just because I’m a rookie. I’m a player. I’m a basketball player. They don’t give a damn if I’m a rookie. I mean, I want them to come at me every day. I want them to come at everybody," she added. "I mean, they’re not supposed to be nice to me. I hope y’all know that. They’re not supposed to be nice to me or lay down because I’m Angel Reese or because I’m a rookie."

Reese finished the game with 13 points, five rebounds, and two assists over 33 minutes.

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.

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