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USWNT 2022 player grades: Andi Sullivan midfield question lingers

MONTERREY, MEXICO – JULY 14: Andi Sullivan of United States controls the ball during the semifinal between United States and Costa Rica as part of the 2022 Concacaf W Championship at Universitario Stadium on July 14, 2022 in Monterrey, Mexico. (Photo by Jaime Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images)

It’s the end of the calendar year for the U.S. women’s national team, with 2022 performances all wrapped up in a bow. Naturally, that also means it’s time for end-of-year report cards to evaluate how each player did in the run-up to the 2023 World Cup.

Again, a quick set of criteria: Despite the team’s first three-game losing streak in decades, the U.S. lost only three games total in 2022. A failing grade would indicate a player is wildly unprepared for the game at this level, which is not something we saw from the group playing the lion’s share of minutes this year. Likewise, an A+ indicates a player with all-star, team-on-their-back, best-in-the-world status.

Throughout this series, which will grade players by position, I’m going to avoid those who didn’t get minutes in 2022 and those who have missed significant time due to injury.

So far, we’ve graded the goalkeepers, outside backs and center-backs. Now, let’s take a look at the defensive midfield position.

Lindsey Horan – B+

Even your average USWNT fan will tell you that Lindsey Horan is not a No. 6, a fact that makes her 2022 all the more impressive. Horan carried extra responsibilities this year, stretching herself positionally and stepping into a leadership role in the midfield. At times, Horan sat deeper to assist in the defensive midfield while also connecting lines with the attack.

Horan is still one of the best players in the world when it comes to reading space and putting opposing defenses under pressure. Her grade comes from doing an admirable job with a difficult task. Horan does not typically play as the lone defensive midfielder: She’s had a No. 6 partner with Olympique Lyon and a No. 8 partner with Portland. For the U.S., she’s a little bit of both, and it can take her out of games at times. Still, she remains a locked-in starter for the foreseeable future, as long as her lingering knee issue doesn’t flare up at the wrong moment.

Andi Sullivan – B

Whether Sullivan is the answer for the USWNT’s pure defensive midfield position is one of the team’s biggest questions going into 2023. She took on heavy responsibility this year, trailing only Alana Cook and Sophia Smith in minutes. Grading Sullivan requires evaluating how the U.S. uses the defensive midfield role itself, as she would sometimes find herself taken out of the game in possession and struggling to know when to step defensively.

I don’t think Sullivan is the inherent issue, but rather the way she is deployed. Sullivan’s ceiling at the club level is in the A range, but it’s still unclear whether that excellence can carry over to the international stage. Instead of being asked to move the ball quickly in transition, if Sullivan can become part of the possession triangle with the two center-backs, she could be an infinitely more dangerous weapon.

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Sam Coffey made a splash at the club and international level in 2022. (Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Sam Coffey – B

A true rookie in a new position, Coffey has been slowly working her way into the USWNT system and hasn’t gotten enough experience to be clearly evaluated at the international level. Coffey had an excellent season with the 2022 NWSL champion Portland Thorns, but she played in only four international matches. Three of those matches were losses to England, Spain and Germany, during which she was a favored 60th-minute substitute. Neither Sullivan nor Coffey has the ability to solve the U.S. midfield on their own, and their like-for-like substitutions have disrupted the possibility of the two playing together in a double-pivot formation.

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Jaelin Howell has seemed to fall out of favor with the U.S. after a standout college career. (Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

Jaelin Howell – Incomplete

Coffey’s ascension appears to have put Howell’s development on the back-burner. The 2022 No. 2 draft pick failed to make her way back into USWNT camp late in the year despite multiple injuries. Howell had a Julie Ertz-like physical profile while playing for Florida State and needed to cover a large cross-section of space in her rookie season with Racing Louisville. Louisville’s on-field struggles seemed to have an adverse effect on Howell’s place on the U.S. depth chart. She has the style that seems to fit Vlatko Andonovski’s vision for the No. 6 position, but she has not had the chance to show she can execute it at the international level.

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

Caitlin Clark dunks on Michael Che in surprise SNL appearance

(Julia Hansen/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Caitlin Clark made a surprise appearance on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, which quickly went viral.

The Iowa star showed up on the show’s Weekend Update segment to playfully call out Michael Che’s history of making jabs at women’s sports.

It started when Che joked that Iowa should replace Clark’s retired No. 22 “with an apron.” 

When Clark entered, Che said that he was a fan. But Clark wasn’t convinced – especially not when co-host Colin Jost brought the receipts of Che’s jabs.

“Really, Michael? Because I heard that little apron joke you did,” she said, before making him read some jokes of her own in retaliation. Clark finished her segment by shouting out the WNBA greats that came before her. She then got in one final dig – bringing Che a signed apron as a souvenir. 

When Che promised to give it to his girlfriend, Clark delivered her last playful dig of the night.

“You don’t have a girlfriend, Michael,” she said.

Afterward, SNL castmember Bowen Yang told People that the 22-year-old and teammates Gabbie Marshall, Kate Martin and Jada Gyamfi – who joined her at Studio 8H – “were so cool.”

“She's so charming and witty,” Yang said. “They were just the most stunning, noble people.

“Athletes just have this air about them. They know they're amazing. I mean, these are people who have numeric attachments and values to their performance. That's something that comedians never have.”

Portland Thorns, in uncharted territory, start NWSL season winless

Portland has started the season winless through four games for the first time. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

The Portland Thorns continue to struggle to start the NWSL season, falling 2-0 to the North Carolina Courage over the weekend to remain winless through their first four games. 

It’s uncharted territory for Portland, who has never started the NWSL regular season without a win in four games before.

Following the loss, defender Becky Sauerbrunn voiced her frustrations with the start. 

“It’s hard to find a lot of encouraging things, but what I find encouraging is that people are frustrated,” she said. “People are pissed off that we’re not doing well. We care, and I think that’s really important.” 

She also added that while the team will reflect individually, “there’s going to be no finger pointing.”

“We’re going to look at ourselves and figure out what we should have done, or I should have done better,” she said. “There is a list of things that I could have done better, and I’m going to make sure I know every single thing and watch this game back.”

The Thorns currently sit at the bottom of the league table with just one point, having allowed 10 goals – tied for the worst in the league. They’ve yet to lead in a match. And as questions grow, attention turns to head coach Mike Norris. 

Norris is in his second year as head coach of the club after leading the team to a second-place finish in the regular season last year. When asked about the possibility of pressure growing after the unprecedented start, Norris said that the pressure has been there “from day one.”

“I cannot be driven by my day-to-day and the longer vision of the pressure of the job,” he said. “We’ve got a belief in how we want to play, how we operate. We’ve got to stick with the process of that. While we do it, we have to review and see what is working, what’s not working.

“I’ll be showing up for the team and being there for what they need from me as we approach getting back together as a group next week.”

Maria Sanchez reportedly requests trade from Houston Dash

Mar 23, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Dash forward Maria Sanchez (7) warms up before the match between Racing Louisville and Houston Dash at Shell Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Maria Sanchez, who signed one of the biggest deals in NWSL history just four months ago, has reportedly requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

ESPN was the first to report the news, which was confirmed by multiple sources.

In a statement to ESPN, the team said: “​​Maria Sanchez is under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the Dash worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. At the time, it was the largest contract in NWSL history – something that was eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

The winger was a restricted free agent in the offseason, meaning that Houston could match any offer from another team and retain her rights. Should the team trade Sanchez, her contract would remain as it has been signed with the league. That limits the number of teams that could take on her contract. 

In three starts with the Dash this season, Sanchez has zero goals and an assist. The Dash are 1-2-1 through four games and have allowed a league-worst 10 goals.

The team hired a new coach, Fran Alonso, in December. Earlier this year, former goalkeeper coach Matt Lampson was fired for violating the league’s Coach Code of Conduct and Anti-Fraternization policy. 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close at midnight ET on Friday.

Canada beats U.S. Hockey 6-5 in thrilling World Championship win

UTICA, NEW YORK - APRIL 14: Team Canada raises the Championship Trophy after winning The Gold by defeating The United States in OT during the 2024 IIHF Women's World Championship Gold Medal game at Adirondack Bank Center on April 14, 2024 in Utica, New York. (Photo by Troy Parla/Getty Images)

Canada got its revenge on Sunday, winning the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship and taking down the U.S. in a 6-5 overtime classic.

Marie-Philip Poulin, a longtime star for Canada, got her first two goals of the tournament, while Danielle Serdachny had the game-winner. 

"I hate to say you're not trying to rely on it, expect it, but I know I've grown to expect it," Canada coach Troy Ryan said of Philip-Poulin. "Tonight was just a whole other level. I could see in her eyes every time we called her name that she was ready to go. It's just special."

The win came after Canada lost 1-0 to the U.S. in the group stage of the tournament. On Sunday, the two teams met for the 22nd time in 23 tournaments in the gold medal game – and the action between the two teams delivered. 

Among those scoring for the U.S. were Megan Keller, Alex Carpenter, Hilary Knight, Laila Edwards and Caroline Harvey. Julia Gosling, Emily Clark and Erin Ambrose had the other three goals for Canada, giving them their 13th World title after falling to the U.S. in last year’s title game in Toronto. 

This year’s game was held in New York, and it was the second-highest scoring final between the two teams. The U.S. won a world championship 7-5 in 2015. 

"Oh man, that feels good to win it on U.S. soil," Canada goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens said after the game. "We owed it to them and owed it to ourselves to win that one."

Canada also denied Knight a record 10th World Championship win, although she did become the most decorated player in women’s world championship history with 14 medals. After the game, Poulin gave Knight a hug on the ice. 

"We just said 'that was unbelievable,'" Poulin said.

U.S. coach John Wroblewski echoed the sentiment that it was an outstanding game after being asked about ending the game on a power-play after leaving too many players on the ice. 

"Instead of talking about the isolated events of tonight's game, I think that normally that's an interesting storyline,” he said. “But I think the entity of an amazing 6-5 game is an amazing hockey game that took place."

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