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What USWNT players have said about 2023 World Cup struggles

(Erick W. Rasco/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

What went wrong for the U.S. women’s national team at the 2023 World Cup?

The shootout loss to Sweden in the Round of 16 marked the earliest ever World Cup exit for the USWNT. And the trouble started in the group stage, as the attack floundered against the Netherlands and Portugal.

Here’s what players have said about the USWNT’s struggles in the month since the World Cup elimination.

Lindsey Horan

The 29-year-old co-captain called out the lack of preparation for the tournament in Australia and New Zealand. While Horan did not mention head coach Vlatko Andonovski by name, she did share what she wants to ask his successor. (Andonovski resigned after the Round of 16 exit.)

“(How do you plan on) getting the best out of your team without overcomplicating everything? Because I could talk about the last four-year cycle, and we don’t need to get into every single thing, but that’s not what we did,” she said. “We did not get the best out of every single individual. I don’t think everyone was fully prepared.”

The starting midfielder pointed to the game against Sweden, which proved to be the best of the tournament for the USWNT despite the shootout loss. The improvements seen on the pitch in that contest came from the players themselves, according to Horan.

“The game against Sweden, I don’t think we were necessarily set up to play the way that we played,” she said. “That was just us, finally coming together and being like, this is what we’re gonna do. And then it worked. Then it’s like, ‘OK, keep doing it.’ Could that have happened earlier? Maybe. It’s a really tough one.”

Andi Sullivan

Like Horan, Sullivan started every single World Cup match. And she saw a “disconnect” between the preparation and the execution, she said after the tournament.

“I like Vlatko. He’s a good coach. And I felt we were prepared for the games, but there was clearly a disconnect between our preparation and then what actually was executed in the game,” Sullivan said. “That’s not good enough for the U.S. women’s national team. So you have got to make changes, and hopefully we can get things right before the Olympics.”

Ashley Sanchez

Several USWNT players, including Sanchez, pointed to a disconnect not in the overall strategy but in the communication of their roles on the team.

For example, Sanchez discussed her usage with Andonovski ahead of the tournament. The 24-year-old midfielder had played in all eight USWNT matches in 2023 leading into the World Cup, averaging 50 minutes per match. But she did not receive any playing time across the USWNT’s four matches in Australia and New Zealand.

“Let’s just say the role (I was told I would fill) was not what I played,” she told the Washington Post.

Lynn Williams

Williams entered the World Cup ready to channel her “inner Christen Press” and be a “super seven” sub, based on how Andonovski had described her role. But she did not play in the first two matches against Vietnam or the Netherlands.

“On some level, it’s devastating,” she said. “Because you’re like, everybody’s getting into the game, and I’m not getting into the game.”

The 30-year-old forward adjusted her expectations, and she did end up playing in the next two matches. She played 83 minutes as a starter in the group-stage finale against Portugal, then subbed on for the final 55 minutes against Sweden.

“I just had to remind myself again, like, it’s not about you, it’s about the team,” Williams said. “So whatever the decisions were made, just support that decision and make your teammates the best teammates you can possibly be.”

Still, the World Cup elimination stings.

“I just think we were too talented to have the outcome that we did,” she said on Just Women’s Sports‘ “Snacks” podcast.

Megan Rapinoe

As the 38-year-old forward prepares for her final USWNT appearance on Sept. 24, she took a broader view of how the USWNT needs to adjust in an interview with The Atlantic.

“From an overall federation perspective, it is worth at least a deep-dive look at our structure. We haven’t done that well in youth tournaments,” she said. “I think a more consistent style and a more consistent philosophy from the younger teams all the way up through the senior teams is necessary.”

Sophia Smith

One of many players who posted reflections on Instagram after tournament, the 23-year-old forward called herself “heartbroken” after the World Cup loss.

“Thank you to those who believed and supported us throughout the tournament, and most importantly to those who still do and never stopped,” Smith wrote. “It wouldn’t be life without moments like this, and I know without a doubt we will be back and hungrier than ever.”

Midge Purce

Purce missed out on the World Cup with a quad injury, but she followed her friends from afar. And while she understands their disappointment, and offered some criticism of the team’s World Cup tactics, she also expressed her optimism for the future of the USWNT.

“I think it’s so interesting the way we look at World Cups and big tournaments as if that tournament is the end of the movie, there’s nothing else to be seen,” Purce said on Just Women’s Sports‘ “The 91st” podcast. “This is a long journey. It’s a long story. These kids (are) probably gonna have three or four World Cups under their belt. And it’s the next one that I think everyone should be terrified for.

“They have a chip on their shoulder. They have broken hearts, they’re hurting. It’s hard and they’re good. They’re better than what they got. They’ve put out better performances individually than what they’ve received. … So I just think that there’s so much more to be excited for on the landscape of U.S women’s soccer. It’s going to be incredible.”

Alyssa Naeher’s goalkeeper jersey sells out in less than three hours

uwnt goalie alyssa naeher wears jersey on the field with club team chicago red stars
USWNT star keeper Alyssa Naeher's new replica NWSL jersey was an instant success. (Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in the NWSL's 12-year history, fans can now buy their own goalkeeper jerseys. And while replica goalkeeper jerseys representing all 14 NWSL teams hit the market on Wednesday, some didn't stick around for long. 

Fans across women's soccer have long vocalized their discontent over the position's lack of availability on social media, often comparing the shortcoming to the widespread availability of men’s goalkeeper jerseys. And as the NWSL has grown, so has demand — and not just from those in the stands. 

"To have goalkeeper kits available for fans in the women’s game as they have been for so long in the men’s game is not only a long-awaited move in the right direction, it’s just good business," said Washington Spirit goalie Aubrey Kingsbury in an team press release. "I can’t wait to see fans representing me, Barnie [Barnhart], and Lyza in the stands at Audi!"

Business does, in fact, appear to be booming. Alyssa Naeher’s Chicago Red Stars kit sold out less than three hours after the league's announcement. Jerseys for other keepers like DiDi Haračić, Abby Smith, Michelle Betos, Katelyn Rowland, and Bella Bixby aren’t currently available via the Official NWSL Shop, though blank goalkeeper jerseys can be customized through some individual team sites. Jerseys start at $110 each.

"This should be the benchmark," said Spirit Chief Operations Officer Theresa McDonnell. "The expectation is that all players’ jerseys are available to fans. Keepers are inspiring leaders and mentors with their own unique fan base who want to represent them... I can’t wait to see them all over the city."

Simone Biles talks Tokyo Olympics fallout in new interview

gymnast simone biles on a balance beam
Biles' candid interview shed light on the gymnast's internal struggle. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Decorated gymnast Simone Biles took to the popular Call Her Daddy podcast this week to open up about her experience at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, revealing she thought she was going to be "banned from America" for her performance.

After Biles botched her vault routine due to a bout of the "twisties," she withdrew from the team final as well as the all-around final in order to focus on her mental health. She later reentered the competition to win bronze in the individual balance beam final.

In her interview with podcast host Alex Cooper, Biles admitted to feeling like she let the entire country down by failing her vault attempt.

"As soon as I landed I was like 'Oh, America hates me. The world is going to hate me. I can only see what they’re saying on Twitter right now,'" she recalled thinking. "I was like, ‘Holy s---, what are they gonna say about me?'"

"I thought I was going to be banned from America," she continued. "That’s what they tell you: Don’t come back if not gold. Gold or bust. Don’t come back."

Widely regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time, Biles has hinted at a desire to join her third Olympic team in Paris, though her participation won't be confirmed until after the gymnastics trials in late June. She holds over 30 medals from the Olympic Games and World Artistic Gymnastics Championships combined, and if qualified, would be a sure favorite heading into this summer’s games.

Caitlin Clark reportedly nearing $20 million+ Nike deal

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever poses for a portrait at Gainbridge Fieldhouse during her introductory press conference
WNBA-bound Caitlin Clark is said to be closing in on a monumental NIke deal. (Photo by Matt Kryger/NBAE via Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark is reportedly close to cementing a hefty endorsement deal with Nike.

The Athletic was the first to break the news Wednesday evening, commenting that the deal would be worth "eight figures" and include her own signature shoe. On Thursday afternoon, the publication tweeted that the deal would top $20 million, according to lead NBA Insider Shams Charania. Both Under Armour and Adidas are said to have also made sizable offers to the college phenom and expected future WNBA star.

The new agreement comes after Clark's previous Nike partnership ended with the conclusion of the college basketball season. She was one of five NCAA athletes to sign an NIL deal with the brand back in October, 2022. 

Considering Clark's overwhelming popularity and Nike's deep pockets, the signing's purported value doesn't exactly come as a shock. New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu’s deal with the brand is reportedly worth $24 million, while NBA rookie and No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama’s deal is rumored to weigh in at $100 million. And in 2003, LeBron James famously earned $90 million off his own Nike deal. 

Clark’s star power continues to skyrocket, with the NCAA championship averaging 18.9 million viewers and the 2024 WNBA Draft more than doubling its previous viewership record. Following the draft, Fanatics stated that Clark's Indiana Fever jersey — which sold out within an hour — was the top seller for any draft night pick in the company’s history, with droves of unlucky fans now being forced to wait until August to get their hands on some official No. 22 gear.

In Wednesday's Indiana Fever introductory press conference, the unfailingly cool, calm, and collected Clark said that turning pro hasn’t made a huge impact on how she’s conducting her deals.

"If I’m being completely honest, I feel like it doesn’t change a ton from how I lived my life over the course of the last year," she said. "Sponsorships stay the same. The people around me, agents and whatnot, have been able to help me and guide me through the course of the last year. I don’t know if I would be in this moment if it wasn’t for a lot of them."

Star slugger Jocelyn Alo joins Athletes Unlimited AUX league

softball star jocelyn alo rounds the bases at an oklahoma sooners game
Former Oklahoma star Jocelyn Alo has signed with Athletes Unlimited. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Former Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo has signed on with Athletes Unlimited and will compete in the AU Pro Softball AUX this June.

The NCAA record holder in career home runs (122), total bases (761), and slugging percentage (.987), Alo was originally drafted by the league in 2022 but opted instead to join the newly debuted Women’s Professional Fastpitch

Alo currently plays for independent pro softball team Oklahoma City Spark, with team owner Tina Floyd reportedly on board with her recent AUX signing. AUX games are scheduled for June 10-25, while the Spark's season will kick off June 19th. Alo will play for both. 

Among those joining Alo on the AUX roster are former James Madison ace pitcher Odicci Alexander and former Wichita State standout middle infielder Sydney McKinney.

According to Alo, the decision to play in the Athletes Unlimited league was fueled by her desire to propel women's sports forward as well as provide more exposure to a sport that's given her "so many opportunities."

"Not only to challenge myself more, but just for the growth of the game," Alo said, explaining her reasoning to The Oklahoman. "I genuinely believe that professional softball can be a career for girls."

Joining AUX is also one more step in her plan toward representing Team USA at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

"I’m constantly thinking about how can I do these little things right in these four years to prepare me for the biggest stage of softball," she told The Oklahoman. "I definitely want to play in the Olympics, for sure."

Alo further expressed enthusiasm in the hope that the rise of other women’s sports, like women’s basketball and the NWSL, will push softball’s professional viability even higher.

"We’re seeing the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) get their stuff going, I see the WNBA starting to get hot," she continued. "I feel like the softball community is like, 'All right, it’s our turn and it’s our turn to just demand more.'"

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