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USWNT starting lineup: Biggest roster battles after Concacaf group stage

Emily Fox, Lindsey Horan, Becky Sauerbrunn and Andi Sullivan look on during the match against Haiti as part of the Concacaf W Championship. (Jaime Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images)

The U.S. women’s national team exited the Concacaf W Championship group stage with a clean sheet through three victories but plenty of questions.

USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski used the team’s three group-stage matches in the World Cup qualifying tournament to maximize rotation and player looks. With the knockout stages ahead, roster speculation is running rampant, with certain players making their case while others still have more to prove.

The USWNT will take the pitch again at 7 p.m. ET Thursday for a semifinal match against Costa Rica.

Goalkeeper

The starting goalkeeper role appears to be up for grabs, with the race down to veteran Alyssa Naeher and up-and-comer Casey Murphy.

Murphy got the starting nod against Mexico after Naeher played in the USWNT’s Jamaica matchup, adding to speculation about who holds the USWNT’s starting goalkeeper position. Andonovski has said he wants to give Murphy experience — she also started the opener against Haiti — as the coaching staff is well aware of what Naeher can do.

The race for starting goalie will likely come down to Naeher’s experience and proven success at big tournaments versus Murphy’s upside and potential.

Defense

Andonovski has yet to settle on a core defensive unit, but certain players have made their cases for places in the starting lineup.

Emily Fox looks to have locked up her place as the starting left back. Though the Racing Louisville defender missed the team’s last group-stage matchup against Mexico due to COVID-19 protocol, Fox’s starting spot doesn’t appear to be in jeopardy. Andonovski has spoken about Fox’s impressive one-on-one defensive capabilities and ability to spark the USWNT’s attack from the flanks.

On the other side of the pitch, Kelley O’Hara and Sofia Huerta are the final two players in contention for the right-back role. Following the group stage’s trio of games, O’Hara seems to have upped her stock with a goal and a series of solid performances. Huerta, however, has shown her ability to make plays from the flanks, launching quality services into the box.

The center-back duo of Alana Cook and Becky Sauerbrunn looked to be Andonovski’s starting pick ahead of the Concacaf W Championship, but a breakout performance from Naomi Girma may have complicated that choice. The San Diego Wave defender hasn’t put a foot wrong this tournament, shutting down opponents’ attack while distributing quality balls up the pitch.

Midfield

The midfield is the area of the roster with the most questions. After Julie Ertz’s injury and maternity leave, the USWNT has struggled to fill the defensive midfield position. Andi Sullivan is the apparent heir to Ertz, but has yet to find her footing during Concacaf competition as she comes back after a season plagued by injury. Andonovski has toyed with playing Lindsey Horan and Kristie Mewis in the No. 6 position, but neither looks to be a natural fit, as both are attacking-minded players.

Sam Coffey, midfielder for the Portland Thorns, has been called into Concacaf after forward Ashley Hatch suffered a tournament-ending injury, perhaps acknowledging the lack of depth in the defensive midfield position.

Rose Lavelle and Ashley Sanchez have proved their ability to inject creativity into the USWNT’s attack, with the duo overloading and exposing opponents’ defenses when on the pitch together. Depending on the opponent, and their defensive lift, Sanchez may be able to sneak into the starting lineup in the future.

For now, however, Andonovski appears to be committed to a Sullivan, Lavelle and Horan midfield.

Attack

The USWNT’s attack is the deepest point on the team’s roster, but the starting lineup is essentially locked in. Andonovski has made it clear Sophia Smith and Mallory Pugh are his two starting wingers, while Alex Morgan has earned her No. 9 spot with a stellar season for club and country.

Hatch got quality minutes before exiting Concacaf early with an injury but failed to make her case as the starting No. 9, especially when put next to an in-form Morgan.

Margaret Purce has also dazzled in Mexico, perhaps solidifying her place as the second-in-line on the right flank. Trinity Rodman, the NWSL Rookie of the Year, hasn’t seen too many minutes in Mexico, making Megan Rapinoe the apparent relief winger on the left side of the pitch.

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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