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How the USWNT should approach Emma Hayes’ delayed start

Emma Hayes will collaborate with USWNT interim coach Twila Kilgore from afar until May. (Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

When the U.S. women’s national team announced their December roster this week, the last camp of the calendar year clearly marked a season of change. Former manager Vlatko Andonovski is long gone, his successor has been named, and a fresh group of players will have a chance to prove themselves before the work of 2024 begins.

Still, the process used for the most recent roster selection, and what comes next, is open for debate. The USWNT is still reeling from an uncharacteristic World Cup, in which the team won just one match before being eliminated in the Round of 16 at the hands of Sweden. The result warranted a shift change in direction, but the reality of the USWNT’s current position might require more incremental change.

The team’s upcoming friendlies against China PR are technically the first under new manager Emma Hayes, but the team will be managed by committee for the next six months. Interim manager Twila Kilgore will guide the squad through the 2024 Gold Cup, and Hayes will step in full-time in May, with four games remaining until the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The bottom line is that this schedule is necessary for the U.S. to land Hayes, U.S. Soccer’s preferred candidate by a mile. Hayes has an understanding of the U.S. development system and an impressive managerial resume with Chelsea FC that includes both season-long and Cup trophies. She has communicated bold opinions about larger systemic issues that have eroded the USWNT’s dominance on the world stage, and her ability to scout and develop players at the club level has few rivals.

“What became apparent was that the best candidate in this process wasn’t available right [away],” U.S. Soccer technical director Matt Crocker told the media this week. “But just seeing Twila evolve and develop into and show her leadership qualities, I became really confident that we could manage and have an interim plan that could ensure that we could have our cake and eat it.”

While U.S. Soccer is confident in the team’s long-term future, the current plan requires a tightrope walk on a short timeline. The USWNT’s 2023 World Cup performance has left the team bracing for transition both in personnel and in tactical approach, with some tough choices to make before the Olympic roster is set. Crocker has said he wants the U.S. to become a more possession-based team with the flexibility to handle different types of opponents. He has also acknowledged that, for Hayes to oversee those changes, the USWNT might have to de-prioritize Olympic gold.

“We can start to implement some of those changes both on the pitch and off the pitch that we want to see the team become in the future,” he said this week. “And it will be an evolving process that starts now, and you can see that from the roster that’s been picked.”

Kilgore told reporters on Monday that she created the provisional roster for this international break, and that list was sent to Hayes. The two coaches then consulted one another on the final 26-player list. Kilgore has been very cognizant of the job in front of her, first as a coach on staff for Andonovski’s tenure and now as the person who will be relied upon to make day-to-day decisions until Hayes arrives.

“I think it’s important to remember that nobody’s ever irreplaceable,” Kilgore said, “And the fact that Matt and Emma trust me to help move the team forward in the interim is really empowering.”

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Twila Kilgore has earned the respect of USWNT players in her time as interim coach. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Kilgore has earned the opportunity to oversee the USWNT’s next phase, with players across the board responding positively to her stewardship of the team. But her handling of the two international windows prior to Hayes’ hiring also produced lingering questions.

Kilgore walked into a difficult situation, having to absorb a team coming off their worst-ever World Cup result after the resignation of their coach of the last four years. She clearly took a soft touch in the aftermath, building on a tactically conservative Round of 16 performance that produced more flashes of strong play than in the group stage. The U.S. also got a chance to say goodbye to two beloved teammates in Julie Ertz and Megan Rapinoe, a task that can distract even the most focused players, especially after an emotional tournament exit.

But then in the following international break, Kilgore fell into a common pitfall as a manager. Rather than taking the emotional boost from September to introduce a greater fluidity in the USWNT’s style of play, she continued with the hyper-pragmatic approach. She stuck very closely to the team’s World Cup starting lineups without a huge step forward from that group, leaving the last four friendlies feeling unsatisfactory for many.

Kilgore had said in September that she didn’t put too much weight into the team’s current 4-2-3-1 formation, intending for things to not be as stringent as in the last year of Andonovski’s tenure.

“Formation sometimes, it’s just five yards here or five yards there,” she said at the time. But the U.S. continued to struggle to score against Colombia in October, going three consecutive halves without a goal as players looked just as cautious in their positioning as ever.

An infusion of fresh talent assuaged some of the tactical issues, with San Diego Wave standout Jaedyn Shaw and new Chelsea signing Mia Fishel scoring and looking like exciting options for the future in the team’s attack. But the USWNT left October with many of the same questions that have plagued them since their World Cup disappointment.

December will provide another opportunity to dig into the USWNT’s current issues and look for their solutions. Many veterans were left off the roster, allowing experienced players to regain their legs and manage burnout after a taxing year while giving opportunities to newer faces that can provide different strengths. Who will be invited back into the fold in the new year remains to be seen, but it’s clear that whoever is in camp needs to be given a fresh influx of ideas both in and out of possession.

“I’m most excited to talk more football, and to continue to listen and learn about how [Hayes] wants us to play,” Kilgore said this week. “And those are all things that will happen more and more in the future when she’s not as tied to Chelsea.”

Hayes’ Chelsea commitments aren’t going anywhere in the short term, and the USWNT seen in December will be as much Kilgore’s as their new long-term manager’s. With more work to be done to become competitive again against the world’s best, the USWNT now begins the difficult balance of maintaining confidence in the current group while being open to growing pains. Kilgore’s ability to keep a steady hand on the wheel could make all the difference in 2024.

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

Caitlin Clark stuns 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 and shouting out the WNBA greats that came before her. She then got in one final dig – bringing him a signed apron as a souvenir. 

When Che promised to give it to his girlfriend, Clark delivered her best line 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 start NWSL season winless, in uncharted territory

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 season, falling 2-0 to the North Carolina Courage and remaining winless through its 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, answers need to be had from 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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