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Midge Purce, Naomi Girma make World Cup cases: USWNT notes

Midge Purce got the start in the USWNT’s 1-0 win over Mexico on Monday. (Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images)

The U.S. women’s national soccer team closed out the group stage of the Concacaf W Championship with a 1-0 win over Mexico on Monday. Kristie Mewis scored the lone goal in the 89th minute to send the U.S. into the knockout round as the top team in Group A. On Thursday, they’ll face Costa Rica in the semifinals.

The match against Mexico wasn’t a must-win for the USWNT, which had already qualified for the 2023 FIFA World Cup and clinched a spot in the semis with a 3-0 win over Haiti and 5-0 defeat of Jamaica.

But for Mexico, the game mattered. Coming into Monday’s match in last place in Group A, they needed a win to have a chance at finishing third in their group and advancing to the 10-team intercontinental World Cup qualifying round. The odds weren’t in their favor in the last 17 minutes after Jacqueline Ovalle was issued a red card for cleating Rose Lavelle’s ankle and Mexico went a player down. Regardless, they found dangerous attacking opportunities that put the American defense to the test.

Canada and Jamaica will meet in the other semifinal, also on Thursday. Canada finished first in Group B with three wins over Costa Rica, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago.

All semifinalists have qualified for the World Cup. Now, the four teams will compete for the Concacaf trophy and a guaranteed spot in the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Can the USWNT finish the job? Here are our main takeaways from the group stage.

Naomi Girma and Midge Purce need to go to the World Cup

The USWNT has brought in a lot of new players this year, all of whom have impressed at one point or another and proven capable of contributing to a World Cup title. While players like Emily Fox and Alana Cook have consistently been on the pitch, two others haven’t got the start every time but have stood out when they’ve had the chance.

Naomi Girma has thrived at reading plays and delivering long balls into the attack, such as her precise, over-the-top assist to Sophia Smith in the July 7 match against Jamaica. Throughout the tournament, she’s also prevented teams from penetrating into the attacking third by reading and intercepting passes. On Monday against Mexico, she was tasked with shutting down one-v-ones and clearing balls out of the box. The center back duo has been one of the USWNT’s steadiest units at Concacaf so far, with Girma joined by Cook and Becky Sauerbrunn in a two-player rotation. They haven’t conceded a goal yet.

Forward Midge Purce started her first game of the tournament on Monday, and she didn’t let it go to waste. After scoring in the opener against Haiti, Purce tried for another against Mexico, but it rang off the post. She isn’t afraid to take players on one-v-one and she makes her presence felt end to end, most notably when she dribbled from the half to Mexico’s endline and sent a perfect low cross to the foot of Lindsey Horan in the box for a shot that the goalkeeper saved.

What has to be better

The USWNT, at times, has lacked creativity. Against Mexico, they passed back more often than usual, even when they had space in front of them to draw opponents in. Mexico’s physical defense was difficult to break down, but getting through low blocks isn’t a new problem for the U.S.

It became most troubling when Mexico went down a player to the red card and the USWNT still struggled to find the back of the net. Mexico often found themselves in the USWNT’s defensive third in the final 10 minutes.

There are likely a number of factors contributing to the USWNT’s difficulties up front, but the lineup rotations have been puzzling. At the beginning of Concacaf, head coach Vlatko Andonovski indicated that the starting lineup would remain similar throughout the tournament, but it has proceeded to change every game. With a roster as deep as the USWNT’s, it can be important to give multiple players a chance to warm up to the competitive environment, but constant changes can also have an adverse effect on chemistry. Rose Lavelle, one of the team’s most creative players in the midfield, was taken out of the starting XI Monday, at a time when they could have really used her.

Can the USWNT win Concacaf?

The USWNT squad in its current form is not ready to win a World Cup, as Andonovski said himself Monday night. They have a lot of work left to do when it comes to tactics, but the individual talent on the roster runs deep, and it’s enough to find a way to win Concacaf.

Costa Rica will load their backline like they did against Canada, and the U.S. might struggle with it on Thursday. But a few quick passes in the box worked for Canada. The U.S. is definitely capable of that, too.

If the USWNT ends up facing Canada in the finals on Monday, it will be their toughest competition yet. Canada has been practicing a defensive formation with two players in the six position, and they also have two of the best center backs in the world in Kadeisha Buchanan and Vanessa Gilles. The USWNT should consider starting the midfield trio of Lavelle, Andi Sullivan and Ashley Sanchez for maximum creativity on the ball to break through Canada’s Olympic gold-winning defense.

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.

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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