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Four USWNT players who deserve more time at SheBelieves Cup

Adrianna Franch has not played in a USWNT game since 2021. (Ira L. Black – Corbis/Getty Images)

The SheBelieves Cup has two different purposes for the U.S. women’s national team: Prepare the core group for a round-robin format against top competition and continue to hone the team’s depth.

With top women’s soccer nations Brazil, Japan and Canada taking part in this year’s tournament, the balance between building confidence and evaluating talent will be as delicate as ever. With a middling finish to 2022, the U.S. could use a few wins to go into the World Cup with the confidence that they can come out on top against the world’s best.

With a few key roster decisions looming at certain positions, there are at least four players head coach Vlatko Andonovski should consider giving more playing time this tournament.

Adrianna Franch, goalkeeper

To give them both tournament experience and to keep competition fresh, all three U.S. goalkeepers should see time during the SheBelieves Cup. Franch has been called into three consecutive camps off the strength of an excellent NWSL season with Kansas City, but she has yet to see the field for the USWNT for the first time since 2021.

Franch is an excellent shot-stopper at the club level and went to the Tokyo Olympics as the team’s No. 2 goalkeeper, closing out the tournament for the U.S. after Alyssa Naeher suffered a knee injury. North Carolina’s Casey Murphy has moved into a more consistent role with the team after the Olympics, and Andonovski has given very little game time to the goalkeepers pushing for the third spot. I believe Franch has the ability to compete for more than the third goalkeeping spot and should get a chance to prove what she can do against top competition in 2023.

Taylor Kornieck, midfielder

Kornieck appears to have an inside lane to making the World Cup roster as defensive midfield depth and a set piece aerial specialist. The 24-year-old is getting up to speed quickly in a position she doesn’t regularly play. For her club team, the San Diego Wave, Kornieck usually plays in more of a connecting midfield role. If Andonovski is truly committed to having Kornieck prepared to step into an unfamiliar role in New Zealand, time against top competition will be crucial.

Kornieck seeing time as the No. 6 is also part of Andonovski’s plans to tweak the midfield structure since the U.S. lost three games in a row at the end of 2022 for the first time in almost 30 years. Kornieck as a defensive midfielder requires something closer to a double pivot 4-2-3-1 formation, where either Lindsey Horan or Rose Lavelle sits further back to provide defensive cover and help in distribution. Those roles are likely just as essential as whoever plays the No. 6 (Andi Sullivan is the preferred starter), and forging that midfield chemistry will be key during the SheBelieves Cup.

Sofia Huerta, defender

The USWNT defense hasn’t felt completely settled going into 2023, with outside backs coming in and out of camp due to injury and availability. Huerta played a lion’s share of the team’s right-back minutes in 2022, but her role could become even more nuanced as other players return.

Huerta is a converted winger who is one of the best crossers in the women’s game, with an attacker’s approach to her position on defense. When the U.S. midfield tries to draw their opponents in centrally by holding the ball, Huerta is there to receive passes out wide and send the ball in quickly to set up goal-scoring opportunities.

Huerta’s progression as a 1v1 defender has been a longer process, and with Crystal Dunn back in the mix at left back, Andonovski might choose to craft his starting XI with more tactical awareness in mind. He has opted for a defensive system with Dunn at left back and Emily Fox at right back while the team awaits the return of Kelley O’Hara from injury. Huerta has the ability to hurt any team on the counter-attack and can shine when tactical priorities are clear.

Alana Cook, defender

It’s impossible to know exactly where Cook sits on the current U.S. center-back depth chart. She played the most minutes of anyone on the USWNT in 2022, but she has rotated more with Becky Sauerbrunn and Naomi Girma since the U.S. defense struggled against top attacking teams late last year. Cook’s counterparts appear to be locks for the World Cup roster, with Sauerbrunn as the veteran presence and Girma the young natural at the position.

Cook herself frequently looks like a natural, but she isn’t immune to being a step too slow in reacting to dangerous moments, leading to goals conceded. She’s joined on the SheBelieves roster by Emily Sonnett, who has been used as a hybrid center back/outside back in the past. Tierna Davidson is likely one camp away from returning to game minutes.

The U.S. can’t bring Cook, Davidson and Sonnett to the World Cup, and these games are as much about working out defensive communication as they are about looking for individual moments of brilliance. Cook has earned Andonovski’s trust as a steady contributor and deserves a chance to solidify her place with the team this week with an all-around performance.

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

Argentina Women’s National Team Stars Quit Over Pay, Conditions Dispute

Julieta Cruz of Argentina controls the ball during the FIFA Women's World Cup
The team qualified for the 2023 Women's World Cup, but failed to make it through the group stage. (Ulrik Pedersen/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

Argentina women's national football team starting goalkeeper Laurina Oliveros, defender Julieta Cruz, and midfielder Lorena Benítez have officially left the team after a dispute over a lack of pay and conditions.

The news comes while the team is away at training camp during the FIFA international window. Argentina is scheduled to play two international friendlies at home against Costa Rica on May 31st and June 3rd — matches that Argentina's soccer association is refusing to pay its players for, according to Cruz and Benítez.

"We reached a point in which we are tired of the injustices, of not being valued, not being heard and, even worse, being humiliated," Cruz, a defender, wrote in an Instagram post published early this week. "We need improvements for Argentina's women's soccer national team, and I am not only talking about finances. I speak about training, having lunch, breakfast."

Argentina qualified for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, but failed to make it out of the group stage after losing to Italy and Sweden and drawing with South Africa. That stands in stark contrast to the men’s team, which won the 2022 FIFA World Cup behind star forward Lionel Messi. 

In her own Instagram post, Benítez alleged that players were provided only a ham and cheese sandwich and a banana as food during training camp, and that their families were being charged 5,000 pesos per ticket to see them compete against Costa Rica.

"And so millions of things we've been through, being FOOLED over and over again," Benítez added.

Goalkeeper Oliveros’s message was more concise than her teammates: "My wish for this year and the following? That generations to come may enjoy and be happy running behind the round, as perhaps at some point we were." 

Clark, Martin Square Off in First Pro WNBA Matchup

Kate Martin #20 of the Las Vegas Aces and Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever look on during the game
Things looked a little different Saturday night as the former Iowa teammates went head-to-head in Las Vegas. (Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa teammates Caitlin Clark and Kate Martin shared the court once again on Saturday, this time as professionals.

It was Martin’s Aces that got the 99-80 win over Clark’s Fever in Las Vegas. The pair's former coaches Lisa Bluder, Jan Jensen, Jenni Fitzgerald, and Raina Harmon were all in attendance to watch their Hawkeyes — Clark, Martin, and former national player of the year Megan Gustafson — take the court.

"It’s super special. It’s cool for our program, cool for Lisa, for Coach Jan, for all of them," Clark said in a pregame press conference. "They’ve known me since I’ve been 13 years old and now I’m 22 getting to live out my dream and they’ve been a huge part of that and helping me get here and helping Megan and Kate to get here too. It’s a great moment for them and I’m sure they’re not complaining about a trip to Vegas."

As for her college teammate, Clark had nothing but good things to say ahead of the showdown. 

"I’m just really happy for her and everything Coach [Becky] Hammon says about her is so true," she said. "Every person that played at Iowa and was around her knows that to be true. She’s the ultimate teammate, ultimate person, ultimate leader."

In the end, Martin stole the show with 12 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes, while Clark amassed eight points, seven assists, and five rebounds over 29 minutes of playing time. 

"It was weird," Martin admitted after the game. "I'm not going to lie — just looking out on the court and seeing her in a different jersey than me, it was obviously different. But it's really fun. We're both living out our dreams right now."

The Aces next meet the fever on July 2nd at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Barcelona Beat Lyon to Win Back-to-Back Champions League Titles

Barcelona's Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas celebrating after beating Lyon at the 2024 Champions League final
Ballon d'Or winners Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas helped Barcelona to a second-straight UWCL title on Saturday. (Ramsey Cardy - Sportsfile/UEFA via Getty Images)

Barcelona was crowned champion of the Champions League on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Lyon in Bilbao.

Alexia "La Reina" Putellas, who recently re-signed with Barcelona, came off the bench to score the team's second goal. Fellow Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmatí provided the team’s first. After the game, defender Lucy Bronze said Putellas was nicknamed "the queen" for a reason.

"Alexia is the captain of the team and she's the queen of Barcelona for a reason,"  defender Lucy Bronze told DAZN. "She's got the quality to do that in the last minute of the Champions League final when we were up against it at the end and it just sealed the win for us. It was amazing."

The victory marked Barcelona's first win over Lyon in a UWCL final, having previously gone up against the French side at both the 2019 and 2022 Champions League finals. It's also Barcelona's second Champions League title in a row.

"It's hard to win it once, but to do it back-to-back, Lyon showed how difficult it is and this team has finally done that," Bronze said. "I think we go down in history as one of the best teams in Europe."

This season, the team also secured a quadruple for the first time in club history, having already won Liga F, the Copa de la Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. The win ensures that coach Jonatan Giráldez — who has officially departed the team to join the NWSL's Washington Spirit — leaves Europe a champion.

"It was an incredible game. I am really happy, it's one of the best days of my life for sure," Giráldez told broadcaster DAZN after the game. "We did an amazing job. I am very proud of all of them."

Following the win, Putellas said her team "can't ask for anything else."

"Our objective was to win four out of four," the Spain international told reporters. "We have achieved everything we wanted. Every minute of sacrifice has been worth the effort — and I'd say that not after the game, but before, just entering in the stadium, with all the support we had here, it was worth it."

2024 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Aitana Bonmatí said that the crowd support made it "feel like Camp Nou."

"I am on cloud nine right now," she said. "It is an historic day which we will remember forever."

Sun’s Alyssa Thomas Ejected After Flagrant 2 on Sky Rookie Angel Reese

Angel Reese said there were "no hard feelings" stemming from Alyssa Thomas's flagrant foul. (Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Angel Reese might have gotten knocked down on Saturday, but she got right back up again. 

Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas was ejected from the Sun’s 86-82 win over Chicago following a flagrant foul 2 on Reese — the first of her career. While the two were battling for a rebound, Reese took a clothesline hold around the neck courtesy of Thomas before hitting the ground.

After the game, Reese told reporters that there were "no hard feelings" and she appreciated Thomas for playing her hard beneath the basket.

"I know she purposely probably didn’t do it towards me," Reese said. "But just being able to come out there and just be strong and stand on two feet, it was going to be a tough game and that’s what I’m built for. And my teammates had my back throughout the whole game. So I was prepared for it."

She also didn’t buy into the idea that it was a "Welcome to the WNBA" moment, but thanked Thomas "sending a message" because it helped her get back up and "keep pushing."

"It’s not just because I’m a rookie. I’m a player. I’m a basketball player. They don’t give a damn if I’m a rookie. I mean, I want them to come at me every day. I want them to come at everybody," she added. "I mean, they’re not supposed to be nice to me. I hope y’all know that. They’re not supposed to be nice to me or lay down because I’m Angel Reese or because I’m a rookie."

Reese finished the game with 13 points, five rebounds, and two assists over 33 minutes.

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