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Four players on USWNT roster bubble who impressed in last game

Alyssa Thompson played a full 90 minutes in the USWNT’s second friendly against Ireland. (John Todd/USSF/Getty Images).

ST. LOUIS — The U.S. closed out their final international break before naming the 2023 World Cup roster with a cagey 1-0 win over the Republic of Ireland on Tuesday, thanks to a lone goal from defender Alana Cook.

After the match, USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski said he used the game as an opportunity for individual evaluations, estimating he has 10-12 players vying for six to seven open roles. The team has decisions to make on the backline and in the midfield, while simultaneously getting used to life without star striker Mallory Swanson, who tore the patella tendon in her left knee on Saturday.

In Tuesday’s game, the USWNT looked like a team that still has several systemic issues to work out. But as players completed their final auditions for the trip to New Zealand with the reigning world champions, a few individuals stepped up and stood out.

Alyssa Thompson

Thompson earned her first USWNT start and 90-minute international match on Tuesday, joining the team last minute as a replacement for Swanson. Thompson’s feel for the game was apparent from the opening whistle, as her willingness to cover an extensive amount of ground on defense and tenacity in the attack kept opportunities alive.

The frontline of Thompson, Sophia Smith and Alex Morgan prioritized positional fluidity. The two wingers would switch sides based on the flow of the game and defensive assignments, and you would not have known from watching the first half that Thompson had not been in the team’s plans all along.

Tuesday was only Thompson’s third cap with the U.S., and while the Angel City forward can become more confident on the ball in the final third, the potential for the 18-year-old to become a real contributor at this summer’s World Cup was obvious. In what could be a sudden shift for the young striker, she could have proven she’s ready for the big stage sooner than expected.

“I feel like you have to stay ready so you don’t have to get ready, you know,” Thompson said after the game. “So I’ve just always been working hard and continuing in my pro environment, just continuing to develop.”

Tierna Davidson

Davidson returned to the U.S. this month for the first time in over a year, subbing on for Becky Sauerbrunn in the 29th minute. Despite the time she spent away from the team as she rehabbed an ACL injury suffered last March, Davidson showed what skills she brings to the U.S. backline when she’s available and healthy.

Davidson’s speed from a central position is underrated. The 24-year-old has the ability to drift into wide spaces to cover for the team’s very aggressive outside-back positioning without giving up too much of a gap behind the defensive midfield. She’s also one of the best in the U.S. player pool at long diagonal passing while the team is in possession. That made a difference as the USWNT tried to overcome Ireland’s compact, organized midfield and take advantage of their speed in the attack.

“I think it’s a tough challenge to play against blocks like that,” said Davidson’s center-back partner, Alana Cook. “Something that we looked at from last game is, can we kind of open them up with that longer ball? And having Tierna be able to hit it on one side and me be able to hit it on the other, I think it’s just so helpful.”

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Julie Ertz played in her first two USWNT games this week since 2021. (John Todd/USSF/Getty Images

Julie Ertz

In her second game since returning to the USWNT after two years away from the sport, Ertz understandably looked more fatigued. Ertz is a vocal presence on the field who instructs the players in front of her where to slot into spaces left open by the opposition’s defense, and attempts forward passes that diversify the U.S. attack when it becomes stagnant.

Ertz’s head is in the game and her presence seems to calm the players around her. The next step for the two-time world champion is regaining her defensive instincts and touch on the ball. Ireland intentionally made life difficult for the U.S. midfield over the course of two matches. They would overload the middle third to force mismatching player numbers and disrupt forward ball movement, which they’d then turn into quick switches in the other direction.

The 30-year-old midfielder could see those switches happening around her but was occasionally a step too slow to stop them. She trusts that type of quickness will come with time.

“I’m not messing around,” she said after the game, adding that she’ll likely finalize her NWSL club decision in the next few days. “​​I know where I want to be, and I know where the expectation is to be in order to be at my best just to be in the selection for the World Cup roster.”

Casey Krueger

Perhaps the most obvious auditions on Tuesday came at the outside-back position, where three different players got looks with a bit of positional shifting. Sofia Huerta began the match at right back, while Kelley O’Hara started on the left. O’Hara returned to the U.S. after a lingering hip injury kept her off the field for most of the latter half of 2022.

O’Hara looked locked in during the first half, but she was matched in intensity by Casey Krueger, who took over the role in the second half. Krueger returned to the team after giving birth to her son last July, and she and O’Hara each showcased a level of natural defending that the U.S. fullback position has missed in recent months.

Krueger looked both focused and fit, pushing the USWNT forward in attack while covering a lot of ground on defense. She forced Ireland into multiple mistakes, most notably drawing a yellow card as she turned toward goal in attacking transition late in the match. Krueger’s ability to slot in a line-breaking pass is underrated, sometimes even catching her teammates off guard in her first game back on the international stage.

Krueger and O’Hara could make the outside-back choices very difficult for Andonovski. As it stands, the head coach’s roster decisions on defense could be some of the most controversial of the World Cup cycle.

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

Barcelona to Face Lyon in Champions League Rematch This Weekend

UEFA Women's Champions League Final"Barcelona FC - Olympique Lyonnais"
Saturday's game will be the third UWCL final meeting for Barcelona and Lyon, having previously gone up against each other in 2019 and 2022. (ANP via Getty Images)

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off in Bilbao on Saturday, with a couple of familiar foes set to face off for the trophy.

Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, making its 11th final appearance since 2010, will go head to head with a Barcelona side making its fourth final appearance in a row.

This will be the third time these two teams meet in the UWCL title game, having previously appeared in the 2019 and 2022 finals. Lyon won both of those prior games against Barcelona, alongside a total of eight Champions League trophies. That’s double that of any other club, with Eintracht Frankfurt coming in a distant second with four. 

Should Barcelona win, this would be the team's third title — breaking a tie for the third in the UWCL total titles race. 

But as these teams return to the UWCL final, it also marks the end of an era for both clubs. The game will be the last for both club managers, as Barcelona’s Jonatan Giráldez and Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor depart for new jobs after the season's end.

Giráldez is set to leave for the NWSL's Washington Spirit, while Bompastor will take over for incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes at Chelsea. Both coaches have earned one UWCL trophy during their tenures, while Bompastor also brought two Champions League trophies to Lyon as a player. She was the first coach to win a UWCL trophy as both a coach and player.

This season, Barcelona is looking for its first quadruple, having won a fifth Liga F title alongside the Copa de La Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. 

"We hope he can go out with the four trophies because we know how competitive and ambitious he is," Barcelona midfielder Patri Guijarro told ESPN. "It has been a winning era with him in charge and for him to go out with all four trophies would be historic and incredible."

But Lyon's Damaris Egurrola is excited about her team's chances of overcoming Barcelona once again — and to do it in front of family and friends.

"Lyon have something special," she told Forbes ahead of the weekend's final. "We have a great team and we have the players with enough talent to win any match."

The game will be a homecoming for Egurrola, who began her professional career with Athletic Bilbao.

"I’ve been thinking of this day and night," she said. "I’ve been dreaming of playing this match. Having the opportunity to play in San Mames is amazing. This is where it all started for me."

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off Saturday, May 25th at 12 PM ET and is free to stream on DAZN.

World No. 1 Iga Swiatek Headlines a Stacked 2024 French Open

Iga Swiatek serves against Coco Gauff during the group stage of the 2023 WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico
Iga Swiatek serves against Coco Gauff during the group stage of the 2023 WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico. (Robert Prange/Getty Images)

The 2024 French Open starts on Sunday, with a match schedule that promises to wrap the short clay court season up in style.

Looking for her fourth title at the major is three-time Roland Garros champion and World No. 1 Iga Swiatek, considered the favorite to win the whole Slam. Three of her four major titles have come at the French tournament. 

Swiatek's career record at the French Open is a dominating 28-2, and she's currently on a 16-game winning streak fueled by victories at tune-up tournaments in Madrid and Rome.

But that doesn't mean she won't face some serious challengers along the way. Get to know some of the Polish tennis champ's strongest competitors.

Aryna Sabalenka

Sabalenka is ranked No. 2 in the world and faced Swiatek in the finals at both Madrid and Rome. She lost in three sets in Madrid, which included a close third-set tiebreak, before losing in straight sets at the Italian Open. 

She enters the French Open having won the Australian Open in January, successfully defending her title in the first Slam of the season. At last year’s French Open, Sabalenka reached the semifinals — a career best — before being ousted by Karolina Muchová in three sets.

Season record: 25-7

Coco Gauff

Currently sitting at No. 3 in the world, the highest-ranked American on the schedule is none other than Coco Gauff. Gauff won her first major at the US Open last year, and reached the semifinals of this year’s Australian Open. She faced Swiatek in the semifinals of the Italian Open last week, losing in straight sets. 

But her first major final came at the French Open in 2022, before being ousted by Swiatek in the quarterfinals at last year’s French Open. The two are on a crash course for a meeting before the finals, as Gauff anchors the other quadrant on Swiatek’s side of the draw, should they both advance deep into the competition.

Season record: 25-8

Chicago Sky Upset New York to End Liberty’s Unbeaten Streak

chicago sky's angel reese on the court against new york liberty
Angel Reese registered a near double-double against a strong Liberty side. (Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Liberty’s unbeaten streak came to an end on Thursday as Angel Reese and the Chicago Sky got the upset win over New York with a final score of 90-81. 

Angel Reese stood out with a near double-double, registering 13 points and nine rebounds. She’s currently the only rookie this season to exceed 10 points in her first three games, and the first player in Sky history to begin their career with three consecutive double-digit scoring games, per ESPN Stats & Info.

The outcome may not have come as a surprise to Liberty stars Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones, who sung Reese’s praises ahead of the game.

"She’s a workhorse," Stewart told The Post. "She doesn’t stop. She’s tough, she’s strong, she’s tough to box out and good at cleaning up for her team offensively and defensively."

"I feel like she’s an energizer bunny," Jones added. "She doesn’t stop moving, she doesn’t stop crashing the boards. Just someone that is gonna be relentless in her approach to getting to the glass and playing tough."

It was the first time Chicago has met New York this season. The game was especially meaningful for new Chicago head coach Teresa Weatherspoon, who led the Liberty for seven years as a player and joined the team's Ring of Honor in 2011.

"This place means a lot to me... I played in that jersey, I adored that jersey, I adored every player that I had an opportunity to play with. The love that I received even today was overwhelming," Weatherspoon reflected after the game.

Following the win, Sky guard Dana Evans had some kind words for her coach.

"I mean, it's just special. She's special," Evans said. "She just breeds confidence in each and every one of us. We love her. We just wanted to go so hard and play hard for her, and I feel like this one was really for her. We really wanted this for her more than anything."

Thursday's victory brings Chicago's record to 2-1, a somewhat unlikely feat given that their offseason featured starter Kahleah Copper getting traded to Phoenix. The Connecticut Sun are now the only undefeated team left in the league this season, and will formidable foes for the Sky as they take their winning streak on the road to Chicago this weekend.

New USWNT Coach Emma Hayes Embracing the Challenge

United States Women's Head Coach Emma Hayes
The ex-Chelsea skipper has officially arrived in the US — now it's time to get down to business. (USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Emma Hayes has officially begun her tenure as USWNT manager ahead of the team’s June friendlies.

Hayes made the rounds on Thursday, appearing on the Today Show and speaking with select media about her goals and underlying principles with the team. It’s a quick turnaround for the decorated coach, who just won the WSL with Chelsea last weekend.

One thing that she won’t do, however, is shy away from the high expectations that come with managing the US. The squad is looking to reinstate its winning reputation at the Paris Olympics this summer following a disappointing World Cup in 2023. 

"I know the challenge ahead of me. There is no denying there is a gap between the US and the rest of the world," she told ESPN. "We have to acknowledge that winning at the highest level isn't what it was 10 years ago. It's a completely different landscape. And my focus is going to be on getting the performances required to play at a high level against the very best nations in the world."

While Hayes was formally hired six months ago to lead the USWNT, her deal stipulated that she remain with Chelsea through the conclusion of their season. In her stead, Twila Kilgore has led the team, with the coach "drip feeding subliminal messages" to the roster on Hayes’s behalf.

"It's a bit ass-upwards," Hayes joked to reporters. "I know about the staff, and the team, and the structure behind it. We got all of that. Now it's time, I need to be with the team."

With Olympics now just two months away, Hayes dropped hints this week regarding her thought process behind building the roster, saying there’s still time for players to make their case.

"You can't go to an Olympics with a completely inexperienced squad. We need our experienced players, but getting that composition right, that's my job between now and June 16th," she said on the Today Show.

"What I can say from my time [in the US] is, I've always loved the attitude towards performance and the expectation to give everything you've got," she later affirmed to reporters.

And as for winning gold?

"I'm never gonna tell anyone to not dream about winning," she added. "But… we have to go step by step, and focus on all the little processes that need to happen so we can perform at our best level.

"I will give it absolutely everything I've got to make sure I uphold the traditions of this team."

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