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Five USWNT players who stood out at the SheBelieves Cup

Mallory Swanson is off to a career-best start in 2023. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

The USWNT won their fourth straight SheBelieves Cup this week, taking steps forward against three stellar opponents while continuing to test depth and increase sharpness as they build toward the 2023 World Cup in July.

The U.S. didn’t make it through any of their matches with perfect performances, but they showed a tenacity that they missed at times in 2022, especially during a three-game losing streak in October. Their bend-not-break defense allowed for magical moments on the other end of the pitch.

While there’s still work to be done after the SheBelieves Cup, the reigning World Champions got key performances out of a few players who are ready to shine on the biggest stage.

Mallory Swanson, forward

Swanson was named SheBelieves Cup MVP after the USWNT’s 2-1 win over Brazil, and for good reason. She became the tournament’s all-time leading scorer in 2023, as well as the first player ever to score at least one goal in all three games in the event’s history.

Known to USWNT fans as Mallory Pugh for years, Swanson is the kind of player that has always had the ability to create her own chances in front of goal. She has a sprint speed that doesn’t slow with the ball at her feet, and with every year, the 24-year-old shows a greater ability to drag defenders out of position and maneuver into good shooting positions.

Her on-ball work has always been an asset to her game, but the switch that has flipped in recent months is her ability to remain calm and clinically finish the chances she creates. Swanson was the first player to admit that she let some golden scoring chances go to waste in 2022, but she’s firing at an incredible rate so far in 2023.

Her goal against Japan provides an example of a player who’s ready to take advantage of a singular chance against a tricky opponent. In the run of play, she picked the ball out of the air, beat her defender on the dribble and calmly slotted the ball to the far post, past the keeper and into the back of the net. Swanson has hit another gear, and it’s happening at exactly the right time for the USWNT.

Alex Morgan, forward

It’s easy to laugh at it now, but there were legitimate questions when Morgan returned to the U.S. last summer about bridging the gap between the long-time veteran and new talent on the wing. Morgan was put in a tough position, rejoining the team relatively late into the year and getting used to the movements of Mallory Swanson and Sophia Smith with a very short runway before World Cup qualifying without Catarina Macario.

Morgan scored the lone goal in the Concacaf W final against Canada last summer and has only looked more comfortable since then. Her off-ball positioning proved essential during the SheBelieves Cup, adjusting her attacking vision while playing alongside the somewhat inexperienced Ashley Sanchez at attacking midfielder. Morgan’s hold-up play has always been excellent, but with speedy players on both sides of her, the 33-year-old has leaned into her ability to occupy central defenders and spring the U.S. wingers into space.

Morgan facilitated her teammates in the team’s first two SBC matches, but against Brazil she also brought the individual magic necessary to open the scoring. Morgan isn’t being asked to beat defenders with pace anymore, but that didn’t keep her off the scoresheet. Her first-half strike was classic Alex Morgan: She curled the ball from the top of the box with her left foot and set up the U.S. to win their fourth consecutive tournament title.

Lynn Williams, forward

For most of 2022, Williams slowly worked her way back to the USWNT after months of rehabbing a severe hamstring injury that required surgery. Her return against New Zealand in January was promising, but the SheBelieves Cup cemented why a lack of minutes last year probably won’t keep the Gotham forward off the plane to the World Cup.

Williams is a defensive mastermind from the forward position who can also create chances herself, as seen in her extended minutes against Japan and Brazil. Williams had to occupy Japan wingback Hina Sugita in order to provide defensive cover for Sofia Huerta to move the ball forward in the USWNT’s second game, which ultimately created the space that allowed Huerta to send the ball forward for the U.S.’s lone goal.

Against Brazil, Williams came off the bench to force a key turnover that led to Swanson’s game-winning goal. The 29-year-old creates offense out of defense, and does it better than almost anyone else on the roster.

Kristie Mewis, midfielder

Mewis’ role with the U.S. became clearer this week after she started as a holding midfielder in the team’s second game against Japan. Mewis has the ability to play a number of different midfield roles off the bench, but her rare starting role gave insight into why she’s also likely to make the trip to New Zealand in July.

Mewis plays a more connecting role for Gotham FC, pushing forward as the team attacks and creating dangerous chances on goal. Against Japan, she was similarly clinical in a more defensive role, working with Lindsey Horan to handle Japan’s tricky defensive pressing scheme and progress the ball.

The 31-year-old’s assignment with the U.S. likely means she’s never going to get the glory for a performance, but her versatility and calm head in an unfamiliar role showcase why she’s been a mainstay in camp for years and appears to be a lock for the World Cup.

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(Andrew Hancock/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Lindsey Horan, midfielder

Carrying heavy minutes this week, Horan didn’t always stand out for the U.S. in positive ways, struggling with turnovers in poor areas of the pitch against Japan and looking like she had lost her legs against Brazil. The sight of a fatigued player trying to do a little too much isn’t foreign to U.S. fans, who have seen Sam Mewis and Julie Ertz both pulled from the player pool in recent years after arguably being overused by their club and national teams.

Keeping Horan at her best this summer will be an ongoing project for head coach Vlatko Andonovski, who appears to consider her intrinsic to his tactical plans for the midfield. Shifting slightly from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1, the U.S. is at their best when their defensive midfielder isn’t left on an island, as seen in the USWNT’s smothering performance against Canada.

But the U.S. also wants to execute a strategic defensive press that requires a certain amount of mobility, and Horan hasn’t looked fully comfortable in recent months. Horan isn’t injured (though she has been dealing with a lingering knee injury) and she plays regularly for Olympique Lyon, but with a grueling schedule ahead of her, extra care behind the scenes might be necessary to make sure she’s ready to go in July.

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

Esme Morgan Signs With Washington Spirit

Esme Morgan of England inspects the pitch prior to the UEFA Women's EURO 2025 qualifying match between England and France
The England national will join the Spirit in DC on July 15th. (Naomi Baker - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

English defender Esme Morgan has signed with the Washington Spirit, the club announced Thursday. 

Morgan had been with WSL side Manchester City since 2017, with one year remaining on her contract. She’ll now make a move to the NWSL, with City receiving a fee for the move. 

"I wanted to join the Spirit because they have the ambition and tools to be the best team in the NWSL, and trying to achieve that will be a great but enjoyable challenge," Morgan said in a club statement.

"On an individual level too, the opportunity to work under Jonatan [Giráldez], one of the world's best coaches, is really exciting and I look forward to learning from him and pushing myself to become the best player I can be, hopefully helping the team to success."

According to ESPN, Morgan’s lack of playing time under City manager Gareth Taylor played a key role in her decision to leave the league championship runners-up. She’ll join the Spirit in Washington, DC on July 15th, but won’t be able to begin play until August. 

Spirit president Mark Krikorian called Morgan an "exceptional talent" and added that the club is "thrilled" to add her to the roster.

"I think she’s pretty talented," Giraldez told reporters on Friday. "A young player with a great future, but with experience already in a great league and with the national team. She’s been surrounded by great players and also great coaches, so she can give us experience."

Ledecky Goes for 4 at Olympic Swimming Trials

Swimmer katie ledecky swimming at Toyota US Open
Decorated swimmer Katie Ledecky is aiming to make her fourth-straight Olympic squad. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Swimming Trials begin this weekend, running from June 15th through June 23rd in Indianapolis, with Katie Ledecky eyeing her fourth-straight Summer Games.

While traditionally held in Omaha, Indiana's Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, has been fitted with a 50-meter pool to host the meet that will determine the 2024 Paris Olympics roster.

All eyes will be on seven-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky, who will be competing in the 200-meter, 400-meter, 800-meter, and 1500-meter freestyle — all events in which she’s been an Olympic champion. 

Rival Ariarne Titmus had her trials last week, breaking the world record in the 200-meter freestyle. Ledecky’s 200 is intended to qualify her for the Olympic relay. Meanwhile stateside, Katie Grimes stands to be a challenger in the 1500-meter freestyle has already qualified for the Paris Olympics in the 10km open water event.

Other competitors of note include 47-year-old Gabrielle Rose, who stands to become the oldest US Swimming Olympic qualifier in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke.

Additionally, Kate Douglass — an NCAA and World Champion — is a favorite to make her first Olympic team in the 200-meter IM and 200-meter breaststroke. Simone Manuel, an Olympic champion in the 100-meter freestyle, is also looking to make her third-straight Olympics.

Where to watch: The Trials will be streaming all week on Peacock, with later qualifying heats airing live on USA Network and event finals airing in primetime on NBC.

Orlando and Kansas City Shoot for 13 in NWSL Weekend Action

NWSL's T. Chawinga #6 of the Kansas City Current passes the ball during the first half of their game against the Utah Royals FC
The Kansas City Current hopes to extend its NWSL unbeaten streak to 13 with a win over Chicago. (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

The 13th match weekend is fast approaching in the NWSL, with two season-long unbeaten streaks on the line.

League-leaders Kansas City and Orlando will attempt to survive the weekend with their unbeaten runs intact, as the Current host Chicago on Friday and the Pride travel to North Carolina for Saturday's match.

But while Kansas City and Orlando have been the gold standard this year, they're still a number of wins away from tying Washington's record for longest unbeaten streak in a single NWSL season. In 2021, the Spirit went 20 games without a loss en route to the club's first NWSL championship.

Both Gotham and Louisville are carrying momentum into their matchup on Saturday. Louisville is unbeaten in three games, and they’re looking to finally leapfrog Chicago and claim sixth place in the league standings. Gotham, on a seven-game unbeaten run, is into fifth place.

Portland and Seattle will face off in the Cascadia Clash this weekend, with Golden Boot contender Sophia Smith absent, as the decorated forward was shown a red card last weekend for time-wasting on the bench.

The Reign could use a win against their long-time rivals, as a difficult start has 13th-place Seattle registering only two wins amid nine losses so far this season.

Elsewhere in the league, 2024 expansion teams Bay FC and Utah meet for the first time this weekend, as both look to rise from the bottom half of the standings. And Washington will ride a four-game winning streak into Saturday's game against a San Diego side that's earned two hard-fought draws in recent weeks.

Watch more: "Sophia Smith is INNOCENT!" on The Late Sub with Claire Watkins

WNBA All-Star Voting Starts on June 13th

Phoenix Mercury mascot Scorch waving a 2024 WNBA All-Star flag at a 2023 home game.
Phoenix Mercury will host the 20th-annual All-Star Game on July 20th, 2024. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Voting for the 2024 AT&T WNBA All-Star Game opened at 2 PM ET today and runs through June 29th.

All active WNBA players are eligible to make the All-Star Game, set for July 20th in Phoenix. Unlike previous formats that featured two voted-in All-Star squads, this year’s contest pits a single All-Star team against the already-decided Olympic-bound USA Women’s National Team.

Fans can submit a daily ballot nominating up to 10 athletes via WNBA.com or the WNBA App.

Fan-submitted ballots account for 50% of vote, with the other 50% split equally between current WNBA players and members of the media. The top 10 athletes will automatically make the All-Star Game, with league coaches then voting from a pool of the next 36 to complete Team WNBA’s 12-player roster. The final lineup will be announced on July 2nd.

This year's All-Star Game format presents an opportunity for fans to vote for players they might consider Olympic snubs. Indiana rookie Caitlin Clark and Dallas’s Arike Ogunbawole seem like shoo-ins given the discussion surrounding their Olympic omissions, while Connecticut stars Brionna Jones and DeWanna Bonner are also expected to snag All-Star nods.

And after a career-high 20-point, 10-rebound double-double in last night’s 83-75 loss to the Sun, Chicago rookie Angel Reese could also secure a spot.

Regardless, it won't necessarily be smooth sailing for Team USA, as history has tended to favor the underdog. 

The first USA vs. All-Stars matchup took place in 2021, with the league’s squad humbling the Tokyo Olympians 93-85. With 26 points, Ogunbawole was named All-Star Game MVP after barely missing the Olympic cut. Could she and Clark turn the tables on Team USA this year?

Watch more: "Were Caitlin Clark and Arike Ogunbowale snubbed?" by Expert Adjacent

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