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‘A dream come true’: USWNT past and present celebrate historic CBA

Becky Sauerbrunn (Jesse Louie/Just Women’s Sports)

Making her 2022 NWSL debut wasn’t the only thing U.S. women’s national team defender Becky Sauerbrunn was celebrating on Wednesday. Just as she was ready to return to the field for the Portland Thorns following a two-month recovery from knee surgery, the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association (USWNTPA) and the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) announced a historic collective bargaining agreement Wednesday morning, guaranteeing equal pay for the men’s and women’s teams.

As USWNTPA president, Sauerbrunn has been an integral part of that journey, starting in 2016 when she and four teammates — Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo — filed a lawsuit against the USSF for gender inequity.

Now 36 years old, Sauerbrunn spent a lot of days wondering if an agreement would be reached while she was still playing.

“A lot of things had to come together and a lot of people had to work together,” Sauerbrunn said. “There were definitely days where I was wondering if it was going to happen sooner or later and luckily it happened sooner.”

The ratified CBAs, which will run through 2028, are the first in the world to include equal FIFA World Cup prize money for the men’s and women’s teams, long the sticking point in the USWNT players’ legal battle for equal pay. The teams will pool their respective bonuses from each World Cup and split it equally among them, a significant step considering how wide the gap in prize money is between the men’s and women’s tournaments.

The groundbreaking accomplishment would not have been possible without the former USWNT players who negotiated the first CBA, demanded better playing facilities and fought for gender equity throughout the last three decades. The fight started in 1995, when a group including Mia Hamm, Michelle Akers and Kristine Lilly sat out of Olympic training in protest of their pay.

“We wouldn’t be where we are today without all the generations of women’s national team players that came before that decided to fight for better everything,” Sauerbrunn saud. “So much credit needs to go to them, and I hope they feel pride in what they did because we wouldn’t be here without them.”

Orlando Pride coach Amanda Cromwell was training with the national team when players boycotted training camp in 1995. She was a young player fighting for her roster spot at the time.

Cromwell and Akers, now an assistant coach with the Pride, can fully appreciate the significance of Wednesday’s announcement, knowing where the group started 27 years ago. From the sideline of the Pride’s 2-1 win over the Courage on Wednesday night, Cromwell wore her “Equal Play” shirt, which she fortuitously brought with her to North Carolina without knowing the CBA would be announced while she was there.

“I love everything about it,” Cromwell said of the agreement. “It makes sense to have that kind of pay equity. It is a dream come true for all these players and the future of our sport is very bright, and I think we’re in good hands now with U.S. Soccer and the NWSL CBA. There’s a lot of positives happening in our country and around the world with our sport, and as a former national team player, I’m very thankful for that.”

USWNT and Gotham FC midfielder Midge Purce noted the non-economical parts of the agreement, like child care and safe work environments, as setting a standard for women in any workforce.

“I think it’s game-changing,” said U.S. national team defender Abby Dahlkemper. “It’s going to affect not only women’s soccer in the U.S., but throughout the whole world and will just continue to keep driving the standard and passing the torch down, and I think it’s exciting for the future generation.”

Part of that next generation is 21-year-old Sophia Smith, who has 15 caps and four goals so far with the USWNT and will get to reap the benefits of the CBA for years to come.

On Wednesday, she was filled with nothing but gratitude.

“I don’t think we can even begin to understand the hours that went into fighting for this, the players that came before us who have dedicated their lives to fighting for equal pay for not only themselves but for us and for the next generations that will benefit from it,” she said.

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

New Washington Spirit Head Coach Jonatan Giráldez Arrivin DC

head coach Jonatan Giráldez
Jonatan Giráldez joins the NWSL from FC Barcelona Femení. (Ramsey Cardy/UEFA via Getty Images)

Five months after announcing that the Washington Spirit had hired Barcelona Femení coach Jonatan Giráldez as the team's new head coach, Giráldez has joined the club in Washington, DC.

Giráldez is coming off of a successful season with the Spanish side, having won UEFA Women's Champions League, Copa de la Reina, Supercopa, and Liga F in his final season to complete a lauded Quadruple.

While Giráldez was finishing out his tenure in Europe, Adrián González filled in as Spirit interim head coach. González has also seen success, leading the team to its third-place standing with a 9-3-1 record through 13 games.

“I’m thrilled to join the Spirit and begin this next chapter with the club,” Giráldez said in an official team statement. “To be part of the vision Michele Kang has for the Spirit and women’s soccer globally is an exciting opportunity.”

Giráldez has worked at Barcelona since 2019, initially coming on as an assistant coach before moving up to head coach in 2021. The team went 30-0-0 on the season under Giráldez during his first year as manager.

He brings along with him Andrés González and Toni Gordo, who will serve as the Spirit's Fitness Coach and Club Analyst, respectively.

US Track & Field Olympic Trials Touch Down in Oregon

Sha’Carri Richardson competes in the women’s 200-meter preliminary round during the USATF Outdoor Championships
Sha’Carri Richardson will have some competition this week as athletes vie for an Olympic berth. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Track & Field Trials begin on June 21st, kicking off a 10-day quest to determine who will represent the US in Paris this summer.

The crucial meet will take place in Eugene, Oregon, where the top three finishers in each event will punch their ticket to the 2024 Olympics. As with this past week's US Swimming Trials, even the most decorated athletes must work to earn their spot — and one bad performance could undermine four years of preparation.

Reigning 100-meter World Champion Sha'Carri Richardson headlines this year's field, as the 24-year-old looks to qualify for her second Olympic Games and compete in her first. Richardson is a world champion in both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint, but missed the Tokyo Olympics due to testing positive for THC shortly after the last US Olympic Trials.

Other standouts include 400-meter Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who's currently the most decorated athlete in the active women's US Track & Field pool. McLaughlin-Levrone qualified to run in the 200-meter and 400-meter flat races alongside the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympic Trials, but opted to focus solely on her signature event.

800-meter specialist Athing Mu will also be a huge draw this week, as the Olympic gold medalist looks to shake off a lingering hamstring injury while pursuing her second Summer Games. Gold medal-winning pole vaulter Katie Moon will also attempt to qualify for her second-straight Olympic Games.

Ole Miss star McKenzie Long could be Richardson's greatest competition in the 100-meter and 200-meter events, as well as Richardson's Worlds teammate Gabby Thomas in the 200-meter. In field events, watch for Oregon senior Jaida Ross going head-to-head with reigning world champion Chase Jackson in the shot put, as both push for their first Olympic team berth.

Regardless of why you tune in, the US Olympic Trials are a perpetually thrilling and sometimes brutal qualification process. If you're able to make your way to the head of the pack, a shot at Olympic glory might just be waiting at the finish line.

Fans can catch live coverage throughout the Trials via NBC, USA, and Peacock.

Top Teams Square Off in NWSL Weekend Slate

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda
Orlando Pride, led by forward Barbra Banda, will take on Utah in this weekend's NWSL action. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As the NWSL season continues, a few top-performing clubs will have a chance to boost their standings this weekend.

First-place Kansas City will travel to Providence Park to take on fifth-place Portland, as the Current look to keep their unbeaten streak intact. And in New Jersey, third-place Washington will take on fourth-place Gotham FC, with both teams attempting to extend multi-game unbeaten streaks.

A six-point gap has opened between the fifth and sixth spot on the NWSL table — with just six points also separating the league's top five. Kansas City, Orlando, Washington, Gotham, and Portland have recently proven themselves to be a cut above the rest of the competition. With eight postseason spots up for grabs and half the season behind us, a pattern is forming that indicates the playoff race could come down to spots six through eight on the NWSL table.

Of those top five teams, only Orlando faces an opponent in the bottom half of the league this weekend: The Pride will take on 14th-place Utah, who nonetheless are coming off a win — just their second of the season — over Bay FC last weekend.

But despite Kansas City and Orlando having yet to lose a game, Gotham might be the squad coming into the weekend with the most momentum.

Clutch goals from Rose Lavelle and rookie Maycee Bell gave the Bats a 2-0 midweek win over San Diego on Wednesday, in a rematch of the 2024 Challenge Cup. Gotham's unbeaten streak dates all the way back to April, as rising availability and sharpened form have honed this year's superteam into a contender.

Bottom line? As the NWSL season passes the halfway mark, some matches might begin to feel more like playoff previews than mere regular season battles.

Chelsea Gray Returns From Injury in Aces Win Over Seattle

las vegas aces chelsea gray and kelsey plum celebrate a win over the seattle storm
Gray has been sidelined with a foot injury since the 2023 WNBA Finals. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Chelsea Gray made her return to the basketball court on Wednesday, helping the Aces to a 94-83 win over the Seattle Storm. 

The lauded point guard missed the first 12 games of the season, having been injured in last year’s WNBA Finals. The left foot injury caused her to miss Game 4 of the championship series, and she’s continued to rehab it through the beginning of the 2024 season. 

Her return on Wednesday was capitalized by the fact that she needed just 20 seconds to make an impact and record her first assist. While she finished with just one point, she had seven assists, four rebounds, and two blocks to go alongside it in 15:30 minutes. Gray's contributions on the night brought her career assist record up to 1,500.

"I probably went through every emotion leading up to today," Gray said after the game. "I was a little anxious all day. It's been a long time since I've been out on that court. But the fans were amazing from the time I came out to warm up to the time I checked in the game. It was a rush and a feeling I missed a lot."

It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far for Las Vegas, who have lost five of their last seven games. Gray, who averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in 2023, has proven herself a much-needed addition to the team’s lineup.

"Felt like my heart," Aces coach Becky Hammon said when asked how she felt hearing the crowd erupt for Gray's return. "She's the leader of our team. I thought she did a wonderful job too."

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