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USWNT roster: Future of USWNT bench players after World Cup

USWNT midfielder Ashley Sanchez has said her World Cup role didn’t necessarily match her expectations. (John Todd/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

The U.S. women’s national team is abruptly moving into a new cycle, as it tries to shrug off a disappointing World Cup campaign and bounce back at the 2024 Olympic Games. The team has yet to name an official successor to head coach Vlatko Andonovski, and all assumptions about the USWNT player pool are off while the team resets.

A number of players on the World Cup roster this summer didn’t get the opportunities they perhaps deserved, but that doesn’t mean the future isn’t still bright for the four-time World Cup champions. So, what comes next for the USWNT’s bench players?

Let’s take a look at how they are currently contributing to their club teams, and why they’re still in the mix for permanent USWNT roster spots.

Ashley Sanchez, M, Washington Spirit

Sanchez explained to the media upon her World Cup return that she was a bit surprised by her role at the tournament. “Let’s just say the role [I was told I would fill] was not what I played,” she told the Washington Post after returning to the Spirit.

Sanchez is a player who can exploit space as both an attacker and a playmaker and isn’t afraid to take shots on goal. She made that clear with a ripper of a goal just 40 seconds into her first game back with Washington. Under Andonovski, Sanchez was frequently asked to sit on the backline of the USWNT’s opponent and as an additional attacker rather than a traditional midfielder. The finishing pressures placed on the player in that role have never suited Sanchez, who thrives when she has the freedom to collaborate with teammates like Trinity Rodman. As the U.S. works out its midfield shape, allowing Sanchez to create her own space will be paramount.

Alana Cook, D, OL Reign

Cook had one of the USWNT’s strangest World Cup experiences. After carrying the most minutes of any U.S. field player in 2022, she never saw the field at the World Cup, abruptly dropped in place of Julie Ertz at center-back. She’s since returned to a starting role at OL Reign, as she further develops her club partnership with Sam Hiatt.

Cook is a talented player who has struggled with the timing of the game at the international level. The Reign are currently battling for NWSL playoff position, sitting just above the playoff line and five points away from the top of the league table. The team is also on a two-game regular season losing streak heading into September, with an urgency to shore up their formation in defensive transition. Cook is now in the difficult position of needing to step up for her team at home without having gained the playing experience of a World Cup.

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Alyssa Thompson was the youngest player on the U.S. World Cup team at 18 years old. (Brad Smith/USSF/Getty Images)

Alyssa Thompson, F, Angel City

Alyssa Thompson didn’t feature much for the U.S. during the World Cup, but she perhaps returned to a better situation at the club level than the one she left. Angel City is undefeated in nine games under interim manager Becki Tweed, rising in the NWSL standings and pushing for the club’s first-ever playoff berth.

Thompson has seen some of her scoring responsibilities lessened by the Angel City midfield and the team’s newfound tenacity on set pieces. She continues to stretch defenses with her speed and positioning, while benefiting from a team no longer dependent on getting her the ball on the dribble to have a shot at creating quality chances. The best-case scenario for Thompson is that she continues to grow in her rookie season without the weight of a playoff spot on her shoulders, and so far Angel City is succeeding.

Emily Sonnett, D/M, OL Reign

Emily Sonnett played the part of a World Cup hero in the USWNT’s Round of 16 matchup against Sweden. The 29-year-old has mostly excelled as a center-back at the professional level but also has experience at defensive midfield. After short stints at outside back for the U.S., Sonnett rediscovered her No. 6 roots when Andonovski turned to her unexpectedly to partner with Andi Sullivan and help shore up the team’s shaky formation in the knockout stage.

She has since returned to a Reign team that is firmly set on Cook and Hiatt as their center-backs, and she will likely continue to develop as a defensive midfielder as the Reign jockey for playoff position. Sonnett filled in for an injured Quinn in the early stages of OL Reign’s 2023 regular season, using her natural ability to command space from the midfield. She most recently paired with Quinn in a double-pivot shape, showing the respect she has earned as a midfielder in a very short period of time.

Sofia Huerta, D, OL Reign

Sofia Huerta didn’t see much of the field during the 2023 World Cup, as Andonovski took a conservative approach to his defense. The Reign defender is one of the most reliable contributors in the NWSL, bringing quality on the ball in attacking areas and the ability to drop crosses into the box on a dime. She likely doesn’t need further development as a player nor a confidence boost to be in the mix for the USWNT in 2024. She’ll always be a fair option for a USWNT call-up, depending on how the new coach wants the team to play.

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Lynn Williams' usage was questioned after she played in just two games at the World Cup. (Robin Alam/USSF/Getty Images)

Lynn Williams, F, Gotham FC

Lynn Williams’ vulnerability as part of the USWNT player pool has never made much sense. Her understanding of the team’s defensive pressing triggers are better than almost any other available player. She can fit into both wide and central spaces, and she can thrive in high-volume shooting schemes and in taking key chances without controlling possession.

Williams is a legitimate NWSL Golden Boot and MVP candidate in her first season with Gotham. The forward should be a valued part of the USWNT’s plans going forward, rather than held at arm’s length by the program, as she has been in the past.

Kristie Mewis, M, Gotham FC

Kristie Mewis has always shown flashes of sophistication at the international level that she’s never had significant time to develop. Mewis is known as a galvanizing locker room presence and a versatile midfielder who can slot into a number of roles as a substitute. She also brings quality on set-piece delivery, and yet hasn’t been given many of those opportunities nor been relied upon to hone one particular position.

Mewis was a starting midfielder for what was arguably the USWNT’s best win in 2023, a 1-0 victory over Japan at the SheBelieves Cup. She was able to combat Japan’s quick-trigger possession approach with her defensive positioning to keep them off the scoresheet. Mewis’ prowess in that moment only takes on greater weight after the World Cup, where Japan was one of the best teams before losing to Sweden in the quarterfinals, and should be considered in future USWNT evaluation.

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

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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