All Scores

Vanessa Gilles’ unique journey to the top of soccer in Canada

Vanessa Gilles battles for the ball during Canada’s friendly against New Zealand on Saturday. (Sean Burges/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Olympic gold medalist Vanessa Gilles was 20 years old when she watched the Canadian women’s national soccer team play Brazil at TD Place in her hometown of Ottawa, Ont. in 2016. Janine Beckie scored a goal in added time to give Canada a 1-0 victory in the friendly match.

During a press conference on Tuesday, Gilles smiled as she recalled being in the stands that day.

“I remember sitting in TD Place, watching Canada play Brazil and saying to myself and my teammates at the time as well, ‘Crap, I want to be on that field. I want to wear that jersey. I want to celebrate with them,'” Gilles says.

Five years later, she was back at TD Place, this time as a player celebrating Canada’s 5-1 win over New Zealand on Saturday in the first match of their Celebration Tour. Gilles, now 25, was a part of Canada’s historic run to a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics in August, scoring the game-winning penalty kick in the quarterfinals against Brazil and playing a key role on defense throughout the tournament.

Gilles’ path to the top of her sport in Canada, from intrepid teenager to future star, has been fast but not exactly conventional.

‘I don’t want to play tennis anymore’

Gilles didn’t start playing soccer until she was 16 years old.

In fact, her first sport was tennis. She picked up a racket while her family was living in Shanghai and continued to play after they moved to Canada when she was 12, eventually making it all the way to nationals.

“She did quite well, but right after the nationals she told me, ‘I don’t want to play tennis anymore,’” recalls her mother, Josie Castelli-Gilles.

“Why don’t you want to play?” Castelli-Gilles asked her daughter at the time.

“I hate it,” Gilles responded.

Having enrolled Gilles in a sports study program at Louis-Riel high school, where the tennis coach had already designed an entire training program for her, Castelli-Gilles tried to discourage her daughter from quitting.

“I told her to just try it for at least three months, like ‘til Christmas, and she didn’t really want to but I kind of forced her to do it,” she says.

Gilles became “very disruptive” in the tennis group and was benched, her mother says. Eventually, the coach told Castelli-Gilles that Gilles didn’t want to be a part of the program.

“So I said, ‘OK, let’s save our money and our time,’” Castelli-Gilles says. “I pulled her out and she wanted to play soccer. I told her, ‘You do it on your own. I did everything for tennis. You do this on your own.’”

‘This girl could be on the provincial team. Like, now.’

Entering the 10th grade, Gilles had never touched a soccer ball in her life. She told the high school soccer coach, Joé Fournier, she wanted to join the team to be with her friends. Fournier was hesitant at first not because of Gilles’ lack of soccer experience, but because he was worried she would show up only for the social aspect and would distract the other players.

He finally offered her a tryout as a goalkeeper, which Gilles accepted.

By the end of her trial, everyone was dumbfounded.

“She was phenomenal,” Fournier says. “Like, unbelievable.”

The goalkeeper coach at that point was working with Ontario’s provincial program. After two weeks of training Gilles with Louis-Riel, the coach told Fournier, “This girl could be on the provincial team. Like, now.”

It was exciting for the team to suddenly fill a void in their lineup with a talented player straight off the tennis court.

The following week, however, Gilles admitted she wasn’t happy in net and was only playing there because she believed that’s what everyone else expected of her. What she really wanted were more touches on the ball.

Fournier obliged, assigning her to center back. The position suited her because of her physicality, but she had a lot of catching up to do in terms of her technical skills on the ball.

“She couldn’t pass even if her life depended on it,” Fournier says.

Fellow center back Alexie Morin-Holland, who went on to play university soccer for the Ottawa Gee-Gees, took Gilles under her wing and helped her learn the position. Years later, when Gilles came back to visit Louis Riel after making the national team, a student asked her to name her role model. Gilles’ answer was Morin-Holland.

“She knew what her place was on the team,” Fournier says. “Even though she was an unbelievable athlete, she knew she wasn’t at the same standards as those girls at that point. … She grew and she learned from those girls so much.”

Gilles’ natural athletic talent was obvious, but it was her ability to learn quickly and not take soccer too seriously that helped her take off.

“She was extremely focused, but it wasn’t a question of do or die,” he said. “Vanessa just enjoys life. Like, she’s a big joker, like a goof. But at the same time she’s extremely respectful, so she was a good listener, a quick learner because she put into practice what we were trying to help her with. I think that’s why she progressed.”

In her first year of organized soccer, Gilles helped Louis-Riel to the high school provincial championship. Within the next two years, she won a league title with her club team, captured a bronze medal with Team Ontario at the 2013 Canada Summer Games, received a full ride to the University of Cincinnati and, eventually, turned professional.

‘She did a lot on her own’

After playing her last college game, capping a highly accomplished career that included the 2017 American Athletic Conference Co-Defender of the Year award, Gilles came home for the holidays and had a conversation with her mother about the next chapter. That exchange, according to Castelli-Gilles, went something along the lines of:

“I’m going to Cyprus,” said Gilles, who had signed with Apollon Ladies FC of the Cypriot First Division.

“How did you get that?” asked her mother.

“My agent.”

“What agent?”

“I have an agent now,” Gilles said.

“Oh my god,” Castelli-Gilles said in disbelief.

Getting the agent to sign on required a few calls and some nudging from Gilles. But if Gilles has proved anything during her athletic career, it’s that she knows how to get something she sets her mind to.

In 2018, Gilles made 11 appearances with Apollon and scored 10 goals. Later that year, she joined FC Girondins de Bordeaux of D1 Féminine, where she’s since scored three goals in 59 games.

“For soccer, she did a lot on her own,” Castelli-Gilles says.

‘Vanessa is an absolute legend in Ottawa’

Gilles played her first game with the Canadian national team on Nov. 10, 2019 in a 3-0 win over New Zealand at the 2019 Yongchuan International Tournament.

Since then, she’s made 11 appearances, none more notable than in the quarterfinals of the Olympics. Gilles converted Canada’s fifth and final penalty kick against Brazil to set them on the path to gold.

The Canadians celebrated that win just as they had after defeating Brazil in 2016, when Gilles was watching from the stands. This time, she was the reason they had won.

“I think what we’re quickly learning is Vanessa is an absolute legend in Ottawa,” says Canada head coach Bev Priestman. “This city is so, so proud of Vanessa’s achievements … She’s an absolute legend and will do anything to keep a clean sheet and do whatever it takes to win, and I think they’re attributes loved by all Canadians.”

On Saturday, Canada played New Zealand, the opponent for Gilles’ first international cap at TD Place, where she first realized how badly she wanted to play for the national team.

“Now me being able to play on that field, doing exactly what I wanted to do is kind of full circle for me,” Gilles says. “But at the same time, I think about that moment (the celebration of Beckie’s goal in 2016) and I think about other girls sitting in the seats I was watching us play.

“My number one thing that’s important to me is inspiring the youth, having that impact on the players who are sitting in those seats … I can’t stress enough the impact that had on my career and my ambitions, and seeing other people and players in that position is really cool.”

Fournier surprised his 6-year-old daughter, Nève, with tickets to Saturday’s game. Her favorite players are Gilles and Beckie.

He also plans to bring Nève to Montréal for the second game of the Celebration Tour.

Gilles was born in Montréal, meaning Tuesday will offer yet another full-circle moment.

Jessa Braun is an editorial intern at Just Women’s Sports. She is also the Head of North American Content for the Women’s Sports Alliance. You can follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.

USWNT to face Costa Rica in final Olympic send-off

uswnt sophia smith and tierna davidson celebrate at shebeilves cup 2024
The USWNT will play their final pre-Olympic friendly against Costa Rica on July 16th. (Photo by Greg Bartram/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

U.S. Soccer announced Tuesday that the USWNT will play their last home game on July 16th in the lead-up to the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.

The 2024 Send-Off Match against Costa Rica will take place at Washington, DC’s Audi Field — home to both the Washington Spirit and DC United — at 7:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, July 16th. The friendly rounds out a four-game Olympic run-up campaign under incoming head coach Emma Hayes’ side, with the last two set to feature the finalized 2024 U.S. Olympic Women’s Soccer Team roster.

Hayes will appear on the USWNT sideline for the first time this June, helming the team as they embark on a two-game series against Korea Republic hosted by Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado on June 1st followed by Allianz Stadium in St. Paul, Minnesota on June 4th. 

The team is then scheduled to meet a talented Mexico squad on July 13th at Gotham FC’s Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, where the Olympic-bound lineup will attempt to rewrite February’s shocking 2-0 loss to El Tri Femenil in the group stages of this year’s Concacaf W Gold Cup. And while clear roster favorites have emerged from both of this year’s Gold Cup and SheBelives Cup rosters, a spate of recent and recurring injuries means making it to the Olympics is still largely anyone’s game.

Broadcast and streaming channels for the USWNT's final July 16th friendly at Audi Field include TNT, truTV, Universo, Max, and Peacock.

Caitlin Clark’s WNBA start to serve as 2024 Olympic tryout

Clark of the Indiana Fever poses for a photo with Lin Dunn and Christie Sides during her introductory press conference on April 17, 2024
The talented Fever rookie is still in the running for a ticket to this summer's Paris Olympics. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The USA Basketball Women's National Team is still considering Caitlin Clark for a spot on the Paris Olympics squad, says selection committee chair Jennifer Rizzotti. 

On Monday, Rizzotti told the AP that the committee will be evaluating the college phenom’s Olympic prospects by keeping a close eye on her first few weeks of WNBA play with Indiana.

The move is somewhat unconventional. While Clark was invited to participate in the 14-player national team training camp held earlier this month — the last camp before Team USA’s roster drops — she was unable to attend due to it coinciding with Iowa’s trip to the NCAA Women’s Final Four.

Judging by the immense talent spread throughout the league in what might be their most hyped season to date, competition for a piece of the Olympic pie could be fiercer than ever before.

"You always want to introduce new players into the pool whether it's for now or the future," said Rizzotti. "We stick to our principles of talent, obviously, positional fit, loyalty and experience. It's got to be a combination of an entire body of work. It's still not going to be fair to some people."

Of course, Clark isn’t the first rookie the committee has made exceptions for. Coming off an exceptional college season that saw her averaging 19.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 4 assists per game for UConn, Breanna Stewart was tapped to represent the U.S. at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil less than two weeks after being drafted No. 1 overall by the Seattle Storm. Eight years prior, fellow No. 1 pick Candace Parker punched her ticket to the 2008 Games in Beijing just two weeks after making her first appearance for the L.A. Sparks.

In the lead-up to Paris’ Opening Ceremony on July 26th, USA Basketball Women’s National Team is scheduled to play a pair of exhibition games. They'll first go up against the WNBA's finest at the July 20th WNBA All-Star Game in Phoenix before facing Germany in London on July 23rd.

While an official roster announcement date hasn’t yet been issued, players won’t find out if they’ve made this year’s Olympic cut until at least June 1st.

WNBA teams make history with 2024 season ticket sell-outs

Arike Ogunbowale on the wnba court for the dallas wings
The Dallas Wings are now the third team to sell out their entire season ticket allotment in WNBA history. (Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)

For the first time in history, three different WNBA teams have completely sold out of season ticket plans well before the league's May 14th kick-off.

Call it the Caitlin Clark effect, attribute it to this year’s tenacious rookie class, or look to the skyrocketing visibility of veteran players across the board. But no matter the cause, facts are facts: Tickets to the 2024 WNBA season are selling like never before. 

On Monday, the Dallas Wings became the third team to sell out of season ticket memberships in the league’s 27-year history. The announcement from Arlington came shortly after the Atlanta Dream issued their own season ticket sell-out statement, also on Monday, and almost seven weeks after the back-to-back WNBA Champion Las Vegas Aces made headlines by becoming the first-ever WNBA team to sell out their season ticket allotment.   

According to the Wings, season ticket memberships will fill nearly 40% of the 6,251 seats inside their home arena, College Park Center. The club also said that their overall ticket revenue has ballooned to the tune of 220% this year, spanning not just season tickets but also a 1,200% increase in single ticket sales. There’s currently a waitlist to become a Dallas season ticket holder, a status that comes with extra incentives like playoff presale access and discounts on additional single-game tickets. 

In Atlanta, season tickets aren't the only thing flying off the shelves. The Dream also announced that they broke their own record for single-game ticket sales during a recent limited presale campaign. Sunday was reportedly their most lucrative day, with five different games totally selling out Gateway Center Arena. Individual tickets for all upcoming matchups will hit the market this Thursday at 8 a.m., while a waitlist for season ticket memberships will open up next Tuesday at 10 a.m.

"Excitement around women's sports, particularly basketball, is at an all-time high and nowhere is that felt more than here in Atlanta," Dream president and COO Morgan Shaw Parker said in the team’s statement. "We’ve continued a record-setting growth trajectory over the past three years under new ownership — both on and off the court — and 2024 is shaping up to be our best season yet."

As of Tuesday, season ticket sales revenue for Caitlin Clark’s hotly anticipated Indiana Fever debut haven’t yet been announced by the club. But if these numbers are any indication — not to mention the explosive demand for Fever away games felt by teams around the country — it won’t be long before we see some scale-tipping figures coming out of Indianapolis.

Nelly Korda ties LPGA record with fifth-straight tournament win

Nelly Korda of the United States celebrates with the trophy after winning The Chevron Championship
Nelly Korda poses with her trophy after acing her fifth-straight tour title at The Chevron Championship on Sunday. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

25-year-old American pro golfer Nelly Korda secured her spot in LPGA history on Sunday, notching her fifth-straight title at this weekend's Chevron Championship in The Woodlands, Texas.

Ranked No. 1 in the world by Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, Korda joins Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sörenstam (2005) as just the third LPGA player to rack up five consecutive tour wins. She is also the third No. 1-ranked player to capture The Chevron Championship victory since the rankings debuted in 2006, accompanied by Lorena Ochoa and Lydia Ko.

The Florida native shot three-under 69 in Sunday's final, besting Sweden's Maja Stark despite Stark's valiant come-from-behind attempt in the 18th. Korda finished with a four-day total of 13-under 275, celebrating her two-stroke win by cannonballing into Poppie's Pond, much to the crowd's delight. She left The Club at Carlton Woods with $1.2 million from an overall purse of $7.9 million.

It wasn't long ago that the two-time major champion's current winning streak seemed unimaginable. After maintaining her No. 1 position for 29 weeks, Korda underwent surgery to remove a blood clot from her left arm in 2022. She returned to the course not long after, but failed to win a single tournament in 2023 before seeing a surge in form during the first four months of 2024. As of today, she hasn't lost a tournament since January.

Korda will attempt a record sixth-straight win at next week's JM Eagle LA Championship at Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles, where she'll vie for a cut of the $3.75 million purse.

Start your morning off right with Just Women’s Sports’ free, 5x-a-week newsletter.