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USWNT’s Victoria Safradin takes big step toward soccer dreams

Victoria Safradin starts for the U.S. against Brazil at the U17 Women’s World Cup in October. (Angel Martinez – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

A few months ago, 17-year-old Victoria Safradin from Eastlake, Ohio, was doing homework in her room and refreshing her email when she heard a ping.

Safradin opened the new message in her inbox to find, in all capital letters, the message “CONGRATULATIONS.”

This was the moment she had been waiting for. With tears in her eyes, the 5-foot-11 goalkeeper ran down the stairs to deliver the news that she, the daughter of Croatian immigrants, was going to don the red, white and blue at the U17 Women’s World Cup in India.

Safradin’s family was just as ecstatic.

“For me, my big motivation is to make them proud,” Safradin says. “For me, everything I do is to make them not regret coming to the United States … to reassure them that everything they did isn’t a waste.”

On Oct. 11 in Bhubaneswar, India, Safradin took the pitch as the U.S. goalkeeper in front of 12,000 people. When the opening whistle sounded, Safradin’s nerves faded away as she settled in between the posts and focused on the task at hand. She recorded a clean sheet, ushering the U.S. to a commanding 8-0 victory over India in the group stage.

“I just had to take a minute to take in the moment and realize what I just did,” she says. “I just want to remain humble. I was trying to not take it for granted. I know there’s a lot of girls who would dream to be in the position like any of us on the national team.”

Safradin and the U.S. advanced to the World Cup quarterfinal, where they fell to Nigeria in penalty kicks after ending regulation in a 1-1 tie. It was the team’s second-best finish since the U17 tournament began in 2008 and a defining moment in Safradin’s own soccer journey after making two World Cup starts.

Safradin began playing soccer around the age of 5. By age 7, she found her calling through a process that started with a simple hand raise.

“I was in recreational soccer, and they needed a goalkeeper. I raised my hand,” she recalls. “The next thing you know, I played so great, my dad from then on was like, ‘She’s going to be a goalkeeper.’”

Around age 11, Safradin started to draw attention from elite club teams in Ohio. She joined Internationals Soccer Club after being identified as a top-tier talent by Zdravko Popovic, the club’s president and founder.

In the years since then, Safradin has not only developed physically and technically, but she’s also also improved her mental toughness. Once afraid of making mistakes, the Eastlake North High School senior has learned that failure can often be the only way to get better.

“She’s a great leader. She’s respected by her teammates,” Popovic says. “She’s a general in the back of the field. She’s my team captain.”

In the last two years, Safradin has really hit her stride, showcasing her evolving skill set against tougher competition and ultimately earning call-ups up to U.S. Soccer camps.

Last season, with Safradin in net, Internationals SC U17 went 19-1-5 and won the 2022 Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) Ohio Valley Conference. In May, Safradin was named the Best Goalkeeper in the U17 Concacaf W Championship after recording three clean sheets and allowing just one goal the entire tournament.

“That was my first big achievement. The hard part with the national team is you’re never guaranteed a spot,” Safradin says. “You never know. One mistake can cost you.”

From Concacaf to the World Cup, Safradin is trying to take every milestone one step at a time. Currently, she’s focused on her last season of club soccer before she joins the University of Virginia soccer team next fall.

For Safradin, committing to play for the Cavaliers was an easy choice. As soon as she stepped on campus in Charlottesville, she could hear Popovic’s voice.

“Always look at the picture in black and white. Don’t just look at the soccer piece. Act as if you weren’t a soccer player — would you still want to go there?” Popovic told her.

At UVA, the answer was an immediate yes. She plans to study healthcare management, combining her interests in healthcare and business, while playing for the university’s storied soccer program. The Cavaliers have made 28 straight NCAA Tournament appearances and four College Cups, with their best result a runner-up finish in 2014.

Safradin is intent on turning her journey into a professional soccer career, and in a few months, she’ll take the next big step toward her goal.

“I always tell myself I’m going to do whatever it takes to get to that level. But obviously, before pro comes college,” she says. “I want to do very good with my team there, go to the NCAA Tournament, possibly win a national championship.”

Nika Anschuetz is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @nlanschuetz.

Caitlin Clark dunks on Michael Che in surprise SNL appearance

(Julia Hansen/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Caitlin Clark made a surprise appearance on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, which quickly went viral.

The Iowa star showed up on the show’s Weekend Update segment to playfully call out Michael Che’s history of making jabs at women’s sports.

It started when Che joked that Iowa should replace Clark’s retired No. 22 “with an apron.” 

When Clark entered, Che said that he was a fan. But Clark wasn’t convinced – especially not when co-host Colin Jost brought the receipts of Che’s jabs.

“Really, Michael? Because I heard that little apron joke you did,” she said, before making him read some jokes of her own in retaliation. Clark finished her segment by shouting out the WNBA greats that came before her. She then got in one final dig – bringing Che a signed apron as a souvenir. 

When Che promised to give it to his girlfriend, Clark delivered her last playful dig of the night.

“You don’t have a girlfriend, Michael,” she said.

Afterward, SNL castmember Bowen Yang told People that the 22-year-old and teammates Gabbie Marshall, Kate Martin and Jada Gyamfi – who joined her at Studio 8H – “were so cool.”

“She's so charming and witty,” Yang said. “They were just the most stunning, noble people.

“Athletes just have this air about them. They know they're amazing. I mean, these are people who have numeric attachments and values to their performance. That's something that comedians never have.”

Portland Thorns, in uncharted territory, start NWSL season winless

Portland has started the season winless through four games for the first time. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

The Portland Thorns continue to struggle to start the NWSL season, falling 2-0 to the North Carolina Courage over the weekend to remain winless through their first four games. 

It’s uncharted territory for Portland, who has never started the NWSL regular season without a win in four games before.

Following the loss, defender Becky Sauerbrunn voiced her frustrations with the start. 

“It’s hard to find a lot of encouraging things, but what I find encouraging is that people are frustrated,” she said. “People are pissed off that we’re not doing well. We care, and I think that’s really important.” 

She also added that while the team will reflect individually, “there’s going to be no finger pointing.”

“We’re going to look at ourselves and figure out what we should have done, or I should have done better,” she said. “There is a list of things that I could have done better, and I’m going to make sure I know every single thing and watch this game back.”

The Thorns currently sit at the bottom of the league table with just one point, having allowed 10 goals – tied for the worst in the league. They’ve yet to lead in a match. And as questions grow, attention turns to head coach Mike Norris. 

Norris is in his second year as head coach of the club after leading the team to a second-place finish in the regular season last year. When asked about the possibility of pressure growing after the unprecedented start, Norris said that the pressure has been there “from day one.”

“I cannot be driven by my day-to-day and the longer vision of the pressure of the job,” he said. “We’ve got a belief in how we want to play, how we operate. We’ve got to stick with the process of that. While we do it, we have to review and see what is working, what’s not working.

“I’ll be showing up for the team and being there for what they need from me as we approach getting back together as a group next week.”

Maria Sanchez reportedly requests trade from Houston Dash

Mar 23, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Dash forward Maria Sanchez (7) warms up before the match between Racing Louisville and Houston Dash at Shell Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Maria Sanchez, who signed one of the biggest deals in NWSL history just four months ago, has reportedly requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

ESPN was the first to report the news, which was confirmed by multiple sources.

In a statement to ESPN, the team said: “​​Maria Sanchez is under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the Dash worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. At the time, it was the largest contract in NWSL history – something that was eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

The winger was a restricted free agent in the offseason, meaning that Houston could match any offer from another team and retain her rights. Should the team trade Sanchez, her contract would remain as it has been signed with the league. That limits the number of teams that could take on her contract. 

In three starts with the Dash this season, Sanchez has zero goals and an assist. The Dash are 1-2-1 through four games and have allowed a league-worst 10 goals.

The team hired a new coach, Fran Alonso, in December. Earlier this year, former goalkeeper coach Matt Lampson was fired for violating the league’s Coach Code of Conduct and Anti-Fraternization policy. 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close at midnight ET on Friday.

Canada beats U.S. Hockey 6-5 in thrilling World Championship win

UTICA, NEW YORK - APRIL 14: Team Canada raises the Championship Trophy after winning The Gold by defeating The United States in OT during the 2024 IIHF Women's World Championship Gold Medal game at Adirondack Bank Center on April 14, 2024 in Utica, New York. (Photo by Troy Parla/Getty Images)

Canada got its revenge on Sunday, winning the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship and taking down the U.S. in a 6-5 overtime classic.

Marie-Philip Poulin, a longtime star for Canada, got her first two goals of the tournament, while Danielle Serdachny had the game-winner. 

"I hate to say you're not trying to rely on it, expect it, but I know I've grown to expect it," Canada coach Troy Ryan said of Philip-Poulin. "Tonight was just a whole other level. I could see in her eyes every time we called her name that she was ready to go. It's just special."

The win came after Canada lost 1-0 to the U.S. in the group stage of the tournament. On Sunday, the two teams met for the 22nd time in 23 tournaments in the gold medal game – and the action between the two teams delivered. 

Among those scoring for the U.S. were Megan Keller, Alex Carpenter, Hilary Knight, Laila Edwards and Caroline Harvey. Julia Gosling, Emily Clark and Erin Ambrose had the other three goals for Canada, giving them their 13th World title after falling to the U.S. in last year’s title game in Toronto. 

This year’s game was held in New York, and it was the second-highest scoring final between the two teams. The U.S. won a world championship 7-5 in 2015. 

"Oh man, that feels good to win it on U.S. soil," Canada goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens said after the game. "We owed it to them and owed it to ourselves to win that one."

Canada also denied Knight a record 10th World Championship win, although she did become the most decorated player in women’s world championship history with 14 medals. After the game, Poulin gave Knight a hug on the ice. 

"We just said 'that was unbelievable,'" Poulin said.

U.S. coach John Wroblewski echoed the sentiment that it was an outstanding game after being asked about ending the game on a power-play after leaving too many players on the ice. 

"Instead of talking about the isolated events of tonight's game, I think that normally that's an interesting storyline,” he said. “But I think the entity of an amazing 6-5 game is an amazing hockey game that took place."

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