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Vlatko Andonovski lost the USWNT at the margins and may lose his job

(Robin Alam/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Despite putting together their best overall performance of the 2023 World Cup, the U.S. women’s national team fell to Sweden by the thinnest of margins, eliminated in a penalty shootout in the Round of 16. The ball barely crossed the line after heroics by USWNT goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, who became the first keeper to both save and successfully take a penalty in a Women’s World Cup.

“We just lost the World Cup by a millimeter,” Naeher told the FOX broadcast after the game, and her assessment was fair. It was perhaps the most fitting end to a tournament of missed opportunities by the reigning World Champions.

The U.S. outshot Sweden 21 to seven, with 11 shots on target to Sweden’s one. The U.S. completed over 500 passes and held the possession advantage as well as a significant xG advantage. They did everything possible to advance outside of actually putting the ball into the back of the net, and fell prey to one of the crueler endings to a match in recent memory.

USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski didn’t get this game wrong, exactly. The game itself was a testament to the team’s adjustments after a group stage where they had looked nothing like their former selves. Andonovski made a key change to the midfield, inserting Emily Sonnett as a dual defensive midfielder alongside Andi Sullivan. Sullivan, who herself had not been at her best in the tournament, finally had a ball-winner beside her to ease the defensive load. Lindsey Horan, in turn, assumed the forward-leaning midfield role, and suddenly the USWNT looked like a team that could pass through their spine again.

The tournament, as short as it might have been for the USWNT, will also be a testament to the team’s defense, which was once again excellent even in defeat. Naeher, who fielded questions about her form going into the World Cup, snagged balls out of the air to nullify Sweden’s crossing threat with ease, and the U.S. never looked in danger of losing the match in regulation.

Naomi Girma and Julie Ertz will forever be enshrined as one of the most statistically effective center-back pairings in USWNT World Cup history, conceding just two shots on goal over four games. As frustrating as the match was for the U.S. attack, Sweden never looked particularly dangerous going forward, even when given set-piece opportunities.

In many ways, all of the statistical advantages the U.S. flaunted for 120 minutes reflected exactly how Andonovski has always wanted his team to play. It was the product of a group ready for the toughest of grinds, never giving their opponent space to operate even if it meant sacrificing their own efficiency in front of goal. One of the team’s most creative players, Ashley Sanchez, got no time at this World Cup, with Andonovski all but conceding in the knockout rounds that artistry was not going to patch over his own inefficiencies in preparing the team for elimination soccer.

It’s not like the USWNT didn’t have chances; Sweden goalkeeper Zećira Mušović had the game of her life, making save after save to ward off what felt like the inevitable strike to put the U.S. ahead. The team’s finishing continued to be a weakness, with the talented front three of Sophia Smith, Alex Morgan and Trinity Rodman never fully amounting to the sum of their parts. Over the course of the match, it felt as if they had done just enough to avoid the random cruelty of a penalty shootout.

But doing just enough has always been the way Andonovski has managed this group, and for the four-time World Cup champions, it hasn’t been good enough to break back into a major tournament final. The team has grown since their embarrassing 3-0 loss to Sweden at the Tokyo Olympics, suffering nowhere near the same fate in any match of this World Cup. But as Andonovski focused on tightening up one part of the field, the team lost their freedom, and margins became much too thin in the other direction.

It’s fitting perhaps that many of the ills of the Andonovski era came to play in the crucial penalty shootout itself. Megan Rapinoe, USWNT icon and longtime stalwart in dead-ball situations, couldn’t control her delivery in extra time and skied her kick from the spot. It’s the first time she’s ever missed a penalty in a major tournament, in a harsh metaphor that all good things must eventually come to an end. Kristie Mewis and Kelley O’Hara were the long-awaited substitutes put on the field right before extra time ended; Mewis sunk her penalty, and O’Hara’s hit the post.

And Sophia Smith, who despite a rough tournament is still one of the brightest stars of the USWNT’s future, couldn’t control her penalty when given a chance to grab the glory and give her team a shot at the quarterfinals. Who gets empowered to succeed and when has long been a topic of conversation in USWNT circles. Andonovski was let down both by the longtime veterans he always made room for, and his own inability to let a new generation enter the spotlight on its own.

If this is the end of Andonovski’s tenure with the No. 1 team in the world, his notebook of statistical advantages that should have led to optimal outcomes will be a cold comfort to fans who would simply like to recognize the team they’re used to rooting for again. U.S. Soccer will have a choice to make about whether to let him see out the roster rejuvenation process he began, or to hand the keys to someone with a different idea of the USWNT’s identity before the Olympics next summer.

Because in a new era of competitive parity, in a sport where the ball doesn’t always bounce your way, wins are never going to be guaranteed like they once were. But World Cups are also an opportunity to show those outside your own borders exactly who you are and how you like to play, and the USWNT have earned the right to re-introduce themselves.

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

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.

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