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What Abby Dahlkemper’s Deal Means For Both Man City and The NWSL

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In another blockbuster signing for the FA Women’s Super League, North Carolina Courage and U.S. Women’s National Team center back Abby Dahlkemper has inked a 2.5-year contract with Manchester City, as first reported by Meg Linehan of the Athletic. Dahlkemper joins USWNT teammates Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle in the move across the pond, in what is another stellar addition to City’s championship-caliber squad.

Dahlkemper is an elite talent in the prime of her career.  She’s appeared in 62 matches for the USWNT, notching three assists and one World Cup trophy for her country. During the 2019 World Cup, she was the only player aside from goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher to start every match of the tournament.

In four seasons with the North Carolina Courage, Dahlkemper has won three NWSL Shields, two NWSL Championships, was named the NWSL Defender of the Year in 2017, and thrice made the NWSL Best XI, in 2017, 2018, and 2019. Prior to the franchise’s move to North Carolina, Dahlkemper also won a NWSL Championship with the Western New York Flash as well as a NCAA Championship and the Honda Sports Award during her time at UCLA.

One look at Dahlkemper’s stats makes clear her outstanding consistency at center back. During the NWSL’s recent Fall Series, Dahlkemper started all four matches for the Courage, burying a penalty against the Houston Dash in the first match of the series. More impressive, however, were Dahlkemper’s passing abilities: in the defensive third, she maintained a 92% passing accuracy to go along with her 60.3% accuracy in the attacking third. 149 of her 193 attempted passes were successful, equating to a 77.2% passing success rate through 360 minutes of play.

During the Challenge Cup last spring, Dahlkemper had a 100% success rate in tackles, a 60% success rate in duels, and a 57.1% success rate in aerial duels. She also logged 15 clearances, three blocks, and two interceptions, while simultaneously maintaining an 85.1% passing success rate. That level of consistency and control will allow Dahlkemper to immediately slide into her role as a security blanket in City’s defensive third.

Needless to say, City’s gain is the Courage’s loss, especially when coupled with North Carolina’s recent trade of fellow USWNT superstar Crystal Dunn to the Portland Thorns. Dahlkemper’s move is also another blow to the NWSL as a whole in its ongoing battle with the European leagues for the best soccer talent in the world.

When Tobin Heath, Christen Press, Mewis and Lavelle all decamped to the FAWSL in the fall, fans were forced to call into question whether the NWSL was doing enough to retain its biggest stars. Dahlkemper’s signing, along with Catarina Macario’s decision to forgo the 2021 NWSL draft in order to sign with Lyon, will only amplify the scrutiny.

While there’s much to be excited about in the NWSL’s future, including three new expansion teams in Louisville, Sacramento, and Los Angeles, the ongoing talent leak of household names is becoming a serious concern.

Hard not to think the #NWSL is on the ropes. Either that or they need a new marketing strategy so #USWNT players going to #WSL doesnu2019t affect their shine. Hope Iu2019m wrong! https://t.co/TpDl2TKqIo

— Annie O'Carroll (@OcarrollAnnie) January 14, 2021

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When Heath, Press, and Alex Morgan jumped to England, the narrative was that these veteran national team players were simply looking to get games in ahead of next summer’s Olympics. (Both Heath and Press’ contracts with Manchester United expire at the end of the 2020/2021 season, and Morgan has already returned to the Orlando Pride after playing for Tottenham in the fall.)

But with a younger generation signing long-term deals with European clubs, it’s hard not wonder if this is the beginning of a trend, and if in the future, we’ll continue to see more American players abandon the NWSL for better opportunities in Europe.

Whether the reasoning for these signings is to obtain better preparation for the Olympics, concern over the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, or simply better compensation, the loss of this many high-profile players is becoming a critical issue, especially as the NWSL looks poised to rapidly expand its national profile in the coming years.

We’re still a few signings away from full-on panic mode, and in the meantime, it’s hard not to be excited at the prospect of seeing Dahlkemper, Mewis and Lavelle on one field together. Mewis in particular has thrived for City, who currently sit at 4th in the table. The club is well within the title hunt, and a talent like Dahlkemper could easily take them to the next level, whether that’s this season or in the two to follow.

Star slugger Jocelyn Alo joins Athletes Unlimited AUX league

softball star jocelyn alo rounds the bases at an oklahoma sooners game
Former Oklahoma star Jocelyn Alo has signed with Athletes Unlimited. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Former Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo has signed on with Athletes Unlimited and will compete in the AU Pro Softball AUX this June.

The NCAA record holder in career home runs (122), total bases (761), and slugging percentage (.987), Alo was originally drafted by the league in 2022 but opted instead to join the newly debuted Women’s Professional Fastpitch

Alo currently plays for independent pro softball team Oklahoma City Spark, with team owner Tina Floyd reportedly on board with her recent AUX signing. AUX games are scheduled for June 10-25, while the Spark's season will kick off June 19th. Alo will play for both. 

Among those joining Alo on the AUX roster are former James Madison ace pitcher Odicci Alexander and former Wichita State standout middle infielder Sydney McKinney.

According to Alo, the decision to play in the Athletes Unlimited league was fueled by her desire to propel women's sports forward as well as provide more exposure to a sport that's given her "so many opportunities."

"Not only to challenge myself more, but just for the growth of the game," Alo said, explaining her reasoning to The Oklahoman. "I genuinely believe that professional softball can be a career for girls."

Joining AUX is also one more step in her plan toward representing Team USA at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

"I’m constantly thinking about how can I do these little things right in these four years to prepare me for the biggest stage of softball," she told The Oklahoman. "I definitely want to play in the Olympics, for sure."

Alo further expressed enthusiasm in the hope that the rise of other women’s sports, like women’s basketball and the NWSL, will push softball’s professional viability even higher.

"We’re seeing the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) get their stuff going, I see the WNBA starting to get hot," she continued. "I feel like the softball community is like, 'All right, it’s our turn and it’s our turn to just demand more.'"

Reporter’s awkward exchange mars Caitlin Clark’s Fever intro

caitlin clark at indiana fever press conference on april 17
An uneasy interaction between Fever recruit Caitlin Clark and a local reporter has gone viral. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

An Indianapolis Star columnist is apologizing for an uneasy exchange with freshly minted Indiana Fever player Caitlin Clark on Wednesday.

At Clark's introductory press conference with the Fever, reporter Gregg Doyel introduced himself then abruptly formed a heart with his hands. Throughout her career with Iowa, Clark has often flashed heart hands at her family in the stands after finishing a game. The gesture has since become linked to the standout player.

But what ensued between Clark and Doyel was an incredibly awkward interaction, to say the least.

"Real quick, let me do this," Doyel said before making the heart sign at Clark. A composed Clark responded, "You like that?" After Doyel quipped, "I like that you're here," Clark dropped her eyes to the desk and said, "Yeah, I do that at my family after every game."

“OK, well start doing that to me and we’ll get along just fine,” Doyel said in response, to which Clark raised her eyebrows at the reporter, looking visibly uncomfortable. It wasn't the only unsettling comment Doyel made that day, as he later referred to Clark as "that" and "it" when directing a question to Fever coach Christie Sides. Sides appeared similarly thrown off by his choice of words.

As the clip made its way around social media, Doyel faced backlash from both sports fans and fellow members of the media. Much of the criticism centered around whether or not Doyel or another press representative would address an NBA player in the same manner. 

Doyel later apologized via a column entitled "Doyel: Caitlin Clark, I'm so sorry. On Wednesday I was part of the problem." published on the Indianapolis Star's website late Wednesday evening. Referring to his behavior at the earlier press conference, he called his comments "clumsy and awkward."

"Please know my heart (literally and figuratively) was well-intentioned. I will do better," he wrote, noting that he was "devastated to realize I’m part of the problem."

Rose Lavelle hoping to return to play ‘in the next couple of weeks’

uswnt midfielder rose lavalle trains on a soccer field in florida
When healthy, Rose Lavelle is a trusted asset in the USWNT's midfield. (Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

Rose Lavelle is hoping to return to the field soon. 

The 28-year-old midfielder has been sidelined with a lower leg injury since the Gold Cup in early march. Since then, she has yet to play for new club Gotham FC in the NWSL. She also missed a potential USWNT appearance at the SheBelieves Cup in April, where senior team newcomer Jaedyn Shaw saw success assuming Lavelle's role in the attacking midfield. 

At the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee media showcase on Monday, Lavelle told reporters that she’s doing well and hopes to be back soon.

"I’m doing good — I’m hoping I’ll be back in the next couple weeks," Lavelle said. "It’s frustrating to start the year off with an injury, just because I feel like you come off preseason and you’re revving to go, so it’s so annoying."

Lavelle is still looking to compete for one of just 18 Olympic roster spots. When healthy, she ranks as one of the national team’s most trusted assets, but considering this most recent injury, her health is an obvious concern. Faced with an onslaught of experienced competitors and young talent, incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes will have some big decisions to make when selecting the Paris-bound squad — a reality Lavelle seems to be taking in stride as she works to regain full fitness.

"We have so many special players, we have so much depth, and so many different weapons to utilize on and off the bench," Lavelle said. "Unfortunately that means really good players are going to get left off, too. And I think for all of us, it’s just about being ready for whatever role is given to us, embracing that, and looking to put it into a collective picture so that we can go into the Olympics ready to go."

Kate Paye tapped to take VanDerveer’s place at Stanford

new stanford head coach kate paye spins a basketball on the court
Stanford associate head coach Kate Paye has officially been promoted to head women's basketball coach. (Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports)

Stanford has found its replacement for legendary head women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer in associate head coach Kate Paye.

The Cardinal confirmed the hiring on Tuesday via a press release. Paye was largely expected to replace the longtime head coach, as the college mentioned they were still negotiating Paye's contract when they announced VanDerveer's retirement.

In Tuesday's statement, Paye reported that she was "humbled" to have been tapped to lead the women’s program.

"Stanford University has been a central part of my life for as long as I can remember and I am humbled to have the opportunity to lead its women’s basketball program," Paye said. "I’d first like to thank Tara, who has played such a pivotal role in my career for her friendship and guidance. It’s not what she’s done, but how she’s done it, that has had such a profound impact upon me."

A Woodside, California native, Paye played under VanDerveer from 1992 to 1995, taking home a national title her freshman year. After graduation, Paye briefly joined San Diego State as an assistant coach before making her professional debut with the ABL's Seattle Reign in 1996. After finishing her playing career with the WNBA's Seattle Storm, she joined the team’s coaching staff in 2007 and has been with the organization ever since, picking up another national title win — this time as associate head coach — in 2021. Paye's brother John played quarterback for Stanford from 1983 to 1986, while also serving as a point guard on the basketball team.

In her own response, VanDerveer said that she was "grateful" that Stanford picked Paye to follow in her stead. Last week, the decorated coach stated that this year would be her last after 38 seasons at the helm and three national titles under her belt.

"She has long been ready for this opportunity and is the perfect leader for Stanford at this time of immense change in college athletics," VanDerveer noted. "Kate was the choice for this job and I am confident she will achieve great success as head coach."

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