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What We Learned From Chelsea’s 2-1 Win Over Manchester United

Chelsea 2, Manchester United 1

GOALS: Chelsea: Pernille Harder 29’, Fran Kirby 65’; Man Utd: Lauren James 61’

All eyes were on the FA Women’s Super League this week as Chelsea and Manchester United faced off with first place in the table at stake. Chelsea, who sat in second place with a 7-0-2 record and 23 points prior to Sunday’s contest, defeated the Reds, 2-1, to move in front thanks to goals from Pernille Harder and Fran Kirby. With the win, Chelsea is now the only undefeated team in the league, having knocked Manchester United from the ranks of the unbeaten.

Here’s what we learned from this weekend’s thrilling tilt between the league’s two best teams.


1. Chelsea provides a level of competition that Manchester United is not yet accustomed to.

United’s most recent contest was a 6-1 blowout against Bristol City, the last-place team in the table. Prior to that match, many of Manchester United’s victories had been won by a margin of two goals or less. A win is a win, and each of these victories was certainly an achievement when considering the competition. Among their opponents were top-tier squads such as Everton, Reading, and Arsenal, all members of the top six in league standings, and during these tilts, Manchester United appeared comfortable and in control of the flow of each game.

The opposite was true from the opening whistle on Sunday, as Chelsea dominated the first 45 minutes of play, something no other team has done to United. At halftime, a goal by Pernille Harder saw Chelsea up with a 1-0 advantage, after the Blues booked 11 first-half shots, 4 of which were on target, whereas Manchester United had taken only 2 shots, none of which were on target.

If one thing was inherently clear following Sunday’s match, it’s this — Chelsea provides a level of competition that Manchester United is not yet accustomed to experiencing. Finding themselves on the defensive against elite talents such as Sam Kerr, Fran Kirby, and Pernille Harder, United appeared lackluster when threatened by a fellow top squad. Despite equalizing midway through the second half, United was unable to complete a comeback.

In just their second FAWSL season, United had surprised many by advancing to the top of the table. And while they’ve proven they belong with the best of the best, this loss will certainly sting, as it gave United a chance to prove themselves against a traditional power in Chelsea.


2. The absence of Lauren James and Tobin Heath was detrimental.

In an interesting decision from Manchester United manager Casey Stoney, both Tobin Heath and Lauren James were left out of the starting line-up and were instead available as substitutes. Heath has scored four goals and notched two assists for the Reds this season, and though Lauren James had yet to score ahead of today’s match, she booked 6 goals in 12 games for her squad during the 2019/2020 season.

Upon the announcement of the starting line-up, many United faithful were speculating that Stoney would utilize the offensive talents as impact substitutes during the second half.

With United down 1-0 at the beginning of the second half, Lauren James came off the bench and made an instant impact, scoring the equalizer in the 61st minute to deadlock the score at 1-1. Surprisingly, Heath never entered the match as a substitute, leaving observers puzzled as to if there were ulterior reasons for her exclusion from Sunday’s game.

It begs the question, would the inclusion of James and Heath (if she was truly available) in the starting line-up have resulted in a different outcome for Manchester United? After all, many of United’s scoring chances are a direct result of the efforts of these two players — and the first half alone indicates that their absence is detrimental to the Reds’ offense. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, as United has to be left wondering if they put their best foot forward in the biggest match of the year.


3. It’s Fran Kirby’s world, and we’re just living in it.

Following an outstanding four-goal performance in Chelsea’s last match against Reading FC, Fran Kirby was yet again the hero. After receiving a long ball from goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger, Kirby beat three United defenders in a footrace and buried a shot past Mary Earps and into the far left corner of the net. Kirby’s goal would give the Blues the edge they needed to seal the 2-1 victory and surge into first place in the table.

In just two games, Kirby has notched five goals, bringing her season total to eight. She now ranks among the league’s top scorers, second to only Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema.

In an interview ahead of Sunday’s tilt, Kirby assured reporters that the Blues would be ready for Manchester United: “It’s going to be really tough. They are coming to our home. We’ve got to be ready and I’m sure after another good week of training we will be ready to go… Everyone’s excited for the game, we want to keep on playing and keep on winning.”

Keep on winning, indeed — and with Kirby playing at this level, Chelsea is nearly unstoppable given the surplus of superstar talent they have in support. Their undefeated streak has survived another day, and looks to be relatively safe with a game against last-place Bristol City scheduled for this weekend. A more interesting test should come this Wednesday in their FAWSL Cup quarter-final match against Manchester City, who recently signed USWNT player Abby Dahlkemper as they gear up for their own run at a FAWSL title.

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."

After a record-breaking Draft Night, WNBA roster cuts loom

2023 WNBA no. 1 draft pick Aliyah Boston playing for the indiana fever
Despite going No. 1 overall in the 2023 WNBA Draft, Aliyah Boston had to fight hard to make it onto Indiana's roster. (Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

The 2024 WNBA Draft has officially concluded, leaving the newly minted rookie class facing a tough road ahead.

Only 144 roster slots are available throughout the league’s 12 teams, the reason why the players are sometimes referred to as the “144.” And Monday’s draft picks are set to join a large group of established players competing for those same roster spots, from seasoned veterans to young athletes determined to prove their value on the court.

Last year, just 15 of the league’s 36 draftees made it onto their drafting team's opening-day squad.

In reality, there are oftentimes fewer than 144 spots available, as not every team maxes out their roster. Per the league's CBA, each team roster must maintain a minimum standard of 11 players, but those lists can include players out with injuries or on other forms of leave. Players can also be assigned to short-term hardship contracts, something waived players must be prepared for at any point during the season.

Earlier this week, Laeticia Amihere — a 2022 national champion with South Carolina who currently plays for the Atlanta Dream — took to TikTok to provide some insight into the WNBA training camp process. 

"You can either get drafted on Draft Night, or you can get signed by a team," she said. "Once that happens, you go to training camp literally like two weeks later... Basically everybody's got to try out. There's 12 roster spots, and there's like 18 people at the at the trial."

@laeticiaamihere Replying to @dantavius.washington #wnba #draft ♬ original sound - Laeticia Amihere

Amihere also had an important point to make: Getting cut does not signify a player’s abilities. 

"If you get cut after training camp, that does not mean you're not good," she said. "That does not mean that player sucks, don't stop supporting that player. Literally, there's so many reasons somebody can get cut."

"If you guys look at the best players in the league, most of them have bounced around teams," she added. "And I promise you it is not a bad thing, it's just how the league is."

Things, however gradually, are changing. With Golden State's WNBA team scheduled to launch in time for the 2025 season, league expansion is just around the corner. On Monday, Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced that the league is aiming to grow to 16 teams by 2028. But by then, it might be too little too late for the generation of talent emerging from an increasingly competitive NCAA system.

WNBA draft shatters records with 2.45 million viewers

wide shot of BAM during the 2024 WNBA Draft
It wasn't just attendees that were glued to the on-stage action at the 2024 WNBA Draft. (Photo by Melanie Fidler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Monday night’s WNBA draft added to the nationwide uptick in record-breaking women's sports viewership, pulling in 2.45 million viewers throughout the nearly two-hour broadcast and peaking at 3.09 million, according to an ESPN release. 

That number shatters the previous draft viewership record — 601,000 in 2004 — which was fueled primarily by then-No. 1 pick Diana Taurasi entering the league after UConn's historic three-peat March Madness performance.  

The 2023 WNBA draft drew 572,000 viewers, the most for any televised WNBA event since 2.74 million tuned in to NBC for a Memorial Day matchup between the New York Liberty and Houston Comets back in 2000.

While many came to watch Caitlin Clark get drafted No. 1 overall, it’s important to note that viewership didn’t take a massive dip after the superstar shooter left the stage. The numbers show that a bulk of the audience stuck around to watch the remainder of the show, making 2024's event not just the most-viewed WNBA draft in history, but also the most-viewed WNBA program to ever air on ESPN platforms.

Draft Day's popularity is yet another sign indicating an expected rise in WNBA regular season viewership. Clark and Iowa's NCAA tournament showdown with the Chicago Sky-bound Kamilla Cardoso's South Carolina side drew a record 18.7 million to ABC's Sunday afternoon broadcast. Banking on this trend, 36 of Indiana's upcoming 40 games are set to be shown on national television. In-person ticket sales are also soaring, leading the defending WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces to re-home their matchup with the Fever to a venue that can accommodate some 6,000 more fans.

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