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Las Vegas Aces vs. New York Liberty: Sizing up the superteams

(Elsa/Getty Images; Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: This story was first published in the first week of the 2023 WNBA season. The Las Vegas Aces and the New York Liberty will face off for the first time this season at 10 p.m. ET Thursday.

The Superteam Era of the WNBA officially has begun.

Fans have gotten their first glimpses of the new-look New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces squads. And while 10 other teams – like the Washington Mystics, who topped the Liberty 80-64 to open the season – have four months to make their cases, it’s easy to see why New York and Las Vegas are the favorites to battle it out for the WNBA title.

Here’s how they stack up.

Starting Five

Las Vegas Aces

Candace Parker, F, 6-4: The 37-year-old forward is looking to be the first WNBA player to win championships with three franchises after signing with the Aces as a free agent. She already has rings with the Sparks and the Sky in 2016 and 2021. Parker, who has been candid about being near the end of her professional career, is a two-time WNBA MVP and seven-time all-WNBA first team member. Over her 15-year career, Parker has maintained a reputation as a player who does everything. Last season she averaged 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1 steal and 1 block.

A’ja Wilson, F, 6-4: Five seasons into her career and A’ja Wilson has already won two MVP awards. The South Carolina product has been dominant since her Rookie of the Year campaign in 2018, but the 2022 season was her best yet. Wilson led the Aces to their first WNBA title, averaging 19.5 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.4 steals per game.

Chelsea Gray, G, 5-11: After being snubbed for the All-Star game last year, Gray’s second half of the season became a revenge tour. Her play earned the point guard the Finals MVP trophy, as Gray averaged 21.7 points and 7.0 assists per game through the postseason while shooting 61.1% from the field and 54.4% from beyond the arc. Gray showed off her skills as a playmaker for others, and a shot-creator for herself, making over 60% of her contested looks.

Kelsey Plum, G, 5-8: Plum has gotten better every season since she was drafted No. 1 in 2017, and in 2022 she took a major step forward. The guard finished second in the WNBA in scoring with 20.2 points per game while also averaging a career-high 5.1 assists. After coming off the bench in 2021, coach Becky Hammon moved Plum back to a starting role and heavily relied on the guard throughout the season. She played 32.8 minutes per game, which ranked second in the league.

Jackie Young, G, 6-0: Young started the 2023 season on a high note, scoring 23 points in 26 minutes during the Ace’s first game of the season. Young is looking to build on a 2022 season that saw her named the league’s Most Improved Player. That’s largely because of the addition of a 3-point shot to her game. Young shot 25% in 2021 and 23.1% in 2020, but after dedicating herself to the craft, she shot 43.1% from long range in 2022. Young’s ability to shoot 3s adds another weapon to the Aces’ arsenal.

New York Liberty

Betnijah Laney, F, 6-0: Laney has been in the league since 2015 but had a breakout season in 2020 for Atlanta. She’s been a key piece for the Liberty since 2021, and while she missed most of last season with an injury, she’s back in top form and could end up being the unsung hero of this superteam. With big names around her, Laney likely won’t receive the same type of attention, but she will be impactful. The 29-year-old averaged 16.8 points, 5.2 assists and 4.1 rebounds in 2021. She also brings toughness, a scorer’s mentality and established chemistry with Ionescu.

Breanna Stewart, F, 6-4: The offseason’s most sought-after free agent landed with the Liberty after playing six seasons with the Storm. Stewart wasted no time establishing herself, setting a franchise record with 45 points in New York’s home opener. She already has won two WNBA titles and was named Finals MVP in both instances. When she signed with the Liberty, the UConn product instantly catapulted the team to the top of the WNBA.

Jonquel Jones, F, 6-6: When Jones was traded to the Liberty back in January, the move set off the superteam era. The opportunity to play with the 2021 MVP enticed Stewart and Vandersloot to sign with the Liberty, and it likely motivated Parker to sign with the Aces in order to give her a chance at a title as well. Jones is a versatile scoring threat who plays both inside and beyond the arc. In her last season in Connecticut, Jones led the Sun to the WNBA Finals and averaged 14.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.1 steals per game.

Courtney Vandersloot, G, 5-8: The one thing the Liberty needed after signing Jones and Stewart was an elite, pass-first point guard. They got that in Vandersloot, who is third on the WNBA’s all-time assists leaderboard and holds the record for most assists in a single game with 18. Vandersloot played all 12 of her WNBA seasons with the Sky and won a title with Chicago in 2021 before joining the Liberty.

Sabrina Ionescu, G, 5-11: The 2020 No. 1 pick transitioned seamlessly into the league, but last season was telling for the star guard. She plays best off the ball, which is why Vandersloot was such a key addition. Ionescu averaged 17.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.1 steals per game in 2022, while also posting her lowest turnover mark yet at 3 per contest. Known as the triple-double queen in college, she continues to do a little bit of everything in the WNBA.

Bench Players

Las Vegas Aces

Key players: Alysha Clark, Kiah Stokes, Riquna Williams

The one knock on the Aces last season was their lack of bench. It didn’t end up mattering, as the team secured a title, and Riquna Williams ended up playing big minutes in the Finals, but Becky Hammon & Co. still bolstered the bench unit in the offseason. They added an elite defender in 10-year WNBA veteran Alysha Clark. The Aces also retained Kiah Stokes, who brings rebounding and rim protection.

New York Liberty

Key Players: Marine Johannès, Kayla Thornton, Stephanie Dolson, Han Xu

Everyone off the bench for the Liberty brings something different to the court, which is what you want from secondary players. Johannès could easily be a starter for another team, and she’s an elite passer and crafty shot-creator. Thornton is an experienced vet who played six seasons mostly in a starting role for the Wings, and Dolson brings experience as well with nine WNBA seasons under her belt. Han Xu is a question mark for the Liberty, as she hasn’t seen much time in their first two games, but her size (6-10) and unique skill set (which includes 3-point shooting) make her a threat off the bench.

Head Coach

Las Vegas Aces

Becky Hammon set the bar high in her first season with the Aces, leading them to the franchise’s first WNBA title. She’s an experienced coach who spent years as an assistant for the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs before taking the Aces job. Hammon also played 15 years in the WNBA and was a 6-time all star. The signing of Candace Parker put the Aces in position to compete for the title again, but it didn’t come without controversy. The Aces traded Dearica Hamby to the Sparks in order to make space for Parker, but a WNBA investigation found that Hamby was mistreated during the trade due to her pregnancy. Hammon denied the claims, but she was suspended for the first two games of the season.

New York Liberty

Sandy Brondello, like Hammon, has experience playing in the WNBA as well as coaching. She played professionally from 1992-2004, and she also represented the Australian National team, winning two silver medals in the Olympics. She got into coaching in 2005 as an assistant for the San Antonio Silver Stars, the franchise that became the Las Vegas Aces. Brondello made her name as a coach with the Mercury, coaching in Phoenix from 2014-2021 and winning a WNBA championship in 2014 before taking the Liberty job in 2022.

Team History

Las Vegas Aces

The Aces joined the WNBA in 1997 first as the Utah Starzz, then became the San Antonio Silver Stars (later just the Stars) before moving to Las Vegas in 2018. The franchise had one conference title in 2008, and then the Aces secured the first title last season.

New York Liberty

The Liberty joined the WNBA in 1997 as well but have stayed put in the New York City area (if not always in their current home borough of Brooklyn). The team has won three conference titles, in 1999, 2000 and 2002, but has yet to win a WNBA title.

2023 MVP Breanna Stewart Drops 31 Points in Liberty’s Huge Win Over Fever

breanna stewart and jonquel jones of the new york liberty celebrate win over indiana fever
Stewie and the Liberty dominated the court throughout Thursday's Fever home opener. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

The New York Liberty dominated Indiana on Thursday night, winning by a whopping 36 points in the Fever's home opener. 

A sold-out crowd of 17,274 was in attendance to watch as star rookie Caitlin Clark finished the 102-66 defeat with nine points, seven rebounds, and six assists. It’s the first time since January 2021 — her freshman season at Iowa — that Clark's been held to single-digit scoring. 

"The physicality is definitely up there... I'm easily pushed off screens," she told reporters after the loss. "The game seems a little fast for me right now. The more I play and the more comfortable I get, it's going to slow down a little bit. It will be easier for me to make reads, see things develop."

The Fever were outscored by a combined margin of 57 points in their first two games — the largest two-game point deficit in WNBA season-opening history, according to @ESPNStatsInfo.

"We've got to get to a level of toughness," Fever coach Christie Sides in her own postgame remarks. "When things are going south on us, we're not stopping the bleeding."

"I have great perspective on everything that happens," Clark added. "It was the same in my college career. There were some moments that were absolutely amazing. And there were some moments I was not happy with how I played and how my team performed. That's just life, that's just basketball."

Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu, who herself experienced a rocky rookie season following a much-hyped college career, offered up some insight on the matter.

"In this league, there are tough defenses all centered around not letting you get the ball, trapping, not letting you score," Ionescu said. "There were many factors that played into what was a tough first season for me in the league, but it helps you be able to figure it out. You have to have those experiences."

But it was reigning league MVP Breanna Stewart that truly stole the show, racking up 31 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals, and two blocks on the night.

"In general, I just wanted to come out more aggressive coming off of last game," Stewart said after putting up the 24th 30-point game in her career.

Stewart she also commended the fans inside Indianapolis's packed Gainbridge Fieldhouse, noting that she hopes that level of support to continue across the WNBA.

"This is how you want every game to be and when it's a sell-out crowd, it gives you a similar playoff atmosphere feel," she said. "People want to be a part of this and the thing now is to continue to sustain it, continue to take the momentum that we have and turn it into something more."

WNBA Commissioner Admits to ‘Faulty’ Charter Rollout

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert at 2024 wnba draft
Cathy Engelbert at the 2024 WNBA Draft in New York. (Cora Veltman/Sportico via Getty Images)

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert admitted to a "faulty rollout" of the new charter travel initiative on Thursday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Ahead of Tuesday's season opener, it was announced that the only teams flying private this week would be Indiana and Minnesota. The announcement came mere days after the league made a new charter flight program for all WNBA teams public. At the time, they said it would be implemented "as soon as we have the planes."

But as two teams out of 12 chartered to their first games of the season, others like the Atlanta Dream and Chicago Sky were forced to fly commercial.

A town hall meeting between Engelbert and the players was held in response to the confusion. Everything from the league's new media rights deal to private travel was covered in the meeting, with players submitting their questions ahead of time. Sky center Elizabeth Williams told Sun-Times reporter Annie Costabile afterwards that cross-country flights were prioritized.

"Flights that are across the country like [the Lynx] going to Seattle, crossing multiple time zones, or flights that usually require a connection, those were the priorities," Williams said. "That’s why New York didn’t go to DC with a charter, but Minny goes to Seattle."

What’s unclear under that metric is that the Atlanta Dream played the Los Angeles Sparks on Wednesday, which could technically be classified as a cross-country flight. 

On Tuesday, rookie forward Angel Reese shared a photo on her Instagram story lamenting the league's use of commercial flights.

"Just praying that this is one of the last commercial flights the Sky has to fly," Reese posted. The team still has at least three commercial flights awaiting them in the near future.

"Obviously, I think all teams should be able to get chartered," Reese told the Sun-Times. "But I know moving forward... going in the right direction, being able to have some teams [chartering] is cool. Within the next weeks, everybody will be flying charter, which will be really good."

On Thursday, Lindsay Schnell of USAToday Sports confirmed that the league intends to have all teams on charter flights by May 21st.

Brazil Wins Bid for 2027 Women’s World Cup Host

fifa womens world cup trophy on display
The FIFA Women's World Cup trophy on display in Bangkok after Brazil was announced as the 2027 host country. (Thananuwat Srirasant - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Brazil has been named the host for the 2027 Women’s World Cup, with FIFA announced early Friday. 

The decision came after a vote at the 74th FIFA Congress in Bangkok, with Brazil earning 119 votes to the joint European bid’s 78. 

This will be Brazil’s first time hosting the Women’s World Cup, with the country having hosted the men’s World Cup twice before in 1950 and 2014. It will also be the first Women’s World Cup held in South America. The tournament will follow the same 32-team format as the 2023 WWC in Australia and New Zealand.

Brazil winning the bid was not entirely surprising after FIFA issued a report just last week, stating that the Brazilian bid had pulled ahead as host following technical inspection. After evaluation, Brazil was given a score of 4.0 out of 5, compared to the 3.7 awarded to the Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Brazil ranked higher in a number of key areas, including stadiums, accommodations, fan zones, and transport infrastructure. Though considered to be a frontrunner, the US and Mexico withdrew their joint bid prior to the technical inspection period, saying they would instead focus their efforts on 2031.

On Friday, Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) president Ednaldo Rodrigues called it a "victory." 

"We knew we would be celebrating a victory for South American women's soccer and for women," he told reporters. "You can be sure, with no vanity, we will accomplish the best World Cup for women."

"We are working on a transformation, not only for the country but for the continent," added bid team operational manager Valesca Araujo.

Brazil intends to use 10 of the venues utilized at the 2014 men’s World Cup, including holding the final in Rio de Janeiro on July 25th. The CBF's proposal outlines that the 2027 tournament run from June 24th through the end of July. Last summer’s World Cup began at the end of July and concluded on August 19th.

Another notable element of Brazil's newly unveiled plan to grow of the women’s game is that "all [men’s] clubs wishing to take part in high-level national and continental competitions must now provide a structure for a women’s team." While the definition of "structure" was not specifically identified, the country has set targets with CONMEBOL to help increase the number of women’s club teams in the country.

In last week's inspection findings, FIFA noted that selecting Brazil as the next WWC host could "have a tremendous impact on women's football in the region."

Chelsea Eyes Weekend Finale With WSL Title in Sight

chelsea players celebrate win against tottenham in the wsl
Chelsea beat Tottenham on Wednesday, moving to the top of the table in an effort to win departing coach Emma Hayes some silverware. (John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Chelsea did what they needed to do on Wednesday in order to make Saturday's slate of season-ending WSL fixtures interesting: Beat Tottenham.

The Blues are now number one in the league, with an edge over Manchester City on goal differential thanks to an eight-goal outing against Bristol City last week. 

Yesterday's result tees up a league finale for the books as Chelsea looks to send coach Emma Hayes off with another trophy to add to her cabinet. The Blues will play FA Cup winner Manchester City at Old Trafford on Saturday, while City is away at Aston Villa.

"We will be leaving nothing on the pitch, we will be giving everything and no matter what the result is," Chelsea midfielder Erin Cuthbert said after Wednesday's win. "At least we can look each other in the eye and say we gave everything."

It makes for a thrilling end to Chelsea's Emma Hayes era, as the decorated WSL coach will take over the USWNT in June. And it comes after Hayes all but conceded the title race early this month after Chelsea fell to Liverpool 4-3.

"I think the title is done," Hayes said at the time. "Of course, mathematically, it's not, but I think the title is done. Our job between now and the end of the season is to keep pushing until the end, but I think it will be very difficult.

"We will never give up. But the title is far from us; it's not in our hands. I think City are deserving, their consistency has put them in that position. Of course, we will go to the end, but I don't think the title will be going to us this year."

Be it mind games or Hayes truly thinking her team was that far off, her words lit something in Chelsea. Their following two performances showed the team’s determination to have a shot at some silverware.

As for Saturday's schedule, Hayes believes her team is facing the "tougher of the two games."

"It's a fitting finale for me, being my final game," she told BBC Sport. "As I said to the players if someone gives you a second chance in life, make sure you don't need a third one. We're in the position we want to be in, and we'll give it everything on Saturday no matter what."

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