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Brittney Griner finally comes home: Biggest WNBA stories of 2022

Breanna Stewart and WNBA All-Stars wore jerseys with Brittney Griner’s name and number to raise awareness of her wrongful detainment in July. (Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)

In the past year, the Las Vegas Aces won their first WNBA championship, Brittney Griner came home after 294 days of being wrongfully detained in Russia and triple-doubles took over the league.

There was plenty to talk about in the WNBA during 2022, and with 2023 right around the corner, let’s revisit the biggest storylines of the year.

The Year of the Aces

Las Vegas entered the season with a stacked roster — led by A’ja Wilson, Chelsea Gray and Kelsey Plum — and a first-year head coach in Becky Hammon who came with much fanfare. It was a recipe for utter dominance in 2022, as the Aces won the WNBA Commissioner’s Cup, took home multiple individual awards and claimed their first WNBA title, which was also Las Vegas’ first major pro sports championship. Behind Gray’s Finals MVP performance, the Aces topped the Connecticut Sun 3-1 in the series and embarked on a championship-level celebration.

BG comes home

Since Brittney Griner was detained in Russia in February, efforts to bring her home were at the heart of everything the WNBA did in 2022. “Free BG” was the theme of the season as players and coaches kept her name in the headlines. At the WNBA All-Star Game in July, both teams emerged from the locker rooms after halftime wearing Griner jerseys, while Phoenix Mercury teammate Skylar Diggins-Smith devoted her weekend wardrobe to making statements about Griner’s wrongful detainment. The league never stopped campaigning for her release, and finally after 294 days, Griner was released in a prisoner swap on Dec. 8. The 32-year-old is officially home with family and said she intends to return to the court in 2023.

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Sylvia Fowles and Sue Bird were honored for their last WNBA All-Star Game. (Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images)

Saying goodbye to two greats

Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles have been household names in the WNBA since they debuted in the league in 2002 and 2008, respectively. After accumulating six WNBA championships and 21 All-Star Game appearances between them, they both headed into retirement following the 2022 season. Bird finished her career with a trip to the playoffs, as the Seattle Storm fell to the Aces in the semifinals, while Fowles left the Minnesota Lynx and the league in the same way she came in. Thirteen years after dunking in her first All-Star Game in 2009, Fowles brought the Chicago crowd to their feat in 2022 with another slam in her final appearance.

The Kelsey Plum show

Kelsey Plum made the most of her first WNBA All-Star appearance, scoring 30 points — which tied a record set by Maya Moore — and winning the All-Star MVP award. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert honored Plum at halfcourt after the game, presenting her with a trophy that was noticeably smaller than All-Star MVP trophies in recent years. The little trophy ended up being the subject of jokes for the rest of the season, including from Engelbert herself after Las Vegas’ Commissioner’s Cup win and in Plum’s recent appearance on Kevin Hart’s show.

Contract divorces

If WNBA fans didn’t know what a contract divorce was heading into 2022, they certainly did by the end of the season. Five players “divorced” from their respective teams during the season, including Angel McCoughtry from the Lynx after two games, Liz Cambage from the Sparks in a messy situation and Tina Charles from the Mercury to join the Storm for their playoff run.

Prioritization causes controversy

The league and WNBA Players Association agreed upon the prioritization rule as part of CBA negotiations in 2020. Before it goes into effect in 2023, many players took issue with it publicly this past year. The rule is as follows: Players with two or more years of experience in the WNBA must report to their teams by the start of training camp or by May 1, whichever comes later. If they miss the start of training camp, they will be issued a fine. The penalty for missing the start of the season is a one-year suspension. It’s controversial because it limits the income opportunities for players, who can make much higher salaries in Europe.

Expansion talks

Earlier in the year, Engelbert said the league was aiming to select two locations for expansion teams by the end of 2022. Expansion has been a hot topic in recent years as limited roster spots and salary cap restrictions have left more and more talented players without teams. In a December interview with The Athletic, Engelbert walked back the original timeline. The WNBA has narrowed its search down to 10 cities, with at least one team likely to join by 2025.

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Sun forward Alyssa Thomas made history with her triple-double in the WNBA Finals. (Tim Heitman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Triple-double boom

There were nine triple-doubles recorded in the WNBA in 2022. In the 25 years prior, since the league launched in 1997, there had been only 11. Alyssa Thomas led the sudden surge with two playoff triple-doubles, becoming the first player to reach the feat in the WNBA Finals and the first to register four career triple-doubles. Candace Parker and Sabrina Ionescu each recorded two triple-doubles in 2022, while Moriah Jefferson had one.

Travel issues

Commercial flights to and from games continued to plague the league in 2022. Nneka Ogwumike was one of several players to call out the travel policy after the Sparks were forced to sleep in the airport due to flight cancellations in early August. The league chartered flights for the Commissioner’s Cup Championship and the WNBA Finals, but players continue to ask for more. The issue got more complicated in March when a report in Sports Illustrated revealed the New York Liberty had been fined a WNBA-record $500,000 for chartering team flights in the second half of the 2021 season, a move that violated the league’s CBA.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

Costa Rica Holds USWNT to 0-0 Draw in Frustrating Olympic Send-Off

USWNT midfielder Lindsey Horan dribbles the ball by Costa Rica forward Melissa Herrera and midfielder Gloriana Villalobos
The USWNT had 12 shots on goal on Tuesday despite failing to find the back of the net. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

The USWNT didn't quite get the going away party they were hoping for, settling for a 0-0 draw with Costa Rica on Tuesday in their final tune-up match before the 2024 Olympics kick off next week.

The US produced 26 shots — 12 on target — alongside 67 touches in the box, the most in any match where they failed to convert a single goal since at least 2015, per Opta. Yet they also faced a heroic performance from Costa Rica goalkeeper Noelia Bermúdez, who tallied 12 saves on the night.

USWNT starters remained mostly intact

After Saturday's win over Mexico, USWNT manager Emma Hayes opted for a very similar starting XI, only swapping Crystal Dunn in for Jenna Nighswonger due to load management.

Named starter Rose Lavelle was a late scratch from the lineup after team warmups, with US Soccer attributing her last-minute absence to "leg tightness." Lavelle was replaced by midfielder Korbin Albert, giving the US a slightly less aggressive attacking edge throughout the match.

Casey Krueger, Lynn Williams, Jaedyn Shaw, Emily Sonnett, and rookie Croix Bethune all got minutes in the second half, coming off the bench to contend with Washington, DC's brutally hot conditions.

USWNT forward Sophia Smith and Costa Rica midfielder Gloriana Villalobos battle for the ball
Costa Rica managed to fend off the USWNT with a strong defensive low-block. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY)

Costa Rica's low-block spelled trouble

"Listen, if you play a game of percentages or law of averages, we're creating more and more high-quality chances, and we're getting numbers into key areas — we're getting touches in the key areas," Hayes told reporters after the match, calling attention to Costa Rica's strong defensive low-block.

"The last part's the hardest part. And I'm really patient, because I've coached teams that have to break blocks down, and it's the hardest thing to do in coaching," she continued.

Hayes also noted the team's lack of training time under her management: The decorated coach officially joined the US in early June after finishing the WSL season with her previous club, league champs Chelsea FC.

USWNT pose for a picture after their send-off friendly against costa rica at Audi Field
The USWNT's Olympic group stage run kicks off on July 25th. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Where to watch the USWNT's Olympic games

Tuesday's draw is just the second time the USWNT has entered a major tournament off a non-win. Back in 2015, the US embarked on their legendary World Cup campaign after a 0-0 send-off draw with South Korea.

The next time the USWNT takes the pitch will be at the Paris Olympics, where they'll play Zambia on Thursday, July 25th at 3 PM ET. The match will be broadcast live on USA, with streaming options available on Peacock.

The Late Sub Podcast: This Is Sophia Smith’s USWNT Attack Now

Sophia Smith dribbles during the USWNT's 1-0 win over Mexico on Saturday.
Sophia Smith scored the lone goal in the USWNT's 1-0 win over Mexico last Saturday. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

This week, JWS podcast host Claire Watkins breaks down the days leading up to the first USWNT Olympic send-off friendly, discussing player performances, things that worked well on the pitch, and what still needs developing as coach Emma Hayes's team moves towards a crucial Olympic competition set to will dictate the future of the team.

She then sets her sights on the WNBA, previewing WNBA All-Star Weekend and chatting with Gatorade Women’s Basketball Player of the Year Joyce Edwards alongside Dallas Wings forward Satou Sabally.

Subscribe to The Late Sub to never miss an episode.

USWNT Looks to Extend Winning Streak in Final Olympic Send-Off

USWNT striker Sophia Smith dribbles through Costa Rican defenders during a 2022 Concacaf W Championship game.
The USWNT last took on Costa Rica at the 2022 Concacaf Championship semifinal. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

The USWNT’s last tune-up match before the Olympics has arrived, with the FIFA world No. 5 US looking for an 18th-straight all-time win over No. 44 Costa Rica tonight at Washington, DC's Audi Field.

Just three days after a redemptive 1-0 victory over No. 29 Mexico, head coach Emma Hayes’s Paris-bound roster appears to be finding its stride. Calling Saturday’s win "a step in the right direction," Hayes went on to say, "I think we’re only scratching the surface. I think there’s a lot of layers to go from everyone."

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 13: USWNT coach Emma Hayes stands on the field before a game between Mexico and USWNT
The new-look USWNT is looking to hit its stride after several matches under Hayes. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Hayes's USWNT is still finding its footing

With their first Olympic group stage game against No. 64 Zambia slated for July 25th, the new-look USWNT — which features the youngest roster in 16 years — is working to define its style of play.

While the USWNT’s signature ability to score in transition remains a strong point, the team also acknowledged their shaky first half on Saturday, with midfielder Rose Lavelle commenting that they're "working on being a little more tactically flexible... We’re trying to, as a group, learn how to adjust on the fly and be a little smarter with our adjustments during the games."

The patience required to choose their moments, along with the team’s ability to read and anticipate each other's movements, is clutch to increasing effectiveness in the areas where the USWNT appeared most disjointed against Mexico.

At stake is an Olympic podium finish, where the US hopes to improve on their bronze medal performance in Tokyo — but the team also aims to make a splash amidst their increasingly sophisticated opponents.

Costa Rica captain Raquel "Rocky" Rodriguez chases the ball during a match against Panama in 2020.
Raquel "Rocky" Rodriguez, Costa Rica's captain, is the only NWSL on their Olympic roster. (Omar Vega/Getty Images)

Rodriguez leads a rising Costa Rica team

If improving offensive unity and production is tonight’s goal, Las Ticas could provide the ideal matchup: In their 17 previous meetings, the USWNT has outscored Costa Rica 90-2 overall.

That said, Costa Rica has switched things up since the sides last met in July 2022, with the US defeating the Central American squad 3-0 in the Concacaf Championship semifinal. Las Ticas competed in the 2023 World Cup and reached the Gold Cup quarterfinals earlier this year, where they narrowly fell to No. 8 Canada in extra time.

Costa Rica is captained by 30-year-old Angel City midfielder Rocky Rodriguez, the lone NWSL player on their roster and, in 2015, the first Costa Rica national to ever score in a Women's World Cup.

In addition to maintaining a perfect record against Costa Rica, the USWNT will look to extend their current unbeaten streak to nine, which includes three shutouts in Hayes’s first three matches at the helm.

Lindsay Horan drinks water before the USWNT's match against Ireland in April 2023.
An excessive heat warning is in effect for Washington, DC today. (Brad Smith/USSF/Getty Images)

Where to watch the USWNT vs. Costa Rica friendly

Expect some hydration breaks due to DC's scorching temperatures during tonight’s 7:30 PM ET match, airing live on TNT and streaming on Peacock.

TruTV and Max will simultaneously air the first-ever USWNT altcast, hosted by retired USWNT star Sam Mewis, former USWNT captain Becky Sauerbrunn, and Men in Blazers founder Roger Bennett.

Sizing Up USWNT’s 2024 Olympic Competition

Germany's Giulia Gwinn steps to the ball while Iceland's Sandra Jessen slides in during Friday's UEFA Women's EURO 2025 qualifying match.
Germany lost their Euros qualifier against Iceland 3-0 on Friday, less than two weeks before Olympic football begins. (Hulda Margret/Getty Images)

With Olympic soccer kicking off in just over a week, the USWNT isn't the only national squad prepping for the podium with a series of pre-Paris matchups. Both international friendlies and important qualifiers are on the docket, with several European teams competing for a spot in the UEFA Women's EURO 2025.

Regardless of the stakes, these performances might provide some insight into what the USWNT can expect once the Summer Games begin.

Czechia national soccer team celebrates as Spain women's national soccer team defender Laia Aleixandri leaves the pitch
FIFA World No. 1 Spain fell to Czechia on Friday in a 2025 Euros qualifier. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)

Pre-Olympic matches expose problems for top teams

Of the 12 Olympic teams, recent outings from FIFA world No. 1 Spain and No. 4 Germany featured the most shocking outcomes.

Despite dominating possession behind an opening goal from 2023 Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmatí, the 2023 World Cup winners fell 2-1 to No. 30 Czechia in Friday's Euros qualifier — their first loss of 2024. They managed to bounce back on Tuesday, however, beating Belgium 2-0 to finish out the league stage on top with 15 points.

Spain heads into the Summer Games aiming to become the first women’s team to win a World Cup and Olympic gold back-to-back, though they’ll need to reclaim their composure to achieve that feat in the face of an Olympic group that includes Japan, Nigeria, and Brazil.

France defender Sakina Karchaoui celebrates her opening goal during Friday's 2-1 win over Sweden.
Defender Sakina Karchaoui scored the opening goal in France's 2-1 win over Sweden on Friday. (ARNAUD FINISTRE/AFP via Getty Images)

No. 2 France took down No. 6 Sweden 2-1 in Friday's Euro qualifier, but flipped the script on Tuesday with a 3-1 loss to last-place No. 25 Republic of Ireland, who notched their first win. However, thanks to England's 0-0 draw with Sweden — also on Tuesday — France still topped their qualifying group with 12 points. Les Bleus will look for more consistent results going into the Olympics, where they're set to face Colombia, New Zealand, and Guinea in the group stage.

But it was Germany who stumbled the hardest, losing out 3-0 to No. 14 Iceland in their own Friday qualifier. After the match, Germany's head coach Horst Hrubesch didn’t mince words.

"We have to assert ourselves from the start in the individual battles. The way we played just wasn’t good," Hrubesch told reporters. "We deserved to lose. We handed them all three goals on a plate."

Tuesday also saw improvement for Germany, as they routed Austria 4-0 to claim first place in the group standings with 15 points.

But the earlier loss was still foreboding for this German squad. The two-time world champions fell to 3-2 to Zambia just weeks before the 2023 World Cup, before failing to advance past the World Cup group stage for the first time in the tournament’s history. Germany also faces some tough Olympic group stage competition, battling Australia and the USWNT before crossing paths with Zambia once again.  

Team Canada celebrate their victory in the 2020 Olympic Gold Medal Match with Sweden
Team Canada has their work cut out for them if they want to repeat their Tokyo gold medal run. (Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

Friendlies rally Olympic teams outside Europe

Defending Olympic champs FIFA World No. 8 Canada defeated No. 12 Australia 2-1 on Saturday, with KC Current forward Nichelle Prince and ex-Gotham striker Evelyne Viens both scoring in the friendly. Canada will play world No. 36 Nigeria in a closed-door friendly on Wednesday before kicking off their Olympic campaign against New Zealand on July 25th. 

For their part, No. 28 New Zealand drew 1-1 in a friendly with No. 64 Zambia on Saturday, while non-Olympic-bound Ecuador handed No. 22 Colombia a 2-1 send-off loss.

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