Kristie Mewis made a statement in her West Ham debut on Sunday, assisting on a game-tying goal against Tottenham Hotspur.

Tottenham would win the game 4-3, but it still marked a point of positivity for the east London team, which currently sits 11th in the league table.

Elsewhere in the WSL, USWNT defender Emily Fox made her debut for Arsenal over the weekend, starting in the team’s 2-1 win over Everton. Forward Mia Fishel also earned a start for Chelsea in the wake of Sam Kerr’s season-ending injury.

It’s Fishel’s third start for Chelsea, and her second at Stamford Bridge.

Bunny Shaw had an outstanding performance over the weekend, notching a hat trick for Manchester City in their win over Liverpool. It marked her third hat trick in the last four league games.

Arsenal has announced the signing of Emily Fox, with the USWNT defender joining the Gunners from the North Carolina Courage.

It confirms what has been reported for weeks, including a rumored sighting of Fox in a Getty image that has since been removed from the photo database. She follows in the footsteps of USWNT stars Heather O’Reilly and Tobin Heath, who both played for Arsenal.

In a statement, Fox said that it’s “amazing” to have signed with Arsenal.

“When I think of Arsenal, I think of excellence, I think of a global organization, I think of family,” Fox said. “I think of pushing the standards of football and especially in the women’s game. It’s a huge honor to get the opportunity to represent this club and I’m excited to get started and play in front of our supporters.”

It will be the 25-year-old’s first time playing outside of the United States. But she already knows a couple of her teammates, having played with Alessia Russo and Lotte Wubben-Moy at the University of North Carolina.

“Emily has shown impressive development over recent seasons and her strengths in both phases will make her an important addition to our squad,” Arsenal head coach Jonas Eidevall said. “At international level, the experience she’s built up gives her an excellent foundation to make the transition to English football.”

Fox joins USWNT teammates Catarina Macario, Mia Fishel and Kristie Mewis in the Women’s Super League. Macario and Fishel both play for cross-town rival Chelsea while Mewis recently joined West Ham.

Arsenal currently sit third in the WSL behind Manchester City and leaders Chelsea. The league will return from its winter break on Jan. 27.

All signs point to Emily Fox having signed with Arsenal after the USWNT star showed up in the background of some training photos on Sunday in Getty Images.

The picture has since been deleted from Getty, but was credited to Arsenal photographer David Price as part of the club’s coverage collection. In the foreground of the photo are defender Leah Williamson and forward Beth Mead in pre match jerseys. In the background of the picture walks another player, who looks strikingly similar to Fox.

The team had a closed door friendly against Dutch club Feyenoord in Portugal.

Reports have previously linked the North Carolina Courage star to the WSL club. Arsenal head coach Jonas Eidevall has hinted at adding more players in the offseason, and Arsenal reporter Tim Stillman reported that the restricted free agent was a potential target.

On Friday, BBC’s Emma Sanders reported that Arsenal were “close” to signing Fox, with hopes of reaching an agreement. She also reported that the two sides had been in “advanced talks since before Christmas.”

Arsenal is currently third in the WSL, tied with Manchester City with 22 points and sitting behind Chelsea, who has 25 points and will now be without star forward Sam Kerr, who tore her ACL on Sunday.

Arsenal and North Carolina Courage are in advanced talks to send star defender Emily Fox across the pond. 

Arsenal head coach Jonas Eidevall has hinted at adding more players this offseason, and Fox could be sent to Arsenal on a free transfer, according to a report from OneFootball. Fox may be moving in the January transfer window, per Arsenal reporter Tim Stillman. Fox is a restricted free agent, though, so nothing is certain yet.

“Ideally was hoping to say this after a win (!) but I understand that USWNT right-back Emily Fox to Arsenal in January is at an advanced stage,” Stillman wrote on X, formerly Twitter. 

The 25-year-old defender made 17 starts for the Courage in the 2023 season. She also started in all four matches for the U.S. women’s national team at the 2023 World Cup. She is versatile enough to play both left and right back and is a key target in the Gunners’ plans, according to the latest reports.

U.S. Soccer announced the nominees for its 2023 Female Player of the Year award on Monday, including last year’s winner Sophia Smith.

Joining Smith are Crystal Dunn, Emily Fox, Naomi Girma and Lindsey Horan. Both Horan and Smith are among the team’s leading scorers, while Girma and Dunn featured heavily for the defense. Fox, meanwhile, had a breakout year for the USWNT.

Just Women’s Sports breaks down the three front-runners. The winners of U.S. Soccer’s annual awards will be announced in January 2024.

The national federation also announced nominees for Young Female Player of the Year, including senior national team members Alyssa Thompson and Olivia Moultrie as well as U-20 players Savannah King, Onyeka Gamero and Ally Sentnor.

(Ulrik Pedersen/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

Naomi Girma

If there is one player who has stood out among the rest for the USWNT, it’s Girma.

Questions arose about the team’s defensive line at the World Cup, particularly after longtime captain Becky Sauerbrunn went down with an injury. But Girma – alongside veteran Julie Ertz – answered those questions and then some. Penalty shootout against Sweden aside, the team allowed just one goal at the tournament due in part to Girma’s work along the back line.

In total, the team allowed just three goals through 16 games in 2023, going undefeated in friendlies. The USWNT allowed just 0.17 goals per game on the year, which is the best in any year in team history, according to OptaJack. Without Girma, that backline would have looked much different – and, arguably, the group stage at the World Cup would have gone much differently as well.

To end the year, the USWNT held its opponent without a shot attempt in the first half of its Dec. 2 friendly against China. That marked the eighth time in 2023 that the USWNT did not face a single shot in a half. Girma anchored that choke-you-to-death, lock-down defense, making the 23-year-old a top contender for the player of the year award.

(Joe Prior/Visionhaus via Getty Images)

Lindsey Horan

A former winner of this award, Horan once again had a banner year for the USWNT. She was one of few players to score at the Women’s World Cup – doing so twice, including a critical tally in the 1-1 draw against the Netherlands.

In total, Horan scored four goals on the year, which ties her for second-most on the team. (Mallory Swanson, despite going down with an injury in April, is the team’s leading scorer, with six goals in 2023.) Horan also added an assist to bring her total goal contributions to five. She started and played in 15 games for the squad, wearing the captain’s armband during the World Cup after Sauerbrunn went down with an injury.

Not only did the 29-year-old midfielder contribute offensively, but Horan also has been a steady presence for a USWNT team that has undergone some major changes this year — and will continue to do so under new head coach Emma Hayes. Horan also is the only player from the USWNT this year to have been nominated for the FIFA Best Player award, which is a testament to the year she had.

(Ulrik Pedersen/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

Sophia Smith

Smith followed up a banner 2022 with another great one for the USWNT in 2023. She joined Horan as the only two players to score for the U.S. at the World Cup, doing so twice. She also had an assist to finish as the team’s leader in points for the tournament.

Smith missed significant time with an injury after the World Cup, but the 23-year-old forward returned to the starting lineup for the team’s December friendlies and scored almost immediately – showcasing just how good she is and just how much the team needs her on its attack. The reigning player of the year, Smith backed that up, continuing to excel and putting herself back in the conversation once again.

U.S. women’s national team forward Trinity Rodman plans to tune into the four-part documentary on Netflix chronicling the team’s journey at the 2023 World Cup.

Already two trailers have been released for the docuseries, which will premiere on the streaming platform on Dec. 12. The series, titled “Under Pressure,” recounts the USWNT’s campaign for a World Cup three-peat at the 2023 tournament, which ended in a disappointing Round of 16 shootout loss to Sweden.

“We’re all talking about this. I think for me personally, it is a lot of emotions, and I think it will be for a while,” Rodman told reporters on Wednesday, admitting that she hasn’t watched the preview yet. “I will be watching though because I think we all need to see behind the scenes and see the journey that we went on, as much as it does kind of hurt.

“I do feel like we all need to reflect and see how much we went through together so then we can grow in the future. I think it’s going to be really cool for everyone to see and for us to grow as people and as teammates to each other. It’s gonna be tough though.”

And while they didn’t get the result they wanted at the World Cup, Rodman is excited for outsiders to “see the work that we put in.”

“It will be really interesting. I mean, I think with Netflix, they’ve done a few of these four-part documentaries and they’ve been really interesting on a lot of different subjects and sports,” said defender Emily Fox, who has yet to watch the second trailer. “I think when the documentary comes out, I definitely will be watching it.”

The USWNT is preparing to play China PR on Saturday, Dec. 2 and Tuesday, Dec. 5 in their final games of 2023. Next year, they’ll start the work of reclaiming gold at the 2024 Paris Olympics. Under new head coach Emma Hayes, they’ll be focused on winning, just as they were in Australia and New Zealand, where Rodman said they were barely aware of the Netflix film crew.

“I think for all of us, our heads were down with all the outside noise.  And I think going into the thing, we did say we came together as a team and said there is so much outside noise and we cannot pay mind,” Rodman said of the World Cup. “We are here for one thing, and that’s to win. And that’s all we were thinking about was training and winning the next game.”

Players on the U.S. women’s national team reflected on meeting new head coach Emma Hayes on Wednesday, with Trinity Rodman calling the introduction “great.”

Hayes flew to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to meet with the team ahead of their final friendlies of the year. She won’t stay for the games, but in just two days, she made a impression. Hayes, currently the head coach of Chelsea, won’t join the USWNT until Chelsea’s season ends in May 2024.

“She’s amazing so far,” forward Rodman said. “Obviously, it’s only been two days. So there’s only so much you can find out about a person and I’d never met her before. So initial impressions have been really good.”

“First impressions of Emma are very welcoming, exciting and eager to really be a part of this team and get to work,” defender Emily Fox said. “So I’m really excited to have her as a coach and I know that we’re all gonna learn a lot from her.”

To Rodman, the biggest priority over the coming months will be Hayes building relationships with the U.S. players despite not physically being around the team. Interim coach Twila Kilgore will serve that role in Hayes’ absence.

“I think the biggest thing with her coming in is getting to know us as players because she’s not going to be able to build the foundation or start anything with us if she doesn’t really get to know us as people and know our characteristics on and off the field,” Rodman said.

But Hayes has also communicated to the players that she doesn’t want them to stray from their identities, and Rodman has heard from her peers that Hayes lives up to that standard.

“She wants us to be the players that we came into these camps as. She doesn’t want us molded into something else. She doesn’t want to stray away from who we are,” Rodman said.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people who have known her and have been coached by her, so I heard all good things. The relationships are always good with her. The coaching is amazing. She wants to win, but she also caters to what the players needs are, not just what her needs are to win.”

Hayes will also bring a much-needed international perspective to the USWNT. As the sport continues to grow and evolve abroad, some have questioned whether the U.S. has adjusted accordingly after their worst-finish ever at a World Cup in 2023. Hayes’ experience coaching in the Women’s Super League and in the U.S., with the NWSL’s Chicago Red Stars, makes her a unique fit for the squad.

“With this team, we’ve always been disruptors and trying to break barriers and just get better and better,” Fox said. “I think with the hiring of Emma, that just proves it once again. … First impressions, just really excited to have her because I think she brings in a different perspective. But she also has those similarities and always wanting to win, always wanting to disrupt, push for more and be the best.”

The second year of NWSL free agency opened on Nov. 20.

One of the top free agents on the market is Crystal Dunn, who already has announced her intention to depart the Portland Thorns. Other top targets include OL Reign midfielder Rose Lavelle and Chicago Red Stars forward Mallory Swanson.

With the expansion draft set for Dec. 15, teams and players alike seem to be in no rush to formalize contracts for the 2024 season. Teams can protect up to nine players from selection by Bay FC or the Utah Royals, but free agents are exempt, so expect most signings to become official after the draft.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the lone signing on the opening day of free agency went to the Royals. Michele Vasconcelos signed a two-year deal with Utah, setting up her return to her home state.

Unrestricted free agents can negotiate a new contract with any NWSL club, including expansion clubs Bay FC and Utah.

Restricted free agents also can negotiate with any NWSL club, but a player’s current team will have seven days to match any offer received — in salary, bonus structure and years. If the team does not match the offer, the player can sign with the new team, as spelled out in the NWSL’s collective bargaining agreement.

CINCINNATI — The U.S. women’s national team played their first match after a disappointing World Cup campaign on Thursday, defeating South Africa 3-0 in Julie Ertz’s final appearance with the team. Ertz’s goodbye came with a lot of emotions, both in public and in the locker room, as the U.S. began to turn the page from the Vlatko Andonovski era.

It’s difficult to draw any definitive conclusions from friendlies, but the U.S. showed clear positive signs in Thursday’s victory, putting together a performance that any prospective new coach could get excited about. Here are a few reasons to think that the former World No. 1 team can steady the ship in 2024.

Passing of the guard

USWNT sendoff games could be considered unnecessary pomp and circumstance for individual players, but it was clear that getting a chance to say thank you to Ertz meant more to U.S. players than a nice slogan.

Longtime teammates coming back together for a curtain call after a disappointing World Cup campaign provided a sense of closure to the team’s 2023. The game also held important locker room threads together that the USWNT has long prized. It’s been easy to take for granted that young players coming into the U.S. environment would always have Ertz and Megan Rapinoe to guide and set standards, but with their departures, that particular mentorship becomes precious.

“Having [Ertz] here, and working with her a little bit at Angel City, it was just something that — I haven’t been able to see her in this environment before,” said defender M.A. Vignola, who made her USWNT debut Thursday. “I just came in with high expectations for myself, but also ready to learn and to take the notes of people like Julie and people like Megan and Alex, and having those people around me was something that I’ve dreamed of.”

Vignola was the only player to earn her first U.S. cap on Thursday, but other newcomers like Jaedyn Shaw and Mia Fishel are gaining valuable experience with those veterans still in place. As the U.S. naturally evolves over the next few years, maintaining that generational through-line will continue to be important.

M.A. Vignola made her debut with the USWNT on the same night Julie Ertz played in her last game. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

The Sweden formation

A new coach will likely re-evaluate all aspects of the way the USWNT plays, including both personnel and style. But under interim manager Twila Kilgore, they simply leaned into what was already working.

The U.S. played in the same 4-2-3-1 formation on Thursday as they did against Sweden in the Round of 16, a game players have said was their best performance of the tournament. Emily Sonnett again slotted into the defensive midfield, and Lindsey Horan took the most advanced midfield position to control the flow of possession.

“The expectation within the group was to build off the Sweden match,” Kilgore said after the game. “So part of that has to do with formation, but formation, sometimes it’s just five yards here and five yards there. But really the idea was to build off of our play against Sweden.”

The system works well for this particular roster, as Sonnett provided defensive cover to allow first Ertz and then Horan to push forward and distribute the ball to the forward line. Emily Fox had a certain amount of freedom at outside-back to make runs both to expand the team’s width and to cut inside. Lynn Williams and Trinity Rodman were also effective as wingers in a way the U.S. couldn’t quite capture in Australia and New Zealand.

While the USWNT didn’t play with freedom immediately in their first game after Andonovski’s exit, they did warm into the first half with a lightness they’ll look to bring into their future games, prior to hiring a new permanent coach. The next step should be further integration of new faces into a system that everyone feels comfortable in, to avoid the team falling into too steep of a holding pattern.

Hitting the back of the net

During the World Cup, the U.S. had trouble with their attacking structure and their ability to move and possess the ball.

The team shook off a few of those cobwebs on Thursday, scoring three goals in quick succession in the final 10 minutes of the first half to put the game out of reach. While they spent some time early on trying to get Ertz a shot at one final goal — “Didn’t you see me trying?” Lindsey Horan joked after the match — the tendency to use set pieces to their advantage felt more like the USWNT of old.

Williams wreaked havoc in the box on corner kicks, scoring two goals off second-chance opportunities.

“We have been talking about in training, my positioning, my job was just to stay in front of the keeper and get her line of sight,” Williams said. “And we have amazing servers and an amazing aerial presence, so my job was just to make her job hard, and there [were] going to be second rebounds.”

But the best goal of the night came from Trinity Rodman, who powerfully redirected a perfect low cross from Alex Morgan into the box in the 34th minute. Morgan has had a mercurial 2023, logging many minutes at the center-forward position for the U.S. in dire need of her skill set. But the 34-year-old striker hasn’t scored for her club or country since May, and she hasn’t hit the back of the net for the U.S. since February.

Morgan’s ability to influence a game, however, goes far beyond scoring, and her run in behind paid major dividends as she made the right pass centrally for Rodman to finish. The goal came in quick transition after decisive midfield buildup, something the U.S. underutilized under Andonovski, and showcased how the same players from the World Cup can succeed when they aren’t second-guessing themselves.

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

If the old adage goes that defense wins championships, U.S. women’s national team head coach Vlatko Andonovski might be taking his faith in the statement a little too far.

The U.S. has given up only one goal so far in the 2023 World Cup, on a single shot on goal. But they’ve also looked disjointed in possession and frantic in the attack en route to a second-place finish in their group.

Despite the legacy of the USWNT’s “Department of Defense,” fans weren’t expecting a defensive lockdown of this magnitude going into the World Cup. As different players with varying strengths rotated in and out of the backline in the lead-up to the tournament, the odd mistake in the defense became a regular occurrence and, to Andonovski, a risk worth taking.

There was a feeling that the team was willing to live or die by their defensive mistakes in the pursuit of strengthening the attack. But what Andonovski has actually prioritized under the glare of the spotlight is shoring up the team’s backline issues at the steep cost of freedom in front of the defense.

A hyper-conservative game plan to limit shots on goal is both a problem the U.S. is having trouble solving and their current lifeline. It doesn’t appear to be a mistake as much as an intentional gamble. But it’s a gamble the USWNT players are not accustomed to executing, even under Andonovski’s management.

The loss of reliable contributors

Injuries to USWNT forwards have rightly gotten a fair amount of attention, but the team’s group stage suggests that Andonovski’s current approach is a way to offset absences in the defense.

What the U.S. defense is missing, as compared to 2019 or even 2021, is the result of incremental loss. While Abby Dahlkemper wasn’t available for selection due to her ongoing recovery from back surgery, other players have been in and out of match fitness. Tierna Davidson returned from her ACL injury in 2023, but was unable to claim her spot as the heir apparent to a USWNT center-back role. Captain Becky Sauerbrunn played sporadically to begin the 2023 NWSL season, and the variable nature of her recovery kept her off the roster entirely.

Other members of the defense are clearly important to team chemistry but cannot get on the field consistently. Kelley O’Hara’s influence on the USWNT is clear, with her leading the huddle after the team’s disappointing draw with Portugal to close out the group stage. But her return to soccer fitness has not been linear in 2023 — before departing for the World Cup, she even played in an attacking role for Gotham FC because she was not getting minutes on their backline.

So Dahlkemper, Davidson and Sauerbrunn are not in camp, and O’Hara’s role is tied more to off-field contributions. O’Hara and Sauerbrunn’s limitations are a consequence of the passing of time and the USWNT’s inability to develop heirs to match their skill sets. Dahlkemper and Davidson’s absences are the result of the twists of fate that saw other notable teammates miss out on a World Cup opportunity.

A lack of confidence in new faces

Two players who rounded out the top five in minutes played for the USWNT in 2022 were center-back Alana Cook and outside-back Sofia Huerta. Both made the 2023 World Cup roster but have yet to make an impact on the field: Huerta played seven minutes against Vietnam, and Cook hasn’t seen the field at all.

Based on their 2022 contributions, their very limited roles at the World Cup might surprise, but the writing has quietly been on the wall in recent months. At the end of 2022, Andonovski began pairing Naomi Girma and Sauerbrunn together consistently, after previously rotating them at left center-back and giving Cook heavy minutes on the right.

The sample size was small enough to register as experimentation, but it could now be read as a coach sensing that Cook’s reaction times in key moments weren’t going to be reliable enough against top competition. In Sauerbrunn’s absence, Andonovski has now seemingly replaced Cook with Julie Ertz, making a conscious decision to prioritize the defense over the midfield and trusting the two-time World Cup champion in partnership with Girma.

Huerta is on the team as a crossing specialist, a player who makes up in attacking generation what she gives up in 1v1 defending. Signs in the early stages of the tournament are that Andonovski feels more comfortable with Emily Fox out of position on the right side of the field than getting Huerta settled in games that make sense for her abilities. Emily Sonnett also appears to be a player Andonovski brought to see games out in their final stages, and not as a reliable starter.

Alana Cook has not seen the field at the World Cup after leading the team in minutes in 2022. (Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

The benefit of a conservative approach

There have been clear positives to the way the U.S. has locked down its defensive roles. The USWNT has given up just the one goal, their xG against ranks fourth among the entire World Cup field, and goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher has not had to register a single save so far in the tournament.

That last point is probably a statistic Andonovski has taken very seriously, based on Naeher’s struggles with the Chicago Red Stars this season. The USWNT goalkeeper player pool is more wide open than ever, but the best-performing American keepers statistically (outside of third keeper Aubrey Kingsbury) are not with the team right now. Again, experience and leadership have taken priority over clearing the way for a brand-new goalkeeping core based on current shot-stopping ability.

Naeher is the player Andonovski wants organizing his defense, and she has progressed year after year with distribution with the ball at her feet. But the USWNT’s hopes for clean sheets seem to rely on her seeing as few shots on goal as possible, which the team so far has been achieving (the one shot on target they did face, against the Netherlands, went in for a goal).

Ertz actually recorded the most impressive save of the group stage, putting in a crucial block against the Netherlands that saved a point for the team and a place in the knockout rounds.

The overwhelming cost of limited freedom

The cost of Andonovski’s approach appears to be everything else that’s recognizable about the USWNT right now. They’ve ceded control of the midfield almost by design, with a resignation that Ertz will control tempo from a deep-lying position. It’s taken further control away from Andi Sullivan, who has lacked reliable passing outlets when she has the ball and struggled to execute a defensive press without it.

With the understanding that the midfield is not intended to hold the ball, Andonovski’s creative players have been tasked with melting into the attack. At times against Portugal, the U.S. lined up with four or five players on their opponent’s backline, waiting for deep-lying players to provide long-ball service without the creative runs necessary to create space.

Andonovski has also settled on playing both of his outside-backs out of position, which has appeared to limit Crystal Dunn and Emily Fox in their movement. Dunn, of course, is a creative midfielder for the Portland Thorns, and Fox plays most freely on the left for the North Carolina Courage. Both players have been mindful of their defensive assignments to a fault in the group stage, sitting back against Vietnam and staying wide rather than filling empty midfield spaces against the Netherlands and Portugal.

Tactics have also taken a toll on the USWNT’s vaunted mentality. As players process their positional assignments in real time, those split-second moments of doubt have disrupted the team’s defensive press and ball progression. Rather than being empowered to play to the team’s strengths, players seem preoccupied with the weaknesses. Those weaknesses are also on display in the team’s substitution patterns, with Andonovski lacking trust in those he brought with him and leaving the team’s depth unused.

Andonovski’s transformation of the U.S. into a team that grinds out results based on conservative tactics is both an indictment of his management of the team over the last four years, and an objective assessment of the team he has constructed. If the U.S. bows out in the Round of 16, he’ll have to answer for both his preparation and his approach.

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