Alyssa Naeher exited the Chicago Red Stars game early on Sunday with an apparent injury.

After making a recovery run in the second half of Chicago's 3-1 win over the Utah Royals, the 36-year-old walked off the pitch limping but unassisted in the 62nd minute. She was replaced by backup keeper Mackenzie Wood.

Red Stars head coach Lorne Donaldson didn’t offer an update on the star goalkeeper's status in his postgame interview.

"No [update], I'm leaving it to the pros — the medical staff — so I don't know what's going on yet," he said.

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While the injury is bad news for Chicago, who currently sit fifth in the NWSL table, it’s also potentially troubling for the UWSNT's Olympic prospects. Naeher, a two-time Women's World Cup champion with the US, has served as the team's default starting goalkeeper for the last several years. 

Naeher is virtually a lock for the 2024 Olympics, should her injury not be too serious. But depending on its gravity, the knock could keep her out of a series of upcoming friendlies kicking off June 1st and 4th, Emma Hayes’ first as head coach for the USWNT. 

Also leaving her game with an injury on Sunday was Jaedyn Shaw, who limped off the pitch well into stoppage time in the Wave's 1-1 draw with Gotham FC. Shaw has recently emerged as one of the Wave's top strikers, making it all the more concerning if she ends up joining teammates Alex Morgan, Naomi Girma, and Abby Dahlkemper on the injured list. All four have played in recent camps for the USWNT.

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San Diego head coach Casey Stoney did not provide an update following Sunday's game, but noted that she thought Shaw had landed on her ankle. 

The 2024 Paris Olympics begins Friday, July 26th, with rostered players scheduled to appear in their final club matches in mid-July.

The San Diego Wave are without some key players, and they don’t expect to get them back anytime soon. 

Alex Morgan, Sofia Jakobsson, Melanie Barcenas, Abby Dahlkemper, and Naomi Girma are all currently on the team’s injury list. On Monday, head coach Casey Stoney was asked if she expected any of them to return to the pitch in the near future. 

"No, unfortunately not," was her response. The Wave is set to play Utah on Wednesday.

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While Stoney hasn't yet provided anything else definitive, absences from Morgan and Girma leave behind a pretty big hole in the team roster, particularly with the Olympics — not to mention the preceding USWNT send-off friendlies — just around the corner. Morgan has been sidelined with ankle trouble since the team's late April match against Orlando, while Girma’s first game on the injury list was against Seattle. 

Stoney, however, has said that the Wave doesn’t play any differently with or without the missing players.

"It doesn’t really affect the way we play," she said following the team’s recent loss to Seattle. "We just needed to have more patience. We still had some senior players out there tonight that could have impacted that and needed to impact that and did in the second half."

San Diego currently sits in 10th place with seven points, having won two games in their last five matches.

Alex Morgan weighed in on the NWSL expansion draft discourse Monday, saying the draft “should not exist.”

Her reaction came after her now-former San Diego Wave teammate Rachel Hill, who was selected in the expansion draft by Bay FC, posted to social media, thanking the Wave and their fans.

“Did not think I’d be sitting here writing this after only one season,” wrote Hill, who had chosen the Wave in free agency last season and signed a two-year contract through 2024. “I’ve loved every second I had in San Diego and I’m sad it’s come to an end like this.”

Morgan shared Hill’s post to her own Instagram, writing: “The NWSL expansion draft should not exist. Period. If you reach free agency and choose the club and city you want to play for, you deserve the [opportunity] to see that through. It was torture watching the expansion draft, really.”

The USWNT and San Diego Wave forward isn’t the only person to criticize the process. Multiple head coaches have done so in the last week, including Wave head coach Casey Stoney, who wrote: “We have to find a different way!!!! It can be done because I have done it!!!!!!”

Meanwhile, Laura Harvey of OL Reign, who lost two players to the expansion draft, wrote: “I’d just like to make it official. I dislike the expansion draft. I also dislike that I chose to be in England whilst it was on, so now it’s 1.30am and I’m wired. Thanks very much!”

North Carolina Courage head coach Sean Nahas also was critical of the process. Seven players were selected, five by Bay FC and two by Utah Royals FC. Of those players, two already have been traded, as San Diego brought back Sierra Enge – who had been selected by Bay FC – with the help of Houston while also trading with Utah for former OL Reign forward Elyse Bennett.

“I don’t think people actually realize the damage that is created by this process and what it does to players, clubs and those relationships,” Nahas wrote Saturday. “We should be protecting the league and not 9 players per roster. There needs to be another way.”

Before the draft, North Carolina and San Diego engaged in trades with the new teams to try and limit their losses in the draft and to maintain more control over the future of their lineups. OL Reign did not make any trades with either Bay FC or Utah Royals FC.

Utah Royals sporting director Kelly Cousins conceded after the draft that the process of expansion should change.

“When you get to draft day, it’s not nice for anyone, even for us, being in it,” Cousins said. “You’re picking a player, and a new player finds out in the moment, live on telly, that they go to another club. For us, that doesn’t sit well, I think it is something that probably should change because you’re saying a player could be uprooted. We’re a week away from Christmas, and now they might have to move to the other side of the country.”

But Bay FC general manager Lucy Rushton called the expansion draft “imperative.”

“I think it’s essential because I think without it, it would have been very difficult for us to amass a roster from within the NWSL,” she said. “Is it the nicest mechanism through which to acquire players? No, probably not, not for the players and it’s tough. I certainly think it’s essential and especially now, having gone through the process, it scares me to think what some of the numbers might have looked like that teams might have asked for to trade their players.”

The league will go through an expansion process again in a couple of years, with Boston and one other team set to begin play in 2026.

Several NWSL head coaches have spoken out against the expansion draft.

Sean Nahas of the North Carolina Courage, Laura Harvey of OL Reign and Casey Stoney of the San Diego Wave all condemned the draft for the lack of control it creates for players and existing teams.

All three coaches had multiple players selected from their squads in Friday’s expansion draft for Bay FC and Utah Royals FC, both of which will join the league in 2024.

“I don’t think people actually realize the damage that is created by this process and what it does to players, clubs and those relationships. We should be protecting the league and not 9 players per roster. There needs to be another way,” Nahas wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Before the draft, North Carolina and San Diego engaged in trades with the new teams to try and limit their losses in the draft and to maintain more control over the future of their lineups. OL Reign did not make any trades with either Bay FC or Utah Royals FC.

Yet all three teams lost two players to the new clubs. And coaches and players aren’t happy with the lives being uprooted.

“I’d just like to make it official. I dislike the expansion draft. I also dislike that I chose to be in England whilst it was on, so now it’s 1.30am and I’m wired. Thanks very much!” Harvey wrote on X.

Many NWSL fans seem to be in agreement with coaches and players about disliking the expansion draft. Some have proposed earlier free agency, so teams can sign all of their own talent with more control from existing teams and players. None of the coaches who spoke out offered specific solutions — but they believe a new way could be found.

“We have to find a different way!!!! It can be done because I have done it!!!!!!” Stoney said on X.

Three hundred and sixty six-days after undergoing back surgery and 599 since her last cap, Abby Dahlkemper returned to the pitch for the U.S. women’s national team on Dec. 2 as part of the starting XI.

The 30-year-old defender last appeared in stars and stripes on April 12, 2022, in a friendly against Uzbekistan. And after so much time away, she was thrilled to return to international play.

“Just grateful beyond words and just thankful for this opportunity,” Dahlkemper told TNT following the match. 

Before her long absence from the field, Dahlkemper experienced back spasms and spondylolysis, a stress fracture in the spine. The 30-year-old defender realized she needed back surgery in the middle of a game for the San Diego Wave, her NWSL squad. And then last November, Dahlkemper underwent spinal fusion surgery and spent nearly a year recovering. 

“It was scary once I got the surgery and got it done because I just didn’t know how I was going to heal, like if I was ever going to be able to get like a full rotation and this and that in my back,” Dahlkemper said in September. “But I feel like my body has adjusted well and coming back, I feel like I haven’t really missed a beat.”

Dahlkemper scored in her third game back for the Wave, and she played all 90 minutes for the USWNT against China. So the 2019 World Cup champion seems to be back to her pre-injury form.

“You just trust the process and control what you can,” Dahlkemper said. “And here I am. Just unbelievably grateful and thankful but excited to play with this team again.”

The NWSL playoff format needs an overhaul, Christen Press and Tobin Heath argued on the latest episode of “The RE-CAP Show.”

Press and Heath broke down the format on their podcast, which they brought back for the NWSL playoffs. In 2021, the NWSL expanded the postseason to six teams, giving the top two seeds a bye into the semifinal round.

“It is bizarre and lopsided,” Press said.

With the top seeds getting a bye – and, this year, with an international break in between rounds – they face a two- or three-week break between their regular-season finales and their first playoff games. In this year’s playoffs, the No. 1 seed San Diego Wave and the No. 2 seed Portland Thorns both lost in the semifinals, while No. 4 seed OL Reign and No. 6 seed Gotham FC advanced to the championship match. And while both missed the 2023 season with injuries, both have been tracking the postseason.

“There’s a lot to be said for form and staying in form, and playing games and being in a little bit of flow versus just sitting on your hands waiting for your most important match of your season,” Press continued.

For Heath, the argument showed in two players: Sophia Smith and Rose Lavelle. Both players are coming off injuries. But Smith had to leave Portland to play with the USWNT during the international break, while Lavelle stayed behind and trained with OL Reign. And Lavelle got some minutes in her team’s quarterfinal game, which helped her ramp up for the semifinal round.

“And who knows, everybody is at a different form in their recovery,” Heath said. “But it just shows how disruptive it is to these players to have an international break for the top players.

“And then also the bye — like for Portland, they had lost. They had played their last game of the season, lost in a crazy loss to Angel City and then their first game of their playoff they play and they lose.”

Heath extended the argument to the NWSL calendar as a whole, which runs into FIFA’s international windows in September and October during the most important stretches of the league season.

“Imagine if it’s the NBA, and all of a sudden Team USA Basketball says, ‘Oh, you just won. Before you go to the final series, you’re going to come over and play with a different team for a couple of weeks, and then go back and try to win a championship with your team,’” Heath said. “It’s just unheard of. It would never happen. It’s disruptive. It shows that the best team isn’t going to be the most likely team to win a championship. It’s very hard to do.”

As Just Women’s Sports writer Claire Watkins pointed out ahead of the playoffs, quarterfinalists have made deep runs since the NWSL expanded its postseason format. Since 2021, five of the six finalists have played in the quarterfinal round, which Press calls “proof enough” that the format needs changing.

“So NWSL organizers, if you’re listening to this, I think we could use a little refresh of the playoff format,” she said.

Heath agreed, adding: “We just need to go to a European calendar. Period, full stop. It’s going to be disruption to the max until we’ve become legit.”

@justwomenssports It’s time for the #NWSL quarterfinals, a round that as produced three out of the last four finalists since the league changed their playoff format. San Diego and Portland are sitting on playoff byes wondering the age old question: is rest better, or momentum? #soccer #woso ♬ original sound - Just Women’s Sports

Naomi Girma has been named the NWSL Defender of the Year in each of her first two seasons in the league.

The No. 1 pick by the San Diego Wave in the 2022 NWSL draft, the 23-year-old won the award for the second time in a row in 2023, the league announced Wednesday. She beat out Ali Krieger of Gotham FC, Sarah Gorden of Angel City, Kaleigh Kurtz of the North Carolina Courage and Sam Staab of the Washington Spirit.

Girma becomes the first Wave player to earn a postseason accolade in two consecutive years, having helped the Wave to a league-high 11 wins and the 2023 NWSL Shield. She won Rookie of the Year and Defender of the Year in her rookie season.

As the centerpiece of San Diego’s backline, Girma finished among the top five players in the league in passes completed (948) and passing accuracy (88.68%). Led by Girma, the Wave defense allowed just 22 goals and 91 shots on goal, good for second- and third-fewest in the league, respectively. Through 19 regular-season matches, Girma conceded just four fouls.

She also was named to the 2023 NWSL Best XI, joining San Diego forward Jaedyn Shaw on the first team. Veteran forward Alex Morgan and goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan made the second team.

In June, she signed a new contract with San Diego, which will keep her with the Wave through the 2026 season.

“Naomi is one of the best young defenders in the world, and we’re elated that she’ll continue her career with the Wave,” Wave head coach Casey Stoney said in a news release at the time. “She has been a key contributor to this club and the success the Wave has had, and I look forward to continuing to watch her grow here in San Diego.”

Girma also was at the heart of the USWNT defense at the 2023 World Cup, starting started all four games at her first major tournament. Gotham FC and USWNT forward Lynn Williams called the young defender a “bright spot” amid a disappointing run, while USWNT co-captain Lindsey Horan called her “one of the best players on the team.”

OL Reign’s Rose Lavelle dribbled near the right corner with two San Diego Wave defenders in her path. Lavelle passed to the nearby Veronica Latsko, who carried the ball further up the line.

Just feet from the baseline, with Wave defenders crashing into the box in front of her, Latsko let loose a high cross. The ball hung in the air as it sailed across the goalmouth before ringing off the far post and into the netting.

“That was not supposed to be a shot,” the 27-year-old forward admitted after the match.

Yet Latsko’s improbable goal propelled the No. 4 Reign to a 1-0 win over No. 1 San Diego and secured them a spot in the NWSL Championship against Gotham FC at 8 p.m. ET Saturday, Nov. 11.

The Reign started their 2023 playoff run with their first postseason win since 2015. They have not played in an NWSL final since 2015, and they have never won the title. Gotham won their first two playoff games in franchise history this postseason. So the season will end with a first-time champion.

And with her goal against the Wave, Latsko became the third player in NWSL history to score in back-to-back playoff games.

OL Reign’s offensive dominance showed itself at the beginning of Sunday’s semifinal, as the club managed three shots on goal in the opening 30 minutes. They finished the first half with four scoring chances to the Wave’s two.

But the Seattle-based club didn’t break through until early in the second half, when Latsko’s boot put an end to San Diego’s season.

And it’s a good thing the Reign got on the board when they did. After the club controlled the ball for much of the first half, San Diego made its presence known in the second half. The Wave eventually took the majority of possession, shots and chances created in front of their home crowd at Snapdragon Stadium. But the Reign defense stood fast, clearing two crucial corners in the 87th and 88th minutes to prevent the Wave from breaking through.

“I think that our team is built on the foundation of defense, and when you get the defensive part right from top to bottom, that’s when you can win games,” Latsko said.

In the end, Latsko’s wide-angle shot was enough to extend the Reign’s season and retiring star Megan Rapinoe’s career. And Rapinoe’s teammates plan to rise to the occasion at the NWSL Championship.

“I think it’s really special to be able to get her there,” Lavelle said. “I think it’s really special to finally get to this moment and be able to be on this stage. Obviously, the job is not done and we have a big week ahead of us preparing for that.”

Jaedyn Shaw is not intimidated ahead of the San Diego Wave’s NWSL semifinal contest against OL Reign at 9:30 p.m. ET Sunday.

“Obviously, this is a super important game,” the 18-year-old forward said Friday. “It’s win or go home. So yeah, we’ve prepared for a while for this. And honestly, we’re just ready to get out there and play.

“I feel like, this is a big game and it’s a great opponent. And we’re just ready to go and kick some butt.”

That unflappable attitude will help Shaw as she and the No. 1 seed Wave host No. 4 seed OL Reign at Snapdragon Stadium with a spot in the NWSL Championship on the line. While she would not describe herself as the team’s “class clown,” she does help keep the atmosphere light in training.

“That’s just me. Like, I’m so unserious. I know when it’s time to take care of business, but I can be laughing while I do it, too.”

The relationship she has developed with veteran forward Alex Morgan also has helped Shaw in her first full NWSL season. Shaw joined San Diego in July 2022, and while she played in both of the team’s NWSL playoff games last season, the chemistry between herself and Morgan is even stronger heading into their opening game of the 2023 postseason.

“I feel like a lot of it is just chemistry starting in training. And I feel like now we kind of know each other’s tendencies and we know how to work off each other a little bit better,” Shaw said. “And honestly, I feel like I can find her from anywhere and she can find me the same way. So I think that’s really transferred onto the games and into the national team as well. So I’m really excited to see where it goes.”

U.S. women’s national team stars Naomi Girma, Sophia Smith and Sofia Huerta have joined a new initiative aimed at tackling the rising mental health issues in soccer.

Girma, Smith and Huerta are among the international players to back the “Create the Space” project. Arsenal’s Beth Mead and Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell also are involved.

Through “Create the Space,” these players will join forces with Common Goal to develop a program that will help break down the stigma surrounding mental health. Both clubs and individuals can make use of the program.

Girma has been involved with Common Goal since before the 2023 World Cup. Girma and Smith also dedicated their World Cup journeys and their participation in the initiative to their Stanford teammate Katie Meyer, who died by suicide last spring.

On Thursday, Girma said that the new initiativ  “will help people be the best versions of themselves and may even save lives.”

“What I have learned through losing my best friend, is that everyone struggles in their own way, even when it doesn’t seem they are,” Girma said. “Suffering doesn’t always look like the way it’s portrayed in the movies. No matter if I am a professional athlete, a student or whatever, making sure that I’m checking in on others and checking in on myself is so important.”

In England, Common Goal will develop a program alongside charity Football Beyond Borders.

“In January I lost my Mum and because of the injury I couldn’t play football, which was always my escape, my happy place,” Mead said. “Moments when people thought I was fine because of my outgoing personality, were very dark.

“It’s been a tough process to understand. Teammates, people at the club, family and friends that supported me were so important, without them I could have been in a far darker place. I want to help create an environment in which it’s totally normal to address mental health.

“There’s not a perfect way of dealing with it, but if you feel you’re not alone it helps so much. We need to normalize mental health and in doing so that would go a long way.”

Note: If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide or is in emotional distress, call or text the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.