The NWSL’s final pre-Olympic break matches are in the books, but that doesn’t mean club teams won’t get a workout before the league’s August 23rd regular season return.

All 14 squads — minus their Paris-bound teammates — will square off in the first-ever NWSL x LIGA MX Femenil Summer Cup beginning July 19th.

Going up against the NWSL are Mexico’s top six 2023 Liga MX teams: Tigres UANL, Club América, Chivas de Guadalajara, Rayadas de Monterrey, Pachuca, and Tijuana.

All 33 matches will air on CBS Sports platforms, with Seattle Reign FC kicking off the tournament against the Utah Royals at 9 PM ET on CBS Sports Network and Paramount+.

liga mx summer cup players from Tigres femenil and Monterrey femenil walk to the pitch
Tigres UANL will join five other Liga MX Femenil teams at this month's Summer Cup. (Hugo Rivera/Jam Media/Getty Images)

How the NWSL x LIGA MX Femenil Summer Cup works

The Cup’s 20 teams are split into five groups of four, with each group facing off round-robin style over a total of 30 group stage matches.

Only four of those five teams will advance to the August 6th semifinals. To move on, a club must both win their group and have amassed enough points to be amongst the top four winning teams, eliminating the group stage-winning team with the lowest points.

The two Summer Cup finalists will then have months to prepare for the title-winning match, set for October 25th — one week before the NWSL’s last regular season match weekend.

OL's Delphine Cascarino faces Portland Thorns Becky Sauerbrunn at the 2021 Women's International Champions Cup
The Women's International Championship Cup ran from 2018 to 2022, with NWSL side Portland winning in 2021. (Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Interleague cups in the women's game

While interleague contests aren’t new to the women’s game — think UEFA Champions League — they’ve been relatively rare until recently. 

The Women’s International Champions Cup, which featured at least one NWSL team alongside two or three international clubs, ran for four years, with its final 2022 edition including the Portland Thorns, Liga MX’s Monterrey, the WSL’s Chelsea FC, and Cup champions Olympique Lyonnais.

The inaugural edition of the W Champions Cup, which kicks off next month, will pit Gotham, the Thorns, and the Wave against eight other Concacaf clubs, all vying for a spot in the newly minted 2026 FIFA Women’s Club World Cup.

In the US and abroad, new interleague competitions are continuing to pop up in an effort to meet growing demand — though subsequent injury concerns plague the increasingly packed calendar.

In the USWNT’s opening game of the 2023 Women’s World Cup, six of the 11 starters were World Cup rookies: Naomi Girma, Emily Fox, Savannah DeMelo, Andi Sullivan, Trinity Rodman and Sophia Smith.

Per U.S. Soccer, they contributed to what was the USWNT’s youngest World Cup starting lineup (an average age of 27.8 years) since 2007.

Sophia Smith scored two goals in her World Cup debut and assisted another by Lindsey Horan, leading the U.S. to a 3-0 win over Vietnam. Smith seemed so ready for the World Cup stage it was almost easy to forget that this is her first major global tournament; the 2022 NWSL MVP was one of the final cuts from the U.S. Olympic roster in 2021.

“I don’t usually get nervous, but I was nervous,” the 22-year-old Smith said. “I mean, it’s a World Cup.”

After the game, USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski noted that while there may have been some nerves, the rookies performed as he expected.

“I thought Fox and Trinity were really good on the right side,” he said. “I thought Andi was a key figure in the middle of the field and regaining possession in some important attacks. And Naomi in the back, I thought she looked like she had three World Cups behind her. (She looked) so comfortable and flawless.”

As for DeMelo, who not only recorded her first-ever USWNT start but also just her second international cap, Andonovski said: “We felt like this was a game that (would) suit Savannah very much. I think that she did an incredible job in creating room and creating space for her teammates.”

Andonovski thinks the win should give the rookies a confidence boost heading into the rest of the World Cup tournament, including this week’s game against a much tougher opponent in the Netherlands.

“Going into game two, they will go (in) a little more encouraged, less nerves, no stress,” Andonovski said.

Smith expressed a similar sentiment. “It honestly just makes me more excited for the next game,” she said.

Just Women’s Sports is here with your daily World Cup Digest, breaking down all of the biggest storylines from each day of action in Australia and New Zealand.

Today’s top World Cup story: Sweden escapes upset thanks to 90th minute goal

Sweden pulled off a dramatic, come-from-behind victory on Sunday in its World Cup opener against South Africa. Amanda Ilestedt scored the game winner in the 90th minute to secure a 2-1 victory and 3 points for Sweden, ranked No. 3 in the world.

While Sweden controlled possession for much of the game, No. 54 South Africa nearly pulled off a major upset in rainy and misty conditions at Wellington Regional Stadium in Wellington, New Zealand.

Three minutes into the second half, and with Swedish players looking as if play hadn’t yet resumed, South African striker Hildah Magaia capitalized on a rebound to make it 1-0. But Magaia injured herself in the process, falling hard into the back of the net, and was ultimately subbed out a few minutes later.

Sweden notched the equalizer in the 66th minute. A cross in the box initially appeared to ricochet off the foot of a defender, but the goal was ultimately credited to Fridolina Rolfo.

With the two teams even, Ilestedt notched the game winner in the 90th minute, capitalizing off of the 11th corner of the night and heading the ball past the fingers of goalkeeper Kaylin Swart. (A video highlight of the game winner is embedded below.)

South Africa managed to secure a corner during the six minutes of injury time that followed, but couldn’t find the equalizer.

With the win, Sweden continues its group play streak. The Swedes haven’t lost a group game at the Women’s World Cup since 2003. Meanwhile, South Africa — which made its Women’s World Cup debut in 2019 — is still searching for its first ever point after losing all three group stage games four years ago.

In the lead-up to this year’s Women’s World Cup, the South African team — nicknamed Banyana Banyana — boycotted a World Cup send-off game, citing issues with its federation after a $30,000 FIFA payment had not been included in player contracts. Ahead of their tournament opener against Sweden, South African captain Refiloe Jane told reporters that disputes with the federation had been resolved prior to players arriving in New Zealand.

Today’s World Cup results

  • Sweden 2, South Africa 1
  • Netherlands 1, Portugal 0
  • France 0, Jamaica 0

More World Cup news

  • Jamaica held France to a scoreless draw, a remarkable performance for a Jamaican team that criticized its federation ahead of this year’s tournament, citing issues with training facilities and compensation.
  • In yet another close game, the Netherlands, the 2019 runner-up, defeated World Cup debutant Portugal, 1-0. The game winner, scored by Stefanie van der Gragt, came in the 13th minute.

Zambia had already pulled off the improbable.

During Friday’s friendly match against Germany, Zambia — ranked No. 77 in the world by FIFA — was leading 2-0 heading into stoppage time.

But Germany, World No. 2 and one of the favorites heading into the 2023 Women’s World Cup, wasn’t going down without a fight. Lea Schueller scored a header in the first minute of stoppage time to make it 2-1. Nine minutes later, German captain Alexandra Popp scored what seemed to be the equalizer.

But Barbra Banda, the breakout star of the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, had other plans. The Zambian captain capitalized on a poor throw-in from Germany’s Klara Buehl, out-sprinted her defender and launched the ball over German goalkeeper Merle Frohms.

Banda’s incredible goal — her second of the game — secured the 3-2 win for Zambia (video embedded below).

The win over Germany should give Zambia a confidence boost ahead of its first-ever Women’s World Cup appearance. Zambia will compete in Group C against Spain, Japan and Costa Rica.

Note: Following Friday’s World Cup send-off game, the Guardian reported that Zambian head coach Bruce Mwape has been accused of sexual misconduct and that the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) referred an investigation to FIFA. You can read more about this development here.

The head coach of Zambia’s national women’s soccer team, Bruce Mwape, is facing allegations of sexual misconduct less than two weeks before the 2023 Women’s World Cup begins.

The Guardian reported on Saturday that Mwape, who was appointed in 2018, and U17 women’s head coach Kaluba Kangwa have both been accused of sexual misconduct.

“If he [Mwape] wants to sleep with someone, you have to say yes,” an unnamed player told the Guardian. “It’s normal that the coach sleeps with the players in our team.”

Claims of sexual abuse by Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) employees were raised last year. In September 2022, the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) said it referred an investigation to FIFA and the police after allegations of sexual misconduct were made on social media, but did not disclose which or how many employees were under investigation.

“Although we have no record of official complaints from anyone on the allegations, we consider these allegations very serious and have opened an inquiry into the matter,” FAZ general secretary, Adrian Kashala, said at the time. “We shall collaborate with the Zambia Police Service and other relevant stakeholders in dealing with this matter.”

The Guardian reported that players have received threats of punishment if they spoke out about the alleged harassment.

In a statement to the Guardian, FIFA said it could not comment on ongoing investigations and that any information the ethics committee decides to share will be communicated at its discretion.

Just Women’s Sports also reached out to FIFA for comment on how the organization handles these types of investigations, what steps (if any) are taken to protect players from retaliation, and whether FIFA still plans to provide Mwape with a credential for the upcoming Women’s World Cup.

FIFA said the relevant representative was not immediately available to comment.

Zambia is making its Women’s World Cup debut this summer. In a World Cup tune-up match on Friday, Zambia, ranked 77th in the world, pulled off a major upset against No. 2 Germany thanks to an incredible stoppage time goal from captain Barbra Banda.

This is a developing story and will be updated accordingly.

Ahead of the USWNT’s World Cup sendoff game, Megan Rapinoe on Saturday made an unexpected appearance on the press conference stage.

“It’s with a really deep sense of peace and gratitude and excitement that I want to share with you guys that it’s gonna be my last season,” Rapinoe said.

Rapinoe, who is competing in her fourth World Cup this summer, said she plans to retire at the conclusion of the 2023 NWSL season.

Rapinoe will finish her career as one of the greatest soccer players — and most influential athlete activists — of all time. The 38-year-old is a two-time World Cup champion (2015, 2019), Olympic gold medalist (2012), and winner of the 2019 Ballon d’Or Feminin. She also helped her OL Reign club team win three NWSL regular season Shield titles (2014, 2015, 2022).

Along the way, she championed LGBTQ+ rights, the USWNT’s equal pay fight, abortion access and racial justice initiatives, and she forced U.S. soccer to reconsider its own policies related to athlete protest and free speech.

In 2022, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the highest civilian honor in the United States — from President Joe Biden.

Rapinoe said her decision to announce her retirement in advance of the Women’s World Cup was influenced by watching her fiancée, WNBA legend Sue Bird, go through the process last year.

“It is incredibly rare for athletes of any stature to be able to do out on their own, in their own way, on their own terms,” Rapinoe noted.

“I’m really lucky to be in this position that I get to have agency over the end of this really beautiful part of my life.”

South Africa’s women’s national soccer team — known as Banyana Banyana — boycotted Sunday’s World Cup send-off game at Tsakane Stadium in Brakpan, South Africa.

Multiple issues — from World Cup compensation to field conditions to the quality of the opponent — have been cited as reasons for the boycott.

SABC Sport, a division of the South African Broadcasting Corporation, reported that players boycotted the send-off match against Botswana after they demanded that their national federation — the South American Football Association (SAFA) — provide a more suitable venue for the friendly game, like one that was used for the 2010 FIFA (Men’s) World Cup.

“The players said they want to discuss (issues) with (SAFA). Firstly, there are conditions of employment and issues such as health and safety at Tsakane Stadium, where the pitch is not okay. We’ve raised this issue with them, and they said they will revert,” South African Football Players’ Union president Thulaganyo Gaoshubelwe told SABC Sport.

The field at Tsakane Stadium reportedly does not meet FIFA standards and South Africa’s Premier Super League teams do not play games at the venue as a result.

South African players also reportedly took issue with the quality of their opponent; Botswana is ranked 150th in the World and has never qualified for the Women’s World Cup.

In a video posted to the Players’ Union twitter account, World Cup compensation is also cited as one of the sticking points for the World Cup players.

SABC Sport reported that the South American Football Association (SAFA) threatened to send players home if they didn’t compete. When the World Cup players refused to back down ahead of the game, SAFA quickly assembled a back-up team to play the game.

“I had to put a team on the field so I put a team on the field today,” South Africa’s head coach Desiree Ellis told SABC Sport, though she deflected questions about the boycott and situation with the federation.

After a one-hour game delay due to the turmoil, the back-up team went on to lose to Botswana, 5-0.

South Africa’s World Cup send-off match was only confirmed days ago. “We just want to thank the Football Association getting us a send-off match. We know it has been a difficult task, we are really grateful and we ask the fans to come out in their numbers to support this team and to give us a fantastic send-off,” Ellis said in a press release announcing the game.

Mana Shim is joining Gotham FC on a short-term injury replacement contract, the club announced on Sunday.

“I am excited to return to the NWSL as part of Gotham FC. It’s a demanding and professional environment that’s focused on players first, and they have put together an incredibly talented group that I’m honored to share the field with,” Shim said in a statement.

The midfielder will be available to play in Sunday’s game against the Chicago Red Stars (5:30 p.m. EST, Paramount+).

Shim previously played in the NWSL as a member of the Portland Thorns (2013-17) and Houston Dash (2018). She makes her return to the NWSL after a five-year hiatus; her last league game was on June 2, 2018.

In 2021, Shim and Sinead Farrelly publicly accused their former coach, Paul Riley, of sexual harassment and coercion in a story published by The Athletic. The story prompted Riley’s firing and opened multiple investigations into abuse in the NWSL. Following the release of the U.S. Soccer-commissioned Sally Yates report in 2022, Shim was named chair of a U.S. Soccer Participant Safety Taskforce. Per Gotham FC’s press release, Shim will continue serving in her full-time position with U.S. Soccer while playing in the league.

Farrelly, who took her own six-year break from soccer, also resumed playing earlier this year as a member of Gotham FC. Sunday’s game will mark Farrelly and Shim’s first NWSL game as teammates since 2015.

USWNT captain Becky Sauerbrunn confirmed she will miss this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup.

“Heartbroken isn’t even the half of it. But that’s sports for you and that’s life, really,” the two-time World Cup champion wrote on Twitter following a report by The Athletic.

Sauerbrunn, 38, has been dealing with a foot injury for the last two-plus months. She said she “hoped and worked and hoped” to make it back in time for the World Cup, but that there was ultimately “too much variability in my return to play timeline.”

With 216 appearances for the USWNT, Sauerbrunn would have been the most capped player on this year’s roster. After making her World Cup debut in 2011, she played every minute of every match at the 2015 World Cup and six of seven matches at the 2019 World Cup. She was a vocal leader in the USWNT’s campaign for equal pay and has also used her platform to combat racism, homophobia and transphobia.

True to form, Sauerbrunn concluded her tweet by offering a message to her USWNT teammates.

“To my teammates, I love you,” she wrote. “Please, take a minute to enjoy this moment and appreciate everything that brought you here—every second of hard work and every bit of good luck—and then get back to work and go win the whole f*cking thing!”

The latest episode of the NWSL’s SoCal rivalry kicks off this Saturday, June 17, when the San Diego Wave host Angel City FC at Snapdragon Stadium. San Diego, unbeaten in five straight matches, currently leads the NWSL standings. Meanwhile, Angel City is looking for a statement win after hitting a midseason rough patch, going winless in their last five regular season matches.

Ahead of the game, here is a brief overview of the history of the rivalry and what’s at stake.

Angel City vs. San Diego: How they got here

Angel City FC made waves when it was first announced as an NWSL expansion franchise in July 2020.

From the start, the club sought to shake up traditional ownership structures, launching with a majority female ownership group and a long list of celebrity investors. That group is led by actress Natalie Portman, entrepreneur Julie Uhrman and venture capitalists Kara Nortman and Alexis Ohanian. Other founding team members include tennis legend Serena Williams, WNBA star Candace Parker, actresses Jennifer Garner and Jessica Chastain, and former U.S. women’s national team players Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Abby Wambach.

San Diego Wave FC first came into the mix in June 2021, when the NWSL announced the southern California city as the location for an expansion team owned by Ron Burkle. It didn’t take long for the team to make a few high-profile additions, appointing two-time World Cup champion coach Jill Ellis as club president, hiring Casey Stoney as head coach and acquiring USWNT stars Abby Dahlkemper and Alex Morgan.

In 2022, the Wave had the most successful inaugural season for an expansion team in NWSL history. They were not only the first expansion team to make the playoffs in their first year after finishing third in the regular-season standings, but also the first to host and win a playoff game. In addition, San Diego nearly swept the end-of-season individual awards: Stoney was named Coach of the Year, Kailen earned Sheridan Goalkeeper of the Year and Naomi Girma took home Defender of the Year and Rookie of the Year. Morgan also finished first in the Golden Boot race with 15 goals.

Alex Morgan leads San Diego in goals scored this season with five. (Orlando Ramirez/USA TODAY Sports)

Head-to-head results

Since San Diego and Angel City began play in the NWSL in 2022, the two sides have met five times total, including three times during the regular season. Here is their head-to-head history:

  • March 19, 2022 (Challenge Cup): 1-1 draw
  • April 2, 2022 (Challenge Cup): San Diego won 4-2
  • July 9, 2022: Angel City won 2-1
  • September 17, 2022: San Diego won 1-0
  • April 23, 2023: San Diego won 2-0

San Diego and Angel City have drawn huge crowds for their rivalry games. San Diego broke the NWSL attendance record in the team’s debut game at Snapdragon Stadium in September 2022 when 32,000 fans packed the stands to watch the Wave win 1-0. Sellout crowds of 22,000 fans also attended both of the Angel City-hosted games at BMO Stadium.

What they’ve said about the rivalry

After the teams’ first meeting of the year, a 2-0 win for San Diego in April, players and coaches spoke about the budding rivalry and its importance in the women’s soccer landscape. Julie Ertz made her debut with Angel City in that game after signing with the club on April 17. On Saturday, the USWNT midfielder will be more game-ready after having played in six matches across all competitions.

Wave head coach Casey Stoney: “I think the rivalry is fantastic. I love it. It’s amazing to have this derby, the fact we don’t have to go on a plane and it’s a local derby, I think the fans really get behind it. I think it’s exciting for the players. It adds a little bit of an edge.”

Wave defender Naomi Girma: “I think it’s always good to win a rivalry (game). It’s only our second year in the league, us and L.A. (Angel City), but I think this has already become one of the biggest rivalries in the league, so it’s a really good feeling to come to this stadium, great atmosphere, great fans and to come away with the win.”

Angel City midfielder Savannah McCaskill: “It’s exciting that we have another SoCal team because we can create this derby effect. Rivalry games are fun, it’s something that you step up to the plate for.

Alyssa Thompson has been a revelation for Angel City after being drafted No. 1 overall. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports)

2023 Women’s World Cup Preview

The 2023 Women’s World Cup is just around the corner and this will be one of the last chances for U.S. players to make a case for selection before USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski names his roster later this month.

From San Diego, American players in contention include defender Naomi Girma, midfielder Taylor Kornieck, forward Alex Morgan, and forward/midfielder Jaedyn Shaw, while Angel City’s top hopefuls include midfielder Julie Ertz and forward Alyssa Thompson.

Meanwhile, San Diego goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan has already been named to Canada’s World Cup roster.

How to watch Angel City vs. San Diego Wave

If you won’t be watching in-person at Snapdragon Stadium on Saturday, you can catch the game on CBS (1 p.m. PT / 4 p.m. ET).