The 13th match weekend is fast approaching in the NWSL, with two season-long unbeaten streaks on the line.

League-leaders Kansas City and Orlando will attempt to survive the weekend with their unbeaten runs intact, as the Current host Chicago on Friday and the Pride travel to North Carolina for Saturday's match.

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But while Kansas City and Orlando have been the gold standard this year, they're still a number of wins away from tying Washington's record for longest unbeaten streak in a single NWSL season. In 2021, the Spirit went 20 games without a loss en route to the club's first NWSL championship.

Both Gotham and Louisville are carrying momentum into their matchup on Saturday. Louisville is unbeaten in three games, and they’re looking to finally leapfrog Chicago and claim sixth place in the league standings. Gotham, on a seven-game unbeaten run, is into fifth place.

Portland and Seattle will face off in the Cascadia Clash this weekend, with Golden Boot contender Sophia Smith absent, as the decorated forward was shown a red card last weekend for time-wasting on the bench.

The Reign could use a win against their long-time rivals, as a difficult start has 13th-place Seattle registering only two wins amid nine losses so far this season.

Elsewhere in the league, 2024 expansion teams Bay FC and Utah meet for the first time this weekend, as both look to rise from the bottom half of the standings. And Washington will ride a four-game winning streak into Saturday's game against a San Diego side that's earned two hard-fought draws in recent weeks.

Watch more: "Sophia Smith is INNOCENT!" on The Late Sub with Claire Watkins

The USWNT cruised through their final game prior to naming their 18-player Olympic roster on Tuesday, defeating Korea Republic 3-0 in a rain-soaked game that saw significant rotation to the starting XI.

Manager Emma Hayes replaced nine of Saturday's starters with players vying for a major tournament roster spot, a move that resulted in interesting returns. Alex Morgan was back in the starting lineup, while center-back Sam Staab earned her first international start in her second game with the team.

Crystal Dunn started the match as a forward then opened the floodgates with her first goal in 75 international matches. Sophia Smith came on as a reserve in the second half alongside Mallory Swanson and Trinity Rodman, promptly doubling the scoreline at a tight angle for a sharp finish. Casey Murphy started in goal, making a number of clutch saves to keep South Korea off of the scoresheet.

But the biggest moment of the game belonged to Ajax midfielder Lily Yohannes, who scored in her first-ever USWNT cap.

The teenager was immediately mobbed by her teammates — including most of the US bench — in celebration as nearly 20,000 fans gave her a standing ovation. Just a few days shy of her 17th birthday, Yohannes is the third-youngest to score for the national team and the youngest player to make her debut since USWNT legend Kristine Lilly took the field for the first time in 2001.

Yohannes is likely on the Olympic roster bubble, but is of great interest to the US as a talented connecting midfielder. But having been born in Virginia before moving to Amsterdam as a child, Yohannes could still possibly decide to play for the Netherlands national team.

Hayes will be making final roster decisions in the coming weeks, setting the Paris-bound squad up for two send-off friendlies at the end of July. 18 players will make the official Olympic roster, alongside four alternates for training purposes and in case of injury.

The USWNT officially kicks off the Emma Hayes era in style this weekend, going up against South Korea in the first of two pre-Olympic friendlies

The matches will serve as the final two opportunities to impress before Hayes names her 18-player roster for the 2024 Paris Olympics. After formally taking over late last week, the ex-Chelsea coach has gotten nothing but praise from the American side. 

"Anyone in the soccer world knows Emma Hayes," forward Sophia Smith told reporters at USWNT training camp. "She's a legend and her resume speaks for itself. We all just trust her. Obviously trust is something you build. What she's done for the game and for the sport, we all trust her and are excited about her. I'm sure we'll learn a lot in the next week. We already have learned a lot in the first few days."

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Of course, the USWNT has carried a chip on their shoulder following a disappointing World Cup last year. And as they look to the Olympics, Smith says it’s a good thing that the team is operating that way. 

"If a team going into the Olympics doesn't have a chip on their shoulder, there's a problem there," Smith continued. "This team for so many years has set the standard, has been the best in the world, and that's what we want to continue on. We want to honor what this team has done before us, but we also want to set new standards and just be a different version of this team and be the best in the world."

Hayes appears to be the right person to propel that standard forward. And the goal, according to Smith, is to win a gold medal.

"The goal is to win a gold medal, but right now we have a new coach, we have a new system," she added. "The main goal and priority is the process and just learning and adapting and growing and taking each day as a chance to get better and grow with this group.”

"I think for me, it's just [having] the leader again, and the voice and when you get on field it's awesome," echoed USWNT captain Lindsey Horan. "You get some jokes here and there but [Hayes is also] just demanding a lot out of us and keeping the standard, but also the positive encouragement feedback as well and giving voices to us as well."

Hayes will have a short runway to manage the high expectations of the job, with the US looking to put their previous performances behind them as quickly as possible. And the stacked Olympic lineup will be no easy challenge for the 2019 World Cup Champions as they vie for their first gold medal since 2012.

Speaking with media on Friday, Hayes said that it’s been "such a joy" to be back in the States, saying that her aim is to protect the team's long legacy going forward.

"We all know the main ingredients of the American DNA," she said. "That will not change under my stewardship."

She also noted that the team has come along nicely under interim coach's Twila Kilgore's leadership, comparing the players to sponges for their ability to take in a lot of information quickly. 

"I think the tactical understanding is there more than I anticipated," she said, while also saying she anticipates some "tired brains."

Luckily, a few fitness concerns appear to have subsided, as a number of recently injured call-ups returned to the pitch in last weekend's NWSL games. Alex Morgan, Jaedyn Shaw, and Naomi Girma all made appearances for San Diego last Thursday after dealing with lingering knocks, while defender Tierna Davidson and club and country teammate Rose Lavelle have consistently been working their way back onto the field with Gotham.

The biggest question mark going into Saturday's match will be Smith, who missed Portland's showdown with Orlando due to a leg injury last Friday.

USWNT regulars Sophia Smith and Mallory Swanson furthered their cases for Olympic inclusion with their respective club victories on Saturday and Sunday.

After a roller coaster of a week that saw former Thorns head coach Mike Norris reassigned and a flurry of last-minute roster reshufflings as Friday's trade window closure loomed, the NWSL sprung to life over the weekend with standout performances from ninth-place Portland and third-place Chicago, among others.

After her blocked attempt at goal set up a volleying sixth-minute opener from veteran Christine Sinclair — now the only player in history to record a goal in all 11 NWSL seasons — Smith swiftly netted her own in the 27th minute off a breakaway run that eluded Houston's backline. The goal represented Smith's third of the season as well as her 35th for the Thorns, ultimately leading to the home side's first win of the season in a 4-1 routing of the Dash.

But that wasn't Smith's only stat of the evening. The star forward also lapped former Chicago Red Star Sam Kerr to become the youngest player to reach 50 NWSL goal contributions across all games, chalking up 40 goals and 10 assists at the age of 23 years and 254 days.

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"Obviously it feels good to get a win," said Smith in a post-match press conference. "But this is the standard the Thorns have always had. So a win is great, but a win is the expectation — we're hungrier than ever after the way we started."

170 miles up the road, Lumen Field similarly showcased some promising Olympic prospect footwork on Sunday. In Chicago's 2-1 victory over the lagging 13th-place Seattle Reign, striker Mallory Swanson racked up an impressive counterattack assist on fellow forward Ally Schlegel's fourth-minute goal. Swanson went on to find the back of the net herself before halftime, lacing an explosive ball into the top corner in the 31st minute, her second of the season after returning from a lengthy sidelining injury.

Speaking of injuries, fellow USWNT favorites Alex Morgan and Tierna Davidson were not as fortunate as their national squad teammates this weekend. Each exited their club matches early, Morgan with an ankle knock in San Diego's loss to Orlando and Davidson with an apparent hamstring incident early on in Washington's win over Gotham.

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.

When the U.S. women’s national team took down China PR 3-0 on Saturday, the team looked like a new confident and loose version of itself. With several veterans taking the final international break of the calendar year off, interim manager Twila Kilgore made a few changes to the team’s approach that seemed to both clarify roles and empower players to be themselves.

While the conversation around the national team is often dominated by player personnel, one of the tactics former coach Vlatko Andonovski struggled with late in his tenure was how exactly to use players. On Saturday, with Emma Hayes’ outside perspective likely an asset, the U.S. packed the midfield without being overly conservative and allowed the defense to cover defensive transition and aid in the attack.

So rather than focusing on individual performances during the club offseason for many players, let’s focus on three standout players as dictated by their roles, and why their ability to shine is good news for the USWNT long term.

Sophia Smith

Sophia Smith didn’t have a perfect match on Saturday, still shaking off a bit of rust after the second half of her 2023 season was interrupted by injury. After scoring the game’s opening goal, Smith missed a number of clear chances as she continues to regain her finishing touch.

But the fact that Smith could have had a hat trick with a few more clinical strikes is a happy sight for USWNT fans, who watched the forward have trouble imposing herself on games in the World Cup from the winger position. The idea of Smith being more effective in a more central position is not a new one, but her ability to combine with Trinity Rodman and Rose Lavelle against China showed that, even if the final shot isn’t there, chance creation can go a long way for the U.S.

With the team favoring a 4-4-2 out of possession and a 3-5-2 in possession, Smith had support both behind and to either side of her, wherein the team could prioritize passing sequences over excessive dribbling down the wings that can silo possession and lead to searching crosses in the air. Her movements broke down the defensive lines of China’s low block and opened up opportunities for teammates. Smith worked especially well with Rodman, who had a breakout game with two assists and a goal.

Smith has the ability to run in behind a defense at top speed and to react to teammates’ movements, sitting in a classic poaching position in games where her team has the majority of possession. That her tendencies as a player complement a formation that allows the U.S. to have a sturdier spine up the middle of the pitch only deepens her case for a central role going forward.

Jaedyn Shaw

When Jaedyn Shaw received her first extended minutes for the USWNT in the team’s final friendly in October, she slotted into a well-worn role for up-and-coming U.S. talent. She came on for Smith, who had been playing out wide and provided attacking options from a winger position, ultimately notching her first goal for the USWNT in her second appearance.

Shaw has experience as a winger (known in position numbers as a No. 7 or No. 11), getting her start there when she joined the San Diego Wave in 2022. But in 2023, Wave manager Casey Stoney tapped into her skills as a playmaker, using her both out wide and as a deep-seated forward tucked in behind No. 9 Alex Morgan.

On Saturday, Morgan watched the USWNT game from home, but Kilgore had a new set of plans for Shaw. She subbed on in place of attacking midfielder Savannah DeMelo, getting a chance to help dictate the flow of attack alongside Lavelle. Her on-field chemistry with substitute center forward Mia Fishel was obvious, as Fishel’s back-to-goal, possessive abilities coincided with Shaw’s field vision to keep the U.S. creative in the attack.

Her greatest moment of the match was a simple flick. Shaw collected Midge Purce’s low cross and sent the ball across the face of goal for Rodman to smash it into the back of the net. Shaw is a special player who should feature for the U.S. for years to come, and Kilgore giving her the freedom to make plays is a great sign for how the team plans to use her.

Casey Krueger

Casey Krueger could possibly go down in history as the best USWNT player to never feature on a World Cup roster, and she showcased both old and new skills on Saturday. Setting up at right back, Krueger was asked at times to provide 1v1 defensive coverage out of possession, but with the U.S. seeing a lion’s share of the possession, she showed exactly how the position can be used in the team’s attack.

The outside-back position has been fraught for the U.S. for years, with an inconsistent talent pipeline leading numerous coaches to compensate by converting forwards and midfielders (first-time USWNT player Jenna Nighswonger is the most recent example). That process has long been criticized, including when Andonovski struggled to empower his fullbacks to play to the best of their ball-progressing abilities.

Andonovski moved Emily Fox to right back to make room for Crystal Dunn at left back at the 2023 World Cup, but neither player had the room to run the flanks and create enough width for the team’s attack. Defensive off-the-ball structure was clearly at the forefront of their instruction, and at times both Dunn and Fox got caught in between their instincts to aid the attack and a lack of confidence in their ability to regain ground in defensive transition.

Not every opponent will take the low-block approach that China sat in on Saturday, but early involvement of Fox (back on the left) and Krueger was very promising. Both players were clearly given the green light to operate more like wingbacks in possession, with a comfortable three-back behind them when the U.S. had control of the ball. This allowed Krueger to move into dangerous spaces on the right wing and overlap with Lavelle, who herself never felt she had to give up her own drifting tendencies in space to push to the endline.

Later in the match, Purce took up the same space Krueger had inhabited and created the team’s third goal by operating in her preferred area as a wingback. Purce is another forward finding her way onto the field by any means necessary. But if the USWNT is still in the position of using their immense winger depth to create points of attack, the 3-5-2 formation in possession gives them more cover behind to be their best selves.

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

Serena Williams met with U.S. women’s national team stars after watching their 3-0 win Saturday against China.

The retired tennis great cheered on the USWNT at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, alongside husband Alexis Ohanian and daughter Olympia. The family are investors in NWSL club Angel City FC.

After the match, the 23-time Grand Slam champion took the time to meet with USWNT players, including Trinity Rodman, who contributed a goal and two assists, as well as Midge Purce, Sophia Smith, Naomi Girma, Lynn Williams and Alyssa Thompson.

“She was very sweet, very humble, which is refreshing and amazing,” Rodman said. “And obviously we all look up to her, one of the greatest female athletes in the world. So to meet her in person and see how she was incredible.”

When Rodman met with reporters after the game, she explained her delay by noting that Williams wanted to meet with her. And Williams asked for her jersey from the match — but the 21-year-old forward already had gifted it to a fan. Rodman, though, found another jersey to give to the tennis legend.

“I gave one of my jerseys away to a fan, and then I walked across the field, and somebody said, ‘Serena wants to meet you,’” Rodman said. “I was like, ‘Serena who?’ They were like, ‘Serena Williams.’ I walked over there, and she’s like, ‘Can I have your jersey?’ I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ I dug in the dirty bag from the beginning of the half to find mine and gave it to her.”

The USWNT will close out the year with another friendly against China at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday in Frisco, Texas.

Serena Williams speaks with Naomi Girma and Sophia Smith after the USWNT's 3-0 win against China. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images for USSF)
Serena Williams shakes hands with Midge Purce, who helped set up the final goal of the match. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images for USSF)
Serena William and daughter Olympia take a photo with USWNT forwards Lynn Williams and Alyssa Thompson. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images for USSF)
Serena Williams poses for a photo with USWNT interim head coach Twila Kilgore after the 3-0 win. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images for USSF)

U.S. women’s national team forward Trinity Rodman milly rocked in front of China’s net in the first friendly of two friendlies between the squads. And her celebratory dance was well deserved.

In the 77th minute, Rodman found herself wide open in front of China’s net, where she tapped in a cross from Jaedyn Shaw for the USWNT’s third goal of the match. Her “dancey dance,” as she called it, served as the cherry on top of a standout performance for the 21-year-old in Saturday’s 3-0 win at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Along with her goal, Rodman contributed two assists, becoming the second-youngest player in fifteen years to log three goal contributions in a single game — Mallory Swanson clocked the same achievement in 2018 in a match against Denmark.

Rodman is one of the faces of the youth movement on the USWNT roster. The team entered its final matches of 2023 in a state of flux, with a new head coach in Emma Hayes incoming and the next generation of stars taking the reins.

“This camp is, we’ve been saying ‘starting fresh,’ just with the World Cup and everything, and Emma, being able to meet her, and obviously having new faces and being able to pay off younger faces,” Rodman said to TNT after the match.

There is still some veteran presence on the current USWNT roster, and the youth and the vets are already working together — Rodman assisted on goals from Lindsey Horan, 29, and Sophia Smith, 23, both staples of the starting lineup. And after a woman of the match-worthy performance, Rodman may become one too.

“In Trin’s words, she’s got a different level of focus,” USWNT interim head coach Twila Kilgore said. “She’s just been really intentional. We see that in training. We see that in games, and she’s starting to play more and more with the people around her as well. She’s obviously a very gifted individual player, and she’s looking to play more with her teammates.”

The USWNT will close out the year with another friendly against China at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday in Frisco, Texas.

A number of women’s sports stars have made this year’s Forbes “30 Under 30” list, including Sophia Smith and Angel Reese.

Forbes features 30 people who are changing the game in sports, including Smith, who helped lead the U.S. women’s national team in the 2023 World Cup. Despite a disappointing finish at the tournament, the 23-year-old forward represents the future of the national team, and she also won the NWSL Golden Boot with 11 goals for the Portland Thorns.

Reese led the LSU basketball team to its first national title in April 2023. The Most Outstanding Player of the 2023 Final Four, the 21-year-old’s national profile skyrocketed, and she has endorsement deals with Reebok, Coach and more. While Reese is off to a rocky start to the new season, including an unexplained four-game absence, she remains among the biggest stars in the college game.

Other honorees from the world of women’s sports include:

  • Napheesa Collier, 27, Minnesota Lynx forward
  • Jessica Pegula, 29, tennis player
  • Kate Douglass, 22, Team USA swimmer
  • Sha’Carri Richardson, Team USA sprinter
  • Olivia Dunne, 21, LSU gymnast
  • Diana Flores, 26, flag football quarterback
  • Maddie Musselman, 25, Team USA water polo player

Several more names included on the list come from the business side of women’s sports, including Robyn Brown, who is the senior manager of brand and content strategy for the Phoenix Mercury, and Natalie White, who founded women’s basketball shoe brand Moolah Kicks.

Portland Thorns star Sophia Smith fought off two Gotham FC defenders and charged down the rain-soaked field toward opposing goalkeeper Mandy Haught. With the scoreless match on her foot, Smith sprinted closer and closer to Haught. But Haught reached her first.

The Gotham netminder threw herself at Smith’s feet and robbed the MVP candidate of the ball, killing the Thorns’ best scoring chance of the game and helping to secure her team’s 1-0 victory over the No. 2 seed Thorns in extra time at Portland’s Providence Park.

“I saw Crystal, I saw Soph, and I was like, ‘OK, let’s make something happen,’” Haught said. “On the pass, I was just ready, I was balanced to go forward. … I wanted to command my box and come out there strong, and that’s exactly what I did.”

With the win, Haught and No. 6 seed Gotham advance to the NWSL Championship at 8 p.m. ET Saturday, Nov. 11, at San Diego’s Snapdragon Stadium. The 2023 final will be the first in franchise history for the New Jersey-based club, which won its first playoff match in the first round over the North Carolina Courage.

Portland spent the majority of the first half on the defensive, with Gotham maintaining possession almost 70% of the time. The Thorns were able to even out the possession through the rest of the match. But, after not playing together for three weeks due to their first-round bye and then the international break, Portland was unable to stall New York’s momentum.

Gotham’s stifling defense limited scoring chances for the Thorns, holding them to three shots on target and six scoring chances total. Each time Portland got the ball into New York’s third, Gotham had an answer.

“We did such an amazing job at regaining the ball in the middle, we doubled down and we had back pressure,” Haught said. “And that was just incredible fight from everyone on the team to press from behind and from the front. And that is really how we were able to stop a lot of their transitions and attacks.”

Haught’s stop of Smith in the 79th minute helped to force extra time.

And in the 107th minute, Katie Stengel netted the game-winning goal for Gotham — a boot through traffic into the top left corner of the cage. But it was Gotham’s scrappy defense that put the reigning NWSL champions away and extended captain Ali Kreiger’s career.

“It literally has taken everyone this year to get to where we are,” Haught said. “It’s just the amazing camaraderie in this group that’s just like, ‘We’re going to do this for us, we’re going to do this for Kriegs, we’re not done yet and we’re going to go all the way.”