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USWNT awards: Who were the top performers in 2022?

Sophia Smith led the USWNT with 11 goals in 2022. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

The United States women’s national team had a year to remember, claiming the Concacaf W Championship in July to qualify for a chance to win a fifth title at the 2023 World Cup. They also had moments fans would probably soon like to forget, such as tough results against world powers this fall and their first three-game losing streak since 1993.

Through all the highs and lows, a handful of players stood out above the rest. The Just Women’s Sports team — Claire Watkins, Jessa Braun and Eden Laase — got together to put a bow on the 2022 campaign with picks for individual awards and superlatives.

For reference, our voters could choose from all capped players in 2022, while a few categories had their own requirements for consideration (as outlined in those sections below).


Watkins: Sophia Smith

This is a hard choice based on how much the U.S. rotated this year, but I have to go with NWSL MVP Sophia Smith. She scored the most goals for the USWNT, played both centrally and on the wings, supported defensively and consistently looked like a bright spot, even when the team around her was struggling. 2022 was the Year of Sophia Smith.

Braun: Naomi Girma

Center-back Naomi Girma was a USWNT rookie in 2022, but her lack of experience wouldn’t have been noticeable to someone not familiar with the national team. Playing with the composure of a veteran, she was a standout in the backline against some of the USWNT’s toughest opponents, including England and Germany to close out the season. At just 22, Girma is already a world-class player in distribution, one-on-one defense, reading the game, directing her teammates and everything in between.

Laase: Sophia Smith

Sophia Smith is my pick, too. While she’s been making appearances with the senior team since 2020, this year she truly cemented herself as the future of U.S. women’s soccer. She scored 11 goals in 17 appearances, including one in a much-needed win over Germany on Nov. 13.

Naomi Girma also won 2022 Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in the NWSL. (Roy K. Miller/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Rookie of the Year

Eligible with fewer than five caps entering 2022: Sam Coffey, Alana Cook, Naomi Girma, Jaelin Howell, Aubrey Kingsbury, Taylor Kornieck, Hailie Mace, Casey Murphy, Carson Pickett, Trinity Rodman, Alyssa Thompson, Ashley Sanchez, Ashley Hatch

Watkins: Naomi Girma

I think the winner here has to be a true rookie, and I’m going with perhaps the most obvious choice. Girma didn’t get her first cap until April, and she slowly worked her way into becoming irreplaceable in the USWNT backline.

Braun: Casey Murphy

In a world where goalkeepers are too often forgotten, Casey Murphy shined on the international stage. Rotating games with two-time World Cup champion Alyssa Naeher, Murphy had no trouble maintaining the standard in her first year with the senior team. She played the most games of the three goalkeepers, totaling 810 minutes, and she had the most shutouts with six.

Laase: Naomi Girma

Girma made her debut for the national team on April 12 in a friendly against Uzbekistan and has made 10 appearances since then. Girma doesn’t play like a rookie. Her instincts are that of someone in the middle of their career, and she rarely makes mistakes. When she’s in the game, the backline looks much more relaxed, and that’s saying something for a player at the start of her career.

Becky Sauerbrunn was a stable presence on a young defense in 2022. (Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports)

Defender of the Year

Eligible: Alana Cook, Abby Dahlkemper, Tierna Davidson, Crystal Dunn, Emily Fox, Naomi Girma, Sofia Huerta, Hailie Mace, Kelley O’Hara, Carson Pickett, Becky Sauerbrunn

Watkins: Becky Sauerbrunn

Girma’s my rookie, so I’m going to go with classic defensive standout Becky Sauerbrunn. Sauerbrunn arguably had an underrated 2022. The veteran was tasked with bridging a divide as her regular compatriots in the backline weren’t available due to absence and injury. Sauerbrunn’s pairing with Girma in the last game of the year — which marked only their third time together at center-back — is a good example of just how flexible the team’s captain is in her defensive role.

Braun: Sofia Huerta

Sofia Huerta was one of two defenders to play over 1,000 minutes this year, even with minutes restrictions. She also started 11 of the 16 games she played. An aggressive threat in possession, Huerta registered two assists courtesy of her lethal crosses, tying her with Alana Cook for the most by a U.S. defender. After three years away from the national team, the tenacious fullback returned last November and was a backbone for a defense dealing with injuries and lineup changes.

Laase: Naomi Girma

I have no issue picking Girma for multiple awards because of the all-around stellar year she had. So, in addition to Rookie of the Year, she’s my Defender of the Year for all the reasons I mentioned above.

Center-back Alana Cook played the most minutes of any USWNT player this year. (Bill Barrett/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Iron Woman of the Year

Eligible with over 1,000 minutes played: Alana Cook (1,286), Sofia Huerta (1,074), Rose Lavelle (1,107), Mallory Pugh (1,030), Sophia Smith (1,192), Andi Sullivan (1,126)

Watkins: Alana Cook

I’m going to go with a player who has received some criticism in recent months and stick with the team’s most depended-on player in 2022. The fact that Alana Cook is both eligible for rookie status and also played the most minutes for the USWNT in 2022 provides some insight into her development as an international center-back. She had to hold everything down while pairing with a rotation that included Tierna Davidson, Abby Dahlkemper, Sauerbrunn and Girma.

Braun: Sophia Smith

To play the second-most minutes on the team is not common for an attacker, but Smith proved this year that there’s nothing she can’t do. She started and played 17 games, the most of anyone on the team, and she was also the only player to reach double digits in goals with 11. Known as the brace queen, Smith also scored at least two goals in four matches.

Laase: Andi Sullivan

Injuries plagued Andi Sullivan’s early years with the senior national team, including a torn ACL in 2016, a torn meniscus in 2020 and a quad injury in 2021. This year, she stayed healthy and appeared in 15 games. The USWNT is sitll figuring things out in the midfield heading into a World Cup year, but Sullivan was a steadying force throughout all the workshopping.

Crystal Dunn returned to the field only five months after giving birth. (Ion Alcoba/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

Biggest surprise

Watkins: Sam Coffey

It has to be Sam Coffey, in that a year ago, I’m not sure anyone had her ascension to the USWNT on their radar. Coffey played as a forward at Boston College and then as an attacking midfielder at Penn State, only joining the Thorns as a defensive midfielder at the beginning of 2022. That she took to the position so quickly and is already being hailed as the possible “One True No. 6 To Rule Them All” is a bit of a shocking development, and a welcome one.

Braun: Megan Rapinoe

In most ways, Megan Rapinoe was not a surprise at all. The legendary veteran has been instrumental in getting four World Cup stars above the USWNT badge. But this year, her return to the national team during a time of turnover wasn’t entirely predictable, especially after she played limited minutes for her NWSL club, OL Reign. When she joined the national team for the first time this year in June, she was expected to serve as an off-field leader. But Rapinoe took full advantage of the few minutes she spent on the field, recording two assists and scoring a goal in November to save the U.S. from a scoreless loss against Germany.

Laase: Crystal Dunn

For me, the biggest surprise was Crystal Dunn coming back to play just 140 days after giving birth to her son. Though the USWNT lost to England on Oct. 7, Dunn subbing in at the 63-minute mark was one of the best moments of the match. The 30-year-old not only managed to play at the highest level of soccer less than five months after giving birth, but she also reminded the USWNT how valuable she can be to the lineup.

Best goal

Watkins: Mallory Pugh vs. Iceland (Feb. 23)

I think you could pick any of the first four goals that the U.S. scored against Iceland to clinch the SheBelieves Cup in February, but I’m going with the fourth. Catarina Macario sprung a counter with her defensive work rate, and she and Mal Pugh looked like the only two strikers on Planet Earth in the back-and-forth sequence that ended in a perfect final pass from Macario and strike by Pugh.

Braun: Catarina Macario vs. Iceland (Feb. 23)

Like Claire said, those goals against Iceland are top of the list. For me it’s the first one, where Macario is in a two-on-one situation at the far corner of the box and blasts the ball from there. The build-up to the goal was about as picture-perfect as Macario’s strike itself, with the fluid string of passes showing the chemistry the national team is capable of.

Laase: Mallory Pugh vs. Germany (Nov. 10)

While it wasn’t the most impressive or exciting of all the goals scored this year, I’m going with Mal Pugh’s game-winner against Germany. The U.S. desperately needed a win to end the year on a high note after an unexpected three-game slide. Pugh outran the German defense and placed the ball perfectly into the low corner, finally giving her squad something to celebrate.

Best Off-Field Content

Watkins: Trinity Rodman

Long away camps are never easy, but Trinity Rodman’s Concacaf W TikToks (supported by a rotating cast of teammates) will live forever.

Braun: Taylor Kornieck

The videos might not be on her own social media profiles, but Taylor Kornieck shines in the goofy entertainment she creates with San Diego Wave FC teammate Kailen Sheridan. The “High School Musical” human basketball reel on Sheridan’s Instagram can’t be forgotten.

Laase: Rose Lavelle

It was late in the year, but I have to shout out Rose Lavelle’s performance of Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” at the Player’s Ball. Iconic.

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

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.

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

Barcelona Beat Lyon to Win Back-to-Back Champions League Titles

Barcelona's Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas celebrating after beating Lyon at the 2024 Champions League final
Ballon d'Or winners Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas helped Barcelona to a second-straight UWCL title on Saturday. (Ramsey Cardy - Sportsfile/UEFA via Getty Images)

Barcelona was crowned champion of the Champions League on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Lyon in Bilbao.

Alexia "La Reina" Putellas, who recently re-signed with Barcelona, came off the bench to score the team's second goal. Fellow Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmatí provided the team’s first. After the game, defender Lucy Bronze said Putellas was nicknamed "the queen" for a reason.

"Alexia is the captain of the team and she's the queen of Barcelona for a reason,"  defender Lucy Bronze told DAZN. "She's got the quality to do that in the last minute of the Champions League final when we were up against it at the end and it just sealed the win for us. It was amazing."

The victory marked Barcelona's first win over Lyon in a UWCL final, having previously gone up against the French side at both the 2019 and 2022 Champions League finals. It's also Barcelona's second Champions League title in a row.

"It's hard to win it once, but to do it back-to-back, Lyon showed how difficult it is and this team has finally done that," Bronze said. "I think we go down in history as one of the best teams in Europe."

This season, the team also secured a quadruple for the first time in club history, having already won Liga F, the Copa de la Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. The win ensures that coach Jonatan Giráldez — who has officially departed the team to join the NWSL's Washington Spirit — leaves Europe a champion.

"It was an incredible game. I am really happy, it's one of the best days of my life for sure," Giráldez told broadcaster DAZN after the game. "We did an amazing job. I am very proud of all of them."

Following the win, Putellas said her team "can't ask for anything else."

"Our objective was to win four out of four," the Spain international told reporters. "We have achieved everything we wanted. Every minute of sacrifice has been worth the effort — and I'd say that not after the game, but before, just entering in the stadium, with all the support we had here, it was worth it."

2024 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Aitana Bonmatí said that the crowd support made it "feel like Camp Nou."

"I am on cloud nine right now," she said. "It is an historic day which we will remember forever."

Sun’s Alyssa Thomas Ejected After Flagrant 2 on Sky Rookie Angel Reese

Angel Reese said there were "no hard feelings" stemming from Alyssa Thomas's flagrant foul. (Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Angel Reese might have gotten knocked down on Saturday, but she got right back up again. 

Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas was ejected from the Sun’s 86-82 win over Chicago following a flagrant foul 2 on Reese — the first of her career. While the two were battling for a rebound, Reese took a clothesline hold around the neck courtesy of Thomas before hitting the ground.

After the game, Reese told reporters that there were "no hard feelings" and she appreciated Thomas for playing her hard beneath the basket.

"I know she purposely probably didn’t do it towards me," Reese said. "But just being able to come out there and just be strong and stand on two feet, it was going to be a tough game and that’s what I’m built for. And my teammates had my back throughout the whole game. So I was prepared for it."

She also didn’t buy into the idea that it was a "Welcome to the WNBA" moment, but thanked Thomas "sending a message" because it helped her get back up and "keep pushing."

"It’s not just because I’m a rookie. I’m a player. I’m a basketball player. They don’t give a damn if I’m a rookie. I mean, I want them to come at me every day. I want them to come at everybody," she added. "I mean, they’re not supposed to be nice to me. I hope y’all know that. They’re not supposed to be nice to me or lay down because I’m Angel Reese or because I’m a rookie."

Reese finished the game with 13 points, five rebounds, and two assists over 33 minutes.

Barcelona to Face Lyon in Champions League Rematch This Weekend

UEFA Women's Champions League Final"Barcelona FC - Olympique Lyonnais"
Saturday's game will be the third UWCL final meeting for Barcelona and Lyon, having previously gone up against each other in 2019 and 2022. (ANP via Getty Images)

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off in Bilbao on Saturday, with a couple of familiar foes set to face off for the trophy.

Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, making its 11th final appearance since 2010, will go head to head with a Barcelona side making its fourth final appearance in a row.

This will be the third time these two teams meet in the UWCL title game, having previously appeared in the 2019 and 2022 finals. Lyon won both of those prior games against Barcelona, alongside a total of eight Champions League trophies. That’s double that of any other club, with Eintracht Frankfurt coming in a distant second with four. 

Should Barcelona win, this would be the team's third title — breaking a tie for the third in the UWCL total titles race. 

But as these teams return to the UWCL final, it also marks the end of an era for both clubs. The game will be the last for both club managers, as Barcelona’s Jonatan Giráldez and Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor depart for new jobs after the season's end.

Giráldez is set to leave for the NWSL's Washington Spirit, while Bompastor will take over for incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes at Chelsea. Both coaches have earned one UWCL trophy during their tenures, while Bompastor also brought two Champions League trophies to Lyon as a player. She was the first coach to win a UWCL trophy as both a coach and player.

This season, Barcelona is looking for its first quadruple, having won a fifth Liga F title alongside the Copa de La Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. 

"We hope he can go out with the four trophies because we know how competitive and ambitious he is," Barcelona midfielder Patri Guijarro told ESPN. "It has been a winning era with him in charge and for him to go out with all four trophies would be historic and incredible."

But Lyon's Damaris Egurrola is excited about her team's chances of overcoming Barcelona once again — and to do it in front of family and friends.

"Lyon have something special," she told Forbes ahead of the weekend's final. "We have a great team and we have the players with enough talent to win any match."

The game will be a homecoming for Egurrola, who began her professional career with Athletic Bilbao.

"I’ve been thinking of this day and night," she said. "I’ve been dreaming of playing this match. Having the opportunity to play in San Mames is amazing. This is where it all started for me."

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off Saturday, May 25th at 12 PM ET and is free to stream on DAZN.

World No. 1 Iga Swiatek Headlines a Stacked 2024 French Open

Iga Swiatek serves against Coco Gauff during the group stage of the 2023 WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico
Iga Swiatek serves against Coco Gauff during the group stage of the 2023 WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico. (Robert Prange/Getty Images)

The 2024 French Open starts on Sunday, with a match schedule that promises to wrap the short clay court season up in style.

Looking for her fourth title at the major is three-time Roland Garros champion and World No. 1 Iga Swiatek, considered the favorite to win the whole Slam. Three of her four major titles have come at the French tournament. 

Swiatek's career record at the French Open is a dominating 28-2, and she's currently on a 16-game winning streak fueled by victories at tune-up tournaments in Madrid and Rome.

But that doesn't mean she won't face some serious challengers along the way. Get to know some of the Polish tennis champ's strongest competitors.

Aryna Sabalenka

Sabalenka is ranked No. 2 in the world and faced Swiatek in the finals at both Madrid and Rome. She lost in three sets in Madrid, which included a close third-set tiebreak, before losing in straight sets at the Italian Open. 

She enters the French Open having won the Australian Open in January, successfully defending her title in the first Slam of the season. At last year’s French Open, Sabalenka reached the semifinals — a career best — before being ousted by Karolina Muchová in three sets.

Season record: 25-7

Coco Gauff

Currently sitting at No. 3 in the world, the highest-ranked American on the schedule is none other than Coco Gauff. Gauff won her first major at the US Open last year, and reached the semifinals of this year’s Australian Open. She faced Swiatek in the semifinals of the Italian Open last week, losing in straight sets. 

But her first major final came at the French Open in 2022, before being ousted by Swiatek in the quarterfinals at last year’s French Open. The two are on a crash course for a meeting before the finals, as Gauff anchors the other quadrant on Swiatek’s side of the draw, should they both advance deep into the competition.

Season record: 25-8

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