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Where the USWNT defense went wrong against England and Spain

Lindsey Horan goes up for a header against Maitane López during USWNT’s loss to Spain on Tuesday. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Coming into this European swing, the U.S. women’s national team hadn’t lost consecutive games since March 2017. This week, while handling the emotional weight of the Sally Yates report that outlined systemic abuse and sexual assault in the NWSL, the back-to-back World Cup champions watched that streak come to an end with a 2-1 loss to England on Friday and a 2-0 defeat to Spain on Tuesday.

Multiple defensive errors led to four goals conceded during the two-game trip. Even though many of the USWNT’s issues involved the midfield, head coach Vlatko Andonovski made changes only to defense in the starting lineup for the second game against Spain.

In goal, Casey Murphy came in for Alyssa Naeher. On the backline, Becky Sauerbrunn replaced Naomi Girma at center back, Hailie Mace took over at fullback for Sofia Huerta and Carson Pickett started on the left side for Emily Fox, who was ruled out of the Spain friendly after taking a knock to the head against England. Veteran defender Kelley O’Hara was absent for both games.

Girma’s absence from the starting XI against Spain was the biggest surprise coming off of her impressive performance against England. In that game, the NWSL rookie played solid defense, distributed the ball well to the attack and singlehandedly shut down a breakaway.

The back-to-back losses were a wake-up call for the USWNT, giving Andonovski some work to do in the nine months leading up to the FIFA World Cup. Here is a closer look at the defensive errors that contributed to the USWNT’s difficulties in Europe.

Defending runs down the flank and crosses in front of goal

In a recurring play that resulted in a goal for both England and Spain, the opposing player ran down the left channel and sent a cross in behind the center backs, where another opponent was waiting to score. Considering it resulted in a goal twice, this is a key weakness for the USWNT and something Andonovski needs to act on, whether it requires marking more tightly in front of goal or reading balls better from out wide.

2-0 Spain

Spain set up a give-and-go in the midfield that sent Oihane Hernández flying down the sideline past U.S. fullback Crystal Dunn. As Sauerbrunn filled the space between Dunn and the goal, Cook was left to cover Esther González, who stood at the penalty spot between the two U.S. center backs. A couple of steps too far from González, Cook couldn’t shut down González’s one-time volley past Murphy.

1-0 England

U.S. midfielder Lindsey Horan lost sight of her player and couldn’t read the pass from England’s Lucy Bronze, who started the play. Beth Mead got behind Emily Fox and took a run down the sideline before sending the ball across the box. Cook got a foot on it but not enough to slow down the play, and England’s Lauren Hemp slotted it away. Cook was positioned well on the ball side of Hemp, but due to an unlucky slip, she lost control of the interception.

Knowing roles in zonal coverage

Zonal coverage is the modern-day preference to player marking, as long as players know which zone is theirs and are constantly communicating between one another. At various times in their half of the pitch, the USWNT didn’t look confident in whose job it was to step up to challenge for the ball. That was especially true in the midfield, where they might have benefitted from shifting their 4-3-3 formation to a 4-5-1 for more support.

The lack of pressure led to multiple shots against that, fortunately for the U.S., went wide. They paid the price when they conceded their first goal against Spain.

1-0 Spain

Spain opened the scoring Tuesday off a corner kick. The USWNT had organized in a zonal marking system, with five players in a line at the top of the six-yard box, another on the side of the six, one inside in front of the goal, and two on the cluster of five Spanish players who started in the middle of the 18 and ran toward goal. 

After the ball pinged off five red shirts, Laia Codina buried it from the top of the six. Carson Pickett slipped before reaching what probably would have been her zone, and there appeared to be confusion among the U.S. players over who should step up to cover that area. In the end, none of them challenged the ball.


With the World Cup looming, there’s no need to panic yet. The USWNT was missing veterans like O’Hara, Mallory Pugh and Alex Morgan, and Andonovski rotated in players who hadn’t gotten many minutes previously with this group. Chemistry takes time.

There’s another international window in November, when the U.S. will have a chance to smooth out their errors against World No. 2 Germany, the 2022 Euro Cup finalists. If the USWNT loses those games, too, we’ll likely be having a different conversation in a month.

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

New Washington Spirit Head Coach Jonatan Giráldez Arrivin DC

head coach Jonatan Giráldez
Jonatan Giráldez joins the NWSL from FC Barcelona Femení. (Ramsey Cardy/UEFA via Getty Images)

Five months after announcing that the Washington Spirit had hired Barcelona Femení coach Jonatan Giráldez as the team's new head coach, Giráldez has joined the club in Washington, DC.

Giráldez is coming off of a successful season with the Spanish side, having won UEFA Women's Champions League, Copa de la Reina, Supercopa, and Liga F in his final season to complete a lauded Quadruple.

While Giráldez was finishing out his tenure in Europe, Adrián González filled in as Spirit interim head coach. González has also seen success, leading the team to its third-place standing with a 9-3-1 record through 13 games.

“I’m thrilled to join the Spirit and begin this next chapter with the club,” Giráldez said in an official team statement. “To be part of the vision Michele Kang has for the Spirit and women’s soccer globally is an exciting opportunity.”

Giráldez has worked at Barcelona since 2019, initially coming on as an assistant coach before moving up to head coach in 2021. The team went 30-0-0 on the season under Giráldez during his first year as manager.

He brings along with him Andrés González and Toni Gordo, who will serve as the Spirit's Fitness Coach and Club Analyst, respectively.

US Track & Field Olympic Trials Touch Down in Oregon

Sha’Carri Richardson competes in the women’s 200-meter preliminary round during the USATF Outdoor Championships
Sha’Carri Richardson will have some competition this week as athletes vie for an Olympic berth. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Track & Field Trials begin on June 21st, kicking off a 10-day quest to determine who will represent the US in Paris this summer.

The crucial meet will take place in Eugene, Oregon, where the top three finishers in each event will punch their ticket to the 2024 Olympics. As with this past week's US Swimming Trials, even the most decorated athletes must work to earn their spot — and one bad performance could undermine four years of preparation.

Reigning 100-meter World Champion Sha'Carri Richardson headlines this year's field, as the 24-year-old looks to qualify for her second Olympic Games and compete in her first. Richardson is a world champion in both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint, but missed the Tokyo Olympics due to testing positive for THC shortly after the last US Olympic Trials.

Other standouts include 400-meter Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who's currently the most decorated athlete in the active women's US Track & Field pool. McLaughlin-Levrone qualified to run in the 200-meter and 400-meter flat races alongside the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympic Trials, but opted to focus solely on her signature event.

800-meter specialist Athing Mu will also be a huge draw this week, as the Olympic gold medalist looks to shake off a lingering hamstring injury while pursuing her second Summer Games. Gold medal-winning pole vaulter Katie Moon will also attempt to qualify for her second-straight Olympic Games.

Ole Miss star McKenzie Long could be Richardson's greatest competition in the 100-meter and 200-meter events, as well as Richardson's Worlds teammate Gabby Thomas in the 200-meter. In field events, watch for Oregon senior Jaida Ross going head-to-head with reigning world champion Chase Jackson in the shot put, as both push for their first Olympic team berth.

Regardless of why you tune in, the US Olympic Trials are a perpetually thrilling and sometimes brutal qualification process. If you're able to make your way to the head of the pack, a shot at Olympic glory might just be waiting at the finish line.

Fans can catch live coverage throughout the Trials via NBC, USA, and Peacock.

Top Teams Square Off in NWSL Weekend Slate

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda
Orlando Pride, led by forward Barbra Banda, will take on Utah in this weekend's NWSL action. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As the NWSL season continues, a few top-performing clubs will have a chance to boost their standings this weekend.

First-place Kansas City will travel to Providence Park to take on fifth-place Portland, as the Current look to keep their unbeaten streak intact. And in New Jersey, third-place Washington will take on fourth-place Gotham FC, with both teams attempting to extend multi-game unbeaten streaks.

A six-point gap has opened between the fifth and sixth spot on the NWSL table — with just six points also separating the league's top five. Kansas City, Orlando, Washington, Gotham, and Portland have recently proven themselves to be a cut above the rest of the competition. With eight postseason spots up for grabs and half the season behind us, a pattern is forming that indicates the playoff race could come down to spots six through eight on the NWSL table.

Of those top five teams, only Orlando faces an opponent in the bottom half of the league this weekend: The Pride will take on 14th-place Utah, who nonetheless are coming off a win — just their second of the season — over Bay FC last weekend.

But despite Kansas City and Orlando having yet to lose a game, Gotham might be the squad coming into the weekend with the most momentum.

Clutch goals from Rose Lavelle and rookie Maycee Bell gave the Bats a 2-0 midweek win over San Diego on Wednesday, in a rematch of the 2024 Challenge Cup. Gotham's unbeaten streak dates all the way back to April, as rising availability and sharpened form have honed this year's superteam into a contender.

Bottom line? As the NWSL season passes the halfway mark, some matches might begin to feel more like playoff previews than mere regular season battles.

Chelsea Gray Returns From Injury in Aces Win Over Seattle

las vegas aces chelsea gray and kelsey plum celebrate a win over the seattle storm
Gray has been sidelined with a foot injury since the 2023 WNBA Finals. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Chelsea Gray made her return to the basketball court on Wednesday, helping the Aces to a 94-83 win over the Seattle Storm. 

The lauded point guard missed the first 12 games of the season, having been injured in last year’s WNBA Finals. The left foot injury caused her to miss Game 4 of the championship series, and she’s continued to rehab it through the beginning of the 2024 season. 

Her return on Wednesday was capitalized by the fact that she needed just 20 seconds to make an impact and record her first assist. While she finished with just one point, she had seven assists, four rebounds, and two blocks to go alongside it in 15:30 minutes. Gray's contributions on the night brought her career assist record up to 1,500.

"I probably went through every emotion leading up to today," Gray said after the game. "I was a little anxious all day. It's been a long time since I've been out on that court. But the fans were amazing from the time I came out to warm up to the time I checked in the game. It was a rush and a feeling I missed a lot."

It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far for Las Vegas, who have lost five of their last seven games. Gray, who averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in 2023, has proven herself a much-needed addition to the team’s lineup.

"Felt like my heart," Aces coach Becky Hammon said when asked how she felt hearing the crowd erupt for Gray's return. "She's the leader of our team. I thought she did a wonderful job too."

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