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USWNT 2022 player grades: Emily Fox makes case at outside back

Emily Fox made a case to start at left back for the USWNT in 2023, but she’ll have to compete with Crystal Dunn. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

It’s the end of the calendar year for the U.S. women’s national team, with 2022 performances all wrapped up in a bow. Naturally, that also means it’s time for end-of-year report cards to evaluate how each player did in the run-up to the 2023 World Cup.

Again, a quick set of criteria: Despite the team’s first three-game losing streak in decades, the U.S. lost only three games total in 2022. A failing grade would indicate a player is wildly unprepared for the game at this level, which is not something we saw from the group playing the lion’s share of minutes this year. Likewise, an A+ indicates a player with all-star, team-on-their-back, best-in-the-world status.

Throughout this series, which will grade players by position, I’m going to avoid those who didn’t get minutes in 2022 and those who have missed significant time due to injury. In this installment, that includes Crystal Dunn, who missed most of the year after giving birth to her son, returning to appear in three games at the very end.

So far, we’ve graded the goalkeepers. Today, let’s take a look at the outside backs.

Emily Fox – B+

Fox quickly became one of the cornerstones of the USWNT’s new young core, tallying almost 1,000 minutes in 2022 despite dealing with a bout of COVID-19 and a number of injuries. Fox is naturally suited for the way Vlatko Andonovski likes his outside backs to play. She can confidently cut inside to overlap with the attacker in front of her when the team is progressing the ball, and she has the recovery speed to get back in transition.

Fox’s impressive 2022 actually makes for an interesting conflict on the left side of the pitch between the 24-year-old and left-back mainstay Crystal Dunn, whose minutes progressed in the last few international matches. Fox has starting capabilities, and clearly so does Dunn (though she could be used elsewhere). If they’re both healthy, the U.S. has a choice to make on whether to rotate between them or give one player the reins.

Sofia Huerta – B

Huerta’s performances can be broken down into two different evaluations: attacking and defending. In the attack, Huerta suits the USWNT formation perfectly, with a cross-first attitude that paid major dividends throughout the year. When the U.S. has to unlock a stout defense, Huerta’s ability to find her teammates can be an essential asset.

But she’s not a natural defender, and teams that are confident in transition have begun to overload her side of the pitch. Against Canada in the Concacaf W Championship, Huerta experienced trial by fire, bending but not breaking in 1v1 defending situations. Later in the year, the winger in front of her (often Sophia Smith) had to compensate at times for her spacing. Huerta has an intriguingly high ceiling if she can continue to raise her defensive floor.

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(Joseph Maiorana/USA TODAY Sports)

Kelley O’Hara – B

O’Hara didn’t play for the USWNT again in 2022 after the Concacaf W group stage in July, but she still made it into the top half of minutes played for the USWNT in the calendar year. Her consistency in the first half of 2022 and absence later encapsulates the O’Hara paradox: The 34-year-old is reliable, experienced and strong on both sides of the ball when she is healthy. And she is possibly still the first-choice option on the right, even with Huerta carrying heavy minutes in the same position.

But O’Hara followed up one of her best years in 2021 with a less consistently healthy 2022. Her durability is the main question hanging over her potential in 2023.

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(Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Hailie Mace – B-

Mace came into the team under difficult circumstances, as further roster attrition caused her last-minute call-up for the USWNT’s European road trip in October. She then was thrown onto the pitch against England when Emily Fox exited early with a concussion. While adjusting to her quick substitution, Mace gave up a crucial penalty that ended up being the deciding goal in a 2-1 loss.

When she’s given time to compete, Mace’s versatility is an obvious asset. She played on both the left and right flank against England and Spain, and her willingness to impose herself physically on a match showed the basis of how she can help the U.S. in the future. That versatility, however, can be a detriment, when high-level specificity at the international level might actually be what helps her solidify a roster spot.

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(Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Carson Pickett – Incomplete

Pickett played only slightly fewer minutes than Mace but in three fewer games — the Courage left-back got just two looks for the USWNT in 2022. Her first start came in a 2-0 win over Colombia right before the USWNT left for the Concacaf W Championship, and the 29-year-old did not look out of place in her role.

Pickett’s second game came against Spain, with a heavily depleted U.S. playing against a similarly depleted Spanish side. No U.S. player wrapped themselves in glory in that 2-0 loss, but Pickett wasn’t set up to succeed either. She’s a classic outside back with a good sense for goal that should be considered if Fox or Dunn is unavailable.

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

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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