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Vlatko Andonovski addresses Christen Press’ USWNT roster exclusion

(Wilf Thorne/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

When U.S. Soccer announced its 23-player U.S. women’s national team roster for the upcoming Concacaf championship in July, one name that didn’t appear on the list seemed to grab all the attention.

Christen Press hasn’t played for the USWNT since the Tokyo Olympics last summer, when she scored a goal in the team’s bronze medal-winning campaign. Since then, she’s headlined Angel City FC in the club’s debut NWSL season, scoring two goals (and forcing an own goal) in 686 minutes and eight starts. The forward has shown an ability to take on multiple defenders and create plays out of nothing, helping Angel City start the season near the top of the NWSL standings.

Press’ status for World Cup Qualifying was in question after she went down with a knee injury in Angel City’s win over Racing Louisville FC on Saturday. Amid the speculation that Press was left off the roster because of the injury, which ACFC confirmed Monday as a season-ending torn ACL, U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski set the record straight on Monday afternoon.

“Christen Press was not on the roster even before the injury,” Andonovski told reporters. “We’re very sorry for her injury and don’t have confirming information on the extension or the significance of the injury. We just hope that it is not too serious.”

Andonovski later said that Press’ top priority for inclusion on future USWNT rosters is good health. Then, it comes down to how she compares to other forwards on the team’s stacked depth chart. Before the Olympics last summer, Press had been on a tear with the USWNT, heavily contributing to the team’s goal-scoring opportunities. The two-time World Cup champion is ninth on the team’s all-time scoring list, with 64 goals in 155 caps since 2013.

“I think that she is performing well, but it’s not just her,” Andonovski said. “For Christen to be back on the field, it’s not just to do well or perform well in her club environment. It’s also outperform the players that she’s competing against … like Mal Pugh and Sophia Smith and Alex Morgan, Ashley Hatch, Trinity Rodman. It’s not easy to be a forward in the United States right now. Obviously it’s great, but it’s not easy because the competition just got bigger and bigger.”

Since Catarina Macario went down with a torn ACL, there was bound to be some flexibility on the USWNT’s frontline. Many speculated that Press would get the nod alongside Alex Morgan, the NWSL’s current leading scorer, because of their recent form with their club teams.

Instead, rejoining Morgan on the roster is Megan Rapinoe, who hasn’t appeared for the U.S. since the Tokyo Olympics. The OL Reign forward has played just 154 minutes in four of the team’s eight matches. After scoring two goals at the Olympics, she has yet to start or score a goal for the Reign this season.

Megan Rapinoe is 10th on the USWNT's all-time scoring list. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

At the end of last season, Andonovski had a conversation with Rapinoe, in which he walked her through his process for evaluating younger talent for the future of the national team. He told Rapinoe that if she were still in good form by this point, she would be named to the Concacaf squad.

The 36-year-old will play the same position as Mallory Pugh at outside forward, though Pugh will keep the starting spot for now.

“You have to do something absolutely incredible, and I can’t see it right now, someone getting the starting spot from Mallory in these qualifiers,” Andonovski said.

Rapinoe has made it clear that she is up for the challenge of playing a behind-the-scenes role and using her experience to guide the younger players. One of the most decorated players in USWNT history, Rapinoe has scored 62 goals, won two World Cup titles and been named the 2019 Best FIFA Women’s Player of the Year during her 16-year career.

“She will do anything possible to push Mal to be even better, so to push her in her own way to be even better but also to be there for Mal when the tough time comes,” Andonovski said. “We all know every player at a certain time in a tournament will go through adversity, every team will go through adversity in a tournament time. Regardless of what it is, I think that Megan is going to be there for Mal, she’s going to be there for Soph [Smith] to help them. When we talked, we said her job is to enhance their performance by 20 percent, and that’s where we believe she’s going to be valuable.”

The young forwards will also benefit from playing alongside Morgan, who will make her first appearance at national team camp since September.

“The thing with Alex is she falls in the group with Megan Rapinoe and Becky Sauerbrunn, who are experienced players who have gone through some tough times — but some great times as well — who knows how to win and how to win under tough circumstances, how to go through adversity,” Andonovski said.

The USWNT will play two tune-up games against Colombia, in Colorado on June 25 and in Utah on June 28, before traveling to Mexico for the Concacaf World Cup Qualifying tournament starting July 4.

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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