Category Archives: Cheap USWNT Jerseys

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Fresh off a national title, junior Kiki Pickett and sophomore Sophia Smith joined the World Cup champion U.S. women’s national team for an identification camp. Pickett scored the game-winning penalty kick to win Stanford its third NCAA championship, and Smith was named the College Cup Most Outstanding Player.

Two more former Cardinal, the Washington Spirit’s Jordan DiBiasi ’18 and the Houston Dash’s Jane Campbell ’17, were evaluated by newly minted United States women’s national soccer team (USWNT) head coach Vlatko Andonovski.
“I think we definitely have to change our mindset from being here and then going to camp,” Pickett said after the NCAA final. “It’s going to be a big opportunity for us in a different environment.”

Although invited, junior forward Madison Haley and sophomore center back Naomi Girma were unable to attend due to injuries. The camp started on Dec. 9 in Bradenton, Florida, one day after Stanford clinched the NCAA title in San Jose. On Tuesday, three days after the camp ended, the USWNT posted a recap video of the camp, featuring Smith.

“This camp is an amazing experience to integrate new younger players into the system and give the new coach to see what we have to offer,” Smith said in the video.
With 2020 in sight, Andonovski and his staff held an identification camp which offered new players a chance to show what they’ve got ahead of the #USWNT’s Olympic Qualifying early next year. pic.twitter.com/q6QKnlayN8

— U.S. Soccer WNT (@USWNT) December 17, 2019
The camp did not include any of the players from the 21-player World Cup-winning squad, of which three more were former Cardinal: Kelley O’Hara ’10, Christen Press ’11 and Tierna Davidson ’20.

O’Hara and Press shared the single-season Stanford record for points in a season with 65, but that total was smashed by junior midfielder Catarina Macario this season. The Brazilian-born star has been determined to play for the U.S., but has yet to appear for the senior side.

“I have really high expectations,” Smith said. “Obviously, I want to show Vlatko what I can do, especially with these high level players, but I also want to have fun and take it all in because it’s an amazing experience.

Smith scored in a U.S. Youth National Team-record nine consecutive international games for the U.S. U-20 WNT in 2018 when she tallied 15 total goals. This was the second training camp experience for Smith with her first coming in 2017 at age 16, though she, like all other players born after the 1999 World Cup, have yet to appear in a game for the national team.

“It’s a great opportunity to see all these young players,” Andonovski said. “It’s good for them to get experience of what a camp looks like, but it’s also good for us to see where they are in their stage of their careers and their development.”

“It’s a hard team to break into,” Andonovski added. “It’s a World Cup champion.”

DiBiasi scored four times for the Spirit and was a National Women’s Soccer League Rookie of the Year candidate while playing in 22 games with 20 starts. Along with Pickett, she will be making her first appearance in a national team camp.

Campbell, meanwhile, has three caps, and first trained with the USWNT at the age of 17 in January of 2013 as the youngest goalkeeper to be called into the senior camp.

Looking forward, the USWNT will face Haiti on Jan. 28, in its first game of the 2020 Concacaf Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament, which will send two nations to the 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan.

Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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The Stanford Cardinal women’s soccer team was the decade’s dominant team with three Division 1 national championships. They also lost in the finals twice, in 2009 and 2010. Two of the team’s most famous graduates, United States national team stars Kelley O’Hara and Christen Press, did not win national titles, but they helped set the scene in Palo Alto, California, where Paul Ratcliffe has coached Stanford the last 17 seasons.

Ratcliffe led the Cardinal to the 2019 title, defeating North Carolina in penalties. During this week’s On Frame with Pro Soccer USA’s Glenn Crooks, Ratcliffe talks about this year’s team and his lengthy coaching career.

This year, Stanford was led by a player with remarkable numbers. Junior forward Catarina Macario had 32 goals and 23 assists in 24 matches.

“She is absolutely amazing,” Ratcliffe said. “Usually you see a player and they are lopsided one way or another – either a goal scorer or a great creator. To get both like you do with Catarina is what separates her as, in my mind, the best player in the entire country.”

Ratcliffe’s first experience coaching the women’s side came when UCLA started its program in 1999. He worked under two-time World Cup champion coach Jill Ellis.

Ratcliffe also played at UCLA for the late Sigi Schmid and won a national title with teammates Cobi Jones and Brad Friedel.

“Sigi was a great influence on me,” the 50-year old Ratcliffe said. “A fantastic person, fantastic coach and he helped me so much getting me involved in coaching. He asked me if I could help with the new women’s program at UCLA to give me a chance to really coach.”

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This was truly a decade of massive change for the women’s game. Tracing the growth of international women’s soccer from the buildup to the 2011 World Cup to the over a billion viewers who watched in 2019 is nothing short of astounding, particularly given this growth happened under the auspices of a governing body that has long underfunded and neglected women, not to mention various individual federations that have behaved much the same.

And yet, truly generational players have managed to emerge on the global stage, becoming regular fixtures on not just pitches, but awards stages worldwide. We may grumble about Marta winning so many player of the year trophies on the back of her immense name recognition, but you can’t deny she earned that recognition fair and square. Hope Solo has perhaps been written about for her controversies off the field almost as much as her contributions on it, but she defined an era of USWNT dominance. Homare Sawa may be one of the most respected names in the game, seen as the epitome of field vision and technical precision in ball distribution, and a consummate leader of the Nadeshiko. And there are others, players who instantly draw attention on the field, the ones who inspire confidence or fear, depending on who you’re rooting for.

To be eligible for this list, a player must have been internationally active for at least four years, covering a full cycle between major tournaments. These are players who have been critical to their teams’ success on the international stage over a sustained period of time. We are also not taking into account off-the-field actions. Many players have great social and cultural impact, but we are only considering their influence on the field, whether it’s scoring goals, making assists, saving shots, etc. We are also taking into account club play, as long as it was a sustained performance that helped elevate the team and/or the league itself in the consciousness of soccer fans. We’re well aware that these criteria can be interpreted with some wiggle room, but soccer isn’t a sport for robots with spreadsheets, and some of the fun lies in the subjectivity of the discussion.

Here are the candidates in alphabetical order:

Nadine Angerer

There may be no position on the field more polarizing than goalkeeper. One mistake, and you’re Boo Boo the fool for the rest of your life. One moment of brilliance, and you’re a legend. But sometimes you’re a steady force who may not get the same recognition from flashy goals because great goalkeeping often looks like a simple catch that is actually quite difficult to execute as you compress a rapidly-developing field situation into deciding on where to be in a goal that is impossible to cover 100%. Angerer was one of the best at this deceptive simplicity, with enough guts to match her brains for when being smarter than forwards wasn’t enough.

Formiga

There are people out there half Formiga’s age who couldn’t keep up with her physically. How does she do it? How has she been doing it for so many years? Is there a Brazil WNT without Formiga? And is there women’s soccer without Brazil? In a technical sense, yes, of course the international game would continue (knock on wood) without Brazil. But the identity of the sport, the storylines, the examples of what is possible to do with a ball – these are things profoundly affected by Brazil’s presence, and in turn, by Formiga.

Pernille Harder

Evocative of the Danish men’s European championship winning team from 1992 (dubbed Danish Dynamite), the women’s team took the 2017 Euros by storm lead by Pernille Harder. Although the Danes lost the final in the Netherlands, Harder set herself apart and announced herself on the world stage to those who did not already know her. A captain, leader, striker, playmaker, defender: Harder was the beating heart of the team, carrying the torch not just for Denmark but all of Scandinavia. From her hat-trick senior debut, she’s been playing since last decade and is still only 27, is still grossly overlooked, and is still a force on the pitch, a world-class star from a sleepy town in Jutland.

Ada Hegerberg

Hegerberg boycotting the Norwegian national team is a tragedy for both her and their program, though obviously she deserves to be able to walk away if she’s being treated unfairly. It’s a testament to just how how good she was in the years she did give to them (as well as her current club work) that there are still calls for her to come back to the NT. She’s still at world-beater status, with her preternatural understanding of tight spaces and a smoothly stylish first touch that sometimes makes you feel like you’ve been dunked on.

Marta

How can you have soccer this decade (or last decade) without Marta? Answer: you can’t. She was the embodiment of the impossible made possible through her looping, criss-crossing, blurred-to-the-eye feet. On the field she was perfection and she was despair, she was joy and she was fear. No matter where she played, fans on both sides had their opinions of her, their memories of this goal or that cut. She was the one to watch, on whom all hopes or all worries rested. She was, and is, Marta.

Dzsenifer Marozsán

When fit, Dzsenifer Marozsán is probably the most dominant soccer player in the world. Marozsán has been at the preeminence of the sport since she first made headlines with the German U20 team in 2012. Since then, she has catapulted any team she is on from being a very good team to the best team around. Whether it was 1. FC Saarbrücken, 1. FFC Frankfurt or her current employers, Olympique Lyonnais, Marozsán has shone and shone brightly. Her clinical passing and a penchant for scoring breath-taking goals cannot be understated, and at 27 years old, Marozsán will continue to thrill us for years to come.

Alex Morgan

How much of Alex Morgan’s destined-for-greatness narrative was hype and how much was her own frankly astonishing athletic ability may depend on your personal feelings, but what isn’t up for debate is that Morgan is someone who can overwhelmingly dominate in the attack. Her technical savvy sometimes doesn’t get its just due, overshadowed by her pure physical gifts, but as she gets older, it becomes more and more apparent that she was never a one trick baby horse.

Megan Rapinoe

At the beginning of the decade, when Megan Rapinoe was what should have been her prime years, she was just a rotation player for the USWNT. She was considered a bit of a set piece specialist, an excellent technician who was lacking in the physical tools needed to start most games. By the end of the decade, 34-year-old Rapinoe was a locked-in starter and named the FIFA Best Women’s Player for 2019. Sure, she worked on her game during that time period, but she didn’t change her playing style much at all. Instead, the USWNT – and women’s soccer as a whole – changed around her. Rapinoe has improved with age, but more importantly, the USWNT is now better suited to her game.

Wendie Renard

If Renard were near the end of her playing career she would rightly be held up as one of the most dominant defenders in the history of the women’s game. But at only 29 years old, she’s still got some time to further cement her legacy. A one-club woman who came up through Olympique Lyonnais’ academy system, team captain Renard was indelibly shaped by Lyon, and has in turn been instrumental in helping Les Fenottes become such a dominant force in Europe. While the shelf for her international medals looks a bit threadbare at present, Renard more than makes up for it with club accolades, including thirteen (consecutive!) Division 1 Féminine titles and six Women’s Champions League titles.

Célia Šašić

It was hard not to be drawn to Šašić as a player – she was a magnetic forward with a lovely sense of space and timing who could set up as well as score on her own, with head or feet. She came out of a great era of German players like Angerer and Garefrekes and stood out from the pack right in front of the goal. Honestly, her retirement at age 27 felt like it came far too soon even though she had already given over a decade of her life to the national team.

Becky Sauerbrunn

Sauerbrunn has quietly gone about ensuring the United States stays top of the international game with her steady, thoughtful play. She dragged attention to the position by the sheer – and consistent – quality of her play, but like all excellent center backs, was often marked more by what didn’t happen than what did, making for a lack of flashy highlights.

Homare Sawa

Japan had an incredible run to start this decade, winning the 2011 World Cup and 2014 Asian Cup while finishing second in both the 2015 World Cup and the 2012 Olympics. We could call Homare Sawa the heart of that stylish, successful Nadeshiko team, but that would sell her short. Sawa was the brain, the captain, and the distillation of that era for Japan: skillful, indefatigable, inventive. For club (3 straight titles with INAC Kobe Leonessa) and country, Sawa set a new standard for central midfielders worldwide.

Caroline Seger

Seger has a bit of a reputation for her, shall we say, brusque physical encounters, but to only see her physicality is to far undersell her importance to any midfield. Her tireless engine has driven many a team to success, absolutely gobbling up every single crumb of resistance offered to her by the opposition. She’s both enforcer and general, able to patrol through the midfield, arrive late, and begin attacks.

Christine Sinclair

A lot written about Sinc talks about what she’s done in spite of the team around her. It feels unfair, and a little mean, but perhaps only because it contains an element of truth. This is someone who has always outpaced, sometimes literally, everyone around her. And when age inevitable started to tell, she didn’t have to adjust her game, because that wellspring of cunning and vision was always there. It was coaches who had to adjust, realizing they hadn’t lost a powerful piece, but gained a different, equally powerful one.

Hope Solo

After the USWNT lost 4-0 to Brazil in the semifinals of the 2007 World Cup, Hope Solo infamously stated that she would have made the saves to keep her team in the match. She was widely criticized for being arrogant and disrespectful to her teammates, but the next eight years of her career also suggested that she might have been right. Solo was the best shot-stopper of her generation, and retired with 102 shutouts in a USWNT shirt, as well as an astonishing run of 55 games unbeaten. Even as women’s soccer progresses rapidly, no one else appears to have matched the quick reactions Solo had at her peak.

Abby Wambach

It’s difficult for Abby Wambach to influence other people’s games, since doing so would require a level of God-given physical ability reserved for a fraction of a percent of humans. But Wambach did so much more than rely on her 5’11” frame, strength and leaping ability. She maximized her talent, becoming as good of a playmaker as she was a goal-scorer in her late career. Her passing and ability to create space for teammates was more important than her aerial prowess as her career wound down. Wambach’s evolution also mirrored American soccer’s; the next USWNT player with her talents will be asked to develop a more complete skillset in her early 20s, instead of in her 30s.

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NASHVILLE — Saturday was lining up to be a near-perfect day for Adrianna Franch.

Her fiancé was in town to watch her play with the United States women’s national team in the SheBelieves Cup in Nashville. And Franch would get to wear the last name of her childhood idol, Briana Scurry, on the back of her kit because of a promotion the team was doing. Each player wore the name of a woman that inspired them.

“I watched the ’99 World Cup. I was 9,” Franch said. “I thought about this hard and who I looked up to as a kid, and it was her. That’s who I wanted to be.”

While Franch knew her fiancé would be in the stands and that she’d get to wear that special jersey, she didn’t know – until just a few days before – she’d also get her first national team cap in the Music City.

She became just the eighth goalkeeper to start for the team since 2001, joining an elite group that includes Scurry.

“It’s a beautiful experience to get the first cap and represent her name,” Franch said.

Unfortunately, Saturday in Nashville didn’t have a perfect ending. Like Andre 3000 once said, “You can plan a pretty picnic, but you can’t predict the weather.”

The U.S. drew 2-2 with England, and after the match, the attitude among U.S. players marching through the tunnel at Nissan Stadium seemed like a sour one. It was a draw that felt much more like a loss.

“It’s not the result that we wanted, but we’ll learn from it and move forward,” Franch said.

Still, the day was an important step for Franch. Aside from a costly mistake that resulted in a goal, she played well and kept a talented England team at bay for most of the day. As the 2019 World Cup in France looms, Franch showed that she can be relied on.

U.S. head coach Jill Ellis was committed to giving Alyssa Naeher the start in goal in all three SheBelieves Cup games, but the 30-year-old from Penn State suffered a shoulder injury during a draw against Japan in the tournament opener in Chester, Pa., Feb. 27.

Suddenly, Ellis had a choice to make. In Nashville, she could either go with veteran Ashlyn Harris, a proven commodity who was a backup to Hope Solo on the 2015 World Cup team, or Franch, who had never been capped.

It was time. Ellis wanted to see what she had in the 28-year-old Franch.

“It’s getting an opportunity, whether your hand is forced or not, but it’s an answer that we wanted and needed. And we wanted (Franch) to have a cap,” Ellis said. “I thought AD had been really good in training. And I’ve seen Ashlyn, so it was giving AD an opportunity.”

On short notice, Franch impressed. The 5-foot-9 Kansas native mostly played well and looked comfortable, but made an error in the 36th minute. Mallory Pugh played a pass backward to the defense, but a pair of U.S. defenders let the ball roll to Franch and she picked it up. A referee whistled and awarded England with an indirect free kick.

“I was on the sideline and I was watching it, so I feel like maybe that could’ve gone either way,” U.S. defender Becky Sauerbrunn said. “You could say that it wasn’t a direct backpass to the goalkeeper. It was kind of an in-betweener. It’s unfortunate.”

England’s captain, Steph Houghton, curved the ball through a crack in the defense and into the net. Franch stretched out for an admirable attempt at a save, but it was a shot that few goalkeepers on the planet could’ve halted.

After the match, Franch acknowledged her blunder, but wanted to move on quickly. She said she didn’t call off the two defenders who let the ball roll through, but she wasn’t about to use that as an excuse, either.

“It was just a little mishap and we’ll learn from it,” Franch said. “We keep learning from our mistakes and strengths.”

The second ball Franch allowed in the net came in the 52nd minute. After the U.S. was dispossessed in its own half, a few one-touch passes threw the Stars and Stripes’ defense into a frenzy and Nikita Parris slipped through unmarked on the right side. She sliced a ball by Franch, beating her with a low shot to the far post.

“We did a lot of good things out there, but it’s not good enough,” Franch said. “It’s not the result we wanted.”

Franch tallied two saves on the day and the U.S. equalized. Despite her error, Ellis and Franch’s teammates were impressed, especially considering the circumstances.

“Other than the one error of picking up the ball — which again, is a valuable freaking lesson — I thought she had good presence in there and in the kicking game,” Ellis said. “For her first game, I thought she was solid.”

Added Tierna Davidson: “I think she played really well. She was really calm with her feet, very composed under the pressure the forwards were giving her, and that’s a lot that we ask of our keepers, to be able to possess off the back. That’s very important for us.”

Sauerbrunn chimed in too, saying, “For her first cap, this is a tough game to come into and I thought she handled it really well. (Picking up the back pass is) something you’re going to learn from and probably never do again.”

It’s been a long journey for Franch to get her first cap with the U.S. national team. She started getting invited to U.S. camps at the U-20 level in 2010 when she was playing college ball at Oklahoma State, where she was twice a semifinalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy, twice an All-American and a four-time All-Big 12 selection.

Franch became the first goalkeeper taken in the National Women’s Soccer League draft when the Western New York Flash selected her with the sixth overall pick in 2013. Franch tallied six saves in her debut and was seen as a rising star in the sport, but a knee injury forced her to miss the 2014 season. After a year off, and then a season where she played for a club in Norway, Franch returned to the NWSL with the Portland Thorns in 2016. Since then, she’s helped the Thorns win the NWSL Shield in 2016, the championship in 2017 and she’s twice been named the league’s Goalkeeper of the Year.

2019 could be a big year for Franch’s soccer career. She has her first national team cap and soon, she’ll report to camp with the Thorns to try and help them reach the NWSL final again, which they lost last year to the North Carolina Courage.

And she has a real shot in making Ellis’ roster for the World Cup. Three goalkeepers will go and Franch is slotted in third place on the depth chart.

Should something like Naeher’s shoulder injury occur in France, Ellis now knows she can rely on Franch to be ready to play at a high level with little notice.

“The goalkeeper position is hard. At the end of the day, all three of us . . . That’s what we work for every day,” Franch said. “You try to have the same preparation because, I mean, a goalkeeper can get injured in a warmup or anything like that. You have to be prepared.”

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Orlando Pride stars Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger said they struggled to play for a homophobic Washington Spirit owner earlier in their careers, according to Power Plays, a newsletter written by journalist Lindsay Gibbs.

Since the players were acquired by the Orlando Pride, fans speculated the players’ previously undisclosed sexuality caused their departure from the Spirit. In an interview with Gibbs, Harris and Krieger confirmed the homophobic actions of former owner Bill Lynch were the reason they left for a different club.

Lynch refused to allow the Spirit to host a Pride Night throughout his tenure, the only team to not do so in 2015, a decision Krieger described as “shameful.”

“I just didn’t feel like I was playing for a club that really respected me and supported me and my lifestyle,” Krieger told Power Plays. “How can I give my best to a club like that? That was so hard to deal with.”

“I was out of there,” Harris added.

Harris was selected by the Orlando Pride in the 2015 Expansion Draft and Krieger was traded to the team a year later in November 2016.

United States women’s national team star Megan Rapinoe openly called Lynch homophobic in 2016, when the former owner played the national anthem while the teams were in the locker room to prevent Rapinoe from taking a knee in protest.

Since moving to Orlando, the couple has experienced a much different environment with the Pride. Besides the obvious nod of its name, Orlando hosts a Pride night annually and rainbow flags dot the supporters section at each game.

Following the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in downtown Orlando, Orlando City SC dedicated a section of its stadium to the 49 victims of the attack, painting seven rows of seats in the colors of the rainbow.

With the Pride, Harris and Krieger have been able to grow comfortable. They publicly announced their engagement in March, two months before Krieger was called up to the national team for the first time in years.

“It’s really nice to share these moments with her, to make these memories with her and really have someone in your corner that understands the process,” Krieger said in an interview with Pro Soccer USA before the World Cup. “And I think it’s really good for us to share this, because I’m pretty sure this is our last big tournament together.

This has been a year of celebration for the couple, highlighted by their engagement and the World Cup victory. It’s also been a year of adjusting to the spotlight that comes with being the visibility of their position.

The past week has been filled with public moments that reflect the huge shift in their lives this year. Harris and Krieger were asked to present Rapinoe’s Glamour Woman of the Year award together and they walked on stage hand-in-hand.

In their interview with Power Plays, Harris and Krieger described the back-and-forth struggle of deciding when and how to come out publicly. Both feared that they could lose sponsorships or jobs by coming out, but that fear was balanced with the opportunity to inspire young and old fans alike.

Ultimately, the couple’s decision came down to choosing the best version of life for themselves.

“It was time,” Harris said to Power Plays. “It’s a real thing, you know, and it was difficult to come to the decision, but we’re at a point in our lives where we’re like, you know what? We’re willing to risk it all to really just authentically be ourselves.”

To read more about Harris and Krieger, including details about their time at the Spirit and their reaction to Rapinoe’s anthem protest, visit the Power Plays newsletter.

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Imagine what it must be like to become the best in the world at something, only to find out that being the best isn’t enough for some people. Imagine spending your entire life working to reach the pinnacle of your field and silence the haters, only for those haters to keep attempting to belittle your accomplishments even after you made it. Imagine listening to people try to undermine your success by saying that your competition was weak, or that your field is unpopular and irrelevant, or that you went about things in the wrong way. What would you do upon realizing that there are some people who simply can’t be pleased, even if you manage to be the best you can be—the best anybody in the world can be?

The Ringer’s 2019 Year in Review

Check out The Ringer’s look back at the best and most notable of 2019

This was a problem that America’s women’s national soccer team faced in 2019, but not a new one—those women didn’t just become the best in the world. They have been ranked no. 1 in the FIFA world rankings for most of the past 12 years, with Germany briefly moving in front for three short stints. They have won four of six Olympic soccer tournaments and four of eight World Cups. In 664 matches all time, they have outscored their opponents by a combined total of 1,616 goals. Victory is their resting state.

In fact, what set this team apart was not that it won the World Cup, but that it won the World Cup again. Although this was the USWNT’s fourth title, this summer marked the first time the Americans had entered the event as defending champs and repeated. Their 5-2 win over Japan in the 2015 final was the most-watched soccer game in American history. This time around, they had a target on their backs, and the rest of the world showed up eager to take them down. The competition was supposedly better than ever, and so they took great joy in dodging every ax hurled at their bull’s-eye.

From start to finish, their World Cup showing was a triumph. It began with a 13-0 demolition of Thailand, a breathtaking glimpse of what it looks like when the best players in a sport get to do basically whatever they want for the full length of a game.

It culminated with a 2-0 win over the Netherlands and a multi-continental drinking spree, the latter of which was documented by goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris in what is to Instagram Stories what Citizen Kane is to cinema.

Their victory was total. The Americans set Women’s World Cup records for goals (26) and goal differential (plus-23). They never trailed, and scored within the first 15 minutes of every match except the championship. They became the first team to go 7-0-0 in the Women’s World Cup. (Team USA went 6-0-0 in the inaugural edition in 1991, back when the event was called the “World Championship for Women’s Football for the M&M’s Cup,” because FIFA wanted the words “World Cup” to be reserved for men.) They were everything the best teams can be: dominant in routs and unshakable in crunch time; confident they would win and yet utterly thrilled when they did; individually brilliant but cohesive. At times, each American player was better than each player on the opposing team. That could’ve felt cruel. With the U.S., it felt like a celebration of excellence.

Along the way, though, the women encountered a stunning amount of domestic backlash against a team coasting to victory in international play. They were criticized for scoring too much, or celebrating too hard. They were called unpatriotic, even as they won a major competition on America’s behalf. When the players had the gall to propose they should be paid as much as the American men’s soccer team, they were told that they didn’t deserve it, because they were less popular, even as they achieved greater successes in front of larger audiences. It seemed there was nothing this team could do that wouldn’t make a large portion of the population angry.

Least bothered by all of this: the women of Team USA. They were followed by a cavalcade of pointless yelling virtually everywhere they went, like dust following Pig-Pen. And still they thrived. They not only returned to the peak of their sport, but also found time to laugh at those who couldn’t find joy in their success. And instead of letting the worst arguments against them put a damper on their title, they refocused that conversation to a meaningful end.

There were plenty of things one could rightfully criticize Team USA for during this year’s World Cup. There is no reason a roster as talented as this one should have played in three consecutive one-goal games in the knockout stages. But head coach Jill Ellis—the subject of a 2017 player coup, the bane of soccer Twitter, and, thankfully, now a retiree—seemed determined to leave some of her best players on the bench, or else use them in unusual circumstances. Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher proved an excellent shot-blocker, but sometimes passed the ball directly to opposing attackers. And the team got the benefit of questionable refereeing decisions against Spain (that penalty call!), France (that non-penalty call!) and England (that offside VAR decision!), winning each match by one goal. The U.S. was plainly the best team in the field, but appeared strangely interested in keeping their knockout matches competitive.

These weren’t major talking points. Shockingly, no right-wing bloggers tried to hit it big with posts like, “Does Jill Ellis’s Decision to Leave Lindsey Horan Out of the Starting XI Prove That She Hates America?” Instead, the most common anti–Team USA talking point focused on celebrations. When the U.S. women responded to that criticism by replacing their over-the-top celebrations with muted ones, they were criticized for that too. It continued even after they won. I’d say it’s generally a good thing in life if people’s biggest problem with you is that you celebrate too hard.

The harshest criticisms were reserved for Megan Rapinoe, the team’s boldest star. Simultaneously a masterful creator on the left wing and an unshakable closer from the penalty spot, she led all players in the tournament with six goals and 27 passes completed into the penalty area (nobody else in the tournament had more than 16). And she did this despite sitting out two of America’s seven games. She won the Golden Boot given to the World Cup’s top scorer, the Golden Ball given to the event’s best player, and the 2019 Ballon D’Or given to the best player in the world. (I don’t know how French people differentiate between the Golden Ball and Ballon D’Or, but that’s beside the point.) Rapinoe had both of America’s goals in the round of 16 against Spain, both of the team’s goals in the quarterfinals against France, and scored in the final against the Netherlands. Let’s see the pose.

And yet Rapinoe was regularly lambasted. There was the outrage over her saying that she wouldn’t visit the White House if she was invited, joining the long list of Americans who Trump supporters must virulently hate even if they bring glory to America. After winning the title, she was accused of stomping on the American flag in postgame celebrations. (A more realistic interpretation of what happened: Rapinoe maybe, kinda grazed a flag that she didn’t seem to realize was on the ground, in between celebrating with various other, not-on-the-ground flags.) It got to the point where she was even criticized for standing silently during the national anthem—which … I thought was OK? Isn’t that what 90 percent of us do at sporting events? Isn’t that considered respectful?

Rapinoe never seemed fazed by the criticism. She didn’t ignore it, like many prominent athletes who claim to do so. She went and dominated the biggest stage in her sport, and then gave honest and striking answers when asked about any topic. She used her Ballon D’Or platform to encourage male stars to fight racism and sexism in sports. She used her Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year acceptance speech to call out the lack of diversity in media. She spoke with conviction and clarity about how the president of the United States targets non-white and LGBTQ citizens. (The team never did go to the White House, by the way.)

The women of Team USA refocused the conversation around them to their yearslong attempt to get paid as much as America’s male soccer players. They talked about the pay gap loudly and relentlessly. This was so effective that crowds chanted “EQUAL PAY” in World Cup stadiums and booed the head of U.S. Soccer at public events held to celebrate the World Cup win.

The argument against equal pay is always that the men’s team is simply more popular. In 2019, that was clearly untrue. This goes beyond just the discrepancy in success, as the American women are back-to-back World Cup champs while the men failed to qualify for the last World Cup and recently lost to Canada for the first time in 34 years. A fun experiment is to go to U.S. Soccer’s YouTube page and look at the view counts for recent videos about the men’s and women’s teams. A video from the account’s “Behind the Crest” series about a September USWNT friendly got 75,000 views; a video in the series posted the same day about the USMNT playing Mexico—their archrivals!—got less than 7,000. The Women’s World Cup final drew 16 million viewers despite airing at 11 a.m. Eastern time; the men’s team playing in the Gold Cup final the same day got 9 million viewers in prime time. (I also suspect many viewers were watching to see Mexico.) Jersey sales for the women’s team were the most purchased of any national team in American history, regardless of gender. The men’s team routinely played in front of fewer than 15,000 fans; the women’s team broke a record by playing in front of almost 50,000 and routinely played in front of 30,000. The women’s team, uh, generated more revenue than the men. There is no conceivable metric by which somebody could look at the U.S. men’s national soccer team and the U.S. women’s national soccer team and conclude that more people cared about the men than the women in 2019.

The USWNT succeeded on the field in spite of the way U.S. Soccer treated it. And the women harnessed the attention that came with their on-field greatness to draw eyes toward how unfairly they were treated. The team still hasn’t won its fight for equal pay—a trial is set for May—but its ability to shift the focus to that movement goes beyond just a few soccer players potentially increasing their paychecks. The USWNT are far from the only women in this country who get paid less than men who do the same jobs. But given that their achievements, popularity, and revenue are publicly available alongside those of their male peers, and given that they trounce that male group in every category and still receive less, their efforts sparked a cry for change. They gave voice to women in similar situations whose successes aren’t publicly reported on.

I don’t know how I would react if I reached the pinnacle of my field and was told that it wasn’t enough. But Rapinoe and the U.S. women’s soccer team handled it perfectly. They never worried about people they’d never please, and instead set their sights on making their sport and their country better. While the rest of the world searched for shortcomings to tear down their accomplishments, they built upon those accomplishments to address the shortcomings they encountered. America’s champs agreed that reaching the pinnacle of their sport wasn’t enough. They won their exhilarating victories, and still felt they had more to do.

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WASHINGTON STATE’S scrappy band of soccer players that carried WSU to its first-ever Final Four, and brought long-time powerhouse North Carolina to the precipice in the semifinals of the tournament last week, is ranked No. 4 in the nation in the United Soccer Coaches final poll of 2019, which was released today. The Cougars even received two first-place votes. Tournament champion Stanford was No. 1, followed by UNC and UCLA.

The Cougars concluded their historic season at 16-7-1. The No. 4 ranking is the highest in program history.

Head coach Todd Schulenberger captured the essence of his team succinctly following the spirited battle against UNC: “Tough night — super proud of this group … you’re playing one of the best teams in America year-in and year-out, and we gave everything we’ve got. Our kids fought. That’s who we are at Washington State.”

Related: Morgan Weaver’s powerful words to team after final game in crimson

UCLA head coach Amanda Cromwell also had major props for the Cougars at the Final Four, saying, “They’ve been as much as a nemesis to us as any other team in the Pac-12 the last three or four years. I think one of my assistants told Todd that I actually picked them to be in the Final Four — if you look at my bracket I had picked them to beat Virginia, it was not a surprise to me.”

THREE COUGS CALLED BY TEAM USA:

Following the Final Four last week, three Cougars — senior Morgan Weaver, junior Makamae Gomera-Stevens and sophomore Myikiaa Minis — were called into U.S. national team duty in Florida: Weaver and Gomera-Stevens joining the senior national team camp in Bradenton and Minniss joining the U-20 team in Lakewood Ranch to play in the 2019 Nike International Friendlies.

Morgan Weaver, Makamae Gomera-Stevens and Mykiaa Minniss. (Photo: Washington State Univ.)
Weaver and Gomera-Stevens are the first-ever Cougars called into camp with the top team in the U.S., training alongside of 24 other professionals and college players in the Identification Camp. The camp includes 14 professional players from the NWSL and 10 other college players. The identification camp does not include players from the 2019 World Cup squad.

Minniss joins the U-20 squad which is split into two teams for friendlies this week against national teams from Brazil and France. The matches are serving as preparation for February’s Concacaf Women’s U-20 Championship to be held in the Dominican Republic.

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PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Though Sky Blue FC enjoyed its first sellout crowd in four years, it was the Washington Spirit that walked away winners courtesy of an Ashley Hatch goal in the second half.

Hatch won the ball near the penalty area, and outpaced a Sky Blue defender before finishing near the penalty spot in the 54th minute. The goal, which was unassisted, is Hatch’s fourth of the season. It sealed the 1-0 victory for the visiting Spirit on Wednesday.

“I feel like you kind of see moments, changing moments and I think Hatch is like a great example of that,” Spirit midfielder Rose Lavelle said post-match. “I think she did a really good job of occupying the centre backs and giving the midfield and other players room to run and then try to fall in behind and and I think she had her moment and she capitalized and it was awesome.”

The Spirit had been pressing for a goal since the early stages of the match. Continuing what has been an impressive rebound after an eighth place finish in 2018, the Spirit sent a flurry of chances toward the Sky Blue goal throughout the entirety of the match. The team was forcing Sky Blue goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan into making save after save, consistently getting close to goal. Notably, a Mallory Pugh solo effort in the 34th minute ended up just wide of the net.

Though the visitors dominated, Sky Blue managed a few opportunities of their own in the first half. Carli Lloyd, in her first match back since helping the U.S. win the Women’s World Cup, sent a ball towards Raquel Rodriguez out wide in the 14th minute that ended with the Costa Rican’s shot flying over the bar.

The rhythm of the first half was maintained in the second, with the Spirit eventually finding their breakthrough. It disrupted what was a positive start to the second half for Sky Blue goalkeeper coach Hugo Macedo.

“Second half, we’re looking to start right away from the get go,” he said. “We couldn’t find our chances and an unfortunate ball that was played behind our back line.”

As has been the case on multiple occasions this season, Sky Blue seemed to respond strongly to going down. Managing meaningful possession and chances outside of counterattacks, which was mostly the case in the first half, the team did threaten the goal occasionally.

The hosts’ efforts, though, were not enough. Though they limited the Spirit to six shots compared to the first half’s 12, they managed just the one in the second 45 minutes of play.

“I think we need to work on possessing the ball a little bit more,” Sky Blue defender Estelle Johnson said, “and just making big plays in big moments.”

Off the field, Sky Blue enjoyed a successful match, hosting its first sellout match since 2015. The official announced attendance of 5,003 beat the season’s previous high of 1,842 at Yurcak Field significantly.

The result leaves Sky Blue bottom of the NWSL table with only eight points. The Spirit, meanwhile, climb into third, a point behind second place North Caroline Courage and a point ahead of fourth spot’s Chicago Red Stars.

Sky Blue next face the Houston Dash on Sunday.

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PISCATAWAY, N.J. — The Chicago Red Stars finally managed to beat Sky Blue FC this season, courtesy of goals from Morgan Brian, Sam Kerr, and Yuki Nagasato. Here are three takeaways from the Red Stars’ 3-0 victory Sunday at Yurcak Field.

Red Stars tweaks key to victory
In some ways, the Red Stars’ trip to Yurcak Field resembled its previous one, which Sky Blue won 2-1 on August 14. The two teams were even in many respects, with either looking just as capable as the other at times to score. While things went Sky Blue’s way a month ago, the Red Stars were able to finish their chances and collect a very valuable victory as the playoffs approach.

“We probably created more chances last time we were here,” Red Stars head coach Rory Dames said after the match. “The game comes [down] to taking chances.”

The Red Stars had 11 shots on Sunday, six less than the 17 they managed last month. While the finishing improved, the Red Stars changed personnel between the two matches. Playing at center back Sunday were Tierna Davidson and Julie Ertz, coming in for Sarah Gordon and Katie Johnson. Dames noted the United States national team players’ particular skill sets would be useful against Sky Blue.

“We thought that they’d be in some sort of 4-4-2 because they’ve had success with it, and it matches up with the personnel that they have,” Dames said. “We could attack it a little bit different with Julie and Tierna as our center backs than we can with Katie and Sarah so we were able to diagonally hurt them because that’s where the space is against the diamond.”

Sky Blue captain Sarah Killion also recognized the duo’s ability to create difficulties for her side.

“Their characteristics [can] be a little bit more midfield-like than center defender-like,” Killion said. “But they both obviously played center back as well, so it’s really shutting down the players that you’ve just got to be ready for.”

The strategy clearly paid off for the Red Stars, beating Sky Blue for the first time this season.

Sky Blue sweat small stuff
While Dames and the Red Stars managed to out-maneuver the opposition, Sky Blue struggled to maintain a strong start that saw them play evenly with the Red Stars. The match was ultimately lost midway through the first half with the Red Stars’ 31st and 33rd minute goals.

“We’ve just got to play better,” Killion said. “Can’t make mistakes that easily.”

Sky Blue suffered from what interim head coach Freya Coombe described as “lapses of concentration” on those two goals, which was eventually followed by a third for the Red Stars in the 80th minute. Though the second half saw spells of possession for Sky Blue and even a meaningful opportunity or two, once the momentum swung the Red Stars’ way, it hardly changed. It was an example of Sky Blue’s inconsistency over the course of the season.

“We didn’t do some of the simple things well today,” Coombe said. “It’s now just where to find those individual mistakes, I think, and then just being a bit more clinical.”

Killion detailed some of those specific errors that led to the loss.

“It’s giveaways and then on top of that, it’s how we recover as a team defensively, getting back in around the box,” the midfielder said. “There’s just a lot of little things that we’re going to have to go back at film and take a look at and tinker with and make sure that we learn from.”

Final stretch optimism
With three matches left and a playoff berth out of reach, Sky Blue have a few priorities left for the 2019 season. Addressing Sunday’s smaller mistakes is at the forefront, but addressing the overarching inconsistency plaguing the team all season will be its biggest task.

“I think that we’ve shown hints of greatness, but not [consistently] enough, and not for 90 minutes so I think it’s going to be about putting [in] a whole 90 minute game for us,” Killion said about the team’s final goal for 2019.

“I think halves of games, we’ve done well,” Killion added. “None of us are okay with that.”

The group remains positive about an ability to complete that task, despite the small amount of time. Coombe, in her first professional coaching job, finds the situation encouraging.

“We’ve outshot our opponent, which we weren’t doing at the start of the season,” Coombe said after Sky Blue recorded 14 shots. “I’m optimistic because I think it’s so fixable. It’s just being a bit more clinical on the board and taking chances.”

Like Coombe, Killion said Sky Blue is in a better spot than it was at the start of the season. Both agree the timeline might be short, but managing a consistent match is possible before the close of the season.

“I think we’re definitely capable,” Killion said. “I think it’s just going to be about consistently, all 11 plus, all bench players making sure that we’re focused, know the game plan, you know exactly what we need to do and just getting stuck in and getting the job done.”

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Penn State women’s soccer captain Kaleigh Riehl was named to US Soccer All-America second team Thursday, concluding her final season with the second All-American honor of a historic collegiate career.

Riehl, is the all-time Division I leader in minutes played with 8,847 minutes in 101 starts for the Nittany Lions. She was a MACC Hermann Trophy semifinalist and All-American first team selection in 2018, garnering many individual honors over the course of her collegiate career.

An elegant and technical center back, Riehl has been the heart of Penn State’s defense for four seasons. She redshirted in 2016.

Riehl started every match in Penn State’s 2015 national championship-winning campaign, and won two Big Ten regular season titles and four Big Ten Tournament titles as a Nittany Lion.

Riehl led the Nittany Lions through a rocky season in her final campaign in Happy Valley. After a promising start, Penn State suffered a midseason losing streak that left it unranked. An 11-match unbeaten run that ended at the feet of Stanford in the round of 16 of the NCAA Tournament left Penn State with a final record of 17-7-1.