Women's professional hockey faces hurdles hoops didn't for the WNBA
Amid calls for the NHL to take an ownership stake in women's hockey, a former WNBA commissioner says the women's basketball league wouldn't have survived without the NBA. Val Ackerman was WNBA president for the first nine of its 23 years. Now commissioner of the NCAA's Big East Conference, Ackerman was also a consultant for the NHL on women's hockey back in 2011 and 2012. Her recommendation then to the NHL was "I didn't think the time was right for a WNHL," she told The Canadian Press. "I thought the sport wasn't ready for it. They didn't have the base. There wasn't the participation numbers. "The sport was not visible at the NCAA level like it had become in basketball.
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The FIFA Women’s World Cup is underway in France, and if you ask most experts, there are only a handful of potential winners. The United States, France, Germany and England are regarded as the four best teams in the tournament and a cut above the rest of their rivals.
However, sports isn’t played on paper, and there is definitely room for a surprise or two in this year’s tournament. Here are six teams outside of that big four bracket that have the potential to make a run deep into the World Cup and potentially upset a favorite or two in the process.
Brazil’s team is still anchored by Marta, an icon of the women’s game and a six-time FIFA Women’s Player of the Year. That top-level experience is mixed with a younger, more inexperienced group that may prove a stumbling block when the Brazilians, as expected, get deeper into the tournament. This is likely Marta’s final World Cup, and that may well weigh on the minds of her teammates, whether it adds pressure or inspiration. They lack the firepower of some rivals, but they have enough talent to get deep into the tournament, and perhaps they can pull a surprise.
NWHL cancels expansion plans, open to creation of new league
The National Women's Hockey League is canceling its plans to add two Canadian expansion teams.
Remarkably, Christine Sinclair remains an elite player even at the age of 36 and is still the focal point of a Canadian attack that has revolved around her for roughly two decades. A fixture in the later stages of the World Cup, they’ve never actually finished in the top three, and this may be Sinclair’s last chance. The Canadians are a sturdy outfit, and the draw has worked out for them, as they can avoid all of the big four teams until the semifinals by topping their group. That alone could put them in contention for their best-ever finish, whether that’s third place or even more.
Norwegian and Lyon striker Ada Hegerberg is the world's best player, a 23-year-old superstar capable of emerging as an international household name while performing on the planet's biggest stage after becoming the first women's Ballon d’Or winner. She won't be at this World Cup, however, because she quit the national side in 2017, as CNN's Aimee Lewis and Aleks Klosok explained, due to perceived negative treatment of women's football in her country. Hegerberg's fight for equality will prevent her from ever medaling in this competition if her protest continues through the remainder of a promising and already historic career.
NWHL Cancels Expansion Plans to Canada, Open to Talk of New League
NWHL Cancels Expansion Plans to Canada, Open to Talk of New League
The most recognized name on the USWNT, Alex Morgan is already a U.S. Soccer legend who, per Sports Illustrated, is one of only seven Americans to notch 100 international goals. The 29-year-old made news in May when she told Time's Sean Gregory she wouldn't accept an invite to the White House if Team USA wins the World Cup. That story shouldn't distract her from her ultimate objectives. As Ryan Metivier of Sports Betting Dime wrote, Morgan entered June as Bovada's favorite to win the competition's Golden Boot awarded to the top scorer. She won U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year for 2018, the second time she's earned that honor during her prestigious career.
In July 2018 Lyon's playmaking midfielder Dzsenifer Marozsan announced via Facebook she was dealing with a pulmonary embolism (h/t BBC). Now healthy, the 27-year-old enters the World Cup a key figure for Germany and the reigning three-time UNFP Female Player of the Year, per the official Ligue 1 website. She hit the back of the net during Lyon's Champions League romp over Barcelona in last month's Final, and she was responsible for both of Germany's goals in the 2016 Summer Olympics gold medal win over Sweden.
Canada downs Ireland to win Paris 7s Challenge Trophy final
Canada displayed plenty of character Sunday in winning the Challenge Trophy with a 28-12 defeat of Ireland in the consolation final at the last World Series Rugby Sevens tournament of the season. Fiji took the overall Series title with a win over the U.S.
In late May Connor Fleming of The 18 lauded Scotland and Chelsea attacking midfielder Erin Cuthbert as "the best young player in women's football." The 20-year-old, who was named her club's Player of the Year and is a candidate to emerge as a breakout start of the World Cup, isn't lacking confidence. According to Jamie Durent of The Press and Journal, Cuthbert said England and Scotland are on "quite a level playing field" roughly one week before the start of the tournament. Scotland sits 20th in the FIFA World Rankings, while England is third.
Lyon's Saki Kumagai is one of a handful of veterans tasked with guiding a Japanese side that, if we're being honest, is already eyeing the next Summer Olympic tournament heading into this World Cup. The 28-year-old captain is a reigning four-time Champions League medalist, and she buried the Final-winning penalty vs. the United States at the 2011 World Cup. Her coolness at the back will be pivotal if Japan is to do anything other than survive the group stages of the competition.
France beats Norway 2-1 to remain undefeated in World Cup
NICE, France — France recovered from a terrible own goal to beat Norway 2-1 on Wednesday as the host nation remained undefeated at the Women's World Cup. Eugenie Le Sommer scored the winner from the penalty spot in the 72nd minute after video review determined Ingrid Syrstad Engen had fouled Marion Torrent in the area. Valerie Gauvin, benched in France's opening 4-0 win over South Korea, broke the deadlock after halftime but Norway tied when Wendie Renard turned a cross into her own net. Renard, considered one of the best defenders in the world, appeared to be in tears as she raised her face to the sky in anguish. France moved three points ahead of Norway in Group A.
If Mana Iwabuchi can replicate her Golden-Ball form from the 2008 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup, Japan may quickly go from plucky underdogs to three-time World Cup finalists. Three years after that achievement, Iwabuchi, now 26, featured for her national side that won the 2011 tournament, and she earned MVP honors at the 2018 AFC Women's Asian Cup. She'll be the steadying force in an attack that will include teenagers Riko Ueki and Jun Endo, both making their World Cup debuts.
Midfielder Amandine Henry captains a France squad, ranked No. 4 in the world, looking to hold serve on home soil through the Final. The 29-year-old is no stranger to pressure at the international or club level. She won the Silver Ball at the 2015 World Cup as that tournament's second-best player, and she is a five-time Champions League medalist. The deep-lying creator gave the United States fits in a friendly played earlier this year.
In August 2018, Wang Shuang became the first Chinese footballer to ever sign with Paris Saint-Germain, and the 24-year-old nicknamed "Lady Messi," per FIFA.com, who won AFC Women’s Player of the Year last November, is the quarterback for her nation's attacking sequences. China's lack of depth will prevent the No. 16 team in the world rankings from advancing far once it has to face elite competition in knockout matches, assuming it gets that far, but Shuang's partnership with Wang Shanshan could cause headaches for any opposition. You may remember hearing Shanshan scored nine goals in a single match during the 2018 Asian Games.
Marta becomes 1st player to score in 5 World Cups
Brazil forward Marta added to her legendary career on Thursday, converting a penalty against Australia to become the first player to score in five separate World Cups. No other footballer, male or female, has scored more than Marta's 16 tournament goals. Marta has now recorded tallies in the 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015, and 2019 Women's World Cups. Her biggest haul came in China in 2007 when she finished as the top scorer with seven goals. However, she has never won the tournament.
Tobin Heath's pace and flair make the 31-year-old American one of the most dangerous wing players on the planet. A veteran of her nation's last two World Cup teams, Heath has a history of nagging ankle problems that hopefully won't slow her or the world's most prolific attack. A fully healthy Heath could be a sleeper to win Golden Ball. She was named US Soccer Female Player of the Year for 2016, and she had a case to earn that honor again in 2018.
In March, England coach Phil Neville called right back Lucy Bronze "the best player in the world," per Katie Whyatt of The Telegraph. The two-time PFA Player of the Year who can feature anywhere in defense and also in her nation's midfield won BBC Women's Footballer of the Year in May 2018, and she's earned back-to-back Champions League medals with Lyon. In short, Bronze is the most versatile asset for a country looking to bring football home.
While not as deep as the elite nations of this World Cup, the Netherlands will look to punch above its weight through June, largely thanks to the contributions of Lieke Martens. The Barcelona attacker was named the top player of the Women's Euro 2017 after helping the Oranje win the tournament, and the 26-year-old was also that year's Best FIFA Women's Player. As The Guardian's Suzanne Wrack wrote, the lethal attacker has been linked with a potential move to Lyon, the world's top club.
Canada on the move at the World Cup, European champion Dutch next challenge
REIMS, France — Canada is on the move at the Women's World Cup.
Janine van Wyk
As Nick Said of Times Live explained, South Africa defender Janine van Wyk is the most capped footballer among both men and women in her country's history. The 32-year-old will captain the dark horse squad sharing Group B with two-time world champions Germany, China and Spain. South Africa would do well to embrace a defensive style, meaning van Wyk will need to be at her best if Banyana Banyana is to avoid finishing dead last in its group.
Hedvig Lindahl may be the best goalkeeper casual fans don't know ahead of the World Cup. The 36-year-old veteran entering her fifth tournament was in goal when Sweden nearly defeated the United States at the 2015 World Cup and for the shock upset at the 2016 Summer Olympics. Those two nations will meet again in match Day 3 of the competition. In early June, Lindahl told the Chelsea website this will "probably" be her last World Cup.
One wouldn't know Megan Rapinoe has suffered multiple knee injuries throughout her career or that she's approaching her 34th birthday merely by watching her play as of late. The pinpoint passer responsible for the assist of Abby Wambach's miraculous late header vs. Brazil at the 2011 World Cup accumulated 10 goals and 10 assists across 24 national team appearances from the start of 2018 through the end of May, according to Jonathan Tannenwald of The Philadelphia Inquirer.
South Korea's World Cup hopes rest on the shoulders of attacking midfielder Ji So-yun. A PFA Women's Players' Player of the Year nominee, the 28-year-old Chelsea star is a four-time South Korean Footballer of the Year award winner who has earned 115 international caps and won two Women's FA Cups with Chelsea, per Fox Sports Asia. She played the role of hero in Chelsea's comeback vs. Manchester City in February.
US Soccer, women's team tentatively agree to mediate lawsuit
US Soccer, women's team tentatively agree to mediate lawsuit
As The Telegraph's Tom Cary wrote, Jamaica forward Khadija Shaw suffered an ankle injury during a World Cup warmup vs. Scotland in late May. Her health, or lack thereof, will determine the fate of the Reggae Girlz in Group C that includes Australia, Brazil and Italy. The Guardian named "Bunny" its 2018 Footballer of the Year, "an award given to a player who has done something truly remarkable, whether by overcoming adversity, helping others or setting a sporting example by acting with exceptional honesty." She netted 19 goals in 13 matches during CONCACAF qualifying, per the official Tennessee Athletics website.
"When the big games come, Jodie Taylor will score goals," England coach Phil Neville told reporters less than a week before the start of the World Cup, according to Tom Garry of the BBC. Numbers exist to back that boast. The 33-year-old who dealt with an injury from October 2018 through last March won the Golden Boot at the Women's Euro 2017, and the fact that she may be relegated to the bench for the starts of matches could make her a second-half goal threat, similar to Carli Lloyd.
Dynamic playmaker Dzsenifer Marozsan will look for captain Alexandra Popp to complete attacking runs by hitting the back of the net. Rated the 19th best female footballer for 2018 by The Guardian, the 28-year-old, who has twice won Footballer of the Year in Germany, features up front for a nation that totaled 35 tallies and conceded only three goals in qualifying, according to FIFA. Popp could exit the group stages a favorite to win the Golden Boot.
Danielle van de Donk
A pair of Arsenal attacking options will reunite for the Netherlands in June. Danielle van de Donk ended the Women’s Super League campaign, in which Arsenal finished atop the table as champions, with 11 goals and six assists in league play, per her club's official website, and those numbers helped her earn a PFA Bristol Street Motors Player of the Year Award nomination. Louise Taylor of The Guardian praised the player of the match after the Dutch's convincing win over England at the Women's Euro 2017.
Twenty-two-year-old striker Vivianne Miedema may score goals for fun for a Dutch group on the rise. She notched a brace in the Women's Euro 2017 Final, and she set a Women’s Super League record with 22 goals during the 2018-19 season en route to earning PFA Players' Player of the Year. According to Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News, Miedema has 58 goals in 75 national team appearances to date.
In June 2018, Daniel Zeqiri of The Telegraph named Chelsea's Fran Kirby as England's "key to their chances of success at next summer's World Cup." The PFA Women’s Player of the Year and Football Writers’ Women’s Footballer of the Year for 2018, affectionately known as "Mini-Messi," is her country's main creator who has 12 goals in 38 appearances since debuting for the Three Lionesses in 2014, according to Metro's Matthew Nash. A knee injury sidelined her earlier this spring, but she claimed to be "pain-free" near the end of May, per Katie Whyatt of The Telegraph.
It's possible an American will no longer hold the world record for most international goals following the World Cup. As the CBC's Neil Davidson noted, Canadian forward Christine Sinclair begins the tournament on 181 tallies, three behind the mark set by U.S. Soccer icon Abby Wambach. Sinclair will turn 36 years old during the tournament, so this could be her last World Cup.
Australia likely won't win the World Cup, in part because of defensive deficiencies, but 25-year-old Sam Kerr may exit the tournament your new favorite player. The greatest goal scorer in NWSL and W-League history, per Fiona Tomas of The Telegraph, Kerr is a veteran of two previous World Cup competitions. But she's never entered a tournament with more momentum or with greater expectations hovering over her. Sure, her flipping celebrations add style, but there's an abundance of substance to go with them.
Assuming Carli Lloyd won't start for the USWNT, the 36-year-old who recently referred to this point of her career as the "last and final phase," according to ESPN's Graham Hays, may be the tournament's best second-half scoring option. Lloyd's World Cup moment came in the 2015 Final when she netted a hatbtrick in under 16 complete minutes of play vs. Japan ahead of receiving the Golden Ball as the competition's best player. She enters this World Cup with 110 international goals.
In women's football, there's Brazil's Marta, a gap and then everybody else. Referred to by ESPN's James Martin as one of the sport's greatest captains, the 33-year-old six-time FIFA Women's World Player of the Year is one goal behind Miroslav Klose for the most tallied in World Cup play. In a video shared by Yahoo Sports, Marta said she believes Brazil can make a run to a first-ever tournament title.
It may seem odd for a team that has played in two consecutive World Cup Finals — and a winner in 2011 — to be considered a sleeper pick, but this is a different Japan team. It’s a much younger, less experienced outfit than those two squads were, and they’ll be thrown a tough game early by sharing a group with a legitimate contender in England. They’ll be tested heavily assuming they get out of the group, but if this young group can grow up quickly, a surprise is not out of the realm of possibility.
The Dutch surprised many by claiming a European championship in 2017, proving that they are very much ready for primetime. A relentless attacking team led by star forward Lieke Martens, they’ll be looking to carry that into the World Cup, with this being just the second time the county has qualified for the tournament. That means they lack top-level experience, and their defense isn’t as stout as their attack is exciting. They may have to outscore people to go deep into the tournament, but they’re capable of doing so.
Norway’s tournament has and will continue to be overshadowed by the absence of Ada Hegerberg, one of the best players in the world who has refused to play for the national team since 2017 in protest of gender inequality within the Norwegian federation. As such, the team is good, but not as good as it could be. Norway still scores a lot of goals even without Hegerberg, and they’re solid in all respects, which could lead to a deep run in the tournament just as they are.
It was Sweden that eliminated the U.S. on penalties during the 2016 Summer Olympics, but things have not gone as well for them since that moment. Experienced and tested, the Swedes also play an ultra-conservative style that essentially dares opposing attackers to breach their defenses. It’s risky in its own way, but they’re good at it, and if they get out of the group as expected, anything can happen in a knockout round or a penalty shootout. They’re not the most talented, but in an international tournament where time for tactical nuance is often limited, there’s something to be said for a simple, defensive, grind-it-out approach.
US Soccer, women's team tentatively agree to mediate lawsuit.
US Soccer, women's team tentatively agree to mediate lawsuit