Like many of the players, we’re still dealing with jet lag. I’m Emily Olsen here with Meg Linehan and Steph Yang — welcome to Full Time!
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Contigo Jenni: NWSL shows support for Spain’s women players
While players who left for the World Cup (and those who remained in the United States) are eager to get back to routine, there’s been a resounding and uniting reminder left over from the international competition. It was a message on the minds and wrists of players, and among the fans with signs in the stands: Contigo Jenni.
— Attacking Third (@AttackingThird) August 27, 2023
The message, which was displayed at all six league games this weekend, was a show of support for Spanish World Cup champion Jenni Hermoso and the rest of the team, who are currently protesting their federation — a fight that was reignited after the president of the Spanish football association (RFEF), Luis Rubiales, forcibly kissed the forward during the trophy presentation ceremony.
Instead of talking about Olga Carmona’s first-half goal that helped Spain to its first Women’s World Cup title, the conversation has shifted to a situation in which 81 players have refused to play for the national team until leadership changes. Though Rubiales refused to resign, FIFA suspended him over the weekend for the duration of the governing body’s disciplinary proceedings.
In addition to the outpouring of support from players and fans, players’ associations around the world, including USWNTPA, FIFPro and NWSLPA released statements. The NWSLPA condemned “all forms of assault against women.” The organization further rejected the “institutional abuse of power displayed by the RFEF and those enabling them.”
NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman joined in support, writing, “As leaders of leagues, federations and governing bodies, we must protect our players. The actions of the Spanish Federation are unconscionable and a reminder that there’s still work to do. We stand with
Jenni Hermoso and any players who face inappropriate behavior or abuse.”
The NWSL went through a reckoning of its own last year when multiple investigations, by U.S. Soccer, the league and the players’ association, concluded that the NWSL had a systemic issue of abuse of players by those in positions of power. Berman was brought in after the investigations began and the league has started to implement processes to counteract the abuse.
Meg’s Corner: World Cup players honored at Gotham game
I’ve been to plenty of stadiums in my time, and the press box at Red Bull Arena might be the best in the U.S. — as long as it’s nice outside. Fortunately for me, there were clear blue skies above Harrison, New Jersey on Sunday evening for Gotham FC vs. Racing Louisville. Less fortunately, the two teams had to settle for a 0-0 draw, with plenty of offensive pressure from the home team (though only one chance that felt truly meaningful).
After the match, Gotham held a small ceremony for the players returning from the World Cup, and what I thought was especially lovely was that they included the Racing Louisville players, as well. I couldn’t help but think about how different the feel of this one was compared to 2019. There was no crazy World Cup attendance bump at Red Bull, with 4,231 people in the stands. The cheers for the USWNT players on Gotham — Kelley O’Hara, Kristie Mewis and Lynn Williams — maybe had a tinge of the club’s fans wishing they had a better result in Australia and New Zealand (and gotten more playing time, too).
For club and country. 💐 pic.twitter.com/J4IjSxrBRY
— NJ/NY Gotham FC (@GothamFC) August 28, 2023
But the best part of all was just how much more international the group of players was, from South Africa’s Thembi Kgatlana to Ireland’s Sinead Farrelly to China’s Wang Shuang and more.
And just like across the rest of the NWSL, both teams were fully in support of the Spain players, with players sporting “Contigo Jenni” wristbands. It’s no surprise that these players are all-in on their support, though. And speaking of that…
I came down for the game to make sure I caught Farrelly and Mana Shim on the field together in person, and I was able to get a few minutes with them after the game to discuss what it’s like being back together on the same team. That story is coming soon, but getting that moment with the two of them was a lovely reminder about the meaningful connections this sport can make.
Weekend in NWSL
A week after storming back into the league and scoring a game-winner against North Carolina, like she never left, Portland Thorns forward Sophia Smith exited Audi Field on crutches with a right knee injury.
Smith started her first game since returning from international duty against the Spirit in her usual role up top. During stoppage time of the first half, Smith ran into the box, stretching to win a ball from defender Tara McKeown. The reigning league MVP slid awkwardly with her right knee caught behind her and immediately reached for the leg. Smith left the field with the help of trainers and U.S. national teammate Andi Sullivan. She was clearly upset as she walked off the field and had ice and crutches by the time she made her way to the locker room at halftime.
When Smith came out after the game, she had a stabilizer on her right leg and was still using crutches. The team did not provide an official update. Post-match, head coach Mike Norris told The Oregonian that he had not talked with the medical team, but that Smith did, in fact, injure her knee.
There is also no official diagnosis or prognosis for the injury as of sending this newsletter. Smith leads Portland and the league with 11 goals and is second to teammate Sam Coffey in assists.
Moments of the week
I’m not sure I’ve seen a red card given to someone sitting on a cooler before, but there’s a first time for everything. In the final minutes of stoppage time of San Diego Wave’s win over the Orlando Pride, Wave coach Casey Stoney — and her trusty sitting cooler — were shown a red card for kicking an out-of-play ball back into play. Captain Alex Morgan came to her manager’s defense but to no avail.
San Diego Wave manager Casey Stoney just got a red card for this. 😅 pic.twitter.com/YGbTV1oAem
— Attacking Third (@AttackingThird) August 26, 2023
I don’t know what I love more, Lo’Eau Labonta’s goals or her celebrations. All I know is that it’s usually a good time when she scores, and this banger from a Kansas City corner deserves another minute — celebration isn’t bad either. However, Houston Dash’s Michelle Alozie countered with a world-class goal of her own, drawing pressure from the KC defense but finding the inside netting anyway. Two of the best goals of the weekend in my opinion.
As previously stated, this weekend was the reintroduction of many World Cup players, including Megan Rapinoe. The OL Reign goalscorer, who will retire at the end of this season, got back to her penalty kick-scoring ways (did you doubt her?), converting a spot kick in the 74th minute. Just watch the ice fill her veins. Despite a late push from Reign, Angel City FC took home all three points in a 2-1 win in front of a star-studded crowd, including a cameo from Jane Fonda.
— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) August 28, 2023
Speaking of ice-cold kickers, Washington Spirit forward Ashley Hatch has scored three result-changing penalties in stoppage time, which is more than any player in league history, according to Opta. Even with a lengthy delay for VAR, Hatch puts this in the back of the net to capture a point for the Spirit.
Gotham FC added World Cup champion Esther González to its team through 2025 with a club option for 2026. The Spanish international will make her debut on September 16 against the Spirit.
Esther González signs with NJ/NY Gotham FC
A look ahead
Friday, Sept. 1
Saturday, Sept. 2
- North Carolina Courage vs. Gotham FC @ 7:30 p.m. ET
- Racing Louisville vs. Portland Thorns @ 7:30 p.m. ET
Sunday, Sept. 3
The Thorns still lead the league with 29 points with San Diego and North Carolina close behind on 27 points. The entire top of the league is a bit of a log jam with Gotham FC and the Spirit rounding out the top five with 26 points each.
(Top photo: Nathan Ray Seebeck, USA TODAY Sports)