When USWNT star Kelley O’Hara launched her own podcast, she didn’t mess around with the star power of her guests.
Launched in July, the “Just Women’s Sports” podcast has hosted three incredible guests including the first post-pregnancy interview with USWNT teammate Alex Morgan as well as talks with Olympic star Chloe Kim and WNBA hero Candace Parker.
A Stanford connection with fellow alum Haley Rosen put the two-time World Cup winner on the path to hosting the show, and O’Hara admits that she was driven by the chance to lift the lid on athletes’ true feelings beyond the shield that comes up while talking to reporters.
“Even as an athlete I know that I have a little of my guard up when I’m talking to a reporter because sometimes they’ll take it and use it for their own narrative or agenda,” she said in a conversation with ProSoccerTalk. “There’s an ability to be vulnerable and be safe because you’re talking to someone who has a general idea of what it feels like to be an athlete. Nothing about it is trying to catch them.”
Part of that comes with O’Hara realizing she has a massive stage on account of her accomplishments. The USWNT is one of the most-watched teams in the world, on-and-off the pitch.
While she felt more like someone achieving a life goal when she first became a pro, the simultaneous life under a microscope and on a platform has inspired her to take advantage of her role model status.
“You come to realize that with the success that we have had, individually and with the national team, you do influence people,” O’Hara said. “You have an impact. You have this ability to be a role model and do good things in the world. That’s one of the reasons that I wanted to do this podcast; I have the ability to lend my platform to other athletes and give people a voice and a space.”
O’Hara was speaking as the National Women’s Soccer League put a bow on its return to the pitch with the NWSL Challenge Cup.
O’Hara’s Utah Royals fell to eventual champions Houston Dash in the quarterfinals, but the completion of the tournament in itself was a bright spot to a dark summer.
“I’m really proud about what the NWSL was able to create there,” O’Hara said. “There was a lot of uncertainty around the Challenge Cup because of COVID, but the fact that the NWSL was able to create an environment to get back on the field has been fantastic. Obviously you have Orlando that wasn’t able to come but since every team has arrived, not one player has tested positive so the NWSL deserves a lot of credit for designing this whole set-up.”
PST asked the 32-year-old how much credit should go to the players, considering how many other leagues have been thwarted by the negligence of athletes or staffers around COVID-19.
“When the NWSL was proposing everything, they told us it was built on trust. If players weren’t going to be responsible, it wasn’t going to work. It’s great that we all want to be competing, I feel we’re very lucky to be able to compete, but that’s contributed to people following the rules. You didn’t want to be the one person who ruins it.”
Learn more about the Just Women’s Sports crew, which includes Olympic heroes Kerri Walsh-Jennings, Hilary Knight, and Maggie Steffens as well as former WNBA No. 1 overall pick Nneka Ogwumike, at their official web site.
If you were assembling a bottom-up power rankings in terms of the talent and toughness assembled by the eight remaining clubs, it might look something like this:
Longshots: Atalanta, Lyon
Puncher’s chance: Atletico Madrid, RB Leipzig
History-weighted powers: Man City, Paris Saint-Germain
Favorites: Barcelona, Bayern Munich
Here’s the rub: Three of the four biggest favorites will have to get through each other to get to the final, including the two top dogs. Barcelona and Bayern Munich will scrap Friday, and Man City’s slight advantage in facing Lyon is mitigated by one day’s less rest for a Bayern-Barca winner.
And, by the way, despite changes to both outfits this is a Lyon that took four of six points from City in the 2018-19 UCL group stage. We don’t see an upset at that stage but it’s a way to note that anything is, indeed, possible.
Seventh-place in Ligue 1 this season, Rudi Garcia’s men already have the beating of Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus on their resume. Moussa Dembele, Houssem Aouar, and Memphis Depay are all exciting attacking talents, but the bracket’s demands to take down Man City, then either Bayern and Barcelona just to get to the final sinks them to eighth.
7. RB Leipzig
Julian Nagelsmann is building a reputation as a man who can outwit anyone in a one-off — see two draws with Bayern in Bundesliga play this season — so it’s fitting that he’ll go tete-a-tete with Simeone in the next round. The absence of Timo Werner, who’s off to Chelsea, is a huge problem given the occasion(s). Asking three wins seems a lot, though there will be plenty of Americans pulling for Tyler Adams’ team.
The Bergamo-based side will have the support of many neutrals. For one thing, Atalanta is on a historic run for their club before taking into account their city’s status as one of the early epicenters of the coronavirus. For another, they are super fun. Gian Piero Gasperini’s men scored 98 goals in Serie A, 19 more than next-best Lazio, and lost the second-fewest games in Italy. They’ve lost once since January 25, a final day defeat to Inter Milan. Five players have scored double-digit goals in all comps this season.
5. Atletico Madrid
Ask Liverpool: Diego Simeone and Jan Oblak in knockout round football is reason to doubt anyone. Still, there’s an argument to be made that Atleti has punched well above its weight this season, even relative to El Cholo’s standards.
Lionel Messi means the club should be even higher on this list, and Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suarez are plenty battle-hardened in this spot. But Barca has made a mess of their last few ventures into the latter rounds of this tournament, and those ghosts combined with having to beat Bayern and perhaps Man City in consecutive weeks is brutal with several u’s.
3. Paris Saint-Germain
There’s a good argument to be made that PSG might hold the top spot on this list. Thomas Tuchel’s men are better rested and have a more straight-forward path to Lisbon, plus the Ligue 1 champs have played and won two Cup finals in the past three weeks. There are two reasons we’re keeping them below Man City and Bayern. One is the UCL-challenged history that has us as well as surely them seeing ghosts, and the other is the uncertain status of Kylian Mbappe. He’s in the squad, but at what percent?
2. Manchester City
The reason to consider putting City above Bayern is the men in charge. Hansi Flick has done oh-so-well at Bayern but is certainly not Pep Guardiola in terms of big-game acumen or reputation. But City’s defense has proven suspect, with John Stones falling off a cliff and Nicolas Otamendi not at the levels of previous seasons. Relying on Fernandinho, Aymeric Laporte, and Eric Garcia to shut down three top attacks in two weeks is a big ask, and left back is also a huge concern with the talented wingers set to test City.
1. Bayern Munich
No weaknesses aside from potentially having to beat Barcelona and Man City inside of six days. Boasting one of the only double-double men in Europe’s top leagues in Serge Gnabry, a played who doesn’t get mentioned as often as history-chasing Robert Lewandowski and history-making Thomas Muller. A midfield duo of Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich which is just plain stupid. Speed and composure to spare with Manuel Neuer at the back. The German keeper may no longer be the undoubted 1 or 2 in the world, but he’s still a monster.
“We had calls, but I was the one who decided in the end. I didn’t think it was the right step to go to Real Madrid. I was one of the candidates and that was important for me. I had a good chat with Jose Angel Sanchez and we agreed that it wasn’t yet the right move. We agreed that we could speak again in the future if Real Madrid were to need a coach and if I were available.”
Instead, he opted for RB Leipzig, where he’s certainly continued his collecting of bona fides. Now there could be little doubt that he’s ready for, well, whatever.
That said, Zidane’s as safe as he wants to be considering Real’s constant state of unsteadiness. Real took back La Liga this season and was missing suspended Ballon d’Or (in any other year) candidate Sergio Ramos for its second leg at Man City.
And Nagelsmann is a candidate for any opening in the world given what he’s done at the age of 33.
A couple other things: Beating Atletico Madrid in a knockout round match after Real fell to City will get more Real tongues wagging at the prospect of Nagelsmann, however unlikely the timing. And if Nagelsmann leaves, might Leipzig promote American boss Jesse Marsch from Red Bull Salzburg? And will Marsch still be in Austria?
For one thing, the Matteo Guendouzi exit strategy from Arsenal is a bit wild, as another one of Unai Emery’s former clubs is joining the current Villarreal boss in pursuing the French midfielder.
Also in the news is a PL-to-PL transfer involving two interesting managers, plus Liverpool moving onto a new target to cover Andy Robertson.
White to Leeds
How much is Ben White worth to Brighton?
The 23-year-old center back has reportedly turned down two new contracts from the Seagulls, who in turn have rejected transfer bids of $24 million and $28 million from Leeds United.
White starred for Leeds in their promotion push last season, making 49 appearances with a goal and two assists.
He’s yet to make his Premier League bow for Brighton, his lone senior outings coming in the 2016-17 League Cup versus lower league oppositon.
That said, the Seagulls have been stacked at center back for some time and remain quite deep at the position.
Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy have been key pieces for some time and at 28 are in their prime for their positions, with Dan Burn also 28 and Adam Webster 25. The club also just signed Joel Veltman from Ajax.
White led Leeds in interceptions per game (2.5) and was second on the team in clearances with 2.7.
Tsimikas to Liverpool
Liverpool’s quest to find cover for Andy Robertson has moved to Greece, where Olympiacos left back Kostas Tsimikas is under consideration for the Premier League champions.
The BBC says that Jurgen Klopp and his Anfield set have moved on from Norwich City youngster Jamal Lewis following a bailed $13 million bid.
Tsimikas, 24, is thrice-capped by Greece and has 86 appearances for Olympiacos with 12 assists.
He played 384 minutes over four appearances versus PL sides in the Europa League, helping Olympiacos beat Arsenal before falling to Wolves last week.
Guendouzi to PSG
The list of clubs lining up for Arsenal youngster Matteo Guendouzi is growing, and that will be music to the ears of Mikel Arteta.
The 21-year-old is in Arteta’s doghouse but the list of suitors will help drive his transfer price tag close to what it should be for a player of his success at his age.
That last stop may make the most sense given the chance to reunite with Unai Emery, but money is going to drive this one as Arteta looks to the transfer market to renew Arsenal’s top four finishing skills and make a run through the Europa League.