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NWSL’s 7th season opens, looks for bump in World Cup year

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The NWSL opens its seventh season this weekend with some lingering questions about its health, but also the encouraging possibility of a “bump” from the World Cup.

The National Women’s Soccer League has already outlasted any of the other previous pro women’s leagues in the United States. With support from the U.S. Soccer Federation, the NWSL has fared better than the earlier attempts.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t concerns going into Year 7 – many of which were there in the sixth season, too. Possible expansion, the stability of some individual clubs, a need for sponsorships and the lack of a TV deal are among the issues faced by the league that hasn’t had a commissioner since Jeff Plush stepped down in March 2017.

Still, the NWSL could get greater exposure starting in June when the World Cup opens in France. NWSL rosters are filled with national team players from around the globe. Teams will have to navigate player absences during the tournament but could win fans for the latter half of the season – much like after the last World Cup in 2015, which the U.S. won.

Portland Thorns defender Meghan Klingenberg said she believes the league is still headed in the right direction. But continued success will depend on both investment and the will to see it through.

“The most important thing is investment across the league, in human resources; whether that’s coaching or whether that’s just staff that’s helping out, whether that’s in better fields, whether that’s in better housing, whether that’s in whatever. Making the league better, in the league front office but also the clubs’ front offices, I want that,” she said. “And if we can get that, year after year after year then I think we’ll be in a good place.”

The defending champion North Carolina Courage will open the season Saturday night at home against the Chicago Red Stars, one of four games set for this weekend. The Courage defeated the Thorns 3-0 in the title game in front of a crowd of 21,144 in Portland last fall.

The victory capped a fantastic season for the Courage, who went 18-1-6 overall, won the league’s Supporters’ Shield for best record and never dropped a game on the road.

HOW TO WATCH: The NWSL and A+E Networks terminated their broadcast agreement in February, leaving the league with no TV partner. Last season, a `Game of the Week’ aired on the Lifetime channel. A+E also surrendered its stake in the league, but Lifetime remains a jersey sponsor.

At least for now, the league’s games will be streamed live exclusively on the Yahoo Sports app, or on the Yahoo website.

EXPANSION: The league currently stands at nine teams. Since the Boston Breakers folded just before the start of last season, there have been persistent rumors about whether the team will be revived by a new ownership group. Spanish club Barcelona had expressed interest in fielding an NWSL team, although there has been no movement on that front. Major League Soccer’s LAFC could also jump into the fray, with co-owner Mia Hamm suggesting as recently as last week that it is a priority.

Despite all the chatter, NWSL President Amanda Duffy previously indicated the league likely won’t make any expansion announcements until after this season.

WHAT’S GOING ON WITH SKY BLUE? The troubles that plagued New Jersey’s team, Sky Blue, were well documented last year after former player Sam Kerr, now with Chicago, hinted at issues. But improvements have been made.

In February, Sky Blue announced that Tammy Murphy, the wife of part-owner Gov. Phil Murphy, would take a more active role in running the team. And indeed, improvements have been made, with better housing and staff additions. The team will train this season at Georgian Court University in Lakewood, New Jersey, and have access to the school’s wellness facilities in addition to practice fields.

Tony Novo, who served as team president and general manager, resigned and Alyse LaHue was named interim GM. Novo had been criticized by the Cloud 9 supporters’ group.

SCHEDULE: The league will take a short break during the group stage of the World Cup in France. But a chunk of the league’s players will be away with their national teams for extended periods this season. The NWSL allowed teams to expand rosters to 22 players, in addition to four supplemental players who won’t count against the salary cap.

Teams play a 24-game schedule that wraps up Oct. 12. The championship game is scheduled for Oct. 26.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

LUNA Bar pledges to make up roster pay gap for USWNT

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The maker of LUNA Bar brand nutrition bars has pledged to pay $31,250 to each of the players who make the U.S. roster for the Women’s World Cup, an amount the company says makes up the difference between bonuses for the men’s and women’s national teams.

[ MORE: Gold Cup matches to be played in Kingston, Jamaica ]

California-based Clif Bar & Company announced the planned payments Tuesday on Equal Pay Day, which highlights the gender wage gap.

The U.S. women’s national team filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation in federal court last month alleging gender discrimination.

The players have said in court documents that U.S. men’s team players earned a $55,000 bonus apiece for making the World Cup roster in 2014, while the women earned a $15,000 bonus each for making the 2015 World Cup roster.

[ VIDEO: Champagne title celebration goes awry in Wales ]

“It’s ironic that one of the most popular sports in the world is still experiencing pay inequalities between women and men,” Clif Bar & Company co-owner Kit Crawford said in a statement. “We are big fans of the U.S. Women’s national team and were inspired to take action and make a difference that matters.”

The company characterized the payments, which total $718,750, as a donation, made in partnership with the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association.

The USSF has said that the differences in pay are the result of different collective bargaining agreements that set different pay structures for the two teams. The agreements are not made public.

USWNT name final roster before World Cup squad announcement

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The USWNT are getting ready for the big dance. The 2019 Women’s World Cup, of course.

Jill Ellis named her 24-player roster for the April friendlies against Australia and Belgium, as this is the final squad announcement before the World Cup roster is confirmed.

This is the last chance to impress.

The big news on this roster is that Ali Krieger returns for the first time since 2017, as she joins her fiancee Ashlyn Harris in the squad fresh from their engagement announcement last week. Midfielder Lindsey Horan returns after missing the SheBelievesCup through injury but Kelley O’Hara misses out with an ankle injury.

Before the U.S. play Australia at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Apr. 4 and Belgium at LAFC’s Banc of California Stadium on Apr. 7 they will embark on a training camp in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Ellis likely already knows the USWNT squad she would like to take the World Cup in France, but this is the final chance for players to change her mind and get on the plane to Europe as the U.S. aim to defend their title as world champs.

Below is the roster in full for the upcoming friendlies.


USWNT roster for games v. Australia, Belgium

GOALKEEPERS (3): Adrianna Franch (Portland Thorns FC; 1/0), Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride; 20/0), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars; 41/0)

DEFENDERS (7): Abby Dahlkemper (NC Courage; 35/0), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars; 17/1), Crystal Dunn (NC Courage; 80/24), Ali Krieger (Orlando Pride; 98/1), Becky Sauerbrunn (Utah Royals FC; 153/0), Casey Short (Chicago Red Stars; 27/0), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns FC; 30/0)

MIDFIELDERS (7): Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars; 77/18), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC; 64/7), Rose Lavelle (Washington Spirit; 23/6), Allie Long (Reign FC; 40/6), Samantha Mewis (NC Courage; 45/8), Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit; 11/0), McCall Zerboni (NC Courage; 8/0)

FORWARDS (7): Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC; 146/27), Carli Lloyd (Sky Blue FC; 269/105), Jessica McDonald (NC Courage; 6/1), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride; 158/99), Christen Press (Utah Royals FC; 111/47), Mallory Pugh (Washington Spirit; 48/13), Megan Rapinoe (Reign FC; 149/43)

PHOTOS: 14 kits released for 2019 Women’s World Cup

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The USWNT jerseys for the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France were unveiled yesterday, and Nike had a pretty busy day.

They revealed the new kit designs for 14 nations they supply, and some of the jerseys are absolute beauties.

[ MORE: USMNT unveil new away jersey ]

From France’s away jersey to England’s home kit, and don’t forget about Nigeria’s epic away jersey, it is time to place your orders.

Take a look below to see the fresh jerseys that the stars of the women’s game will be wearing this summer.


PHOTOS: USWNT jerseys for 2019 World Cup released

AP
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The USWNT have been in the headlines in recent days due to filing a class action lawsuit against U.S. Soccer for gender discrimination, but now they are making headlines for very different reasons.

Their new jerseys are legit.

There is no doubt that the U.S. women’s national team will be in plenty more headlines over the coming months as the reigning world champs get ready to defend their title at the 2019 World Cup in France.

And so much support for all 28 USWNT players who have joined together to take on USSF, plenty of fans will want to represent their pride for the team.

Nike releasing their new team jersey will no doubt provide USWNT fans with a great opportunity to back their team further and show their support across the U.S., and the world, this summer.

In a statement released alongside the new jersey unveiling, NIKE, Inc. Chairman, President and CEO Mark Parker said he believes the tournament this summer will be a massive moment for the women’s game.

“We believe this summer can be another turning point for the growth of women’s football,” Parker said. “And our bigger ambition is for that energy and participation to extend into all sports. Nike’s commitment is to continue our leading support of competitive athletes, invest in the next generation at the grassroots level and deliver more innovative and compelling product design for women.”

Some of the cool design features on these jerseys which are designed to “channel the energy of ’99 and all its championship glory. For the all-white home kit, the shirt features a stripped sleeve cuff reminiscent of those worn by Chastain, Hamm and Foudy, and is punctuated by three stars above the crest — honoring world titles from ’91, ’99 and 2015.”

The back of the home jersey also included a “tonal gray print formed from each of the 50 states” while the

Take a look at the photos below to see the fresh USWNT home and away jerseys for the 2019 World Cup in a little more detail.