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Celebrate life the way Kristie Mewis celebrates championships. I’m Emily Olsen here with Meg Linehan and Steph Yang — welcome to Full Time!
Welcome aboard, Emma Hayes
We’ll get to the chaotic NWSL Championship in a minute, but first is today’s big news:
U.S. Soccer unveiled Emma Hayes as its new USWNT head coach, an announcement The Athletic previewed last week. While we got some answers Tuesday, there are still questions about how the USWNT will manage another six months with an interim coach ahead of a crucial Olympics in Paris.
Here’s what we know:
- Unless the situation changes drastically, Hayes will only have two camps, including four friendlies, with the USWNT ahead of the 2024 Olympics in Paris. She’ll miss three international windows between Tuesday’s announcement and her planned start date, including the 2024 CONCACAF Gold Cup in February and March.
- Current interim head coach Twila Kilgore will continue in the role through May and will remain as a permanent assistant coach under Hayes after the swap is complete.
- U.S. Soccer, who won’t owe any money to Chelsea, and Hayes have agreed to a deal that will make Hayes the highest-paid women’s football coach in the world, with Hayes expected to earn close to $2 million per year in her deal
She’s headed Stateside 🇺🇸
U.S. Soccer has appointed Emma Hayes as the 10th full-time head coach in #USWNT history » https://t.co/sR7qfSnWVx
Welcome, Emma! pic.twitter.com/WYn6Sg9RmX
— U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (@USWNT) November 14, 2023
Read more about how the USWNT lured Emma Hayes away from Chelsea.
Hayes is a winner. She’s led Chelsea to six Women’s Super League titles (seven, counting the interim 2017 competition as they reconfigured the calendar to match England’s men’s leagues), five FA Cup triumphs, a pair of Leagues Cup wins, and second place in the 2020-21 UEFA Women’s Champions League. But how will that translate to the U.S. with a crucial Olympics ahead?
Like a bat out of hell, Gotham FC (nicknamed “The Bats,” by the way) went from worst to first in just one season. But the story of their NWSL Championship victory goes beyond the cliché. With Midge Purce as the fulcrum of its attack (I mean, come on, just check out the ball control), Gotham scored twice in the first half of Saturday’s final against OL Reign. Despite a goal from Rose Lavelle and some last-minute madness, Gotham held on to the lead and took home its first NWSL trophy.
It means plenty for the team, fans, and players, but most importantly, it means more Kristie Mewis celebrations (remember her inaugural challenge cup?).
Other notes from the final:
- The game started with a pop, not a bang, when Reign forward Megan Rapinoe — playing in her final game — exited in the third minute with a right leg injury. She said after the match, “I’m pretty sure I tore my Achilles.”
- Meanwhile, Ali Krieger ended her storied career as a champion. It is also Gotham FC’s first NWSL Championship in franchise history.
- The attendance for the final was 25,011, a new league record for a championship.
What else? For Mana Shim, Gotham’s Championship run provided justice, satisfaction and a perfect ending
Meg’s Corner: Looking back at the NWSL season
It’s hard to even know where to start in describing this NWSL season. “Chaos” is always our go-to word, but that barely begins to scratch the surface. On Saturday, late into the night, and a beverage or two in after the game, a few of us were talking about what a frustrating joy it is to cover this league — to see the growth over the past decade, the challenges, the pain, to have a chance to celebrate the end of another season.
This season was one for the books though, thanks to how tight the table was all year long, capped off by an incredible Decision Day in October. Gotham’s run from worst to first — a narrative many of those players won’t mind leaving behind them — shows just how crucial investment and hiring the right people can be, and how quickly a club’s fortunes can turn around. Credit to general manager Yael Averbuch West for getting it done, and congratulations for now having the target on your back for 2024.
It was a season where it felt like we were truly focusing back on soccer and the talents of the players in this league. The Championship had amazing storylines: Rapinoe and Krieger retiring as two absolute legends of the game; Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim’s time together at Gotham ending in a trophy years after both had initially retired from the sport, returning a changed NWSL thanks to their decision in 2021 to share their experiences of misconduct and abuse with The Athletic; and Purce and Lavelle balling out for their respective teams in front of a record 25,011 fans. We are seeing the potential turned into reality.
This advancement did not come without growing pains — suffered by the players, in particular — but the NWSL is a real league now, with a new, big-time media rights package to boot at $60 million a year. So credit to the NWSL too, and congratulations on having newly raised expectations of greater standards and professionalism to meet that come along with all the success.
Well That Was Weird
Meg mentioned chaos, and there was plenty in the final, including a dramatic conclusion. Gotham FC won the championship with 10 players on the field and midfielder Nealy Martin in goal wearing a hastily donned blank jersey.
During stoppage time of the second half, Gotham FC goalkeeper Mandy Haught received a red card following a VAR review for handling the ball just outside the box.
This is not the first time that this has happened to Martin. In fact, it’s the third. She had to go in goal for Gotham during an August game against the San Diego Wave after Abby Smith got injured and Gotham was out of substitutions. Before that, she strapped on the emergency gloves in 2018 at Alabama after her keeper got a red card, leaving Martin to face a free kick at the edge of the box. The kick taker: Gotham teammate Yazmeen Ryan. Martin was credited with one save for the game.
Nealy Martin was forced to play goalkeeper after Gotham FC ran out of substitutions. pic.twitter.com/U4qQFOReuL
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) November 12, 2023
“I was honestly like, ‘This is crazy.’ It’s the same goal I went in last time, same side,” Martin said after the championship. She laughed when asked about her difficulties jamming herself into a spare goalkeeping jersey because she’d already put on the gloves. “I was like, guys we could have had a better plan,” she said.
There’s no such thing as time off in the NWSL anymore. Here’s what’s on tap:
- On Monday, the league’s trade window opened for a week. It stays open through Sunday and all trades must be announced publicly by Monday, Nov. 20 at 3 p.m. ET.
- Next Monday will be an info dump day: new contracts, waived players and exercised options have to be announced — and the big one, too: free agents may sign with new teams. Everything on that list has to be public by 6 p.m. ET.
- The offseason kicks up again ahead of the expansion draft. Protected lists of players are due on Dec. 12, and the NWSL is stopping any transactions between the teams as of 9 a.m. ET that day. The expansion draft will take place on Friday, Dec. 15, and then the next day, business opens back up.
The Orlando Pride has already secured safety in the expansion draft, trading the No. 8 overall pick in the 2024 NWSL Draft to Bay FC for $50,000 and protection.
The legendary allocation money returns home, but this time, with their friend expansion protection 🤝
— Orlando Pride (@ORLPride) November 13, 2023
As always, buckle up because we could be in for another wild week in the NWSL. That’s just how this league rolls.
As for us, stick around because we aren’t going anywhere. The Full Time newsletter will continue weekly throughout the offseason with plenty of NWSL, global women’s soccer and USWNT news to get you through the winter. Speaking of news…
Full Time First Looks
It’s hard to believe a player as impactful as Rapinoe would finish her international career by missing her first penalty kick and club career with a major injury. But when the wounds heal, her impact will expand far beyond her final moments as a professional soccer player.
“I guess I just rode it until the wheels came right off,” Rapinoe said. “You don’t always get perfect endings, but I’ve also had so many perfect endings.”
Meg Linehan has more on the end of Rapinoe’s professional football career.
Before the final, the NWSL announced its new broadcast deals with ESPN, CBS Sports, Prime Video and Scripps Sports. Some of the highlights:
- The NWSL agreed to four-year deals with each partner, who will show at least 20 games apiece on their platforms next season.
- Fans will be able to stream regular-season matches on Friday nights on Prime Video and watch two primetime matches on Saturdays on Scripps’ ION network.
- A package of regular-season matches will air on CBS and stream on Paramount+, with CBS Sports showing additional matches and the final for the next four years.
Speaking of broadcasts, Jeff Rueter wrote about CBS’ curious handling of Carli Lloyd’s Gotham investment during their NWSL Championship programming. Does U.S. soccer media care about transparency?
Carli Lloyd and soccer broadcasters’ problem with disclosing conflicts of interest
As for what’s next, commissioner Jessica Berman provided an update on league expansion and year-end metrics. The process to find the team to join Boston as an expansion club in 2026 starts now.
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(Photo: Ben Nichols, Getty Images)