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The beautiful game

July 06, 2020
RICK BOWMER/AP
RICK BOWMER/AP

The GIST: The NWSL’s Challenge Cup is well underway, and not to brag or anything, but the North Carolina Courage are kicking ass and taking names, just as we predicted.

Tell me more!: The Courage have won all three of their group stage matches and are the only team to do so. They’ll have the chance to make it four straight next Monday when they face the struggling Sky Blue FC (FC stands for Football Club), who are 0-1-1 (no wins, one draw and one loss).

  • Goalkeeping has been the highlight of the tournament, with numerous 0–0 draws and shutouts recorded. And the goals that have been let in, like Houston Dash Shea Groom’s Saturday night header, have been pretty jaw dropping too.
     
  • Next matchday is Wednesday, where we’ll see Utah Royals FC host OL Reign at 12:30 p.m. ET followed by the Houston Dash playing Sky Blue FC at 10 p.m. ET.

And what’s up with the MLS?: TBH, things are not looking too hot over on the men’s side. Although the MLS Is Back Tournament is set to begin on Wednesday in Florida, the Vancouver Whitecaps and FC Dallas game has been postponed, due to six Dallas players testing positive since arriving in Florida.

  • One team, Toronto FC, hasn’t even made it to Florida yet. They’ve had to postpone their flight twice, the most recent time after an unnamed travel party member began experiencing symptoms. The league hasn’t said what this all means yet, but we don’t like the looks of it.

🏒 Bubble trouble

July 06, 2020
 JOSHUA CLIPPERTON/THE CANADIAN PRESS
JOSHUA CLIPPERTON/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The GIST: Remember when we thought the NHL would announce their bubble cities by June 22nd? Oh, how young and naive we were.

What’s taking so long?: In the NHL’s defense, they’re playing it safe. They’ve been slowly narrowing the list of potential hub cities for their return-to-play plan (which started with roughly 10 potential candidates), all while keeping tabs on COVID-19 cases.

  • There were reports that Las Vegas was definitely going to be one of two cities, but instead of rushing an announcement, the NHL stalled to see if COVID-19 cases in the state would stabilize...but they didn’t. Nevada now has one of the highest rates of COVID-19 in the US, and Las Vegas has been cut from the list.

Who’s still in the running?: Thanks to a government that seems to know what it’s doing, Canada has some relatively low (and decreasing!) COVID-19 numbers. That’s why we’ll likely see Toronto and Edmonton picked as the bubble cities very soon, with the season start date announced after that.

  • The Eastern Conference teams will likely be housed in Toronto, while the Western Conference will play in Edmonton. And having the entire event take place in Canada means no pesky border crossing and 14-day quarantine when the East and West champs meet (probably in Edmonton) for the Stanley Cup Finals.

Interview with FIFA World Cup winner and NWSL star Mallory Pugh

June 29, 2020
The GIST
The GIST

On June 24th, Sky Blue FC's Mallory Pugh broke the news to Emily Mason of Hunterdon Central Regional High School that she is the 2019-20 Gatorade National Girls Soccer Player of the Year.

The Gatorade Player of the Year award is the most prestigious award in high school sports because it recognizes the nation's most elite high school athletes for their accomplishments on and off the field.

Pugh, who won a gold medal with the USWNT at the FIFA World Cup in 2019 and is a star player in the NWSL was honored with the same award back in 2015. After she surprised Mason with the honors, we caught up with Pugh on how things have come full circle, discussed her professional career, and where she'd like to see the women's game grow.

Listen to the interview here.

Carrie: As a former Gatorade National Soccer Player of the Year award winner, what was it like for you being able to break the news to Emily this morning?

Mallory Pugh: It was really cool because I feel like it came around full circle. I feel like it was just yesterday when I won and Brandi Chastain surprised me so to be able to do that for someone else, and because I know how much this award means and how big this award is, to be able to do that for someone like Emily herself, it was really cool. And I'm very thankful that I was able to do this for her.

Carrie: That's amazing. It's definitely a full circle moment. Going back to 2015 when you won the award. What was it like for you winning such a prestigious award?

Mallory Pugh: I think it really just goes to show how much hard work and dedication that each of us athletes puts in, both on the field and off the field. And I really think winning this award and seeing that my name is now going to be amongst LeBron and Peyton and all of the past Player of the Year winners, I think that it's really cool to see that your name is now with them and that you're a part of that family. So I think being able to do something like that, not only for my team, but also for my school, because I know my high school meant a lot for me. So I think being able to do that really meant a lot for me.

Carrie: Absolutely. And obviously, Emily, like most young soccer players, look up to players like you on the Women's National Team and now you're playing in the NWSL with New Jersey. What players did you look up to when you were growing up?

Mallory Pugh: I looked up to Mia Hamm, obviously, I feel like every soccer player looks up to her, but I always looked up to her. I've met her many times before, and still to this day, I still get giddy about it. I'm just like, oh my gosh, that's her, she's actually right there. So, yeah, I looked up to her. I looked up to Tobin [Heath] also. And now being able to play with Tobin, it's really awesome. And then I also looked up to Ronald Daniel, I think from more of a soccer standpoint of it. I just loved the way he played and the way he expressed himself on the field. 

Carrie: Very cool. Let's flip the switch a little bit to your career. You ended up going to college only for a few months, and then you decided to go pro. What led you to that decision?

Mallory Pugh: Yeah, I really... So I wanted to go to college to just like experience it. And I feel like I needed to go to realize that I wanted to be a professional, and I was able to do that at that time. And I really, I knew my dreams and my goals, and I kept that in mind with that decision. I needed to be in an uncomfortable environment to be able to grow. So I think all those things really led to me leaving UCLA and going to Washington.

Carrie: Yeah, and I mean, it worked out for you. Playing with Washington, and then you won the World Cup with Team USA, which was absolutely phenomenal. I also feel like that title took women's football to a whole new level. What was it like being a part of that and the movement?

Mallory Pugh: I mean, it was amazing. I never ever thought that I would be a part of and leading a movement like this and I think it's really cool just to see, really how much women's football has taken off and how much growth, not only in the States, but over in Europe and around the world because of that World Cup, it's really just like taking off. And I obviously want it to continue to do that. I feel like as the national team and as leaders for this sport, it's our duty to continue to grow the game and create more opportunities for girls to be able to play professionally. So I just... I hope that as my career continues, I am able to do that.

Carrie: Absolutely. I feel like last summer's win was kind of just the tip of the iceberg for you guys. Where would you like to see women's football in five years from now?

Mallory Pugh: In five years, I mean this would be very crazy, but I would love to see it. I would love to see NWSL viewed as and ran like the Premier League. I think that would be awesome. I would love to see more opportunities for girls to be able to go professional if they are ready to do so. And I would love to see people thankful for women's football like they are for men's. And I would love to just have more fans and everyone on board. And I think after the World Cup, you did see that. It opens a lot of eyes to a different kind of fan base than before. But I think the thing is that we just need to have that consistency. We don't want it to be every four years or every year that there's a major tournament. So I would love to see all those things in five years.

Carrie: Absolutely. And, you know, when you look at the WNBA, how they're associated with the NBA and the new CBA agreement, is that kind of where you'd like to see the NWSL go as well?

Mallory Pugh: For sure. I definitely think that having support from the MLS can definitely [help]. Either it's the MLS or you can look at The Rein where Leone is supporting them, just having support from a bigger source can really help grow the game. I think there's more and more clubs getting onboard of that idea. And I think it's kind of cool just to see that there's a women's side and there's the men's side to one club. It's not just the men's side.

Carrie: For sure. And just focusing on the NWSL right now. It was announced yesterday that you won't be playing in the Challenge Cup due to a hip injury. How disappointed are you that you won't be making your debut for Sky Blue? 

Mallory Pugh: I think it's very disappointing. Yeah, before the quarantine and everything happened, I found out that I hurt my hip. I have a torn labrum, and so I am recovering from that. I think it's obviously very upsetting that I won't be able to play for Sky Blue this year because I was really looking forward to it when I got traded this year. I was looking forward to a fresh start and just a change, and I'm very upset that I won't be able to play for them. But I know that I'll be able to support them. And that the best that I can do right now is just support them and give them my support and love from far away.

Carrie: Well, we can't wait to see you back on the pitch. I just have one more question - With everything going on right now, what are your thoughts on female athletes in their prime, like Maya Moore and Renee Montgomery of the WNBA, choosing to step back from their sports and take activist roles?

Mallory Pugh: I mean, I think it's awesome. I look up to Marta and I think just seeing people step back from the game and realizing that there is something much bigger going on in our country than just the game, I think it's more than just sports and stuff, I think it's really inspiring and it definitely has helped me to kind of be inspired to voice my opinion, too, and let others hear my voice. So I think it's definitely important if athletes have the platform to generate change, I think one hundred percent that they should. We're not just athletes we're people and citizens. We just have been given a platform to be able to speak and be role models and inspiration for other people

🏒 Je ne comprends pas

June 29, 2020
SEAN KILPATRICK/CANADIAN PRESS
SEAN KILPATRICK/CANADIAN PRESS

The GIST: If you were left feeling hella confused after Friday night’s NHL Draft Lottery, don’t worry: you aren’t alone. This is where we come in, to give #thegist of this year’s very unusual lottery.

How does the Draft Lottery normally work?: At the end of the regular season, the NHL holds a lottery to determine who gets the first overall draft pick. Only the 15 teams that didn’t make the playoffs are entered, and the lottery is weighted, so the worse a team finishes, the better chance they have of winning an earlier pick.

  • The draft lottery was basically put in place to prevent teams from tanking during the regular season in order to secure the top draft pick (sneaky). The NBA does it too.

What was different this year?: In the olden days — like, 2019 — the regular season ended in mid-April, meaning the standings would have been set. But these aren’t the olden days. When the NHL hit the pause button on the regular season in March, there was a month of games left to be played and only seven of 15 teams officially knocked out of the postseason.

  • So instead of a regular 15-team lottery, the NHL hosted a seven-team lottery with a final eighth spot saved for one undetermined “play-in” team.

Wait, what do you mean “play-in” team?: The NHL season restart is supposed to begin in late July (though we’re still waiting to find out where exactly they’ll be playing), with 24 of the league’s 31 teams set to participate. Part of the plan is to have a “play-in” round, to determine which teams make it to the postseason.

  • Once the play-in tournament is over, the eight teams who don’t make it to the playoffs will be entered into their own lottery where each of the teams will have an even 12.5% chance of earning a top eight pick.

Okay, got it. So who won the Lottery?: Well, that’s just it. Despite all odds, this unknown “play-in” team channelled their inner Primrose Everdeen and won the first pick. The odds were ever in their favor

🏀 Save the date

June 29, 2020
GARY A VASQUEZ/USA TODAY SPORTS
GARY A VASQUEZ/USA TODAY SPORTS

The GIST: With less than five weeks to go until the beginning of the end of the NBA season, we finally have a schedule and some important games to mark along with it.

Remind me, what’s the set-up?: Twenty-two of the NBA’s 30 teams will play in the league restart at Disney World. Sixteen of those teams were in playoff positions when the regular season paused on March 11th, and the other six were within six games of a playoff position.

  • The teams will each play eight seeding games in a two-week span to determine their place in the postseason, which will start in mid-August. Up to seven games (!!!) will be played every day during the seeding period, with tip-offs scheduled anywhere from noon to 9 p.m. ET. Heck yes.

Got it. So when’s opening night?: Thursday, July 30th. It’ll start with a doubleheader, with the Utah Jazz taking on the New Orleans Pelicans ahead of the highly anticipated Battle of Los Angeles, where the LA Clippers will face the LA Lakers.

  • And it’s kind of fitting that the Jazz get the first game considering Jazz player Rudy Gobert’s positive COVID-19 test (and, btw, he’s still not totally recovered) caused the NBA to suspend their game (and then the whole season) literally minutes before their matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Poetic.

And all the big names will be in the lineup?: While some players have opted out of the season for health or activism reasons, the majority of players will play. LA Lakers LeBron James and Anthony Davis and Houston Rocket James Harden will all be in the lineup, and Milwaukee Buck Giannis Antetokounmpo (pronounced YONNIS ANDEDO-KOONPO) is set to make his return from a March knee injury.

  • Speaking of big names, the NBA and Nike (the league’s athletic wear sponsor) are planning to allow players to replace their last name on their jersey with messages of support for social justice causes (e.g., the Black Lives Matter movement) and charities.
  • This comes after Las Vegas Ace Angel McCoughtry made a similar ask of the WNBA last week. Women do always know best.