Where should the USMNT players move this summer?

Juventus is favored to land Christian Pulisic

There’s going to be a lot of movement for the top end of the USMNT roster, but what would be best for them? We mean other than Ibiza or The Algarve on vacation. Though they should do that too. They’ve earned it. But after the Nations League semis and (hopefully) final, the main cogs of the USMNT will probably get to business figuring out where they’re going to ply their trade next season. There are going to be a lot of them on the move in the next month or two, given various playing situations and relegations and the general scatterbrained nature of soccer as a whole. So how should it shake out (but definitely won’t)? We got ya. Let’s kick this pig.

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The big one, the captain, still the U.S.’s most talented player (until Gio Reyna both plays regularly for Dortmund and isn’t such a pain in the ass). Pulisic has already, basically, been told to do one by new Chelsea coach Mauricio Pochettino, and quite frankly Chelsea need the money he would bring in a transfer.

The main rumor is that Juventus are very interested in Pulisic, and on the surface that sounds enticing. While Juve won’t be in the Champions League next season thanks to their points deduction, it’s still Juventus and they should still be contending for a Serie A title. Then again, a lot of what should happen in Turin rarely does lately.

It’s hard to know what kind of fit Pulisic would be at Juve because there’s so much we don’t know about them. It sure feels like Max Allegri will be booted as manager, which is probably a good thing for our Yank captain because Allegri’s latest 3-6-1 formation didn’t really fit Pulisic or would have had him playing something like a wingback, which was a major problem at Chelsea. Until we know who’s coaching, it’s hard to judge.

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If Pulisic’s best position is still on the left side of an attack, and it’s hard to know given how rarely we’ve seen him at Chelsea, there isn’t much competition he can’t stand out against at Juventus, as both Juan Cuadrado and Angel Di Maria are exiting stage left. That’s a bigger problem at Milan, another rumored destination, where Rafael Leão lives on the left and might have missed a window on a big transfer to the glitterati of Europe. Pulisic isn’t dislodging Leão.

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The problem at both is that Pulisic has never looked very comfortable with a team that has the ball a lot, and has looked much better when he can get out in space on the counter and at pace. That might be a growing problem at Newcastle, another team that’s been connected to him. That doesn’t mean he has to downgrade to a bad team, but he should be picky if he can.

Which means Pulisic should swallow his pride a bit, and opt for the move that wouldn’t even involve moving house. Brentford are going to lose a forward for half of next season in Ivan Toney, they like to play on the counter, and he can easily grab the starting berth on the left week after week. If it’s true that Chelsea will let him go for just $20 million, that puts him in Brentford’s range. While the Bees spent most of the season in a 3-5-2, towards the end Thomas Frank was using a 4-3-3 that would hit Pulisic between the eyes. He’ll never do it, but it makes a ton of sense.

Where he’ll go: Juventus

Where he should go: Brentford

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While Pulisic may be the most talented, Adams is still the U.S.’s most important. They don’t have a replacement for him anywhere, he’s the only one who can make the USMNT’s midfield go with his all-action style and endurance. And he nor the national team will be helped by him trudging around various muddy pitches of the Championship in the dark with Leeds next season. Adams turned some heads in the Premier League with his performances, but it’s still only 24 games that he played so it might be hard to convince some to take the splash.

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The obvious answer is West Ham, who will lose Declan Rice and Adams can at least run as much as Rice. What he can’t do is be three midfielders at once like Rice can, which Hammers fans would notice pretty quickly. Adams can break up play and make simple passes, but he can’t create much. He’d have to be part of a midfield overhaul at West Ham. He certainly could add to Aston Villa’s depth as a holding midfielder, which doesn’t have much behind Douglas Luiz. Some rumors have Man United circling, but again he’d be more depth there behind Casemiro and it’s unclear how Adams fits with a team that will have the ball a lot. He’s just not that good with it.

Where he should go: West Ham

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We know he’s not staying at Leeds, and Leeds fans are certainly happy about that, and one wonders if the whole experience soured him on England altogether. A stay at Juventus doesn’t seem likely. Again, McKennie is a hard player to accommodate and get the best out of. You need a set midfield behind him and allow him to sort of go off-script so he can get in the box to score, which is what he does well. Leeds had him too deep, Juve too wide.

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If he wants to try England again, Villa seem like a natural fit. Unai Emery’s 4-2-2-2 system means that McKennie could be absolved of a lot of defensive duties in the forward two of the midfield, and wouldn’t be shunted out wide as he was with Juve. Villa aren’t a possession-heavy team either, where his lack of passing skills might get exposed. There’s a foundation in the middle already there in Luis, John McGinn, and Jacob Ramsey, while they still press enough to get enough out of McKennie’s athleticism and energy (when he bothers to show it).

Where he should go: Aston Villa

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Aaronson is a different case than everyone who came before, given that it really wasn’t clear that he’s Premier League quality. Sure, he runs around a lot and is very annoying to play against, but he’s an attacker who produced one goal and three assists. Luckily for Aaronson, thanks to his relegation release clause, he should be pretty cheap.

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Still, a move to the Bundesliga seems best. Bayer Leverkusen may lose a couple forwards this summer, and that might be too tall a task for Aaronson’s limited skill. Replacing Florian Wirtz would also put him behind the eight-ball as he’s never going to be Wirtz. But they also are the most pressing team in Germany, and Aaronson needs to be in a team that presses a lot otherwise he’s wasted. Mönchengladbach are another team lower down the totem pole that press a ton and also play a 4-2-3-1 where Aaronson’s flexibility would play up. If he needs to stay in England, Bournemouth or Everton might work, especially the latter given their love of forwards who don’t score.

Where he should go: Bayer Leverkusen (it’s a pipe dream), Borussia Monchengladbach

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You might have forgotten about him, because he’s been a ghost since the World Cup. It’s likely most at AC Milan don’t even know his name, and so he’ll head back to Barcelona in the summer. Barcelona also don’t want him. He might be even harder to accommodate than McKennie, given he’s a fullback who can’t really defend.

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Union Berlin have been a rumor, and they’re now a Champions League club, and though they’re more a 3-5-2 team, Dest seems more attuned to being a wingback than a fullback. Union have gotten by this season with very adventurous players on the right at wingback in Josip Juranović and Christopher Trimmel, but the latter is 36. Maybe Union will be cannon fodder in the Champions League, but this makes too much sense for an active player with an active team.

Where he should go: Union Berlin

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Now that Valencia have almost guaranteed their safety, it’s not for sure that Musah will be going. But there have been rumors that he’d like to move to England, and even his old club Arsenal have been somewhat curious. Musah to Arsenal sounds like a dream reunion, and he could be more dynamic than the departed Granit Xhaka while maybe not being as forceful. Like a lot of his national team teammates, Musah is not a great passer, though maybe playing for Mikel Arteta would be the perfect place to work on that. There is a dream of a Partey-Musah-Ødegaard midfield–one destroyer, one dribbler, one creator, that perfectly links. And yet it seems a stretch, and Musah would likely be more of a squad player in North London. He’s also been briefly mentioned as a cheaper alternative in Liverpool’s midfield revolution, but some of the same issues there.

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If Musah could be convinced to lower his sights, playing at Brighton to fill in for their midfield departures this summer seems a great option. He’ll still get Premier League wages, a good chance at playing every week, and playing for a team and manager that doesn’t hesitate to hit the gas. One season or two there could prime him for a move to the top six as well.

Where he should go: Brighton

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This is the most fun one, because he has way more options. Being in the top five in goals in Ligue 1 will open some doors, as well as being just 20 years old. Balogun might have his sights set on the Premier League and those kinds of wages, but he can go anywhere. He’s been talked about as a replacement for the Chelsea-bound Christopher Nkunku, which would feed well into his pacey/get-behind-the-defense style. If Everton had more than a nickel he’d be the perfect guy to finally cure their scoring woes, but they don’t so that’s out. He may dream of Man United, but Marcus Rashford kind of takes their running-in-behind role and they want something more of all-rounder at the No. 9. Don’t rule this out though. Brentford need someone to take Toney’s spot while he’s suspended, but he’s probably out of their price range.

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Milan would be an interesting call, given Olivier Giroud’s age and how he’d dovetail with Leao. But Balogun hasn’t really played as a central striker on his own, more so either on the left of a three or with a partner. Which makes him the perfect replacement for Nkunku, who was the same kind of tweener between a wide and center forward.

Where he should go: RB Leipzig

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate, especially when Musah ends up at Anfield and he writes an article about how great it is.

USWNT’s striker depth will be put to the test at World Cup

Could Sophia Smith be the USWNT’s starting striker?

The U.S. Women’s National Team’s spoils at forward have always been in excess. Most countries’ talent pools over 50 years don’t go as deep at striker as America’s would for one World Cup cycle. That depth is being put to the test this summer as a second potent goal-scorer won’t be traveling with the Stars and Stripes to Australia and New Zealand, with Catarina Macario announcing she won’t be “physically ready” enough to compete at the global showcase. The news comes about a month after Mallory Swanson, who was on a scoring tear to start 2023, tore her patella tendon. With both not heading to Oceania, the bigger question looms: who does the USWNT turn to up top? The answer isn’t simple.

Alex Morgan is a decorated veteran, but no lock to start

So, wait? We don’t just give the mantle to Alex Morgan, who has the fifth most goals in USWNT history and with her next appearance for the Yanks will have sole possession of 10th place on the all-time appearances list? Nope, and that’s a good thing that she’s not America’s last remaining or only hope. The 33-year-old non-Obi Wan Kenobi will no doubt be one of the team’s strikers when the tournament begins for the Americans on July 22 against Vietnam. Morgan shouldn’t be locked into the team’s No. 9 role. Going with a fresher face should work better for the influx of young talent the USA will feature at other positions.

What about Sophia Smith?

Let’s continue with a prime candidate and my selection for who will be the water-cooler name of the World Cup. Die-hard soccer fans already know the name Sophia Smith, but for those who tune in every four years expecting the USA to win the tournament, pay attention. Smith scored in the mega-friendly against England at Wembley Stadium last October and just as Abby Wambach passed the torch to Morgan, Smith could be the heir to the throne if it’s not Swanson’s for the taking. Smith’s only 22 but already has 29 caps and 12 goals for the USWNT. Smith has been a goal-scoring machine at every turn in her career, not only at Stanford, but with the NWSL’s Portland Thorns as well. She’s only 5-foot-5, but her pace makes her a defender’s nightmare.

If not, there are other options, including Trinity Rodman

Compared to the United States’ woes on the men’s side finding a reliable striker, we have more good options coming for the women. USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski could go even younger. Trinity Rodman, who had a goal disallowed in that sold-out friendly against England, just turned old enough to buy a drink at an American bar. She might be a few years from peak form, but Rodman will no doubt be on the plane to the land of kangaroos and the All Blacks. Andonovski could even go full prodigy with the selection of Alyssa Thompson, who won’t turn 19 until November, and it wouldn’t be a shocker to see her get playing time at the World Cup.

If the USWNT wants to go a little older, there are two good options, both of which have late May birthdays. Lynn Williams just turned 30 on Sunday and Ashley Hatch will be 28 on Thursday. Neither has the goal-scoring form of Smith or Morgan, and not the long-term potential of Rodman and Thompson. And if Andonovski truly wants a wild card, he dips into the old-guard player pool once more and gives it to Megan Rapinoe. She’ll be 38 by the time the World Cup comes around, but she was the biggest American star from the 2019 edition in France.

Rapinoe is on the bubble to be part of the squad in a very similar situation to Landon Donovan in 2014, as an American soccer legend past their prime. Donovan wasn’t selected and his presence was needed for a younger team. The USWNT shouldn’t have that issue in Australia and New Zealand with several with over 100 caps that are near-locks to make the team, including Morgan. Rapinoe just shows up in big-time games. And there’s no bigger event than the World Cup. Although Morgan will likely get the nod, the temptation of Smith or Rapinoe and what I genuinely think has the best chance to unseat that choice. 

What’s next for Arsenal?

A dejected Gabriel Jesus of Arsenal hides his face during the Premier League match at the City Ground, Nottingham.

When you’ve spent 248 days on top of the Premier League (somewhat aided by the World Cup break, of course), getting not just passed but utterly dusted in the last month or so of the season can feel pretty deflating. That’s where Arsenal find themselves, and certainly conceding the title by getting one’s ass handed to it by City and by Brighton at home and then confirming Nottingham Forest’s survival by looking utterly toothless doesn’t leave the heart full.

But when the mess is cleaned up and the hangover treated with some B-12, Arsenal should look at the season fondly. No one thought they’d be here, and they flashed some truly wonderful soccer on their way to being runners-up. And in the Guardiola Era, that might be all any team can really hope for. Should they get to 84 points next weekend, it’ll be their third-highest total in the Premier League ever. Such is the way that City have warped what it takes to win a title that 84 points can be seen as low.

Arsenal made progress this season

Like last season, Arsenal’s depth caused them to cough and wheeze pretty heavily at the end of the campaign. Last May it cost them a Champions League spot to Spurs — which seems utterly unfathomable now and basically a waste of both clubs’ time — and this time around, the title. Compare the squads between City and Arsenal, and not only the difference in talent in some spots but how City were better able to spread around minutes. In all competitions, Arsenal had 10 players play over 2,000 minutes. City had 14. Doesn’t sound like much, but look who surged at the end, and who didn’t.

Clearly, Arsenal were not the same without William Saliba. Saliba last appeared in the league in Arsenal’s 27th game in the Premier League, where they collected their 66th point, good for 2.4 points per game, good for a 91-point pace. That is likely where City will end up. In the 10 games since, Arsenal have collected 15 points, or a 57-point pace, which is decidedly mid-table (still way better than Chelsea though!). The whole thing collapsed without him, and the 18 goals conceded in those 10 games pretty much say everything.

Looking forward, clearly Arsenal need to do better than having Rob Holding coming in for Saliba when the latter can’t play. And it’s not like Arsenal will get a break in the midweek next season, because Champions League games will require the A-team most nights as well.

Where does the Gunners go from here?

Still, finding a defender to be first off the bench isn’t as simple as merely throwing up a “Help Wanted” sign. True quality players will want to play regularly, and anyone comfortable with being on the bench to start probably is either a youngster coming through or an older player ready to admit where they are in the world. Arsenal’s system also really requires three centerbacks to play at once, as Oleksandr Zinchenko moves into midfield from left back and usually Ben White forms the three from right back with the ball. Depth here will be paramount. USMNT fans will be hoping that Auston Trusty enters the chat after a season on loan with Birmingham, but that seems like a huge jump.

Moving farther up the field, it has been an open secret that the Gunners are the favorites to land Declan Rice from West Ham, the players’ favorite transfer of moving to a bigger club and bigger salary without actually having to find a new house. And no team could be hurt by signing Rice. It’s just a little unclear what Rice’s role would be.

For West Ham, because they have to have him do so, Rice does everything. He plays the holding midfielder and attacking midfield roles all at the same time. If any Arsenal supporter is worried about what Rice’s odometer might look like playing 3,000 minutes season after season while having to cover the whole field, we won’t stop them.

Arsenal shouldn’t need Rice to do all that. For England. Rice is simply a #6 behind two attacking midfielders, which he’s marvelous at. And perhaps Arsenal will use him there, though that’s where Thomas Partey plays (unless he’s off to prison). Or maybe Mikael Arteta was so horrified by Partey’s Deadhead in the parking lot performance against City in April that he just wants an upgrade. Or perhaps Rice is replacing Granit Xhaka, who’s off to Leverkusen, as a pure #8. He could do that, though doesn’t seem the best use of his skills. A double-pivot with Jorginho in a 4-2-3-1? Clearly there’s some reshuffling coming, because this is the one spot where Arsenal are old. Party will be 30 next season, Xhaka was already in his 30s, Jorginho is 31. Rice can’t really be the only addition in the middle. Another chase for Moises Caicedo from Brighton seems certain, and talk around Ajax’s Mohammed Kudus has been audible as well.

Need more up front than Trossard and Saka

The depth problems may be more acute up top for Arsenal, where they really only have Leandro Trossard to back up both Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka. While Saliba’s injury was clearly the biggest factor, Saka crunching a little under the weight of the most minutes he’s ever played for Arsenal — as well as carrying a major role for England at the World Cup — blunted the attack, too. Arsenal will hope Fabio Viera can prove to be trusted to deputize for Martin Odegaard more often behind whoever is playing forward.

Ah, that forward. The question Arteta probably asks himself in the truly darkest hours when staring at the ceiling is can he trust Gabriel Jesus to be the unquestioned leader of the line? Jesus is top-ten in shots per 90 and shots on target per 90, so he gets in the right spots. No one shoots more regularly from closer to the target (10.4 yards on average) than Jesus. So considering all that, his finishing rate–12 percent of shots and 30 percent of shots on target resulting in 10 goals–seems a touch low. Secondly, and more importantly, Jesus has never managed more than 2,000 minutes in a season, which is only about 2/3rds. Some of that was due to being a role player at City, and he was unfortunate with a bad injury in this term in North London. Eddie Nketiah has one less goal in 500 less minutes. Are these two enough to fight on a Premier League and Champions League front?

Most Arsenal hopes right now are pinned to just how young they are. Saliba is 22, Saka 21, Odegaard 24, Martinelli 21. Natural growth should lead to improvement, so says logic, but any sports fan will tell you how nonlinear growth can be. Trying to run with City for a season has broken a couple teams in the recent past, with so much having to go right for a season to even be close that it can’t possibly continue for another season. Arsenal would do well to heed that lesson.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate to see his Arsenal supporting college roommate yell at him.


Putting the World Cup Final in New Jersey would be great, if you like cruel and unusual punishment

Despite the short distance, it sure takes a long fucking time to get between NY and NJ when there’s traffic

The states of New York and New Jersey launched a joint successful campaign to be a host city for the 2026 World Cup a while back. And yeah, of course the world’s biggest individual sporting event couldn’t have the most populous region of the country left out when the United States, Mexico, and Canada host in three summers. Hosting a final at MetLife Stadium? Yeah, that’s a horrible idea for many reasons, despite the Times Square pleas from New York City mayor Eric Adams, who’s done little to inspire confidence among his constituents recently, and New Jersey governor Phil Murphy, whose approval rating dipped below 50 percent despite living in one of the bluest states in America.

First, the densely populated areas of Manhattan and Brooklyn are far from East Rutherford, New Jersey, with no convenient way to get to the stadium. Sure, get there early and tailgate. But with horrible traffic and packing people into public transit like sardines will make the trek the most enjoyable experience, almost like watching England play in a World Cup. When you see it’s nine miles on Google Maps from the Empire State Building to the home of Aaron Rodgers, you forget how awful driving in New York City is and how Jersey isn’t any better. Unless you want to convert Citi Field or Yankee Stadium, and you don’t, making people have the arduous trek out to a hellish part of the most densely populated state in the nation is cruel and unusual punishment, almost as bad as going to Qatar. 

NY/NJ’s bid will be met by Dallas, LA, and other major cities

New York and New Jersey’s bid to bring the biggest game in soccer will have huge challenges from Dallas, Los Angeles, Toronto, Mexico City, and Chicago, at least, with Hollywood likely having the best case to court the game away from the Big Apple’s weird suburbs. The glitzy new SoFi Stadium in Inglewood isn’t in the populated part of Los Angeles and the city’s traffic has a worldwide reputation for being horrible, I get it. But at least you don’t have to cross state lines to get to the home of the Rams and Chargers. And there are plenty of highways to get out of the more traffic-crazy part of the city. There’s no avoiding that anywhere close to the home of the Jets and Giants.

Adams and Murphy’s charge thinks it could put on a shindig that’s the equivalent of “eight Super Bowls” for a World Cup Final. It hosted Seattle’s shellacking of Denver in 2014, with Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers performing at halftime. The Jets have won exactly one Super Bowl in 1969 and the Giants have sucked for several years, but did win one as recently as 2012. So eight times the effort for Eli Manning to defeat Tom Brady? I know it’s supposed to be overstated how bad you’d like the revenue to the area, but please fuck off. Eight Super Bowls makes you both sound as dumb as Chance The Rapper talking about hockey, as we know he’s playing a character.

When the host cities for the 2026 World Cup were announced last year, FIFA president Gianni Infantino didn’t give away any information as to how the selection process would work for which cities host what rounds. The Meadowlands hosted seven matches during the last men’s World Cup to be hosted in America in 1994, as well as four during the 1999 women’s World Cup, with both finals taking place at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. What’s closer to that historic venue, with an event like the World Cup that loves to shove its history down our throats, Los Angeles or New York? The Big Apple has the best bagels and pizza, but keep the World Cup Final far away. 

The WNBA finally gets the sports documentary it deserves

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In the early days of the WNBA, it wasn’t a given that the league was going to make it. A new film set for theatrical release this weekend, Unfinished Business, goes back to the first year through the lens of the New York Liberty, to lay out the stakes those young players experienced.

The origins of the WNBA

“All of us, because we lived most of our life without a WNBA, really took great responsibility that we needed to do everything we could to make sure it wasn’t going to be done one year and done or two years and done or five years and done,” forward Rebecca Lobo says in the film. “We have to ensure that this league is around for the long haul.”

There was a competing pro league that wasn’t affiliated with the NBA, and a tension between the image women were explicitly expected to present and who they wanted to be. Teresa Weatherspoon, the explosive guard and co-captain for the Liberty just wanted to be accepted for her game, regardless of gender and the regressive question of who belonged on a basketball court.

“If you don’t believe in us, why are you here? That might be the question,” Weatherspoon says in the doc.

The movie will be released theatrically this weekend at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and elsewhere after premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival last June. Amazon will be streaming the movie and it will be shown on ESPN2 on May 14.

Co-producer Samantha Bloom told Deadspin that after many of the interviews, players would thank the filmmakers for telling their stories – because despite this team providing the origin story for the New York City franchise, it’s a story that hasn’t been told at scale all that often.

“They really haven’t had that much coverage,” Bloom said.

Twenty-five years after the WNBA’s founding, its time to start telling these histories, and that’s what the new documentary “Unfinished Business” attempts to do with the Liberty. As one of the league’s few original teams, that history stretches back to the signing of Rebecca Lobo, Sheryl Swoopes and Lisa Leslie, the WNBA’s original marquee players.

“We were the faces of the league because we were the only three players who had signed to play in the league,” said Lobo.

But then there were others. Sue Wicks talking about how she grew up wanting to play sports and only saw women playing tennis and roller derby, and when those weren’t available to her, she picked up a basketball and set her sights on the New York Knicks.

That was my first year as a reporter, and I covered the Liberty’s Madison Square Garden home games for the inaugural year. I’m one of the voices in the documentary as well, giving context to the cultural currents the league was trying to navigate at the time. One moment that stood out then, was Wick’s decision to be forthright when asked whether she was a lesbian.

“There was a backlash from that,” Wicks said. “And being used to people loving you and being so proud of you to they don’t talk to you or walk away… It was sad, very sad.”

Where are all the documentaries on women’s sports?

There have been studies done on how much coverage women’s sports have gotten in traditional media outlets relative to men. Usually, women’s coverage is cited at 4-5 percent of the overall content, even in years where the US women win the World Cup or make a splash at the Olympics. So most of the stories get left out.

Where men’s sports have shelves full of fawning coverage of heroes like Babe Ruth or Jack Nicklaus, or more nuanced retrospectives of complicated players like Ted Williams or Michael Jordan, there are few figures in the modern era of women’s sports – aside from Billie Jean King – who can claim legend status.

“Everyone is always afraid to be the first out of the gate,” Unfinished Business producer Nicholas Ma told Deadspin, “But if you can’t see it, you can’t know you want it.”

We need our legends. We need our role models. That’s something that is starting to be better understood. And there is no shortage of players who deserve that status: Take a look at some of the new books aimed at youth readers, like Hoop Muses by Seimone Augustus and Kate Fagan. And it has been hard to get publishers to bite on books about women’s sports.

“It‘s similar in the documentary space,” Bloom said.

There have been excellent documentaries on women’s sports, of course. ESPN and espnW have shown the excellent 99ers, produced by soccer icon Julie Foudy with unseen video from the 1999 women’s World Cup, which the US won in a packed Rose Bowl. There was also Let Them Wear Towels from espnW’s IX for IX series on women’s sports.

Yet, when the traditional media networks are functionally capping their coverage of women’s sports, how do we codify those histories? In the case of Unfinished Business, the executive producer is Liberty co-owner Clara Wu Tsai, wife of Joe Tsai. Russell and Ciara Wilson, yes, that Russell Wilson and Ciara, were also producers. Ma and Bloom said the filmmakers had editorial independence, and Tsai didn’t see it until the final cut.

About half of the movie tells the origin story, and the other half tells the story of the 2022 team. Comparing and contrasting these players and their expectations, and including the game footage, could have easily been a four-part documentary-style series.

There are things missing from this documentary. It doesn’t get into the rival league that was established in 1996, the American Basketball League. Or the experiences of playing overseas in the offseason. It doesn’t linger on former Liberty owner and general sports villain James Dolan. It doesn’t touch the Isiah Thomas disaster, which I don’t really want to get into because I need less stress in my life but feel free to catch up on it here.

To be fair, all of those issues probably deserve a documentary of their own. And there are many more stories like this that have yet to be told in women’s sports.

Unfinished Business details the first chapter in the WNBA story, and more importantly gets each of those inaugural players on the record about what it was like to play professionally at Madison Square Garden that year.

“This is where we belong,” Weatherspoon said.

Weston McKennie is not having a good time

Weston McKennie has been having a “slide whistle” kind of time.

Soccer moves fast, and it moves faster in the January transfer window. All the things Weston McKennie had to consider when a move to Leeds United from Juventus was probably thrown at him in a matter of days, if not hours. Questions of role, money, future, and the allure of moving to a country where he already speaks the language all would have played a role, and he only had a limited time to figure it all out considering he moved the day before the deadline. It was life on fast forward.

To boot, he was moving to a club where he knew the manager and would have been fairly confident that Jesse Marsch not only would play him regularly, but play him in his preferred spot, as a No. 8 in a 4-3-3 where he could run around a lot and get into the box and get scoring chances.

Less than a week later, Marsch was out on his ass, and McKennie’s stay at Leeds and overall career are looking a little spotty. Even spottier is Leeds’s future, because they look like dead men walking on their way to relegation. They’re only out of the bottom three by one point, and their next two games are away to Man City, and home to Newcastle. They have one draw and four losses in their last five games and have won two of their last eight. The cumulative score of their last five games? 18-5. But hey, at least they scored in each of them!

As Marsch found out, when you’re American and things aren’t going well you become a pretty easy and obvious target for fans and media alike. At least McKennie hasn’t been spouting nonsensical and self-celebratory shit in the press like his former (and future?) manager which only made him easier to pillory. But McKennie’s stay in the Premier League has been rough.

No goals and no assists for a midfielder whose main strength is how he joins the attack.

FotMob.com, a leading player-rater site, has McKennie at an average 6.4 rating for his 15 appearances in England, which is the definition of mediocre. He’s seen his shots-on-target per 90 minutes go from 0.68 at Juventus to 0.08 in Leeds. His pass completion percentage has dropped five percentage points. Perhaps worse yet, he’s getting walked in midfield a lot, losing two-thirds of his duels (per FBref.com). And he’s not the attacking force he was in both Italy and Germany with Schalke, as his progressive carries per match have been cut in half in West Yorkshire (also per FBRef.com). He has a 0.00 carries into the penalty area rate.

Circumstances have not helped. Javi Gracia, since he took over for Marsch, has used McKennie far deeper than anyone else has, playing as part of a double-pivot in a 4-2-3-1, especially since Tyler Adams got hurt. It is not McKennie’s strength.

And he’s actually done all right there, considering that he’s never been a great passer or totally clued in positionally. He’s rarely if ever been asked to do these things because he’s not good at them, which is why Juventus stationed him on the right of a narrow 4-4-2 most of the time. His tackles and interception numbers are way up, but they kind of have to be considering his position on the field. You’ll run into a lot of tackles in the center of midfield, especially when you’re playing for Leeds and they don’t have the ball much, simply by accident.

But when Leeds have been torn apart right through the middle, as they have been by Crystal Palace or Liverpool, or Bournemouth, McKennie has faced a lot of arrows (go on Twitter, search McKennie, and find out in a hurry what Leeds fans think of his physique). He’s simply not equipped to handle that position, because he’s not much of a dribbler to get out of tight spaces, he’s not much of a passer to orchestrate attacks, and he just doesn’t have much experience deep in midfield to know where to be to stifle attacks against. He’ll lose control there.

McKennie is hurt by the disorganization of Leeds. They clearly didn’t have a plan when they fired Marsch, which has led them to possibly being on the brink of firing his replacement with four games to go. They don’t have a striker worth a damn that McKennie can link to or get lost in the wake of as his specialty. They look psychologically broken.

What’s worrying for USMNT fans is that two nailed-on starters (McKennie and Adams) and one big contributor (Brenden Aaronson) look pretty likely to be playing in the English Championship in the season leading into Copa America, where the national team will be hoping to make serious noise to create momentum, and buzz for the World Cup two years later on home soil.

As previously written in these halls a couple times, McKennie is a very weird player. He’s a midfielder who can’t really pass, dribble, or tackle. He just…scores goals, but that skill is so valuable a team can’t really live without it. But he needs so much around him to really flourish, which Leeds have exactly none of with Adams out. Unless the new USMNT manager is Marsch (and it probably will be), a new national team manager might consider whether they need a midfielder in the starting lineup who can pass, seeing as how Adams and Yunus Musah don’t really either.

There have been a lot of circumstances going against McKennie in the past three years of his career. He was bought by Juve with Andrea Pirlo in charge. He was fired before the end of his first season. Juventus were already in decline when he showed up and that only sped up after his arrival, which came with a flux of systems and ideas, and positions for him. He was brought to England by Marsch, and he was gone in six days, which again meant a new manager and system, and position. This happens in soccer. McKennie can either adapt his game or find a place where he can do what he does well regularly. None of that appears to be happening at Leeds.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate as he becomes the leading member of the de la Torre in the USMNT starting 11 fan club.

The Women’s World Cup is already a battle of attrition

England’s captain, Leah Williamson, is out with a torn ACL.

The World Cup is always a measure of health and a team’s ability to deal with it. It comes at the end of a long season — unless you’ve fisted it into a desert, totalitarian country that makes you have it in the middle of the season — and players have logged the most possible miles before they play in the biggest tournament there is. It’s impossible to get a full squad through unscathed and fresh to the World Cup, and then through it.

But the World Cup slated for July in Australia and New Zealand is shaping up more and more like the Battle of Atlanta scene of Gone With The Wind. And every favorite is dealing with at least one, and probably multiple, absences from their likely squad. It’s mostly through injury, and some through politics.

England are at worst co-favorites, though most betting sites have them as second-favorites behind the US. But their chances took a major hit last week when their captain and defensive anchor, Leah Williamson, suffered a torn ACL. Beth Mead, one of the best players of last summer’s European Championships, tore her ACL in November and is a longshot to make the tournament.

The Dutch will be without star striker Vivianne Miedema. You already know that Mallory Swanson is out of the tournament after her patella injury. Catarina Macario is racing against time to try and get fit for Australia and New Zealand with her own ACL injury. Canada will be missing Janine Beckie with… all together now… a torn ACL. They have various other concerns that will put a good chunk of the squad’s participation in question.

Spain are still awaiting Alexia Putellas’ return from the ACL injury she suffered right before the Euros. Of course, we don’t know if she would play for Spain in the tournament, or who else will, because most of the first team has been on strike from the national team over the Spanish FA’s choice of manager and the treatment of the team. France have had similar problems, which they tried to solve with the hiring of Herve Renard to replace the much-reviled Corinne Diacre. Australia have a litany of injuries. Brazil has only seen Marta recently return from her injury absence. Germany’s Giulia Gwinn caught her own version of ACL-itis. No team would be considered to be rolling into the tournament at full strength, and we’re still three months out with a European season to finish and an NWSL season to continue. This list will almost certainly grow.

It certainly highlights the epidemic of ACL injuries that have plagued, if not infested, women’s soccer. There are plenty of studies out there, mostly centering on the difference in women’s and men’s bodies that puts more pressure on women’s knees, especially when landing. But how teams and federations, at most every level, deal with those differences is still behind where it should be. Cleats designed for men and simply put in women’s sizes are a possible problem as they don’t adjust for the differences in women’s feet, build, and strength, causing more players to get their cleats, and legs caught in the turf which can cause injury. Only recently have teams started to take menstrual cycles into consideration and how they make joints more vulnerable at times. This is just a sampling, and of course, there are still major differences in staffing, funding, and treatment of the women’s game that don’t help this.

And women’s football has a similar problem as the men’s side, in that the powers that be are finding more ways to pile in more games. Just for the USWNT, there’s been an expansion of the CONCACAF Gold Cup to accommodate more South American teams being involved to mirror the dual Copa America that the USMNT will be participating in 2024. The women’s game sends the full squads to the Olympics, which means some European teams are competing in major tournaments pretty much every year. There were the Euros last summer, the World Cup this one, and then the Paris Olympics the one after that, and then the next Euros in the summer after that. That’s combined with these players’ normal loads of work with their club teams, which FIFA saw fit to jam in a Club World Cup too. Where’s the break?

It certainly leads one to ask if the World Cup is the best it can be, and whether FIFA would ever pull back on anything that may fill the coffers to make sure players stay healthy and can participate in the game’s showpiece. We want the World Cup to be a contest of the best teams, not the best of what’s left.

For the actual tournament, certainly, squad depth is a part of sussing out the contenders from the pretenders. Which is where the US has a real advantage. Yes, no one is Mallory Swanson right now, but being able to turn to Sophia Smith or Trinity Rodman, or Lynn Wiliams is a big comfort. England can plug in Alex Greenwood for Williamson’s spot, but with Millie Bright’s attendance Down Under in question too they really can’t afford any more injuries in their defensive corps. Other teams aren’t quite so lucky. There is no Putellas or Miedema stand-in.

FIFA nor any team can eliminate injuries entirely. But it’s certainly worth asking at what point is a World Cup dimmed by what’s being asked of players and what is there to support them.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate for more soccer inanity.