Emma Hayes’ calming presence at Olympic media day, plus Angel City’s jaw-dropping sale

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The NWSL sprinted head-first into its Olympic break and I sprinted head-first into Olympic coverage.

I’m Emily Olsen here in NYC with Steph Yang for the U.S. women’s national team Olympic availability. Meg Linehan is slowly packing for France — welcome to Full Time!

Want more? The “Full Time” podcast is here for you with a breakdown of the NWSL season so far. Now, live from New York …

Olympic Media Day: Up close with Emma Hayes and USWNT players

I went from doing the “HOT TO GO!” by Chappell Roan dance at a wedding Sunday night to sitting front-row at a news conference for the U.S. Olympic soccer teams yesterday. As I made my way to the fifth floor of the Nike Experience store on 5th Avenue, with my luggage in tow, a family from out of town got on the elevator:

“You can’t go to the fifth floor. They’re filming a podcast. I’m not sure with whom,” the dad said. 

“What if it’s someone famous, like LeBron James?” the tween asked with excitement. 

While it wasn’t King James, I’d argue one of the headliners — USWNT head coach Emma Hayes — can work a room at least as well as the future Basketball Hall of Famer.

Maybe her 12 years building one of the most successful club teams in Europe has something to do with it, but she was clearly a calming presence as she navigated questions about roster selections and golden expectations for the USWNT. 

While U.S. men’s Olympic coach Marko Mitrović gave a boilerplate opening statement, Hayes took the mic and simply smiled, saying, “Well, good afternoon everyone. How are we?” She spoke with the vibe of your second-grade teacher, expecting a response. Later in the day, USWNT captain Lindsey Horan pointed to that presence as a way to lift some weight off of players’ shoulders. 

“You have a manager that can come in and kind of take that (pressure) away from the players,” Horan told me. “It kind of just shows her experience.”

MORE: Should USA Olympic roster spots favor veterans like Alex Morgan and Diana Taurasi?

Hayes demonstrated her poise again when a reporter asked about the possibility of alternates being used to temporarily interchange with rostered players during the Olympics, something that the IOC has yet to confirm. It was a tricky question open to whoever would take it. After exchanging knowing glances with Mitrović, Hayes picked up her mic. “Because it’s your birthday, I’ll take it for the team,” Hayes said. What followed was a diplomatic but useful quote which clarified that players replaced by an alternate can return to the core 18-player group.

(Side note, Hayes revealed during a taping of the Men in Blazers live podcast later on that she previously coached former One Direction singer Liam Payne. “I’m glad he’s not a footballer,” she said. I immediately made a mental note to ask more about this later … for my job.)

one direction

Brad Smith / Getty Images for USSF

Marquee Clashes: An unbeaten record reached and broken

Buckle up: The NWSL did not go gently into this break in league play. With regular-season games on an Olympic pause until the end of August, it felt like the news gods were filling some sort of quota.

Let’s start with the positive, on-field action: Two undefeated teams, Orlando Pride and KC Current, battled it out for a historic unbeaten streak, led by two goal scorers dueling for the Golden Boot. This match had it all:

  • Fittingly, Barbra Banda struck first for Orlando, then Temwa Chawinga retaliated with an equalizer two minutes later. The two forwards are even on an eye-popping 12 goals apiece.
  • Pride defender Carrie Lawrence was sent off with a second yellow card before halftime and Orlando’s unbeaten streak looked in danger, especially when captain Marta went down shortly after. She remained in the game, which proved vital for Orlando …
  • The Brazilian legend converted a game-winning penalty kick. A beautiful sendoff as she heads to her last Olympics later this month — and she was extremely hyped.

The Pride tied Seattle Reign’s 16-game single-season unbeaten streak. Meanwhile, it was the Current’s first loss since Sept. 30, 2023 — though the team did not make the postseason last year.

A consolation prize: The league announced Kansas City’s CPKC Stadium will host the NWSL championship in November. The stadium has sold out every week it has hosted a home game. Meg was at the opening match earlier this year and wrote about how it was a historic leveling-up for the NWSL. Will the Current be there to play in front of a home crowd? Stay tuned.

Big Deals: Angel City’s jaw-dropping sale

The happiest place on earth is apparently BMO Stadium, where Angel City plays its home games: American TV journalist Willow Bay and her husband, Disney CEO Bob Iger, are close to purchasing control of the expansion club.

The current valuation of the club is estimated at $250 million(!), and Iger and Bay would invest more than $50 million to take control of ACFC. Alexis Ohanian — the co-founder of Reddit and Serena Williams’ husband — is the team’s largest shareholder but does not control the board. He said last week he is not planning on selling any of his shares in the team.

 📈 A brief history of recent NWSL valuations:

  • In March, the Wave sold at a $120 million valuation, a record-breaking price for an NWSL club.
  • That valuation nearly doubled the NWSL’s previous record sale, as the Bhathal family bought the Portland Thorns for $63 million earlier this year.
  • Last month, the Reign’s sale to the Seattle Sounders FC ownership group and investment firm Carlyle for $58 million became official.

A nearly $300 million valuation for ACFC is enough to make any business person’s head whip around, but shouldn’t be shocking for a team that envisions itself as a billion-dollar club in a few years. That’s billion with a B!

For players, could it mean Angel City finally gets a training facility of its own?

Meg’s Corner: Uh, what now?

So what happens now that the NWSL is on pause? Don’t worry, you can still catch your favorite teams in a 33-match tournament between the NWSL and Liga MX Femenil from July 19 to Aug. 6 with the final of the inaugural tournament taking place in October.

But I asked Meg a couple questions to get us through the NWSL break.

Big-picture, which teams benefit most from this break and which probably wish it wasn’t happening? (Without giving too much of last week’s podcast episode away, of course.)

Meg: Maybe the only team not thrilled about the break is Orlando, after the win and wanting to stay in form. The entire bottom half of the table is about to get a chance to reset and test some new things out during the Summer Cup, a gift they all must embrace. The Washington Spirit got their first win under head coach Jona Giraldez this weekend, but now he’s going to get a month to truly integrate with the team. The one team I’m really watching coming out of the break is Gotham FC — they’ll have a ton of players at the Olympics, and they have to balance Summer Cup with Club World Cup qualifiers and the race to the postseason.

(Also, can we take a moment for Gotham forward Ella Stevens and her ice-cold look after her assist this weekend?)

We saw an enormous valuation tied to Angel City last week. It is the latest of skyrocketing price tags associated with clubs. What do these numbers mean?

Meg: I think it’s really easy for a lot of folks to get swept up in these numbers, but valuations are hard to take seriously if they’re not accompanied by meaningful investments into the club. They are certainly a sign of growth but they cannot be viewed in a vacuum — or as an accurate reflection of the day-to-day reality of the NWSL. When I spoke to Christen Press last week, she was hopeful these deals could also help players, specifically on salaries. It’s worth remembering that in 2024, the minimum salary is still just $37,856. That number should be just as visible as the $300 million headlines.

Serious Situations: Allegations against San Diego

The San Diego Wave lost 1-0 to the Portland Thorns on Friday. The team is still in postseason contention in tenth place, but following the firing of head coach Casey Stoney, the exclusion of Alex Morgan from the Olympic roster and now an allegation of an abusive workplace directed at president Jill Ellis by a former employee, things are very much ebbing for the Wave.

Former Wave video and creative manager Brittany Alvarado said in a post on X last week that the club “perpetuated discrimination against women and demonstrated a complete disregard for (employees’) long-term mental health.” She alleged that of the more than 30 employees who were fired or quit since the team began operation, nearly 75 percent were women, and that the negative treatment of employees was part of an unhealthy work environment fostered by Ellis.

The post called for the league to remove Ellis from her position at the Wave. San Diego and Ellis denied the allegations, with the club president saying the “false accusations … are not only personally damaging but also take away from the incredible work and progress we’ve achieved together as a team.”

We’ll update here as the situation develops.

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(Top photo: Brad Smith / Getty Images for USSF)

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