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The Lowdown: Analyzing Monday’s NWSL activity

Tom Sermanni

Tom Sermanni’s first week in charge or Orlando Pride has been an eventful one. (Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

The NWSL offseason, normally a slow and languid exercise, has received several shots of energy over the last week. First, the Orlando Pride were unveiled as the league’s 10th team complete with a logo and head coach. And to say the franchise has hit the ground running is an understatement. Along with selling 1,500 season tickets already, the Pride were part of two of the five trades announced Monday and they landed the motherlode in national team star Alex Morgan.

Monday’s trades came with the announcement of the list of unprotected players for the Pride’s expansion draft set for this Monday. Until then we wait, that is unless Sky Blue actually gets around to naming a head coach. The chance for a deep breath also allows us to examine what went down on a crazy day of league activity.

Orlando Pride acquire Alex Morgan and Kaylyn Kyle from Portland Thorns FC in exchange for the Pride’s 2016 1st-round pick (1st overall), an international spot for the 2016 and 2017 seasons, and the rights to the first pick in the expansion draft

Morgan going to Orlando has been speculated since the first hint of an Orlando franchise was floated many months ago. In more recent times it appeared the move would somehow become a reality, and credit goes to all parties for making it happen without turning it into a mockery. The Pride actually sent a sizable package to Portland to gain Morgan’s services, and the Thorns acknowledged that Morgan asked for the trade due to personal reasons—which were the only reasons the club would have accepted. The personal reasons, as you probably know, are that her husband, Servando Carrasco, plays for Orlando City SC.

As for the trade itself, the Pride got themselves the most marketable American of either gender in the sport. And when healthy, Morgan is as dynamic, versatile, and as clutch a striker as there is in NWSL. Injuries and national team absences have torpedoed her last two seasons, but if she can get herself right for the 2016 season she should add credibility on and off the field in Orlando. Kyle is a defensive-oriented midfielder now with her fifth club. If she is allocated again by Canada it will help the Pride’s salary cap, though she also figures to miss time with the Olympics this summer.

The return package is much more fluid since there are no actual names attached. Word is the Pride will use the first expansion draft pick on Meghan Klingenberg and ship her to the Rose City. Klingenberg would instantly solve the Thorns need for a left back. The international slot suggests the Thorns will continue to invest heavily in that market and while the college season still has several weeks to go, teams that acquire the first overall pick this late in the game usually do so with an eye on a particular player.

The hot takes on the deal were that the Thorns got the better of it while the Pride made a public relations score snagging Morgan. I’m not so sure. The Pride certainly won’t suffer at the gate making Morgan their first player, and the Thorns are probably in a position where they don’t need a drawing card just for the sake of having one. But Morgan is young, and very good. If she puts in a few healthy seasons in a Pride shirt it will be difficult for anything the Thorns get out of the deal to match up.

Orlando Pride acquire Sarah Hagen and a 2016 2nd round pick (15th overall) from FC Kansas City in exchange for the Pride’s 2nd round pick in 2017

Hagen wanted more playing time and will certainly get that in Orlando. The concern would be that Hagen did not exactly thrive last season in Kansas City when Amy Rodriguez left for the World Cup and she was asked to fill some of the scoring void. But if she can get into the starting lineup on the regular, it should help move her career forward. We’ll see about the picks but going with the consensus that the 2017 draft will be deeper than 2016, it would appear the Blues made out in that end of the deal.

So was there more to it? Or did FC Kansas City more or less give away Hagen either to keep an extra player in the expansion draft or as part of a larger retooling? Time will tell, but on the surface it appears the Pride get Hagen for a minimal price tag.

Seattle Reign FC acquire Meghan Klingenberg and conditional 2017 pick from Houston Dash in exchange for Amber Brooks and a 2016 1st round pick (5th overall)

Another complicated trade. First from the Dash perspective: With three U.S. allocations on the roster, they knew one would have to be exposed to the Pride. So they decided to get proactive and get something for Klingenberg while protecting Carli Lloyd and Morgan Brian.

Brooks will be playing for her third team in as many seasons, having spent 2014 in Portland (and was in training camp with the Flash this year before being dealt to Seattle) and should get her best crack at solid playing time under Randy Waldrum. The extra pick gives the Dash a strong hand on draft day, holding the 5th and 6th picks. The move does leave them with another need on the backline which has been a recurring theme since the Dash came in the league.

Meghan Klingenberg figures to be part of her second NWSL Expansion Draft. (Photo Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

Meghan Klingenberg figures to be part of her second NWSL Expansion Draft. (Photo Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

The Reign made a calculated gamble in acquiring Klingenberg, who could theoretically fill the void left by the retirement of Stephanie Cox. But the Reign also have two other allocated players and there is an overwhelming sense that Klingenberg won’t be a Reign player beyond Monday. But there are two upsides to that happening. First, the conditional pick gets upgraded from a 2nd-rounder to a 1st-rounder if Klingenberg gets taken in the expansion draft. Second, losing her will close the door on the Reign’s participation in the expansion draft, whereas losing a non-allocated player would mean they could and likely would lose a second player.

With two first-round picks in play, the long-term outlook here could change drastically down the road, but this stands to be one of the odder trades made this far in NWSL.

Boston Breakers acquire Sinead Farrelly and McCall Zerboni from Portland Thorns FC in exchange for a 2016 1st (2nd overall) and 2nd (20th overall) round picks

I can hear the collective groan emanating from Beantown after this trade. Finishing bottom is supposed to mean a quality player with the top overall pick. First the Breakers were dropped to the second pick by the addition of the Pride and now they have traded that pick to Portland. Are Sinead Farrelly and McCall Zerboni what Breaker fans had in mind when they thought about the high pick? Probably not. That said they are both very good midfielders who can do several different things. There is a long way to go, but if surrounded by a strong supporting cast, Farrelly and Zerboni could be key cogs in a much-improved side.

The Thorns continue an obvious reshaping of the roster by moving the two players who most often teamed up to sit on top of the back line in Paul Riley’s whacky, 3-2-3-2 lineup. They also own the top two picks in the draft, which is in stark contrast to the Riley years when the team made only two draft picks in two years, the highest being Emily Menges at No. 25.

Portland Thorns FC acquire Dagny Brynjarsdottir from Boston Breakers in exchange for a 2016 2nd (20th overall) and 4th (35th overall) round picks

You’re not reading it wrong. The Breakers re-acquired the No. 20 pick they sent to the Thorns in the other trade. The deals were announced together but obviously consummated separately. And this is another one that requires explanation.

Brynjarsdottir would have been a high pick in the 2015 draft but elected to bypass and signed with Bayern Munich. The Flash tried to sign her during the season but because Brynjarsdottir did not register for the draft, she was ineligible to sign with a team until Oct. 1, when she became discovery eligible. The Breakers claimed her rights, but after it became apparent she was not prepared to play there, they sent her to Portland instead of giving her up for nothing or freezing her out of the league.

Brynjarsdottir figures to be a solid addition in Portland, where it seems there will be much more youth in the building in 2016. The Breakers may eventually take heat for this trade, but the alternative would have been to skip discovering Brynjarsdottir altogether in which case she still may have ended up in Portland.

The Unprotected Players

The Pride won’t likely get any stars in the 2015 NWSL Expansion Draft, but the players they take could have a make-or-break impact on how quickly they can reach contention. Let’s take a look as we go through the teams including the list of available players.

Breakers: Andressa, Amy Barczuk, Maddy Evans, Nkem Ezurike, Jami Kranich, Lauren Lazo, Francielle, Morgan Marlborough, Bianca Sierra, Stephanie Verdoia, Rachel Wood

No game-changers here but Barczuk, Evans and Wood had their moments in 2015 and Lazo showed some promise as a right-sided player that can get forward as a fullback or play higher. The hidden gem might be Kranich. The Breakers’ best stretch of play during a mostly forgettable season came when Kranich was keeping goal in the absence of Alyssa Naeher. That could be nothing more than a coincidence—or it could be that Kranich is capable of holding down the fort as a much-needed backup in Orlando.

Chicago Red Stars: Brittany Bock, Hayley Brock, Zakiya Bywaters, Lori Chalupny, Michele Dalton, Abby Erceg, Taryn Hemmings, Adriana Leon, Michelle Lomnicki, Mary Luba, Kecia Morway, Rachel Quon, Melissa Tancredi, Cara Walls

Some intriguing names here, including Chalupny,whose inclusion could be an indicator the Red Stars expect her to retire. There is also Dalton, who led the league in goals-against average and is the only keeper on the roster. Brock and Bywaters both have talent but both missed 2015 with injury. Quon, who plays on the left, has played more minutes in NWSL than any other Red Star. The list is an indication of how strong the Red Stars’ roster is.

Houston Dash: Rachael Axon, Poliana, Rosana, Jen LaPonte, Camila, Tiffany McCarty, Erin McLeod, Toni Pressley, Lauren Sesselmann

Not a whole lot here. I would take a shot with Sesselmann, who if healthy can be a contributor in central defense. On the plus side, Sesselmann knows Pride coach Tom Sermanni from his role as a Canadian consultant during the World Cup. On the negative side, Sesselmann is likely Olympic-bound and center back is probably the least appealing position for a revolving door.

FC Kansas City: Liz Bogus, Leigh Ann Brown (Robinson), Jen Buczkowski, Kaysie Clark, Katrina Gorry, Caroline Kastor, Sara Keane, Amy LePeilbet, Meghan Lisenby, Heather O’Reilly, Nikki Phillips, Jenna Richmond, Frances Silva

We could analyze just this group for a few hours. The obvious pick is O’Reilly but if the Pride take Meghan Klingenberg and Ashlyn Harris as expected, then O’Reilly is off the board. Brown, Buczkowski, and LePeilbet have all been mentioned as retirement possibilities while Phillips and Richmond could be back in the league after taking 2015 off. Silva was a solid bench player the last two years and could improve with more playing time.

It was surprising not to see Yael Averbuch exposed. She was valuable in a variety of roles in her first season in Kansas City and her protection indicates the club has big plans for her in 2016. Same for Nicole Barnhart, who has been de-allocated but the club clearly expects her back.

Lianne Sanderson

Lianne Sanderson (Photo copyright Linehan Photography for

Portland Thorns FC: Alyssa Kleiner, Clare Polkinghorne, Lianne Sanderson, Meleana Shim, Rhian Wilkinson

Sanderson is the easy pick here. And don’t forget that England does not field an Olympic team so the Pride would get her for the full season.

Sky Blue FC: Aubrey Bledsoe, Kim DeCesare, Jonelle Filigno, CoCo Goodson, Shawna Gordon, Hayley Haagsma, Maya Hayes, Cami Levin, Taylor Lytle, Monica Ocampo, Nikki Stanton

Another interesting list. Ocampo is a proven goal-scorer who can be effective starting or off the bench. The catch is her allocation status with Mexico and whether she would play without that attachment. Hayes had baptism by fire as an outside back for a few games last season and could be a valuable, jack-of-all-trades type when players start disappearing for the Olympics. I’m also bullish on DeCesare. She may not be worth a pick here but showed some promise in limited minutes last season before getting hurt. Lytle was slow to recover from a broken leg suffered in 2014 but her pre-injury form is appealing.

Seattle Reign FC: Michelle Cruz, Kiersten Dallstream, Danielle Foxhoven, Meghan Klingenberg, Haley Kopmeyer, Merritt Mathias, Elli Reed, Havana Solaun, Caroline Stanley, Katrine Veje, Abby Wambach

The Pride are expected to take Klingenberg and flip her to the Thorns as part of the Alex Morgan trade. Brilliant move, I’ll say as the alternative would have looked something like losing Kopmeyer and then whoever they don’t pull back between Mathias and Reed. Wambach announced her retirement on Tuesday.

Washington Spirit: Josephine Chukwunonye, Whitney Church, Amanda Da Costa, Laura Del Rio, Caprice Dydasco, Natasha Harding, Ashlyn Harris, Ali Krieger, Joanna Lohman, Ngozi Okobi, Veronica Perez, Hayley Raso, Arianna Romero, Angela Salem, Tiffany Weimer, Kelsey Wys

A huge list but likely irrelevant after the Pride take Ashlyn Harris, as they are expected to. The only plausible alternative would be to take Heather O’Reilly from Kansas City and then Whitney Church out of this group. But no one thinks Harris will still be on the Spirit by Monday evening.

Western New York Flash: Tatiana Coleman, Sabrina D’Angelo, Elizabeth Eddy, Kristen Edmonds, Jamia Fields, Amanda Frisbie, Kristen Hamilton, Michelle Heyman, Chantel Jones, Ashley Nick, Haley Palmer, Jasmyne Spencer, India Trotter

Last go-round the Flash got out of the Expansion Draft without losing a player. I don’t expect it to happen again. Either keeper would be a solid understudy to Ashlyn Harris. Elizabeth Eddy showed promise and versatility last season. Frisbie was highly-touted out of college but lost her rookie season to injury and was buried on the depth chart much of her second.

A quick word on Abby

Abby Wambach announced her retirement from soccer on Tuesday and almost instantly restored her position as the best thing to happen to American soccer in the post-1999 era. That position had been tenuous as her form declined the last few years and many held her responsible—though without any solid proof—that she engineered Tom Sermanni’s departure from the U.S. national team. Her decision to sit out the 2015 NWSL season did not go over well with the soccer public.

[MORE: Memorable Wambach moments  |  Social media reactions from players, coaches]

Now that we know Wambach’s final match will be Dec. 16, it is again safe to refer to her as the all-time leading international goal scorer (either gender) and the emotional force behind the national team for better than a decade.

I first covered Wambach when she was a rookie with the Washington Freedom in 2002. She was the second pick in that year’s draft behind Danielle Slaton. Wambach had a reputation for being lazy. What I saw with the Freedom was a player who epitomized everything that was the exact opposite of lazy. She attacked the goal with some combination of fearlessness and recklessness but she was so much more than that. Any ball in the air in the attacking third was likely to be won by Wambach to keep the play alive. And when opposing defenses and goalkeepers had the ball at their feet, there was never an easy clearance or outlet pass when Wambach was on the pitch. When she was named WUSA Rookie of the Year she told me it was her U-21 coach, Jerry Smith, who instilled in her the mentality to play relentlessly on both sides of the ball.

Much of the narrative surrounding the 2015 World Cup centered on Wambach even though her role had reduced her to mostly bench duty. But she remained a worthy spokesperson for the team. Occasionally I disagreed with the tone and tenor of her comments. But more often than not, listening to Abby Wambach speak would have be ready and willing to follow her through fire.

For a short time, Wambach was probably the best female player on the planet. When the dust clears, that is probably how I will remember her most.


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