Every National Women’s Soccer League offseason has some element of shock and awe, but this one has moved faster and more frantically than any other. On Thursday night, expansion sides Angel City FC and San Diego Wave FC selected seven players total off rival teams in the expansion draft which was immediately followed by the announcement of four trades, including the official stamp on the Wave acquiring Alex Morgan.
Things will heat up again Saturday with the college draft. There will be 50 players selected, up from 40 a year ago. Speculation (including from me in the Lowdown) that the Orlando Pride would nab the top pick in the Morgan trade turned out to be unfounded. The return was Angharad James and a record $275,000 in allocation money.
Here is my early review of each team’s offseason leading up to the draft. Keep in mind that judging the exchange of allocation money is a fool’s errand, and there is a long way to go. But here’s how I see things so far.
CATEGORY 1: It’s all going great
San Diego Wave FC
They’re not here just because they had no players a month ago and now have the makings of at least a midtable side. They are here because they have made shrewd moves on the way to building what is so far a quality roster. While they shipped the $275,000 to the Pride, plus James, to acquire Morgan, they acquired $200,000 from NJ/NY Gotham FC for Kristie Mewis. James came in a trade with the Courage for protection against the expansion draft.
So, breaking it down, the Wave acquired Morgan for a net $75,000 in allocation money plus not getting any expansion draft picks from the Dash (from who they selected Mewis) or Courage. Meanwhile, Kailen Sheridan in goal and Abby Dahlkemper on defense gives those two lines important cornerstones. San Diego also hung onto the No. 1 pick and also grabbed the No. 9 pick along with Tegan McGrady in a deal with the Washington Spirit.
CATEGORY 2: Plans should be falling into place
Angel City FC
Like the Wave, Angel City have added some quality pieces in their from-scratch start to roster building. The most notable adds are Christen Press up top and Julie Ertz, whether she anchors the back line or plays in midfield. The Los Angeles-based club would have had the No. 2 pick but moved it to Racing Louisville FC in the Press trade. They climbed back into the first round by adding the No. 6 pick from the Dash for the No. 26 pick and $125,000 in allocation money. That is less than Kansas City paid to trade up for KiKi Pickett at No. 4 last year and more than the Spirit gave up for Tara McKeown at No. 8. The difference is, those trades were made for live picks. A lot can still happen between now and the No. 6 pick on Saturday. All in all, though, it’s a solid start for Angel City, and there are lots of whispers about a significant dip into the international market.
Kansas City Current
They added Sam Mewis. Is there really anything else that needs to be said? You can make the case that Mewis is the most influential midfielder in the league and one of the best in the world, and she should go a long way toward transforming a side that was playing much better at the end of last season than their last-place record indicates. There are plenty more upgrades needed, but Huw Williams (who has transitioned out of the head-coaching role) really started his offseason last summer with several additions that helped the team, and his drafting history is good enough that we can expect the Current to make good on pick Nos. 7 and 17.
Racing Louisville FC
It’s been quiet in Louisville but that is for good reason. The second-year club hasn’t gotten rash with moves as they patiently build their core. The Press trade was not in the offseason for Racing, but it did yield them the No. 2 pick, meaning they will enter the draft holding the second and fourth picks. They were left to have one player taken by the Wave and got off light when that player was Kaleigh Riehl. That leaves Savannah McCaskill and Yuki Nagasato plus the rights to Tobin Heath, Caitlin Foord and Alanna Kennedy, who may or may not become future trade assets. Many things need to fall into place for Racing to threaten the top half of the table, but don’t take their patience to mean they are lacking in vision.
CATEGORY 3: Making things happen
NJ/NY Gotham FC
The New Jersey side has made three major acquisitions, bringing in the duo of Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger from Orlando and then landing Kristie Mewis after the expansion draft. With Carli Lloyd having retired, it is indeed a new day for Gotham. For skeptics, though, Harris is not necessarily an upgrade over Sheridan, who went to the Wave, and Krieger had an off year for the Pride in 2021. There is also speculation Mewis won’t play in NWSL in 2022, although $200,000 in allocation money is a rather large gamble if Gotham didn’t have any assurances. If Mewis does play, Gotham just may have the league’s best midfield.
North Carolina Courage
Yes, they traded Sam Mewis but remember they were always going to have to expose either Mewis or Lynn Williams in the expansion draft. They won’t soon replace Mewis, but they did yield KiKi Pickett in the trade and if she lines up opposite the unrelated Carson Pickett at outside back, the Courage could have the best tandem of fullbacks in the NWSL. The Courage also own the No. 3 pick and recently signed Malia Berkely, whose rights they acquired in a separate deal with the Current. The days of domination are over but considering the tumult this organization was in on Oct. 1, things are looking okay roster-wise. Decisions loom on veteran forward Jessica McDonald and Amy Rodriguez.
CATEGORY 4: Slow dancing
Take away teams that traded for expansion draft immunity and the Reign were probably the hardest hit team on Thursday night, losing Dani Weatherholt and Kristen McNabb. More importantly, however, loan deals expired on Dzsenifer Marozsan, Eugenie Le Sommer and Sarah Bouhaddi, leaving the Reign with several holes in the roster and no goalkeeper with any extended professional experience. It is more than likely that management has some tricks up its sleeve, but for the moment it has been a slow offseason for the Reign who, at the time of publishing, pick 10th, 15th and 20th on Saturday.
Slow might be the wrong way to characterize the Pride’s offseason, but they have seen more players go out than come in. And the players going out have been big ones -– Harris, Krieger, and Morgan –- — with only Angharad James and allocation money to show for it. The Pride have drafted very well the last few years and have a talented young core to build around. But unless they managed to get talked into moving Morgan without acquiring the No. 1 pick or any pick from the Wave — and unless they spend that pile of allocation money very wisely — there is really no way to look at that trade as anything but a loss.
Portland Thorns FC
The Thorns went the immunity route and parted with Simone Charley, Tyler Lussi, Christen Westphal and the rights to Amirah Ali to get it done, while also adding the No. 12 pick and $100,000 total in allocation money. They also ended 2021 without Crysal Dunn, who announced her pregnancy and will miss at least the first part of next season. Like the Reign, bank on the Thorns being active between now and in the spring, but the offseason is off to a slow start.
As the NWSL champions, did the Spirit have a mandate to get better? Every team does, and so far the Spirit traded McGrady to the Wave and lost Paige Nielsen to Angel City in the expansion draft. That means the core of their title-winning roster is intact (Tori Huster will miss at least the first two-thirds of the 2022 season after tearing her Achilles, according to acting head coach Kris Ward) and young enough to be around for a while. As it stands, 37 players will be drafted on Saturday before the Spirit get on the clock.
CATEGORY 5: What in the…?
Chicago Red Stars
The Red Stars’ offseason started to go south less than 36 hours after narrowly losing the NWSL Championship. That was when Rory Dames abruptly stepped down on the eve of a Washington Post story that detailed verbal and emotional abuse levied on players during his decade long tenure as head coach. Since then, Julie Ertz, Sarah Gorden, Makenzy Doniak, Katie Johnson, Kelsey Turnbow and Nikki Stanton have been traded with no players coming back. Part of it was to avoid the expansion draft, but Ertz and Gorden for immunity was downright head-scratching since Angel City only could have taken one of them. Maybe they wanted to protect against losing Tierna Davidson, who could not have been protected at the same time as Mallory Pugh. Either way, the Red Stars’ first pick on Saturday is No. 18 and they still don’t have a coach or anyone officially slated to run their personnel department.
The Dash had to expose either Jane Campbell or Kristie Mewis, and even though both expansion teams acquired keepers ahead of when lists were due, it made some sense to protect Campbell since there were no assurances Mewis planned to play in the United States next year. They preceded to lose Mewis to the Wave and stand by idly as she was flipped to Gotham for $200,000 in allocation money.
Now, the Dash nabbed $150,000 in allocation money from the league for losing a 2021 U.S. federation player, so the difference was only $50,000, but it still seems like a miss. The Dash also traded out of the first round for more allocation money. If they put it to good use (Maria Sanchez returning from Tigres is a reasonable bet considering she was on Houston’s protected list), they may have something, but for now a team that couldn’t score a goal over their last three games, when a single point would have put them in the playoffs, has to replace Mewis and make sure Megan Oyster is comfortable sliding back into her center-back role after being temporarily unseated by Abby Dahlkemper.
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