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Lauletta: Wave make major investment in Maria Sánchez

Houston Dash forward Maria Sanchez prepares to receive a pass in warm ups.
Photo Copyright Troy Taormina for USA TODAY Sports

Late last week we were sitting on the news that Maria Sánchez had requested a trade less than a month into the first season of her multi-year contract with the Houston Dash. The wish was granted at the stroke of the National Women’s Soccer League closing its transfer window when the Dash shipped the Mexican star to the San Diego Wave. The trade was part of a flurry of moves that impacted six of the league’s 14 teams.

In the interim, Sánchez acknowledged she had requested a trade a few weeks prior. This week she steps from a team in the throws of yet another roster retooling and into one that is struggling but has set new standards in its first two-plus years in the NWSL. The move was not without significant investment for the Wave. They sent $500,000 in total money to the Dash and are now on the hook for the rest of Sánchez’s 7-figure contract.

Whether she will help revive the club’s sputtering attack is up for debate. In Houston, she was parked as a left wingback and often isolated, even when she was able to get into space. The Wave attack is more established and sophisticated, but the offseason acquisition of Savannah McCaskill has thrown things off-kilter to this point. The addition of Sánchez could create a front three with her on the left of Alex Morgan and Sofia Jakobsson. That would allow Jaedyn Shaw to slide behind them as the main attacking midfielder. McCaskill could then sit deeper with either Danielle Colaprico or Emily van Egmond.

Complicating matters is that Morgan limped off the pitch late in Friday night’s loss in Orlando and did not go back to the locker room under her own power. If Morgan misses time then the above lineup would likely see Shaw and McCaskill pushed up a line and both Danielle Colaprico and Emily van Egmond in the XI.

Of course, Casey Stoney is a far better coach than I am and probably has a better, different idea for deploying Sánchez. However she is used it will be fun to see her in a lineup with more options which will take pressure off her to be so much of a focal point.

As for the Dash, we’ll let others discuss the whys of the trade request and keep it to soccer. Saturday’s performance in Portland was emblematic of much of what ails the team. Sánchez was barely missed, mostly because the Dash do not offer much in terms of attack. There were defensive blunders that led to goals. The Spanish-heavy, three-back, build-on-the-ground-at-all-costs system has been slow to find a rhythm.

The good news is that help is on the way. Most trades involving cash require a wait-and-see approach to figure out how it affects both teams. However, according to Pro Soccer Wire, the Dash immediately invested the full $500,000 for a transfer fee to Corinthians to acquire Tarciane. The soon-to-be 21-year-old Brazilian is a central defender for Corinthians and has been capped by the senior national team. The Dash also acquired Paige Nielsen from Angel City for $100,000 in total money.

If Tarciane and Nielsen can help stabilize the back line and if Turciane in particular can help execute Alonso’s system, it could be the start of a new day in Houston. The additional defenders will also allow Sophie Schmidt to take up full-time residency in midfield where she does her best work by far.

Other trades

  • The Dash also shipped goalkeeper Emily Alvarado to Portland for $35,000 in allocation money plus up to $50,000 in other money based on performance incentives. Thorns incumbent Bella Bixby is on maternity leave and Shelby Hogan has struggled mightily this season. The thought is that Alvarado will immediately challenge Hogan for the spot on the first team. Alvarado has never appeared in a regular season game but started two Challenge Cup matches for the Dash in 2023. She lost 3-0 to Racing Louisville and had to come off injured after 30 clean minutes against the Current.
  • Angel City also sent Amandine Henry to Utah for $75,000 in allocation money. The French midfielder was close to signing with the old Utah Royals before the pandemic and eventual shuttering of the team. She spent time in Portland before that, helping the Thorns to the 2017 NWSL Championship. She will offer a calming presence in the Royals midfield. The expansion side just suffered their worst loss, 5-1 in Louisville.
  • Gotham acquired goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger from Chelsea. The 33-year-old appeared 65 times for Chelsea since 2019 and has also played with Birmingham City, in France, and Germany. She figures to challenge Cassie Miller for playing time. Abby Smith remains sidelined after tearing her patella tendon last summer. Berger has been capped nine times by Germany.

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Around the league

Wave 0, Pride 1

Summer Yates scored for the Pride who won their second straight and remain undefeated through five matches. Only a yeoman effort by Wave keeper Kailen Sheridan prevented the match from being lopsided on the scoreboard. The Pride dropped off the Wave back four—which featured the return of Naomi Girma for 58 minutes—but they were rarely able to advance the ball effectively into midfield. Zambian midfielder Barbra Banda—whose record transfer fee appears set to be broken by Turciane—debuted for the Pride and looked occasionally dangerous across the final 29 minutes.

Wave forward Alex Morgan left with an injured left ankle.

Spirit 2, Gotham 0

The Spirit played their most complete match of the season and vanquished the defending champions for their fourth straight win. Rookie Croix Bethune continued her solid play with a goal plus another that was called back for offside but was no less remarkable. Ashley Hatch improved to 9-for-9 on regular season penalties. Casey Krueger played a top match as well. She assisted on Croix’s goal and seemed to be in constant connection with Trinity Rodman down the left side.

Gotham were shut out for the second time in four games and have scored only twice. They were also shut out in their Challenge Cup match. And central defender Tierna Davidson had to be subbed off during the first half with an apparent knee injury.

Louisville 5, Royals 1

When the Royals scored in first-half stoppage time to send the match to the break level, there was a collective here-we-go-again groan throughout a packed Lynn Family Stadium. Then the home team responded with a four-goal second half. Savannah DeMelo hit the first two for her first NWSL brace and then Reilyn Turner and Emma Sears collected their first NWSL goals. Racing remained undefeated after four straight draws to open the season.

The first coaching win for Bev Yanez came at the expense of Amy Rodriguez in the first NWSL game coached by two former players. In the 2014 and 2015 NWSL Championships, Rodriguez’s FC Kansas City defeated Yanez’s Seattle Reign FC. Rodriguez accounted for all three FC Kansas City goals across the two finals and was named MVP in 2015.

Current 5, Bay 2

The Current jumped on the expansion side early by putting them under immense pressure and taking a 2-0 lead before seven minutes were played. Temwa Chawinga and Bia Zaneratto both had braces in the win. The Bay loss was compounded by injury to Alexis Loera and late Sunday it was confirmed that the club’s first signing has a torn ACL and will miss the remainder of the season.

The Current are now 3-0-0 at CPKC Stadium and have outscored their opponents 14-8. All three games have sold out.

Thorns 4, Dash 1

With interim coach Rob Gale cutting an excited figure on the sideline the Thorns won for the first time since Oct. 7. Christine Sinclair got her first start since opening day and scored at the far post six minutes in to set the tone. Sophia Smith put relentless pressure on the Dash back line and had a goal plus an assist to Olivia Moultrie.

Reign 1, Red Stars 2

After a week on the shelf, Mallory Swanson returned in a big way and got into transition twice in the opening half-hour (31 minutes to be exact) to lead the Red Stars to their third win of the season. Swanson created the first goal with a box-to-box run with the ball at her feet before finding Ally Schlegel. Swanson later sneaked into a pocket and took a pass from Jenna Bike to double the lead. With the win, the Red Stars swept the season series from the Reign for the first time.

The win was not without a casualty. Ava Cook tore her ACL and is out for the season.

The Reign—who lost their fourth in a row for the first time since the end of 2013—broke down defensively throughout the first half. They were better in the 2nd half and cut the lead in half through Tziarra King. The assist came from Jess Fishlock marking the first spouse-to-spouse goal-assist combo in NWSL history.

Angel City 2, Courage 1

Claire Emslie scored a gorgeous brace to lead Angel City to a second straight win. She opened with a direct free kick from 20 yards that left Casey Murphy helpless and snapped her shutout streak at 263 minutes. Her second was a rainbow flare over Murphy after Alyssa Thompson sent her through on a counterattack. Former Angel City Tyler Lussi got one back for the Courage and a late push for an equalizer came up short.

Free kicks

  • The beat goes on for Sam Staab who started her 95th consecutive game on Sunday to extend her league record. It also seems like she has the best throw-in around since Jess McDonald stopped playing.
  • If you missed them above, here is a recap on some injuries: Alex Morgan (limped off late, left ankle); Tierna Davidson (subbed off early, ankle?); Alexis Loera (ACL, out for season), Ava Cook (ACL, out for season).
  • The Current have yet to shut out an opponent and have yet to be shutout. If that happens again this weekend it will tie a league record for the most games to start a season without either. The record was set by the 2013 Spirt and matched by the 2023 Red Stars. The Current are 4-0-1 so far. The 2013 Spirit were 1-2-3 in that stretch on their way to finishing last. The Red Stars were 1-4-1 and also finished bottom of the league.
  • Another note on that 2013 Spirit team, the streak ended when they were shut out in Portland. It was the first of five consecutive games, and seven out of eight, being shutout. They did not score in the run of play across 10 consecutive games (0-9-1) between May 19 and July 20.
  • Despite the loss at Angel City, it feels like Courage might be the team most committed to a system that actually plays it well. Expect them to keep getting better.

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