The National Women's Soccer League will hold their ninth annual college draft on Wednesday, where 10 teams will participate in four rounds. The offseason has been eventful for all the teams across the league, especially in light of a pandemic which has thrown the entire sports world into flux. Let's take a look at some of the moves that stood out over the offseason, both the big moves that clubs made, and others that are may have fell flat.
Chicago Red Stars
Flat moves: Rather than risk having their team picked apart in an expansion draft, Chicago opted to trade with Racing Louisville FC ahead of the expansion draft, giving up forwards Savannah McCaskill, Yuki Nagasato, the 5th overall pick in the 2021 draft and two international slots for 2021 and 2022 in exchange for immunity in the expansion draft. Given all the uncertainty, the pick and international slots seem like reasonable add-ons. But, as it turned out, Louisville went on to select a number of players overseas with unknown returns, rather than aggressively targeting the rosters of fellow NWSL teams, and the loss of a prospect in McCaskill seems like a gamble that didn't pay off, to say nothing of losing the tactical prowess and locker room icon status of Nagasato.
Big moves: With the remainder of their roster in tact as 2020 drew to a close, and still needing a boost in attack, the Red Stars made a trade with Sky Blue FC for Mal Pugh and Sarah Woldmoe. Chicago made the move without moving players, and in exchange traded an international slot in 2021 and 2022, the No. 4 and 8 overall picks in the 2021 NWSL Draft, and a conditional first-round pick in the 2022 NWSL Draft. Head coach Rory Dames set out to keep his roster in tact during the offseason and did just that while making a move like this. Hard to knock adding a major star in Mal Pugh while not having to give up any players for the privilege.
Flat Moves: Not a whole lot to complain about for the Dash. Coming off one of their most impressive seasons to date, the Dash entered offseason as the first ever Challenge Cup champions. With an already capable roster built over a strong 2019 offseason that saw player acquisitions like Shea Groom, Katie Naughton and Megan Oyster, the Dash entered the 2020 offseason with perhaps minimal needs to address over their roster. The team said goodbye CeCi Kizer and Erin Simon in the expansion draft. Two players who had minimal roles in the Challenge Cup and were likely to see less playing time with Houston in 2021, but the team had just signed a two year contract extension with Houston, and Simon provided veteran defensive depth.
Big Moves: Even with much of their roster in tact, the Dash continued to build out their roster with their eye on the future as they engaged in a trade with Portland Thorns FC. The Dash acquired Emily Ogle and Gabby Seiler from Portland in exchange for the 7th and 37th picks in the 2021 NWSL College Draft. The additions of Ogle and Seiler immediately adds longevity to the Dash midfield as the two are considered prospects with high ceilings.
Kansas City (formerly Utah Royals FC)
Flat moves: It's been a turbulent winter for this franchise. The still unnamed Kansas City team was born after a series of events involving a toxic culture stemming from former MLS and Utah Royals FC owner Dell Loy Hansen. Eventually Hansen agreed to sell off his holding in the teams, forcing the league to seek out the best possible solution to sustain the team within NWSL. With the uncertainty surrounding a potential ownership group stepping in to retain the team in Utah, a Kansas City ownership group led by Angie and Chris Long have plans to reestablish women's pro soccer in Kansas City.
Big moves: The Utah Royals FC branding stays with Utah, while the roster heads to Kansas City, reuniting several former FC Kansas City players with a market they once played in. The familiarity will be big as the team has a short window to establish themselves, but that hasn't stopped them from making ambitious moves. The team recently signed Argentinian international forward Mariana Larroquette, and engaged in a trade with OL Reign for forward Darian Jenkins and the rights to midfielder Meg Brandt.
North Carolina Courage
Flat moves: The Courage had an early exit in the Challenge Cup after dominating group play, and fizzled out during the Fall Series, but the reigning 2019 NWSL champions are still considered heavy favorites and a top tier team as the 2021 season approaches. During the offseason they saw the departure of Sam Mewis overseas to Manchester City though they retain her player rights, and traded Crystal Dunn, the most prolific player currently in American women's soccer in order to help Dunn be closer to family. The team was also dealt roster blows in the retirements to Jaelene Daniels and McKenzie Meehan, and is currently rumored to lose Abby Dahlkemper overseas to Manchester City.
Big moves: Losing a high profile player in Dunn, and needing to address their lack of depth at the outside back positions, the team has made solid moves to try and fill out the roster. The team made multiple trades with OL Reign over the offseason. They added Casey Murphy, an instant upgrade for the Courage at goalkeeper with the departure of Canadian international Steph Labbé, and then Taylor Smith and the player rights to Jodie Taylor. The move reunites Smith and head coach Paul Riley who Smith shined for on the pitch during her previous time with the Courage.
Flat moves: The team was ultimately a middle-man this offseason to provide a path to move Crystal Dunn to the Portland Thorns, losing their top goalkeeping prospect Casey Murphy in the process. Though the moves yielded hefty amounts of allocation money for the team, they also lost another top keeper when Michele Betos was selected by Louisville in the expansion draft.
Big moves: The side will still be looking for answers at the goal keeper position despite adding Cosette Morché from the Eskilstuna United DFF in the Swedish Damallsvenskan. Perhaps the biggest moves they made were on the offensive side of the ball, starting with trading Darian Jenkins for Tziarra King. King is coming off an impressive rookie year where she scored twice in the Challenge Cup and Fall Series, while seeing 406 minutes on the pitch. The team also acquired the rights to Rose Lavelle from Washington Spirit. Should Lavelle return to NWSL from Manchester City, her arrival could be a game changer for OL Reign alongisde the continued development of King.
Flat moves: The team has had a difficult season, forced to withdraw from the Challenge Cup due to a string of positive COVID-19 cases, and seeing only four competitive matches in the Fall Series. They also lost Alanna Kennedy via the expansion draft, and player rights to Caitlin Foord. Foord was acquired in 2019 and never made an appearance for Orlando. The team also lost another player who never made an appearance for them in Emily Sonnett when they traded her to Washington Spirit.
Big moves: Orlando did acquire Meggie Doughtery-Howard in the Sonnett trade to Washington. Along with the No. 9 overall 2021 NWSL Draft pick, a conditional 2022 or 2023 first-round pick, and $140,000 in allocation money. Although the uncertainty around this year's draft means how valuable that pick will shake out to be. In between the losses, the team has made smaller, significant moves, in re-signing Florida locals to the roster. Veteran Toni Pressley re-signed a one-year contract with a club option for 2022. While Carrie Lawrence re-signed a similar contract with an option for 2022.
Portland Thorns FC
Flat moves: The team rebounded from a shaky Challenge Cup riddled with injury to become the first ever Fall Series community shield winners. Their biggest offseason loss was via the expansion draft, as the player rights to Tobin Heath were selected by Louisville as the midfielder is currently playing overseas with Manchester United.
Big moves: Crystal Dunn. There was no other move more significant right now than having Dunn on your team. Did I mention that the Portland Thorns acquired Crystal Dunn?
Flat moves: The team has yet to take a step out on the pitch, but the organization has impressed with their commitment to fielding a competitive roster that will have resources and facilities to sustain them. Their expansion draft left heads scratching with some selections, as there are question marks around several players and whether or not they will return to the league from playing overseas. While they hold the number one pick in the upcoming draft, there is uncertainty around whether or not top prospects will report to teams or return to their colleges for senior seasons.
Big moves: The biggest move they made was ahead of their expansion draft, acquiring McCaskill and Nagasato from Chicago Red Stars. Once a top prospect, McCaskill has begun to regain her form, while Nagasato reads the game and sets up teammates unlike any other player in the league. Selecting Addisyn Merrick, CeCe Kizer, and Jennifer Cudjoe via expansion draft were big steals for them as well. The team is still making signings, as they added Swedish international Freja Olofsson to a two year contract.
Sky Blue FC
Flat moves: The team had a slow start to their Challenge Cup, but got stronger as the tournament went on, reaching the semifinals and falling just short of a comeback to make the final. The additions Midge Purce, McCall Zerboni, and Sabrina Flores, has given the team different looks. Midfielder Jennifer Cudjoe impressed throughout 2020, and earned a multi year contract, but was eventually left unprotected and was selected by Louisville in the expansion draft. The team also traded veteran Sarah Woldmoe as a move in good faith to be closer to family, along with Mal Pugh. Pugh was initially acquired during the 2019 draft in trade with Washington Spirit, she played 30 minutes for SBFC during the Fall Series.
Big moves: Trading Woldmoe and Pugh to Chicago yielded them several draft picks with No. 4 and 8 overall picks in the 2021 NWSL Draft and a conditional first-round pick in the 2022 NWSL Draft. Entering this years draft with several picks feels like a risk, but the team is already making the most of their international signings as they recently introduced South Korean international Sodam Lee, who signed a one-year deal, with an option for 2022.
Flat moves: The team made a trade early in the offseason that sent the rights to Rose Lavelle to OL Reign in exchange for allocation money, and ultimately waived six players who had impressive stints in the Challenge Cup and Fall Series. The team however has a core in place that they have been building with, and expect And Sullivan to return from her meniscus injury.
Big moves: The early offseason moves paved the wave for bigger acquisitions down the line as the team announced the signings of Kelley O'Hara, who was traded from the team known as the Utah Royals at the time, and Emily Sonnett. The team drafted Ashley Sanchez in 2020, and has settled in comfortably alongside the Spirit's current young core. The additions of USWNT and NWSL veterans in O'Hara and Sonnett only cements their place as a top tier team and contenders for the upcoming 2021 season.