The Off Season

Photo by travis jones on Unsplash

Death, taxes, and the NWSL cramming an entire off season into a week or two. There’s a lot to unpack, and this article will be updated as necessary.

The action practically began, in NWSL terms, while the season was still going. In late December, Makenzy Doniak was traded from the Royals to the Red Stars. With the loss of forward Sam Kerr, the club needs to bolster its attacking position. Doniak is a curious choice for the Red Stars. While she was a phenomenal asset to the Flash/Courage franchise, her career has somewhat faltered after a trade to Utah and season-ending injury. In exchange though, the Red Stars had only to yield a 2021 draft pick. The Red Stars stand to gain a decent pause to the Kerr-sized bleeding, for a tiny amount of future loss.

Kealia Ohai, the star Dash forward, was also acquired by the Red Stars in exchange for defender Katie Naughton. Jane Campbell could use Naughton’s help, although losing their lead goal scorer makes the trade feel like a bit of a wash for Houston. With Sarah Gordon and Tierna Davidson on the backline, Naughton’s loss will be felt but not as deadly as I fear Ohai’s will be. To be fair, Ohai, for all her intensity on the pitch, is no Kerr.

OL Groupe, the ownership of the French Ligue 1 and Feminine teams Olympique Lyonnais purchased an 89.5% stake in Reign FC. This investment should be seen as a significant step forward for the NWSL. The lure of competing international leagues is something that should concern fans. We’ll discuss this in a future post, but, for now, I’m calling international ownership a win.

Portland Thorns, in exchange for USWNT player Emily Sonnett, the rights to star Matilda forward Caitlin Foord, and two draft picks, received the first pick of the 2020 draft. The player – likely Sophia Smith – is someone the Thorns management is betting on. After failing to reach the championship this year, and a sloppy end to the season, it’s clear the Thorns need to make a change. But putting all their eggs into one basket seems a little shaky. Trading Foord, who is eyeing, and being eyed, by Arsenal Women, is a good move at least. If the Thorns can’t utilize Foord next season, they might as well try and get someone out of her. Trading Sonnett and two draft picks on top of it? Say what you want about the Pride but their negotiation is insane. They also managed to lure Amanda Duffy, president of the league, to their front office. If the Pride finds themselves fanless and scoreless at the end of next season as well, something is broken that may not be fixable.

Sky Blue acquired a permanent coach in the form of its mid-season interim head Freya Combe. Last year, we were talking about the rockiness of Sky Blue: Most of its draft players declined to play, egregious facility concerns left world-class players without showers, and sketchy housing arrangements. Combe, who brought Sky Blue out of the shadows since taking over, signifies a shift towards greatness in the club. A new home at Red Bull Arena, a partnership with the New York Red Bulls, and improved behind-the-scenes conditions have shown us that nothing in the league is irredeemable.


Royals head coach Laura Harvey departed the club to become the new U-20 USWNT coach. The move is unsurprising from Harvey, who has championed a successful coaching career for both the Reign and the Royals. Harvey’s second half of the 2019 season was marked by failure and disappointment. The U-20 will no doubt benefit from Harvey’s humor, intelligence, and drive. And Utah will no doubt benefit from a coach able to cast their full vision onto the team in front of them.

If we’re keeping tabs on coaching, it stands to mention that of the nine NWSL teams, two are now without coaches less than a week before draft day. The Reign FC are also without a coach, having also lost to the USWNT appeal. While the Royals can’t exactly be blamed for the vacancy, having been told Harvey would return for the 2020 season, the same can’t be said for the Reign. Andonovski has been the WNT coach since October 28th. Perhaps the OL Groupe deal placed a particular strain on the coaching search, but now the deal is finalized, the Reign need to find a head coach, permanent or interim. In the meantime, Sam Laity will have a lot on his plate.

The Thorns also traded Midge Purce and a 2021 pick to Sky Blue in exchange for Rocky Rodriguez, a move that makes sense for both clubs. Rodriguez is a natural replacement for Foord and Purce is a good compliment to the crowded Lloyd/Zer

The Thorns also traded Midge Purce and a 2021 pick to Sky Blue in exchange for Rocky Rodriguez, a move that makes sense for both clubs. Rodriguez is a natural replacement for Foord and Purce is a good compliment to the crowded Lloyd/Zerboni midfield. Speaking of, the Courage released McCall Zerboni to Sky Blue in exchange for the rights to Hailie Mace, one of the draft casualties of 2019. It will be interesting to see if Mace is tempted back to the states for the winningest franchise in NWSL history, or if she’ll remain in Sweden.

Off Season Winner: Orlando Pride

Off Season Loser: The NWSL Front Office

Stay tuned for more updates. And, whatever happens, keep covering, watching, cheering, and demanding more women in sports.

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