Kelley O’Hara is headed west in a major trade between Utah Royals FC and Sky Blue FC, the teams announced Friday.
The Royals have acquired O’Hara, midfielder Taylor Lytle and the No. 25 overall pick in the 2018 NWSL College Draft from Sky Blue in exchange for forward Shea Groom, midfielder/defender Christina Gibbons and the No. 4 overall pick in the upcoming draft.
O’Hara joins her fellow U.S. women’s national team defender Becky Sauerbrunn in Utah. While playing at defender and forward, O’Hara scored 15 goals and 18 assists in 75 NWSL games over five seasons, all with Sky Blue. O’Hara is also a longtime veteran of the USWNT. She earned her 100th cap this past year and has two international goals. Lytle had five assists for Sky Blue last season and has five goals and 11 assists in her NWSL career.
“[O’Hara’s] talent, work ethic and winning mentality is something I think will be infectious throughout the team. Kelley is in the prime of her career and I feel coming to Utah is a great move for both her and the Royals,” Utah head coach Laura Harvey said in the Royals news release about the trade. “In [Lytle], we have a player who has been a stalwart for Sky Blue over five seasons; whenever I would coach against her, she would always cause my team problems, so I’m now very glad that we are on the same team. She is a player I have admired for a while now.”
“I am excited to start a new adventure playing for an organization that is invested in building a championship club within the NWSL,” O’Hara said in the news release. “In my time with the USWNT, playing in Salt Lake has always been a top-notch experience with amazing facilities and a dedicated fan base. I grew up coming to Utah as a kid and I’m looking forward to calling the mountains home.”
In Groom, Sky Blue acquires a forward to pair alongside the reigning MVP in Sam Kerr. In three seasons with FC Kansas City, Groom scored 17 goals and 7 assists (including a team-high five assists in 2017). Gibbons started her NWSL career as a defender, but moved into the midfield in the middle of the season and finished with a goal and three assists. Her breakout game on offense came against her new team — she scored her first goal and first assist at Sky Blue on July 8.
After acquiring the No. 4 pick in the 2018 NWSL College Draft, Sky Blue now has two first round picks, back-to-back at 4th and 5th. They also have the 15th and 36th picks. Utah now holds the 14th, 25th and 34th draft picks.
“Groom has an incredible attacking presence and can be a difference maker, especially in the final third. Gibbons has the ability to make a major impact at multiple positions on the field,” Sky Blue FC head coach Denise Reddy said in a club news release about the trade.
It’s the first trade of the NWSL offseason and the first for both coaches with their new teams. Reddy was named Sky Blue FC’s head coach in early November and Laura Harvey took over in Utah a few weeks later. Utah Royals FC joined the NWSL in November and inherited the roster and 2018 draft spots from FC Kansas City, which ceased operations.
It also follows other recent roster moves for both sides. Last week, the Royals officially introduced Sauerbrunn as a member of the team and Sky Blue announced the signing of Brazilian midfielder Thaisa on December 13.
”Very exciting moves as we continue strengthening our roster in advance of preseason by obtaining highly talented players like [O’Hara] and [Lytle],” Royals general manager Craig Waibel said. “We look to properly balance the roster in the coming months in order to align with the attacking-oriented combination and possession-based style Laura wants to play.”
All of the players involved in Friday’s trade have only played for one team in their NWSL careers. O’Hara and Lytle are original members of Sky Blue FC. Groom was drafted in 2015 and spent three seasons with FC Kansas City. Gibbons had just completed her rookie season after being picked with the fifth pick in last year’s college draft.
“I would like to wish [Groom] and [Gibbons] all the best in the future and I want to thank them for everything they have done for FC Kansas City and this league. It’s always hard to lose talented players,” Harvey said.
“On behalf of everyone here at Sky Blue FC, we also want to thank [O’Hara] and [Lytle] for all they have done over the past five seasons. They made major contributions to our club, both on and off the field, and they played significant roles in helping to develop professional women’s soccer here in New Jersey,” Sky Blue FC president and GM Tony Novo said in the Sky Blue FC news release.