By Katelyn Best
Philadelphia — The weeks leading up to the 2018 NWSL College Draft were busy for several teams, with quite a few huge trades taking place. Three of those deals involved the two teams who met in the last year’s NWSL Championship in Portland and North Carolina. The first two trades effectively revamped the Portland Thorns’ midfield and offense, and the third brought U.S. women’s national team mainstay mainstay Crystal Dunn back from Chelsea L.F.C. in the FA WSL and to the North Carolina Courage
On January 11, Portland sent midfielder Allie Long—who had been with the Thorns since the NWSL’s inaugural season—to rival Seattle. In a three-way trade, the Thorns received the rights to Australian international Caitlin Foord from Sky Blue FC, who held Foord’s rights in the league, and Seattle traded Rebekah Stott and Katie Johnson to Sky Blue. The next day, the Thorns announced they had traded forward Savannah Jordan, a 2017 draftee, to Houston in exchange for Brazilian midfielder Andressinha.
“For us, it’s disappointing to see someone who’s been so important to the club go to a rival,” Thorns head coach Mark Parsons said of Long’s departure. “But she got the outcome she wanted. I think it was important that Allie finds the place that she believes she can continue to succeed in.”
By the end of the 2017 season, Long had slipped in the depth chart and was no longer starting for Portland. She will slot into a strong Seattle midfield that already includes Christine Nairn and Rumi Utsugi, along with Reign original Jess Fishlock.
Foord will join Portland from Sydney FC, where she plays alongside Thorns defender Emily Sonnett. The 23-year-old forward will be the third Australian international in Portland, joining Hayley Raso and Ashleigh Sykes. “Having her in our front line changes everything for us,” said Parsons. Foord is a versatile player, but Parsons plans to put her up front. “Our ambition is to play her in the front line. … We got one of the players we think can be the best in the league.”
Andressinha, meanwhile, is headed to a Portland side that suffered a huge loss with the departure of French midfielder Amandine Henry. “We’ll never replace her,” said Parsons. “Unless Amandine comes back, we’ll never get another Amandine.”
Henry, widely considered the best defensive midfielder in the world, is a vastly different player from Andressinha. Because of that, Portland’s midfield will have a substantially different look. “You can’t go and profile,” said Parsons. “You can’t get somebody like Amandine. So we go get a creative player like Andressinha.” While Henry brought unparalleled vision and passing range, Andressinha is strong on the ball and can create in the central midfield. In 2017, she trailed only Marta and Nahomi Kawasumi in chances created.
“She’s been one of the top impactful center midfielders in this league,” Parsons aid. “And she’s still 22. … She’s smart, clever, she can play anywhere. She’s been called a 10, but we’re not afraid to play her in the 8.”
A week after the Long trade, North Carolina announced another blockbuster move, bringing Dunn back to the NWSL two seasons after she left the Washington Spirit for Chelsea. The Courage sent defender Taylor Smith and forward Ashley Hatch to Washington in exchange for Dunn’s rights.
“It feels good. I’m excited, obviously,” said Courage head coach Paul Riley. “[Dunn] could play fullback or midfield—we want to put her up front. I think with Lynn Williams, Jess [McDonald], Darian Jenkins, Kristen Hamilton, that’s some firepower up there.”
Riley also expressed disappointment with having to let go of Smith and Hatch. While Hatch was selected with North Carolina’s second overall pick in the 2017 draft, Smith’s journey has been longer. Undrafted in 2016, she made her way onto the Western New York Flash’s preseason roster, before being picked up as a depth player. The speedy Smith has played in several positions for Riley; originally a forward, he moved her to fullback for the 2017 season in North Carolina, where she was a regular starter for the team. She received her first call-up to the senior U.S. national team in January 2017, and remains a regular starter as a forward-looking outside back.
Riley points to Smith’s story as an example of how much young players can develop in the right environment. “I could have cut Taylor Smith in preseason two years ago,” he remembers. “We felt there was something there, and we stuck with her. … The rest is history.”
Ultimately, it was a positional issue that sent Smith to Washington. “We wouldn’t have traded Taylor away,” said Riley, “for anything other than [the Spirit] had to have an allocated player. … The problem is, our allocated players are right down the spine of the team: Sam Mewis, Lynn Williams, Abby Dahlkemper. We can’t afford to let the spine of the team go.” Smith could slot into several different positions for Washington—she could remain at outside back, or move up the wing.
Meanwhile, Hatch, who is currently playing for Melbourne City in the Australian W-League, adds attacking punch to a Washington side that finished dead last in 2017. Despite scoring seven goals for the Courage, the rookie was never a regular starter on a Courage team already stacked with offensive talent. “[Hatch] is happy for the new challenge,” said Riley. “That’s the way she is.”
Finally, Dunn looks poised to add even more attacking power to an already dominant North Carolina side. Dunn, the 2015 NWSL MVP, will join Williams, the 2016 MVP, and McDonald, tied for second in regular season goals in NWSL history, on the forward line. “[Dunn]’s excited to get in a competitive environment again,” Riley said. “To play with these players she knows so well, knows from the national team. … My goal is to make sure she’s as good as she can be.”