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USWNT transfer grades: What NWSL moves mean for Americans

As offseasons go, this will be a big one for several players on the U.S. women’s national team. Fresh off disappointment at the Women’s World Cup over the summer and with the Olympics coming quickly under a new incoming coach, several players have made moves that could have a major impact on their future with the USWNT.

Of course, it also wouldn’t be a National Women’s Soccer League offseason without blockbuster trades and dramatic shake-ups, and since most of it involved the USWNT player pool, there have been plenty of ripple effects there, too. Free agency, which was first introduced to the league in 2022, has added a new layer of intrigue.

So let’s look at the offseason moves for U.S. internationals, including what they mean for the USWNT players, and how big a loss they are for the teams they’ve left behind.


Crystal Dunn

Dunn transfer grade: B+

Talking point No. 1 for Crystal Dunn around her choice to sign with NJ/NY Gotham FC is personal: She is close to home again after nearly a decade of playing for three different NWSL teams and for Chelsea in England. Dunn grew up just outside of New York City, the market Gotham has adopted alongside (and chased more than) its New Jersey roots. Her son turns 2 in a few months, and Dunn has said in multiple interviews since the move that having him around their family was an important factor.

Dunn is arguably the most versatile player in U.S. women’s national team history, having won a World Cup as a left full-back while simultaneously dominating the NWSL as a central midfielder in a unique “box midfield” formation. Her versatility is going to be important to a Gotham team that earned a reputation last year for having a fluid system under head coach Juan Carlos Amoros. Dunn should play in an attacking midfield role, although the other major signings Gotham made suggest she could be in more of a box-to-box role.

This is a personal win for Dunn off the field, and her comfort in multiple positions means Amoros can develop many schemes throughout the season without major personnel changes. Dunn, who has made it clear she doesn’t like her defensive role with the U.S., should play higher up the field for Gotham. She could have been a focal point and possibly been paid more elsewhere, but at Gotham she joins a team that looks like the early favorite for another championship. At this stage in her career — Dunn is 31 — it would’ve be harder to strike a better balance of on-field and off-field priorities.

Scale of loss for the Portland Thorns: Significant

Dunn will be sorely missed in Portland. After she spent years tormenting them in championship games when she played with the North Carolina Courage, Thorns fans had come to embrace her as their own. Dunn’s thunderous volley in stoppage time of the 2022 semifinal to defeat the San Diego Wave is permanently part of NWSL lore. She had just returned to playing after maternity leave, and Portland went on to capture a third NWSL Championship.

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Dunn: Gotham FC dynasty in the NWSL is on the horizon

Crystal Dunn speaks about the strength of Gotham FC after her move to the club.

The relationship had also run its course, however. Dunn said she “didn’t feel valued” by the Thorns in the way she should have been, and she made it clear as soon as Portland’s season ended that she would not be returning. There was further personal history in Portland, too: Dunn’s husband, trainer Pierre Soubrier, was fired by the Thorns in January 2023 after a league investigation determined that he administered codeine to players without a prescription.

Portland will likely go all-in on building around 18-year-old Olivia Moultrie in midfield, who already entering her fourth season as a pro, along with the reported addition of Jessie Fleming from Chelsea. Fleming is in her prime at 25, so the Thorns’ midfield just got younger. Christine Sinclair is back for one more year in Portland, and how Hina Sugita gets used will be a plot to watch.


Rose Lavelle

Lavelle transfer grade: A-

Rose Lavelle’s arrival might be the most interesting of all the Gotham signings. Lavelle is a proverbial unicorn as an American who can play in a free-flowing, creative way with high technical precision and a deep tactical understanding of the game that she makes look second nature.

At her peak, she is the most skilled player in the U.S. pool. Staying healthy is the ongoing challenge for Lavelle — she played in only four regular-season matches in 2023 before getting healthy in time for OL Reign’s run to the NWSL championship. (The club has since returned to its original “Seattle Reign FC” branding after being sold by OL Groupe.)

Lavelle spent the better part of three seasons at the Reign and developed into a more complete player under coach Laura Harvey. Leaving behind that setting had to be difficult for her, but Gotham as the destination eases that pain. Imagine Lavelle playing for Spain or Barcelona: How fun would it be to watch the attacking midfielder in one of those settings? Gotham is a far cry from either, to be clear — let’s not sink into total hyperbole — but Amoros’ preferred style as head coach should further encourage Lavelle to explore her creative side with a Spanish flair. Esther González could drop deep from her No. 9 role with Lavelle pushing high up into that forward space to combine with forward Lynn Williams.

Lavelle is a player who must have a creative license to thrive, and she should get that at Gotham.

Scale of loss for the Reign: Massive

If not for the mass exodus from the Chicago Red Stars for a third consecutive offseason, the Reign would take the mantle as having suffered the biggest losses in free agency. It is undeniable that the uncertainty around the team, which is still awaiting the closing of a sale to a group that includes the Seattle Sounders, contributed to players’ uneasiness with committing to Seattle. Two major player exits have ensued (see below), but none bigger than Lavelle.

Yes, there is still quality in midfield in Seattle, but Lavelle is irreplaceable.


Emily Sonnett

Sonnett transfer grade: B

Emily Sonnett and Lavelle are longtime friends who have followed each other to Gotham. Sonnett, like Lavelle, enjoyed a renaissance under Harvey. Unlike Lavelle, though, Sonnett found that new level to her game in a new position — defensive midfield — that also revived her prominence in the U.S. national team lineup. Sonnett’s play as the No. 6 for the Reign led to her grabbing that role for the USWNT against Sweden in the round of 16 at the 2023 World Cup. It was too little, too late for a U.S. team that limped through the group stage of that tournament, but Sonnett has started every game since in that position for the USWNT.

Gotham already had grit in the midfield in Delanie Sheehan and Nealy Martin, who helped guide the team to its first NWSL trophy only a few months ago. Sonnett will likely take over as the sole No. 6 if Dunn and Lavelle are also in midfield.

Sonnett’s move to Gotham is hardly a bad one — she, too, can benefit from the style of play that so many players sought out this offseason — but it felt like her development in Seattle as a defensive midfielder was only just getting started.

Scale of loss for the Reign: Sizable

Midfield depth has long been a trademark of a Reign franchise that has found sustained success in the league, but that will be tested with the loss of Sonnett and Lavelle.

Sonnett served as a calming presence in the No. 6 role in front of the Reign’s backline, and she was quietly a strong distributor to spark the attack. Jess Fishlock enters the new season at 37 years old but hardly appeared to lose a step last year. Quinn is another steady, veteran presence in the middle of the park. Harvey is high on the potential of Olivia Athens and Olivia Van der Jagt, and the rumored arrival of former Chelsea star Ji So-Yun should add further depth.

Who of that group plays the No. 6 role? There isn’t a clear answer yet.


Emily Fox

Fox transfer grade: A-

Surprise! We have a U.S. women’s national team transfer that does not involve Gotham. Emily Fox has already hit the ground running with Arsenal as the Gunners’ new right full-back. At 25, she has the clear potential to be the best full-back in the world someday soon. Her move to Arsenal gives her a shot at a trophy in England, the possibility to play in the Champions League, and the chance to experience life outside of her comfort zone.

Fox was a restricted free agent in the NWSL when she arrived at the North Carolina Courage last offseason via a trade with Racing Louisville FC, the team that drafted Fox first overall in 2021. Her one year in North Carolina was successful — Fox’s style as an inverted full-back was one important part of a sum that allowed the Courage to be the best team in possession in the NWSL.

Fox’s move to Arsenal won’t automatically force her to defend superior opponents — there are plenty of world-class forwards in the NWSL — but it will offer her a different kind of opponent and ask her to play in a different tactical setup. That’s the type of move that could help round out her game and pay dividends in the coming years for the USWNT.

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Why Sam Mewis is ‘really excited’ for Emily Fox’s move to Arsenal

Sam Mewis analyses Emily Fox’s transfer to Arsenal and Ashley Sanchez’s move to the North Carolina Courage.

Scale of loss for the Courage: Manageable

This felt like a huge loss for the Courage, particularly given the trade that brought Fox to North Carolina. The Courage shipped center-back Abby Erceg and defender Carson Pickett to Louisville in return for Fox, always with the understanding that they might only have Fox for one year.

Fox singularly defined the inverted full-back role in the NWSL, with varying degrees of success, but North Carolina had a plan for her exit. The Courage almost immediately announced the acquisition of German international Felicitas Rauch on a transfer from VfL Wolfsburg. Rauch is naturally left-footed and ranks in the top quarter percentile of full-backs in possession, per several FBRef metrics. She should fit in nicely at left full-back, making the Fox loss far less daunting.


Kristie Mewis

Mewis transfer grade: B+

Kristie Mewis turns 33 next month and has now made it to a World Cup in one of the most circuitous paths possible — right down to playing only one official minute at the 2023 World Cup before nailing her shot in the penalty shootout. As a pro and now an international, she has lived the dream.

This move to England’s WSL checks a major personal box at a time in Mewis’ life when that likely takes precedence. West Ham allows Mewis to keep playing top-tier soccer but in the same city as — rather than across the Atlantic from — fiancé Sam Kerr, who plays for Chelsea.

Mewis debuted Sunday and tallied an assist in a 4-3 loss to Tottenham. West Ham and Bristol City appear to be in a two-team fight to avoid relegation (only last place goes down) with each side at five points from 11 games at the halfway point of the season. Mewis won’t be chasing trophies, but she’s still playing at an elite level with a better work-life balance. And given the offseason moves that Gotham made, Mewis will be more of a focal point at West Ham than she would have been at her former club.

Scale of loss for Gotham: Marginal

Mewis started about half of Gotham’s games last year between injuries, international duties and a different midfield trio clicking down the stretch. Sheehan, Martin and Yazmeen Ryan had already assumed those starting roles before the additions of Dunn, Lavelle and Sonnett. How the up-and-coming Ryan fits into the new equation is worth watching. Even with Mewis’ departure, Gotham has one of the deepest midfields in the NWSL. Her departure (by mutual contract termination, making it a free transfer for West Ham) also freed up cap space for Gotham to make other moves necessary.


Tierna Davidson

Davidson transfer grade: A

If you’re Gotham, how do you replace the retiring Ali Krieger at center-back? Bring in a next-generation USWNT center-back. Tierna Davidson immediately and nicely fills the hole left in the NWSL Championship-winning side by the retirement of Krieger, who captained the team last year. Davidson has a strong left foot and is a cerebral center-back who is typically well-positioned to make the right play, much like the defining characteristic of USWNT veteran Becky Sauerbrunn.

Davidson still has room for growth in possession, where she has been caught by high-pressing teams at times, and Gotham’s possession-oriented style of play should force her to further refine that part of her game. She also joins a team with a clear direction and a shot at trophies in her prime, something that cannot be said for the Chicago Red Stars right now. Davidson played in Chicago since being drafted there as the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft, and a change of scenery might be exactly what she needs.

Expansion team Bay FC made a strong effort to get Davidson, who is a Bay Area native and played at Stanford, but the appeal of Gotham was that strong.

Scale of loss for the Red Stars: Major

The volume of loss in Chicago has been significant, with Davidson’s departure being the toughest of a handful of exits this offseason. Davidson and Sarah Gorden, who left for Angel City two years ago, once made up one of the best central defenses in the NWSL. Allegations of abuse from former Red Stars coach Rory Dames and allegations of enabling from former owner Arnim Whisler ultimately sparked a player exodus from Chicago, yet the Red Stars were still finalists in 2021 with the pair at central defense. Now, both are gone, as are full-backs Casey Krueger (signed with the Washington Spirit as a free agent) and Arin Wright (traded to Racing Louisville).

Chicago is starting from ground zero in defense.


Ashley Sanchez

Sanchez transfer grade: B+

Ashley Sanchez is one the most exciting players in the NWSL when she is in form. She does not fear failure when trying something audacious, which often produces spectacular end results. She has played like that since her early teens, when she was the next big thing in the U.S. youth pipeline, and at 24 years old she still has plenty of good years in front of her, as well as still being in the long-term mix to earn significant minutes in the No. 10 role for the USWNT.

Last year did not go to plan at all, however. Sanchez looked set to earn significant minutes for the U.S. at the 2023 World Cup as Rose Lavelle eased her way back onto the field from injury, but former U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski called up then-uncapped Savannah DeMelo and made her the starting No. 10 for the first two games of the group stage. Sanchez did not play a single minute at the World Cup.

The Spirit also struggled last season, missing the playoffs for the second straight year after winning the title in 2021. Mark Parsons — who was fired after the season — implemented a more direct style of play that didn’t fully suit the technical finesse of Sanchez’s game, but she still tallied five goals and an assist in 20 games. Her disappointment with the draft-day trade was clear: “Shocked and heartbroken,” she wrote in an Instagram post.

Departing Washington means leaving behind close friend Trinity Rodman, one half of a duo that might have been the most electric and unpredictable in the league. Rodman and Sanchez combined well and often and encouraged each other’s creativity. In North Carolina, Sanchez will become the focal point of a team that might better suit her style, anyway. The Courage were the best passing team in the league in 2023, a squad that aimed to keep the ball on the ground and build up play more so than any other in a transitional NWSL. Sanchez should thrive in that system. With Brazilian forward Kerolin facing a long recovery from a torn ACL in October, Sanchez will be tasked with leading the line. Still, leaving Washington clearly hurt.

Scale of loss for the Spirit: TBD

Something is amiss with the Spirit’s decision here, at least from the outside. Washington acquired the No. 5 overall pick in the 2024 draft and $250,000 in allocation money from the Courage in the draft-day deal that shipped away Sanchez. Washington used the pick on midfielder Hal Hershfelt out of Clemson. The Spirit also traded up to the No. 3 pick to select Croix Bethune from Georgia. Bethune could be the long-term replacement for Sanchez, but the amount of allocation money acquired in the Sanchez deal — and the lofty ambitions of Spirit owner Michele Kang — suggest there might be more immediate moves on the horizon.

Jonatan Giraldez will take over as head coach after Barcelona finishes its season in June in the splashiest head-coaching hire in NWSL history. There is a clear desire for the Spirit to emulate the model of Barcelona, arguably the best club team in the world for several years. Giraldez at the helm, combined with Kang’s ambitious investments, should attract some of the world’s best players.

Assessing this Sanchez trade from a Spirit point of view remains difficult. Still, it is puzzling that the desired style of play in Washington — keep the ball and play beautifully — is in harmony with what Sanchez already does so well. Why trade her away? That question lingers.


Taylor Flint (née Kornieck)

Flint transfer grade: B

Fans will know her as Taylor Kornieck, the name under which all of her USWNT caps have come, but she got married this offseason and will play under the name Taylor Flint.

Life was good in San Diego for Flint when she first arrived ahead of the 2022 NWSL season. She had been converted from a forward to a box-to-box midfielder and caught the attention of then-U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski, earning her first call-up ahead of World Cup qualifying. At 6-foot-1, Flint became the tallest field player in program history and scored in her debut against Colombia. She was an integral part of the San Diego Wave’s expansion-season success that year, serving as a target for goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan to find for flick-ons behind to forward Alex Morgan.

Things changed in 2023. Flint struggled with injuries, for one, but San Diego also turned to teenager Jaedyn Shaw in the No. 10 role. Shaw, with her mastery on the ball, became the focal point to a Wave team that tried to play more on the ground. Flint can be part of that, too, but the midfield grew increasingly crowded in San Diego this offseason with the arrival of Savannah McCaskill, another technical player.

Flint’s move away from the Wave came at her request as she sought more playing time, and she should get that in Louisville. Racing already restructured her contract to extend her through 2025, and she should provide a different dimension to a Louisville midfield anchored at its base by Jaelin Howell and led in attack by promising U.S. No. 10 Savannah DeMelo. This will be Flint’s third team in the past four years, so she’ll be looking for stability — as long as playing time comes.

Scale of loss for San Diego: Manageable

San Diego brought in McCaskill to join Shaw, in addition to ball-winning midfielders Emily van Egmond and Danielle Colaprico. The Wave won’t be short of talent in the middle of the park. Losing Flint, however, affects the direct play that manager Casey Stoney’s side has implemented to great success over the past two years.

Sheridan loves to play out of the back and provide accurate long balls to spark an attack. Without Flint, she won’t have an obvious target — and Morgan won’t have the regular flick-ons to run off of in behind. The combination of these moves suggests that Stoney wants to keep the ball on the ground more than ever and break down teams through the technical skills of Shaw and McCaskill.

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