The Top 5 NWSL Offseason Moves That Make that are Head Scratchers (So Far)

Earlier this week, we discussed the NWSL players whose moves made the most sense. In this edition, we take a look at the trades and free agency signings that have us scratching our heads.
Washington Spirit v Chicago Red Stars
Washington Spirit v Chicago Red Stars / Daniel Bartel/ISI Photos/GettyImages

The National Women's Soccer League has been busy, busy, busy! With the start of preseason happening last week and clubs getting at it this week for the first time, the league has seen a bit more movement with trades, free agency signings and waivers.

Earlier this week, MLS Multiplex broke down the Top 5 moves from the NWSL offseason that made the most sense for clubs and players. Now, it's time to bring forward the signings and trades that have us scratching our heads.

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5. Angel City FC trades for Messiah Bright

Messiah Bright had a strong rookie season last year. Drafted by the Orlando Pride, Bright excelled in 22 matches, starting 16 games and scoring six goals. It was a strong year, and she finished just behind Gotham FC midfielder Jenna Nighswonger in the Rookie of the Year voting. There was a good chance that those starts would continue for Bright in Orlando. Meanwhile, the Pride were a team that barely missed the playoffs last year, massively improving under head coach (and former Orlando City SC player) Seb Hines.

So, when Bright recently requested a trade to another club, it came as a shock to plenty of Pride fans. Orlando doesn't have the flashiest group of forwards on their roster. Of course, there's the legend Marta, but then behind her, there are Julie Doyle, Ally Watt and Mariana Larroquette. Bright could have easily started over all three players — and did so last year.

Bright joined Angel City FC. If this move was based on Bright wanting more playing time, then the move is a head-scratching one. Take a look at the seven forwards named to the Angel City roster: Claire Emslie, Jun Endo, Katie Johnson, Sydney Leroux, Casey Phair, Christen Press and Alyssa Thompson.

Let's break it down. Press is still injured and there's a giant question mark to if she'll come back, let alone play again. Leroux is getting older, and she's dealt with her fair share of injuries. Meanwhile, Thompson and Jun Endo are returning starters. Emslie got starts last year, and then incoming teenage prodigy Phair joined the fray. There is a lot of competition at the striker start, and it seems unlikely that Bright will get the starts she did in Orlando.

4. Washington loses a pair of key starters

The Washington Spirit made plenty of enemies ahead of the 2024 NWSL Draft. Before the draft commenced, Sam Staab was announced as part of a trade to the Windy City. In return, Washington picked up the third overall draft pick, which they used on midfielder Croix Bethune, out of Georgia.

Meanwhile, during the draft, Ashley Sanchez was announced as Washington's next departure, being traded to the North Carolina Courage. The Washington Spirit fandom blew up, furious at the club. That anger was only made worse when Sanchez wrote an emotional goodbye, saying she was shocked and saddened by the news. Trinity Rodman, Spirit striker, also expressed her disappointment in the trade. North Carolina gave Washington the fifth overall pick, and allocation money, which they used to draft midfielder Hal Hershfelt from Clemson.

These moves were wonderful for the Chicago Red Stars and North Carolina Courage, but pretty awful for the Spirit. Of course, Bethune and Hershfelt have the chance to be the league's next great stars, but it's hard to argue against the confusion in trading players like Staab and Sanchez.

Staab has been an ironwoman for the Washington Spirit for a few seasons, featuring in every minute of the regular-season. Sanchez, especially in her tandem work with Rodman, has been electric on offense. In 2023, she started 19 of her 20 appearances, scoring five goals and providing one assist. Washington is going to be missing the two powerhouses this season.

3. Houston Dash acquire Cece Kizer from Kansas City

You've got to feel for NWSL players who don't get notified of trades and have to find out either just a few minutes before the official announcement, or find out through social media. Cece Kizer found out she was being traded to the Houston Dash just a handful of days before the move was finalized and announced.

The forward stated on an Instagram post, "This isn’t something I asked for or expected. No conversation this could happen. Nothing. My fiancé and I have a home here, we have a life off the pitch, and now we have a week to pack it all up & say our goodbyes. It hurts this happened after I expressed my desire to be apart of more KC history, but thank you for the last year & a half. As we grieve our life here in KC, we are also excited for our next adventure."

The move to Houston is her second stint, also. She was drafted by the Dash in 2019, making two starts in 16 appearances, where she didn't find the back of the net. She joined Racing Louisville in the 2020 Expansion Draft. Throughout the NWSL, she's been used as a utility player. Then, finally, she joined the Kansas City Current, her hometown team, and she began to start, making 32 starts in 35 appearances. She scored 13 goals and provided three assists.

For her to return to Houston, where she will likely be used as a substitute, makes no sense for the player or the Dash. María Sánchez and Diana Ordóñez are the undisputed starters of the front line, with Yuki Nagasato being added to the core as well. Amanda West was added in the NWSL Draft, and she was a lethal, goalscoring threat at the University of Pittsburgh, putting the Panthers on the map for collegiate women's soccer. Kizer would get the nod over West, but still, she won't be starting like she was in Kansas City.

2. Morgan Gautrat signs with the Orlando Pride.

Morgan Gautrat isn't the same player she used to be. Of course, nobody stays at their peak forever, but the downfall of Gautrat has been tough to watch. After winning the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup with the U.S., Gautrat returned back to her club, the Chicago Red Stars. She dealt with injuries, variously, through 2017 to 2019. Then, the 2020 season was cancelled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2021, Gautrat started all 21 of her appearances, making a splash and return to league play. She scored twice and added an assist, but was incredibly efficient in the build-up on attacking plays. However, in 2022, she was hyped up as a big signing for the Kansas City Current. Numerous injuries made it that she only made 10 appearances in two years. She's coming off a leg injury, among some other lingering issues.

Now, she's a member of the Orlando Pride, as she was acquired in exchange for $50,000 in allocation money and an international roster spot. The allocation money is fine, but the international slot may be an overpay, especially with how many Brazilians that the Pride have one the roster. Gautrat has hardly played in two years, and is pretty injury prone.

To say she'd be a starter in purple would be a stretch. She joined a midfield that already includes Brazilian midfielders Angelina and Luana, along with Viviana Villacorta and the legendary Marta. Space will be limited, and Gautrat could be used as a super substitute. She won't play like she did in Chicago, though.

1. Gotham FC brings aborad Rose Lavelle and Emily Sonnett

The U.S. women's national team is one of the top-tier national teams in the world of women's soccer. There is no doubt about that. But, whenever the national team players are with their respective clubs, sometimes they are outshined and their play is not always up to par.

One player that has failed to show up and have a true breakout season in club play is Rose Lavelle. There is a big lingering cloud over her head, too: injuries. Lavelle is, essentially, made of breadsticks. She has never featured in a full NWSL season. Last year, with the Seattle Reign, she made four starts in four appearances. And, yet, she was named to the 2023 World Cup roster and played plenty of games. In 2022, she had her most consistent season, featuring in 17 games, all of them starts. However, the injury bug is bigger than her trophy cabinet.

Meanwhile, Emily Sonnett had, arguably, her best season of soccer last year for the Reign. She was a defensive midfielder — a far cry from where people usually see her, at center back or winger. According to Reign reporter Isabella 'Bella' Munson, Sonnett only featured in one game as center back, when a red card was shown to Alana Cook.

Sonnett has been a wishy washy player over the last few years, but in 2022 she broke out. She was consistent, found a spot that fit her and thrived in the Reign's system. For her to jump ship, only after one season with the Reign, is crazy for her career.

Both of them are joining defending champions Gotham FC. Let's look at the roster. There really hasn't been a lot of turnover this year from Gotham. Ali Krieger retired, and Tierna Davidson will likely fill that spot. Kristie Mewis went to England, and Ellie Jean was traded. Mandy Haught, a goalkeeper, is going to Utah. There hasn't been too much movement out of Gotham.

So who are Sonnett and Lavelle going to replace? Sonnett will likely suit up where McCall Zerboni slots (for the most part), at defensive midfield, due to her recovery from an ACL tear. Meanwhile, Lavelle is a different story. Yazmeen Ryan had a nice season in 2022, to help Gotham win a title, and Lavelle will likely get time over her. It's a shame for Ryan, who started 17 of 21 appearances in 2023, to be pushed down the depth chart.

So why doesn't this move make sense? Well, for Gotham, they're going to hope and pray they don't turn into the 'Orlando Pride of 2017-18.' Orlando had a tendency for signing big-name players, but could not mesh together at all. Gotham has a lot of individuals signed on their roster. But can they gel together as a group? Time will tell, but right now, lots of players from last year's championship-winning team are going to be pushed down the depth chart.