The National Women's Soccer League has seen some massive trades, money movement and free agency pick ups this offseason. Ahead of the 2024 season, clubs have made big splashes (looking at you, Gotham FC), and others have been sneakily adding players under the radar (Houston, it doesn't seem like a problem!).
Big names have joined new clubs, while some young players are dipping their toes into the NWSL for the first time. We take a look at the top five moves from the NWSL offseason that make the most sense for their destination.
5. Raquel Rodríguez to Angel City FC
Last season was a learning experience for Raquel Rodríguez. The 30-year-old Costa Rican international was plagued with injuries last year, most notably a knee injury that bugged her throughout most of the spring and summer. She was still named to the Costa Rican women's national team roster for the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup, but saw extremely limited action.
In club play, she featured in 14 matches — not including her one Challenge Cup contest in April — and only started eight of them. She scored once, in a 2-1 loss against the Houston Dash. It was a major contrast from the 2022 season, where she helped Portland win an NWSL Championship title over the Kansas City Current.
Coming back from injury will light a fire under Rodríguez. Players don't always come back from injuries the same, and luckily for Rodríguez it wasn't an ACL tear, all too common in the women's game. However, she missed a big chunk of time and gradually featured for the Thorns closer to the end of the season. Rodríguez recently got time with Costa Rica in the Concacaf W Gold Cup qualifiers, scoring against Saint Kitts and Nevis.
Now, she joins an Angel City midfield that includes French international Amandine Henry, league veteran Meggie Dougherty Howard and standout Madison Hammond. Other than those players, Angel City has a pretty inexperienced midfield. Rodríguez will not only provide an on-the-pitch spark and Latin flair, but she will provide ample leadership.
4. Bay FC picks up Scarlett Camberos in trade with Angel City
Expansion side Bay FC traded for Mexican-American forward Scarlett Camberos this offseason. Camberos initially joined Angel City FC midseason last year, being traded from Club América. The context is important here. Camberos requested a trade from Club América, as part of Liga MX Femenil in Mexico, , due to online threats from a stalker.
Camberos was an established striker in Mexico with Club América. The San Diego, California, native scored 18 goals in 41 appearances for América, and won the 2023 Clausura title. She has scored twice in six appearances for the Mexican women's national team. When she moved to Angel City, she was used, but not in the way that she was relied on by Club América. With Angel City, she scored once, against the Portland Thorns, in a 5-1 win.
Camberos joins a team that has little experience. Rachel Hill is the only signed veteran in the NWSL, with Chioma Ubogagu invited to camp as a 'non roster invitee.' She'll likely find herself on the final roster. Three other non-rostered players were invited to camp, with Jasmine Hamid, Ru Mucherera and Shaelan Murison invited to compete for a roster spot. Also, Caroline Conti, out of Clemson, was Bay FC's lone forward draft pick.
Camberos will compete for a starting spot, and with a roster of inexperienced players, she could find herself in an important No. 9 role. Recently, Bay FC signed Venezuelan international Deyna Castellanos. The combination of Castellanos and Camberos could prove dangerous for opposing defense — and showoff the Hispanic flair of soccer that the league has been desperately missing.
3. Tierna Davidson signs with Gotham FC
Tierna Davidson has joined Gotham FC, and is slotting in as the replacement for retired center back Ali Krieger. Davidson joined Gotham due to free agency, leaving behind the Chicago Red Stars. There has been plenty of movement with Gotham, as they signed essentially the entire U.S. women's national team roster, adding players like Rose Lavelle, Crystal Dunn, Emily Sonnett and Davidson. The team already has Lynn Williams, Midge Purce and Kelley O'Hara under contract.
While goal scorers are the ones usually celebrated, Davidson is the highlight here. She's the one with the most conversation around her, too. Davidson is no stranger to injuries. Ahead of the 2019 NWSL Championship with Chicago, Davidson was ruled out with an ankle injury, after a standout rookie season. She missed most of the 2020 season, only playing four matches between the NWSL Challenge Cup and the Fall Series. Davidson was also left off the U.S. Olympic roster.
After a strong 2021 season that saw 19 appearances across all competitions, including an NWSL Championship appearance in a 2-1 loss to the Washington Spirit, Davidson's rollercoaster ride went back downhill, announcing a torn ACL in March 2022. She was out for the whole season. In 2023, she returned, and featured in 24 matches throughout all competitions, totaling more than 2,000 minutes — the most of her career. Chicago struggled last year, mightly. However, it did not all fall on Davidson.
Davidson has a lot to prove with Gotham. Krieger had a high-caliber year last season, before officially riding off into sunset with an NWSL Championship. Davdison will slot in her place, and will likely see herself alongside Emily Sonnett or Mandy Freeman, a longtime NWSL veteran. Davidson can't be blamed for her injuries, but it's hard to argue she's lived up to her 2019 drafting expectations. She can quickly turn the tide on that conversation with a strong season with the reigning NWSL champions.
2. Seattle Reign bring Ji So-Yun to the Emerald City
For the second time ever in the history of the NWSL, a South Korean international will suit up. Do you know the first? We'll give you a second to wrack your brain and go back to former, now defunct, clubs. Got your guess?
The Western New York Flash signed Jeon Ga-eul to a one-year deal in 2016, winning an NWSL Championship, before the club folded and relocated to become the North Carolina Courage. Now, Ji So-Yun, arguably the greatest female South Korean player, is coming to the United States, signing a two-year deal with the Seattle Reign.
Ji So-Yun is a 32-year-old striker, coming to the NWSL by way of England and South Korea, where she featured with Chelsea from 2014-22, where she won six Women's Super League titles, four FA Cup titles and one Community Shield. In club play, she was named the WSL Player of the Year in 2014. Internationally, she is a seven-time Korea FA Women's Player of the Year winner. Her resumé is highly impressive, and she isn't slowing down. In 2022, she signed with Suwon FC, where she scored eight goals in 23 appearances. She'll make an immediate impact for the Reign.
Side note, yes, in the header, it does say the Seattle Reign. Shout out to the club for listening to their fans during the rebrand and going back to their roots, with an updated logo, color palate and new gear.
1. Mandy Haught slated to be the Utah Royals No. 1 goalkeeper
Every expansion side starts from scratch. This is the second go-around for the Utah Royals FC, who are an expansion side once again. If you don't know the history, Utah became an NWSL expansion club and had its first season in 2018. Utah was a club for three years, before Dell Loy Hansen was forced to sell after allegations of a toxic workplace environment were brought up. Now, with new owners, a new logo and new coach, the Royals are back in the league.
The opportunity to expand the league is music to a certain group of players' ears: goalkeepers. Three goalkeepers are the normal standard on a league roster. A few years ago, when this league only had eight teams, that meant only 24 professional goalkeepers in the U.S., and eight starting spots. Now, with 14 teams across the league, that number is up to, or at least around, 42 goalkeepers.
Mandy Haught was the first goalkeeper acquired by the Utah Royals FC. Carly Nelson was added shortly after, coming from the Orlando Pride. Also, the Royals added Florida State goalkeeper Cristina Roque, a Puerto Rican international and collegiate national champion. However, the clear edge in this competition goes to Haught.
Haught has also been through a rollercoaster ride for her career. The 25-year-old was drafted by Gotham — then-known as Sky Blue FC — in the 2020 NWSL Draft. However, the season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She was down the depth chart for Sky Blue. She made her NWSL regular-season debut against Kansas City in 2021. In 2021, she joined Swedish club Piteå IF where she got starts, making 26 appearances. Haught returned to the NWSL in 2023, joining the club she was drafted by.
At the beginning of the season, she was, once again, down the depth chart, behind veterans Abby Smith and Michelle Betos. She made a start here and there, but after an injury to Smith, she began starting games. With Gotham finding wins down the stretch, head coach Juan Carlos Amorós kept the hot-handed Haught in goal. The 25-year-old had four clean sheets in 10 games, making 21 saves.
Haught did receive a red card for a handball outside of the box in Gotham's NWSL Championship-winning match against Reign FC. Due to Gotham making all their substitutions, midfielder Nealy Martin had to suit up in goal for the waning minutes, and stood tall, helping Gotham win. But Haught was the star of the postseason for Gotham, with her ability to immediately jump in, take command of the back-half of the pitch and her standout play in net. She'll be a welcome addition for Royals fans to watch.