NWSL Offseason Roster Updates

A look at how NWSL rosters are shaping up in anticipation of the 2023 season

By Johanna Modak

NWSL teams are solidifying their rosters ahead of the 2023 season and there has been plenty of movement to follow. This offseason may be giving the regular season a run for its money in big plays and last-minute stunts! 

In the past, players were generally added to rosters by way of trades or through the draft, but this year, there is the added element of free agency. Thanks to the NWSL Players Association’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, we are seeing the first-ever class of free agents disperse throughout the league. 

Let the chaos commence! 

With just a few days to go before the draft, the Kansas City Current made the first big splash in free agency news of 2023, winning the bid for Brazilian national team player and North Carolina Courage forward Debinha. As a highly coveted player who likely could have gone almost anywhere she pleased, Kansas City winning her commitment is definitely a positive sign for the direction of the club, which, after a less-than-promising 2021 season (finishing 10th in the league), rode its underdog momentum straight to the Championship in 2022. 

Kansas City had the headliner trade of draft night as well. After Angel City FC predictably used their first pick to select 18-year-old Alyssa Thompson out of Harvard-Westlake, Kansas City scooped up the second pick by sending Lynn Williams to Gotham FC. Lynn Williams, a member of the USWNT, had only played one game with the Current before getting injured. As Steph Yang at the Athletic points out, it seems fairly likely that in order to acquire Debinha, Kansas City was running into some salary cap issues and needed to release some star power. Yang also notes that it will be interesting to see how Williams slides in with Midge Purce on the Gotham side. Both are often called up for international play, and both play on the right. 

Kansas City used that newly acquired second pick to select forward Michelle Cooper (Duke). 

As expected, Emily Madril, who was already contracted with the NWSL and playing professionally overseas, was selected in the first round by Orlando Pride with the third pick. Pride also picked up Messiah Bright, expected to go in the first round, with their 21st pick. 

In addition to Gotham FC and Kansas FC moving big names, we saw the Houston Dash and the NC Courage strike a deal involving rookie sensation Diana Ordóñez (from NC) for allocation money and the 8th pick (from Houston). Reportedly, Ordóñez had requested the move, citing the desire to be closer to family. Hmmm ….

Draft day also saw USWNT player Emily Sonnett traded to OL Reign from Washington Spirit in exchange for the 32nd pick of the night as well as OL Reign’s natural first-round pick in 2024.

The NC Courage, who didn’t seem to fare too well in the draft (losing Ordóñez), has been busy since draft night. But … it’s not entirely clear whether they’re heading in a good direction. It will be a rebuilding year for them for certain.

This week, they traded Merritt Mathias to Angel City FC for Tyler Lussi, and a few days later traded Abby Erceg AND Carson Pickett to Racing Louisville for Emily Fox. Coincidentally or not, Erceg’s trade follows her tweet responding to the loss of Ordóñez: “Yup, it’s official. We still suck a[t] trades in 2023.” She released a statement to fans following her own trade announcement that she was “as shocked and disappointed as you are” about leaving the NC Courage. 

If you’ve been keeping track, the NC Courage has lost A LOT of its top players. And it’s not just this year. Several key players in the once kinda-boring-to-watch-because-everyone-knew-they-would-win roster of the NC Courage championship era had already departed directly following fallout from the sexual coercion scandal with former coach Paul Riley. In their dominant era, North Carolina’s roster included Crystal Dunn, Lynn Williams, Abby Dahlkemper, Sam Mewis, Debinha, Kristin Hamilton, Jessica MacDonald, Abby Erceg, Merritt Mathias, Heather O’Reilly, and Steph Labbé. Now, not one of those players is with the Courage, with only the last two players on the list leaving due to retirement. 

The Chicago Red Stars are in a similar boat, seemingly struggling to repair the culture after a loss of trust in the front office. They have seen ultra-loyal players such as Danielle Colaprico (now San Diego Wave FC), Morgan Gautrat (now KC Current), and Vanessa DiBernardo (now KC Current) depart via free agency. Rachel Hill, a newer member of the Chicago Red Stars squad, but a key offensive player, also signed on with San Diego Wave FC. 

The Kansas City Current and the Houston Dash have largely been the benefactors of the mass exodus from North Carolina and Chicago. 

The Portland Thorns, OL Reign, Angel City FC, and San Diego Wave FC have been fairly tame this offseason, just filling in gaps here and there and participating in the draft fairly predictably.

Offseason Takeaways:

While almost every team in the league has had some sort of turnover in the front office or coaching staff (the exceptions being debut teams San Diego Wave FC and Angel City FC) following the revelation of league-wide misconduct and abuse, there are a few teams who really seem to be struggling to recover their culture. The Washington Spirit, the Chicago Red Stars, and the North Carolina Courage are a few of those who have struggled to attract talent and maintain well-rounded rosters in the aftermath. 

While it can be exciting to see a team come together amidst a flurry of distractions like the Washington Spirit squad managed in the 2021 season. Let’s hope that moving forward the clubs who are struggling can secure trustworthy leadership and balanced rosters so we can see competitive squads thriving in a healthy league environment.

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