Blockbusters! The nine biggest trades in NWSL history
Ali Krieger’s trade, though rumored for a week, has sent a shock through the NWSL. She is among the biggest names to swap jerseys in the four-year-old league, and her move from Washington to Orlando ranks as one of the most shocking in NWSL history.
Where it ranks, overall, deserves some broader context. Here are FourFourTwo USA’s nine biggest trades in NWSL history:
9. Boston sends Naeher to the Chicago for Engen (Nov. 2015)
Coming off a last-place finish in 2015, Boston elected to trade fan favorite goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher for a fellow U.S. international, attempting to shore up a perpetually problematic backline in the process. In a way, the gamble paid off, as the Breakers got University of Texas product Abby Smith in the draft. Even after the young American’s early-season knee injury (and another last-place finish for Boston), the Breakers have another long-term keeper in tow.
Chicago, having acquired Whitney Engen from Western New York earlier that offseason, dealt from depth to shore up its own problematic position. The team would go on to qualify for the playoffs again, take the Washington Spirit into overtime in the semifinal, and forge a young, talented back five that rivals any in the NWSL.
Neither team dramatically improved or declined after the deal, but in terms of balancing the depth chart, the trade worked for both sides.
To date, it’s the highest-profile pure USWNT-for-USWNT, 1-for-1 swap in NWSL history. Engen's future remains unclear after she was told by U.S. coach Jill Ellis that she is not in Ellis' future plans, while Naeher is fighting for the starting spot in net for the U.S.
8. Chicago trades Winters to Seattle for draft pick which became Johnston (March 2013)
The first deal in NWSL history was, at the time, a big one, a swap made after the Reign discovered forward Amy Rodriguez would miss the season while pregnant with her first child. Intent on competing in year one, then general manager Amy Carnell sent a first-round pick and the promise of a future allocated player to the Red Stars for the then-allocated Winters. In time, the draft pick would become U.S. international Julie Johnston, while the promised allocated player would be forgotten.
Chicago, hindered by a thin initial allocation (Shannon Boxx was pregnant; Amy LePeilbet was injured), decided to rebuild from day one and gave away its best player to do so. Come mid-season, it seemed Seattle should have done the same, with a shoulder injury to Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe’s commitments in France frustrating the Reign’s first campaign. Neither team would make the playoffs.
In time, the trade became a win-win. Winters became the captain and linchpin to two NWSL Shield winners before retiring after the 2016 season. When she left, she did so as one of the best midfielders of the league’s first four years.
Johnston’s NWSL contributions have been hindered by national team commitments, but she’s an asset Rory Dames can build around into the future. To date, though, she’s yet to produce an NWSL season to rival any of Winters’.
7. Nairn traded from Seattle to Washington for rights to Little (Nov. 2013)
Seattle’s disappointing first year forced Laura Harvey, the head coach who absorbed Carnell’s GM duties shortly before the Reign’s first game, to start thinking outside the box. One of her first major moves in the first offseason: Giving up Christine Nairn, a promising midfielder coming off her rookie campaign, for a player who’d started for her at Arsenal Ladies, Scottish international Kim Little.
For Washington, it was an obvious deal. The Spirit had Little’s discovery rights but never appeared close to bringing her over. The team converted an idiosyncratic rule, discovery claims, into one of the most promising players from the previous year’s draft.
For Seattle, the move changed the franchise. Little debuted with the most productive season in league history, helping the Reign to the NWSL Shield with a 16-goal, seven-assist MVP season. The next year, Seattle won another Shield, and when Little returned to Arsenal this offseason, she did so as the league’s all-time leader in goals (33).
Along with Lauren Holiday, Little ranks as the best player in the short history of the NWSL.