On Tuesday we all got official confirmation of a deal that had been floating in the ether for over a week— USWNT defender Becky Sauerbrunn was headed to the Portland Thorns. Utah sold one of their marquee players for money and a young prospect.
The deal was mostly a win-win for everyone involved. It also highlighted what can happen when NWSL teams have more money to throw around.
Here’s a few things to chew on with the Sauerbrunn deal:
Portland: Still Scary
Remember when the Thorns blew a big hole in their back line by sending Emily Sonnett to Orlando? How they suddenly had a real weakness in their defense that, leaving unresolved, could’ve possibly ruled them out of Championship contention early in the season?
Oh, how young and naive we all were.
Even with being away for a bit this summer for the Olympics, and even with her getting on in years, the move for Sauerbrunn is still a big get for Portland. It solves a few problems for what ended up being fairly reasonable price. And it signals that Portland aren’t quite ready for a rebuild.
For anyone who was starting to worry about the 2020 Thorns, you can exhale now. They’re probably going to be just fan.
Utah Have A Big Opportunity
Oh hey, speaking of rebuilds: it’s clear Utah’s working on a plan.
There’s the Sauerbrunn deal, of course, but this also comes less than two months after the first-in-NWSL deal that netted the Royals $60k in allocation money from Chicago in exchange for draft picks. Utah are building up a war chest, presumably (hopefully?) in preparation for a big roster overhaul.
Combined with Utah’s appointment of Craig Harrington, who spent several seasons as an assistant for Red Stars head coach Rory Dames and dutifully absorbed Dames’ aptitude for the arcane arts of roster building and player development, to their own HC vacancy, and all signs are pointing to a long-term plan.
At least we hope so. If Utah turn around and drop their savings on a veteran with diminishing returns, they could be in for a long, slow march through the desert.
Money Is Already Having A Huge Impact On The League
When the introduction of allocation money was announced, everyone knew it was going to be a game-changer for NWSL. The Sauerbrunn deal is big, but it also feels like an overture.
We’re going to see progressively bigger deals, in addition to more administrative agreements like the AM-for-draft-picks trade in January. While it will definitely help NWSL keep pace with European leagues— who are growing, hungry, and coming for NWSL’s throne— the increased budgets will have a more important function. More money will (or should) mean more WoSo players being fairly compensated for their work, fewer players retiring in their mid-20s because they can no longer afford to play on College Internship wages, and an overall increased quality of soccer as fewer players end up taking on side hustles to pay their rent.
Making sure that money is spent on players will take transparency from owners and accountability from all stakeholders. And some strong labor organization.