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December 1, 2016

A Look Into the 2017 NWSL Season

Crazy trades (thanks Washington) & new talent emerges for an intriguing 5th season

CHICAGO – With no allocated team being added to the 2017 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) season, the trades are adding up in the offseason, making monumental changes heading into the fifth season of the league. To make sure you are up-to-date for the upcoming season, we’ve made it easy for you to find all the information you need about the teams in the league, including their 2016 NWSL record, offseason trades and what jersey your favorite U.S. Women’s National Team player will be donning for the upcoming season.

Team: Boston Breakers
2016 Record: 3-15-2 (10th place)
USWNT Players: None
Offseason Acquisitions: Megan Oyster (Washington), Amanda Da Costa (Chicago), Rosie White (New Zealand), Emilie Haavi (Norway), Alyssa Chapman (Houston)
Head Coach: Matt Beard (2nd season)
Matt Beard enters his second season after previously coaching overseas with the Liverpool Ladies. In the beginning it all looked like Beard was heading for the “Liverpool Ladies American Team,” but with the recent trade of Alyssa Chapman and plenty of top draft picks in a strong class, Beard could have more up his sleeve than anyone thought. With a possible backline of Whitney Engen, Megan Oyster, Julie King and Chapman, the Breakers could be looking to get out of back-to-back last place finishes in 2017.
Update January 4, 2017: Louise Schillgard announced that she would not be returning to the NWSL due to personal reasons. Schillgard, 27, appeared in 18 matches for Boston and logged more than 1,400 minutes in her first season. After a ton of trades and waives in November 2016, Boston has remained quite.

Team: Chicago Red Stars
2016 Record: 9-5-6 (3rd place; lost in semifinals to Spirit)
USWNT Players: Alyssa Naeher, Julie Johnston, Christen Press
Offseason Trade Acquisitions: None
Head Coach: Rory Dames (7th season)
Once again, the Chicago Red Stars finished well enough in the NWSL regular season to be a top contender in the playoffs in search of their first NWSL Championship. The youngest team in the league, including 10 players 23 years of age or younger, the Red Stars will look to stay on top in 2017 with a ton of experience. From Alyssa Naeher in net to Christen Press at forward (or maybe the 10 spot), Chicago looks solid in all positions. The biggest asset during the offseason for the Red Stars will be the 2017 NWSL College Draft, where the team has had some of the best success in the league, in which Chicago will look to bolster the squad with young talent to compete for a starting spot or be a spark off the bench.

Team: Houston Dash
2016 Record: 6-10-4 (8th place)
USWNT Players: Carli Lloyd, Morgan Brian
Offseason Trade Acquisitions: Bruna Benites (Brazil), Janine Van Wyk 
Head Coach: Randy Waldrum (3rd season)
Despite having the same amount of wins from 2015, Houston dropped from fifth to eighth during the 2016 season. The biggest player on Houston though is no longer captain Carli Lloyd or Morgan Brian, but Kealia Ohai. Ohai had a huge year for the Dash, scoring 11 goals and missing out on the Golden Boot by just one assist. Rookie Rachel Daly, the sixth overall pick in the 2016 draft, also made a statement around the NWSL and was a finalist for the Rookie of the Year award. Houston just signed Bruna Benites, a Brazilian central defender, which could be a big benefit for the defensive unit. The team allowed 29 goals, but more importantly gave up 236 shots, which is third worst behind just Boston and Sky Blue.
Update January 4, 2017: Another leader was added to the struggling defensive unit of Houston, with the Dash picking up Janine Van Wyk, the captain of the South African National Team. Van Wyk had a strong showing when her country took on the U.S. Women’s National Team and proved that she could be a strong presence for any team in the NWSL. With 142 appearances for South Africa, Randy Waldrum expects Van Wyk to provide experience and leadership to his side. 

Team: FC Kansas City
2016 Record: 7-8-5 (6th place)
USWNT Players: Amy Rodriguez, Becky Sauerbrunn, Sydney Leroux
Offseason Trade Acquisitions: None
Head Coach: Vlatko Andonovski (5th season)
For the first time in two years Kansas City didn’t end the season raising the NWSL Championship trophy. Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux were both on maternity leave and FCKC had quite a few key players retire, including Lauren Holiday. However, no excuses can be made for a professional team and a lot of teams had key retirements. We’d be surprised not to see Leroux back on the field in 2017, but Rodriguez would be the bigger question mark. Normally a quiet team during the offseason, Kansas City might need to change their strategy or get high quality rookies that are ready to play in 2017 right from the start, as they came in second to last place in goal scored in 2016. With Becky Sauerbrunn guiding the team from the backline and Nicole Barnhart in net, Kansas will most likely be looking for a midfield or forward presence to play alongside Shea Groom (8 goals), Heather O’Reilly and Yael Averbuch.
Update January 4, 2017: In mid-November, Frances Silva announced she was retiring from professional soccer. Silva was a member of FCKC for all four seasons in the NWSL and played in all but one match in 2016. However, the bigger news is that Amy Rodriguez is back. Maybe. Just called into her first U.S. Women’s National Team camp since 2015 after giving birth to her second son, Rodriguez returns to the pitch. If she is returning to the field for the U.S. WNT, we would expect to see her back on the field in 2017 with FCKC, which without any sugarcoating is HUGE for Kansas City. 

Team: Orlando Pride
2016 Record: 6-13-1 (9th place)
USWNT Players: Alex Morgan, Ashlyn Harris, Ali Krieger
Offseason Trade Acquisitions: Ali Krieger (Washington), Camila 
Head Coach: Tom Sermanni (2nd season)
Orlando Pride is still the newest addition to the league, just finishing their inaugural season. In the first six matches the team earned four wins, but would win just two more the rest of 2016. With big names to start off their first year in Alex Morgan and Ashlyn Harris, the biggest trade so far during this offseason is Washington Spirit sending Ali Krieger to Orlando for basically nothing. Kristen Edmonds led the team with six goals, followed by Morgan and Jasmyn Spencer with four each. Harris was named NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year, but the team will need to be stronger, both offensively (20 GF; 8th in league) and defensively (30 GA; tied for most in league), in order to climb the ladder in league play.
Update January 4, 2017: Just when you think it is all fine and dandy in Tom Sermanni’s world he gets word that his captain, Alex Morgan, will be playing the first part of the NWSL overseas for Lyon. The face of women’s soccer decided it was best for her personal soccer career to compete with the best over in France and join Lyon, who until recently had not lost in over two years. Prior to the news about Morgan, Orlando announced they had signed Brazilian defender, Camila. The 22-year-old has plenty of experience internationally, but has prior experience in the NWSL after playing for the Houston Dash in 2015.

Team: Portland Thorns FC
2016 Record: 12-3-5 (1st place; lost in semifinals to WNY Flash)
USWNT Players: Tobin Heath, Meghan Klingenberg, Lindsey Horan, Allie Long, Emily Sonnett
Offseason Trade Acquisitions: None
Head Coach: Mark Parsons (2nd season)
In his first year in Portland, Mark Parsons brought life into the Portland Thorns squad and finished the season winning the NWSL Shield. With the first pick of the 2016 College Draft, Portland chose U.S. WNT member Emily Sonnett to fill a hole in the central defender spot. Tobin Heath did what Tobin Heath does and lit up the assist board, setting an NWSL record with 10 assists, despite having only played in 14 matches due to international duties. However, Nadia Nadim in her first year in Rose City, made a case for herself to be named team MVP with nine goals and two assists. With a ton of international talent and experience, it doesn’t seem that the Thorns will drop out of playoff contention in 2017.

Team: Seattle Reign FC
2016 Record: 8-6-6 (5th place)
USWNT Players: Megan Rapinoe
Offseason Trade Acquisitions: Christine Nairn (Washington), Madalyn Schiffel (Washington), Sinead Farrelly (Portland)
Head Coach: Laura Harvey (5th season)
The Seattle Reign’s season could be described in one word: dramatic. The Reign had won the two previous NWSL shields under Laura Harvey, but fell just short of earning a playoff spot in 2016. After a slow start to the season, Seattle pushed until the last regular season game contending for a top four spot. Megan Rapinoe missed a majority of the season recovering from ACL surgery, but came back after the Olympics. She caused national headlines after kneeling during the National Anthem in Chicago and continued to do so throughout the rest of the season. Hope Solo had her contract terminated by U.S. Soccer and felt it was best to not continue with the Reign for the rest of the season and later announced she had long overdue shoulder surgery. A bright spot was Manon Melis proving to be a threat in her first year by scoring seven goals and adding two assists to lead the Reign. However, with Rapinoe still on the mend from surgery, Solo on the fence about returning, captain Keelin Winters and Melis retiring and scoring phenome Kim Little returning to Arsenal, no one is quite sure what Seattle will bring in 2017.
Update January 4, 2017: Sinead Farrelly announced her retirement in the beginning of December 2016. After being involved in a serious car crash in 2015, Farrelly has not been able to return to the field since and was on the NWSL disabled list in 2016. Seattle picked up Farrelly off waivers in the offseason.

Team: Sky Blue FC
2016 Record: 7-8-5 (7th place)
USWNT Players: Kelley O’Hara
Offseason Trade Acquisitions: None
Head Coach: Christy Holly (2nd season)
Sky Blue made headlines before season even began after finally naming a head coach in Christy Holly. The team also announced the signing of Natasha Kai, the former U.S. WNT player, who had previously been retired. The New Jersey side drafted the 2016 NWSL Rookie of the Year, Raquel Rodriguez, adding the Costa Rican international to the squad alongside U.S. WNT veterans Kelley O’Hara and Christie Rampone. Two Caroline’s split duties in goal and posted a 1.50 GAA. The team has been quiet this offseason, but in order to continue improving under the direction of Holly, it would make sense to start finding some talent for New Jersey.
Update January 4, 2017: We are not sure this counts, but Sam Kerr has been FIRE in Australia. Most likely the W-League Player of the Year, Kerr will return to Sky Blue in great form and we are sure Christy Holly is hoping she can continue her streak when NWSL season begins. 

Team: Washington Spirit
2016 Record: 15-5-3 (2nd place; NWSL Championship Finalists)
USWNT Players:  Crystal Dunn
Offseason Trade Acquisitions: Kristie Mewis (Boston), Kassey Kallman (Boston), Havana Solaun (Seattle)
Head Coach: Jim Gabarra (2nd season)
Spirit has now placed in the top four in each of the past three seasons, but 2017 will look like a whole new squad under second-year coach Jim Gabarra. In all the wild trades of the offseason, it seems like Washington has been in all of them and it’s only December. Spirit captain and fan favorite Ali Krieger was traded to Orlando for merely nothing – a switch in distribution order, placing Washington behind Boston in second. After an outstanding 2015 season, Crystal Dunn changed her play and turned into an assist machine, finishing the season with five and added two goals. The problem with Dunn is no one really knows if she is 100% returning. A statement by Dunn about playing overseas has left the women’s soccer world on edge waiting for a decisive answer from the 2015 Golden Boot Winner. Starting goalkeeper Kelsey Wys may not return for the 2017 season after tearing her ACL in the W-League. After the disappointing trade of Krieger for fans of Spirit, they received a bit of good news after acquiring Kristie Mewis and Kassey Kallman from Boston. Two of the best players from Boston could give a new spark to a team that is somehow rebuilding after making it to the 2016 NWSL Championships.
Update January 4, 2017: And here we thought we were done for two years with Washington, but Crystal Dunn just announced her signing with Chelsea and will not be suiting up for the Spirit in 2017. Without Krieger and Dunn, Washington is left without any U.S. Women’s National Team players. 

Team: Western New York Flash
2016 Record: 9-6-5 (4th place; NWSL Champions)
USWNT Players: Samantha Mewis
Offseason Trade Acquisitions: Rosana (Houston), Debinha (Brazil)
Head Coach: Paul Riley (2nd season)
If you guessed that Western New York was going to win the 2016 NWSL Championships you are either a diehard Flash fan or a liar. The previous two seasons the Flash had finished in the bottom half of the bracket and lost star names, such as Sydney Leroux and Carli Lloyd, in trades. Even with Lynn Williams making a name for herself by winning the Golden Boot with 11 goals and five assists, Western New York was solid all around. Jessica McDonald finished with 10 goals and seven assists, Samantha Mewis controlled the midfield and added five goals and two assists, while rookie Makenzy Doniak earned her minutes and a start in the final with three goals and two assists. A team that started the season with “no names,” finished the season with everyone knowing who they were. It seems hard for the Flash to drop off in 2017 with the likes of those named above and Sabrina D’Angelo in goal, plus captain Abby Erceg, McCall Zerboni, and a healthy Lianne Sanderson.
Update January 4, 2017: The Flash traded with the Dash to acquire Brazilian international, Rosana, in exchange for a third-round pick. Rosana has been primarily playing for Brazil in preparation for the World Cup and Olympics, but has seen time with Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) of the French Division 1 Feminine. With just 10 appearances for PSG, Rosana managed to find the back of the net three times. The Flash most recently signed Rosana’s Brazil teammate, Debinha, who is coming off a strong Olympic showing. Debinha, 25, has scored 21 goals for her country in just 54 appearances. 


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