(Note: This column is meant as a counterpoint to Richard Farley’s piece examining the Seattle-Chicago trade. It’s not totally necessary to get the gist of my thoughts, but it’s still a good read nonetheless.)
Seattle’s trade with Chicago, sending a first round pick in next year’s NWSL Draft and one of their American allocations at the end of this season (almost assuredly Amy Rodriguez) to the Red Stars for Keelin Winters and a perfunctory fourth round draft pick, was both eye-raising and polarizing. There was the view from some that Seattle had gotten the much better side of the deal by adding Winters to their midfield while not having to give up anything immediately. And then there’s my view, namely that the Reign have opted for a questionable short-term gain that’s almost assuredly going to be outstripped by long-term pain come the end of this year.
It’s hard to argue against Seattle having needed to make a few proactive moves in the final weeks leading up to the preseason if they wanted to try and reverse some of the negative momentum that had been building up against them in recent weeks and months. There was the news that Amy Rodriguez, who had looked to have been the club’s lynchpin in attack, was pregnant and would miss the entire 2013 season. There was the news that midfielders Megan Rapinoe and Teresa Noyola would be fulfilling European club commitments through the early months of the season (Noyola has since managed to free herself to return by the preseason). There was the revelation that Hope Solo could miss the early weeks of the season with a wrist injury. And top supplemental draft pick Nikki Krzysik has waffled on her playing status ever since she was taken by Seattle.
Some of the above also alludes to the fact that the Reign had some gaping holes to be filled before Friday’s trade. The club is woefully inexperienced in the attack, with a score of first and second year strikers hoping to rise to the occasion. If the likes of Tiffany Cameron and Lindsay Taylor can’t prove as prolific as they were at college level, the club might have to depend on journeymen like Liz Bogus and Lyndsey Patterson or likely midfielders Rapinoe and Jess Fishlock for goals. That would be enough for most to hit the panic button, but the defense could still be a greater concern. The fact that Krzysik hasn’t committed one way or the other with the clock ticking towards camps opening should be enough to set alarm bells ringing. If the Virginia alum plays, she might be able to anchor the defense to the point that it’s passable. If not? You might want to throw gasoline on the mess, because it could get ugly. Elli Reed’s probably one of the league’s better left-backs, almost by default, but she’s still very green and probably not in a position to lead a backline yet. The likely center-back pairing of Kate Deines and Emily Zurrer has a ton of size, but I like Deines better as a midfielder, while Zurrer isn’t going to be a contender’s top option at center-back. Right-back? You might as well throw names into a hat at this point. Lauren Barnes and Elli Reed out of position, Liz Bogus, Jess Fishlock, Jenny Ruiz, or someone else could all be thrown into that spot, with it looking like a serious liability at this point.
Given that giant paragraph above, I expected Seattle to have addressed some of the areas of weakness mentioned when news of a trade first broke. The Reign do possess some intriguing assets, such as Krzysik, if she’s angling for a move closer to home, either Nairn or Noyola, if you believe two playmakers is one too many, or even Rapinoe, who could have probably fetched a king’s ransom from a club hungry for a star. Instead, Seattle mortgaged the future in a very plain way while not addressing any of their most glaring needs.
That’s not to say that the addition of Keelin Winters isn’t one that could and should help the Reign this year. While Winters probably hasn’t hit the upside that she came into WPS with a few years back, she’s still shown promising signs in Boston and with Turbine Potsdam in Germany. Winters is probably an upgrade over Kate Deines, who would’ve likely started as the club’s defensive midfielder had the trade not been made. The price Seattle paid though was excessive, especially taking the long view. It’s less of a case of Winters not being an upgrade at the position than the difference between her and Deines not being worth what Seattle gave up.
If we study the history of WPS Drafts, it becomes apparent that first round picks are almost like a golden ticket. Sure there are busts like Kylie Wright, Kiersten Dallstream, and Kerri Hanks, but the odds of picking out a strong contributor are pretty damn high. The vast majority of first round picks in the 2009-2011 WPS Drafts are still playing in a high level league, with many in starring roles or at least in starting roles. The fact is, it’s extremely hard to miss in the first round of a rookie draft at this level if WPS Drafts are anything to measure by. You could make a strong argument that there’s only been one true “bust” in the first round of each of the first three rookie drafts in the WPS era. Some of the players acquired with those traded first round picks? Lauren Cheney, Nikki Washington, Casey Nogueira, Ali Riley, Alyssa Naeher, Sinead Farrelly, and Meghan Klingenberg. Those are seven players who just about walk into any team at this level.
There’s also the little matter of the 2014 NWSL Draft class looking like a potential all-time great group, with much of the 2012 U20 World Cup winning side included. The group includes newly crowned full USWNT internationals Crystal Dunn and Julie Johnston, with the likes of Maya Hayes, Kealia Ohai, Emily Oliver, Aubrey Bledsoe, Vanessa DiBernardo, Katie Stengel, and Morgan Marlborough all likely to be in contention for first round slots as well. The likely deepness of the class means Seattle isn’t going to totally walk away without the chance to draft a future star, but the possibility of missing out on one of the above could be costly. Farley makes the point that it’s “easy to fall in love with Dunn and Johnston’s potential, but it’s potential,” but that overlooks the fact that that potential has led both Dunn and Johnston into the full USWNT, with both earning their first caps against Scotland, with Dunn also making the Algarve Cup roster. Winters didn’t make an appearance against Scotland and wasn’t named to the Algarve Cup roster and doesn’t appear any closer to making her full international debut. Potential it may be, but that potential already seems to have guided both Dunn and Johnston higher up on the pecking order in the USWNT than Winters. And for the record, Johnston is plenty capable as a defensive midfielder, and I’d rate her as a better prospect there than Winters.
For better or for worse, Rodriguez has also shown what she can do at this level with Philadelphia in the past. There’s certainly no guarantee that she’ll ever get back to that level, but if she does and is sent to Chicago after this season, a currently goal shy Seattle squad on paper could be kicking themselves even more.
As an aside, I really like this trade for Chicago (obviously). A central midfield triangle of Winters, Shannon Boxx, and Leslie Osborne was never going to work, and though the club dealt away the one of the trio with the most upside, they got more than fair market value in return. The club needs to shore up their midfield depth a little now, and while I’m still not tipping them for the playoffs just yet, I think the Red Stars now have the assets to make a major move a few months down the line if they’re in a competitive position for the playoffs. If they feel like they’re a player away from being in a strong position for the postseason, Chicago could well dangle one of their first round picks in front of an underachieving club looking to dump salary and build through next year’s draft. If they hold onto both picks, they could well turn their franchise’s fortunes upside down in one fell swoop.
Especially if Seattle struggles, as I suspect they will. Adding Winters and bringing Noyola back on time for the beginning of the season should mean the midfield has the potential to be one of the league’s best. But the likely deficiencies on the backline and frontline, each with the potential to be one of the league’s worst units, are glaring and unaddressed by the trade. Farley makes the point that the club needs impact players (which I don’t disagree with), but the notion that Seattle needs another midfielder more than a top notch defender (down the road) is insane given how frail the defense looks right now. I don’t think either Seattle or Chicago are going to make the playoffs this season, but the Reign have seemingly disarmed themselves of a major tool with which to retool next season. The obvious aim was to make an aggressive move to put themselves over the top, but given the still lingering holes, Seattle may not have done enough to even get themselves to the middle and a postseason spot. By so cavalierly trading away a first round pick in next year’s draft, the task doesn’t figure to get easier down the road either.