Is it possible for both teams to lose a trade?
Monday’s bombshell trade featuring a pair of USWNT forwards was an odd one, with the WNY Flash turning an asset who was likely never going to play for them again into Sydney Leroux and Amanda Frisbie. At the same time though, they paid a steep price besides the rights to Abby Wambach, giving up Amber Brooks, recently acquired this offseason, and a first-round pick in the 2016 NWSL Draft, which may be the most important asset of all when all is said and done. And that may be the ultimate gain for the Reign, who don’t particularly seem to benefit in the short-term at all.
Some specific points:
1. I’m not particularly convinced that Abby Wambach is 100% done in the NWSL. This season? Probably. But next year? Wambach hasn’t given any indication that she intends to hang them up before the 2016 Rio Olympics, and it beggars belief that she’d be able to remain on the USWNT if she doesn’t play meaningful club football between now and next Summer. Wambach could potentially swing it if she stars in a successful WWC for the U.S., but if she and the USWNT fall on their face this Summer, it seems highly unlikely that Wambach would be selected for the Olympic roster if she can’t prove she can at least resemble an international calibre player.
Whether that proof comes with Seattle or another NWSL Pacific Northwest team (or a European side) is up for debate, but Laura Harvey at least acquired a nice bargaining chip if Wambach doesn’t want to play for the Reign.
2. That being said, why on Earth does the Reign need Amber Brooks? And for that matter, why on Earth is Seattle taking on a player that the Flash were willing to flog off on them before she played a competitive match for them. On paper, Seattle is stacked with defensive midfielders, with the combo of Keelin Winters and the more offensive minded Jessica Fishlock unlikely to budge from their starting roles. Mariah Nogueira is the blunt object of choice in defensive midfield off the bench and arguably has been just as or more impressive than Brooks thus far as a pro in the NWSL. If nobody else gets moved, where does Brooks figure in? Could Laura Harvey pull off a narrow diamond 4-4-2 with Brooks involved? It might work in the early part of the season with Beverly Yanez and Danielle Foxhoven a potential center-forward partnership. But with wide attackers like Megan Rapinoe and Katrine Veje joining up later, such a narrow formation makes little sense. For that matter, neither does Brooks in Seattle given the club’s current personnel.
3. The trade of Leroux may be an indictment of Harvey’s faith in the former UCLA player, but it’s also a big vote of confidence towards Beverly Yanez, who the club sealed on a permanent deal after having her on loan last year. Yanez did score five goals last season…but the more advanced numbers paint a more discouraging picture. She needed forty-nine shots to score those four goals and didn’t place half of her shots on frame. Those are numbers befitting an ancillary piece of the frontline, not the centerpiece, and Yanez must do better to truly show her proficiency in leading the line. If Yanez doesn’t come through though, the Reign could be in trouble up front, depending on Megan Rapinoe and Katrine Veje to supply the goods. That’s a very shaky proposition, as Rapinoe has endured a star-crossed career at club level thus far and will be missing a lot of time with the USWNT, while Veje has to prove she can hack it at this level. An inability to score from the forwards will place even more pressure on Kim Little to continue her MVP form.
4. What good is having an extra first-round pick if you aren’t actually going to do anything worthwhile with it? Amanda Frisbie’s exit before playing a competitive game for Seattle underlined the Reign’s continued inability to identify college talent to star for them. Key words being “for them”. Frisbie may yet be a star, but it won’t be for the Reign, while Christine Nairn has played gamely for Washington. But it makes for grisly viewing elsewhere in Seattle’s list of past draftees. Mallory Schaffer, Kristen Meier, and Ellen Parker are all out of the league. Megan Brigman might be on her way down that path if she doesn’t make it with WNY as a preseason invitee. The only player still with the Reign from those first two drafts is backup goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer. Being a master of the draft isn’t totally necessary for success at this level, just ask Philadelphia in WPS. But it sure helps teams get over the top: just ask the team that beat Seattle in last year’s final, FC Kansas City.
5. That in mind, the Flash are really betting big on their belief that they’re going to be a playoff team this season. Custom says you don’t trade away a first-round pick unless you believe the pieces you’re getting back in return are the ones that are about to put you over the top. NWSL teams have violated this rule at their peril. It robbed Seattle of a high pick in 2014 via the Keelin Winters trade with Chicago, while Boston felt the same sting this year after trading their first-rounder to Sky Blue FC for Lisa de Vanna. The Flash don’t look as bad as those two teams did going into those respective seasons, but am I the only one that doesn’t see a playoff team in Rochester. Granted, the Flash have built a very impressive front half of the team. The likes of Whitney Engen and Becky Edwards provide a very solid spine with veteran presence, while rookies like Abby Dahlkemper, Jaelene Hinkle, and Lynn Williams all look like future stars. But, geez, have you seen the back half of WNY’s roster? The goalkeeping situation isn’t settled. The defensive depth is composed of replacement level players Kristen Edmonds and Haley Palmer, the aging India Trotter, and Washington defensive pantomime villain Toni Pressley. There basically isn’t any central midfield depth after trading away Brooks. And the forward depth is a whole basket of unknowns. Could the Flash make the playoffs if they get all the breaks? Yeah, maybe. But those depth issues are going to haunt them more likely than not. I thought the Flash were another great offseason away from getting back to being a real contender again. Going into next offseason without a first-round pick may delay that timetable yet.
6. I kind of questioned whether WNY had one defensive midfielder too many with Brooks, Jordan Angeli, and Becky Edwards all on the roster. But I hardly expected Brooks to be moved on, much less being moved on before playing a competitive fixture for the club. It leaves the Flash with a hell of a vacuum in depth in terms of central midfielders. Aaran Lines is already trying out Abby Dahlkemper as a defensive central midfielder, and you wonder if she may play there alongside Edwards to begin the season with Pressley partnering Engen at center-back. Additionally, the problems in attacking central midfielder behind Sam Mewis haven’t been resolved. The group is talented but also walking a tightrope. Injuries or a drop in form, and the Flash could be in real trouble.
7. Is there anyone not rooting for Amanda Frisbie to be a big hit for the Flash? The hard luck Frisbie was thrilled to be drafted by a Seattle side that seemed to really need her going into last season but was cruelly cut down by injuries that kept her out all of last season as the Reign stormed to the regular season title. Frisbie seemed healthy again in the preseason and poised to take up a versatile role for Seattle, perhaps in attack, before being waylaid by this blockbuster trade. The Flash are acquiring a talented, hopefully healthy, and most definitely motivated player in Frisbie. Given her versatility, Frisbie could suit up in a variety of roles for her new club, though you suspect she’ll be given every chance to win major minutes early in the attack for the Flash.
8. Leroux’s the biggest name in this trade that’s definitely going to be playing club ball, and Lines’ assurances that Leroux is a franchise player rings hollow given Leroux’s nomadic NWSL life thus far coupled with an unimpressive scoring record last season in a Seattle side that never really warmed to her in the lineup. The former UCLA Bruin netted just five goals in twenty-two appearances, with some truly ghastly metrics, needing over ten shots to score a goal and putting less than forty percent of her shots on frame. With Leroux having little in the way of time to settle with the Flash considering the late preseason trade and the extensive USWNT calendar, you have to wonder if she’ll be able to gel with her new side in time to fire the Rochester side up the table. If she can’t find her form, the Flash are probably going to be in a lot of trouble, as there’s very little in reserve in terms of proven attacking talent. It’s certainly not Leroux’s last chance, and probably not even close to it. But WNY may be a pivotal moment for Leroux’s reputation and whether her potential as the “franchise player” Lines touted her as being is ever going to be met.