Two-time World Cup winner and three-time NWSL defender of the year Becky Sauerbrunn is heading west. The long-rumored deal between Portland and Utah was made official on Tuesday, with the Royals receiving defender Elizabeth Ball and $100,000 in allocation money in exchange for Sauerbrunn.
After trading away another USWNT defender in Emily Sonnett to the Orlando Pride for the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft (which they used to select Sophia Smith), the Thorns were desperate for an experienced defender to shore up their backline. Sauerbrunn, who lives in Portland during the off-season, certainly fits the bill. Though she was left off the NWSL best XI for the first time ever last year, the 34-year-old is still widely regarded as one of the best defenders in the game.
In an interview published on the Thorns’ website, Sauerbrunn said she was thrilled by the opportunity to now get to live and work in the same city.
“As a player, I’ve lived my life in two parts, where my life with my team has been away from where I (otherwise) lived,” she said. “Going to Portland at this point in my career, having lived there for five years, that changes. This move allows me to play at home.”
While North Carolina is still the clear favorite going into the season to repeat as NWSL champs, if Sophia Smith can make an immediate impact as a rookie, and if Portland can manage to sign a top-flight international talent this summer, the Thorns could give the Courage a serious run for the cup.
Utah, on the other hand, looks headed for a rebuild. Even without Sauerbrunn, the Royals have nine players over the age of 30 on their roster. And after watching this veteran core blow their chances at the playoffs last year by dropping four of their final five matches, it’s clear some some reshuffling is in order. Ball is only 24 years old and should be in contention to start for the Royals. Fans of the club, however, may be disappointed that the aging team didn’t push for either more young players or picks in next year’s draft.
If tanking is indeed the Royals’ plan, don’t be surprised if veterans Rachel Corsie, Amy Rodriguez, and Desiree Scott are soon on the move. Each of these players could be traded to a playoff contender for assets as the Royals look to build for the future.