The NWSL Players’ Association released the official list of prospective 2024 free agents last week, naming the restricted and unrestricted free agents now allowed to take conversations with teams across the league.
This year’s free agency period is complicated by two expansion clubs in Utah and the Bay Area joining the NWSL in 2024. With the expansion process on the horizon, teams will have to both pursue players out of contract and look to strike deals with those on their roster who are still under contract.
A number of stars grace the free agency shortlist, and it’s clear that some NWSL clubs have a tougher negotiation period ahead of them than others. Here are a few clubs in danger of letting some of the biggest names in the sport walk elsewhere this winter.
Unrestricted: Tierna Davidson, D; Casey Krueger, D; Mallory Swanson, F; Yuki Nagasato, M
When the old U.S. national allocation status went away in 2021, the Red Stars made sure to lock down their four players who fell under that status to two-year contracts: Tierna Davidson, Casey Krueger, Mallory Swanson and Alyssa Naeher.
Entering the 2024 free agency period, the only player of that four who has signed onto an additional year with the club is Naeher. The Red Stars have a significant amount of rebuilding to do both on and off the field under new ownership, and retaining the other three players of their long-standing USWNT foursome will likely be at the top of the priority list. Standout midfielder Yuki Nagasato has also not yet signed her mutual team option, leaving Chicago facing the possible loss of veteran leadership and available talent.
Swanson has indicated that she’d like to stay in Chicago (where her husband Dansby plays for the Cubs of the MLB), and Krueger is similarly settled in the Midwest. Davidson, however, might be a difficult player for the Red Stars to retain. With expansion approaching, the center-back is looking to get back into the USWNT roster conversation and might seek out a change of scenery in the process.
Unrestricted: Crystal Dunn, M; Meghan Klingenberg, D; Becky Sauerbrunn, D; Christine Sinclair, F
The Thorns similarly have major talent to retain if they want to avoid a major overhaul in 2024. Crystal Dunn, Meghan Klingenberg, Becky Sauerbrunn and Christine Sinclair have all played consistently for the club this year, excluding Sauerbrunn’s foot injury that left the two-time world champion off the USWNT roster for this year’s World Cup.
Of the four star players entering unrestricted free agency this year, Sinclair and Sauerbrunn might consider hanging up their boots entirely, but they are still a big part of Portland’s race to the NWSL Shield in 2023. Dunn has been a revelation while playing in a more advanced position following the injury to Golden Boot leader Sophia Smith, showcasing the versatility that makes her one of the most valuable NWSL players of all time.
Klingenberg has also quietly been one of the most consistent performers in the league in the years since her USWNT career ended. A key locker room presence for Portland, she has adjusted her game to retain her effectiveness into her mid-30s. While the Thorns do a good job bringing in young talent to shore up positions, it’s hard to imagine what the team would look like without any of these free agents.
Unrestricted: Emily Sonnett, M/D; Rose Lavelle, M
Restricted: Tziarra King, F; Angelina, M
Portland’s longtime rivals also have some work to do to maintain a through-line between their longtime stars and up-and-coming talent. Megan Rapinoe, who has played for the Reign since their inception in 2013, will be retiring at the end of the season. Jess Fishlock, another member of the Reign’s original three alongside defender Lauren Barnes, has signed an extension through next season.
Beyond the true veterans, the Reign have a number of starters with the opportunity to turn elsewhere after this season. Rose Lavelle has had her moments of being unstoppable for Seattle since her unexpected trade from the Spirit in 2020, but she’s also been plagued by injury in recent years.
Emily Sonnett became one of the team’s starting defensive midfielders after another surprise trade from Washington earlier this year. If the Reign are in the process of parting with their longtime culture-setters in their locker room, they at least might want to focus on holding onto USWNT mainstays like Lavelle and Sonnett.
The Reign also have a few young contributors up for restricted free agency — meaning that if they do not receive a qualifying offer from their current team, they can negotiate with other teams. Tziarra King and Angelina have both been skillful additions to the Reign’s roster, and with head coach Laura Harvery likely having to reshape the concept of her starting XI, they provide depth the club might be reluctant to lose.
Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.