The NWSL kicked off the new year with a bang on Thursday, as Angel City FC, the Portland Thorns, Gotham FC and the Orlando Pride all participated in a blockbuster trade a week ahead of the NWSL Draft.
In the first trade of the package deal, Angel City sent Portland their natural first-round pick in next Thursday’s draft, their highest natural second-round pick in the 2024 NWSL draft and $200,000 in allocation money. In return, Los Angeles received the rights to 23-year-old midfielder Yazmeen Ryan.
Angel City then made a deal with Gotham FC, sending Ryan and $250,000 in allocation money to New Jersey in return for the No. 1 pick in this year’s NWSL draft. This deal is reportedly contingent on conditions being met, which Jeff Kassouf of ESPN and The Equalizer indicates is 18-year-old Stanford commit Alyssa Thompson turning pro and declaring for the 2022 draft. The deadline for players to register for the draft is 11:59 p.m. ET on Monday, Jan. 9.
In a separate trade, Gotham sent $350,000 in allocation money and a fourth-round pick in the 2024 draft to the Orlando Pride for the No. 2 pick in the 2023 draft.
In summary, Angel City now holds the first overall pick in the 2023 NWSL draft, Gotham FC adds Ryan to their midfield and holds the rights to the No. 2 pick, Orlando adds $350,000 in allocation money, and Portland adds $200,000, the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft and a second-round pick in 2024.
Each team involved made big moves before draft day, but who are the winners here?
Well, it all depends on the top prospect available in the draft, but a reported contingency plan whittles the options down to one player.
Angel City’s sights appear to be set on Thompson, as first reported by Kevin Baxter of the LA Times. The 18-year-old phenom and California native earned her first cap with the USWNT first team in October and is currently committed to play her freshman year at Stanford in the fall. But she will reportedly follow in the footsteps of Trinity Rodman and register for the NWSL draft prior to her first collegiate season.
With Thursday’s moves, Angel City set themselves up to add a young cornerstone to the franchise, but they gave up a lot of money to get there. Relinquishing $450,000 in allocation money could restrict their ability to sign other players in the transfer market. So, the question remains whether Angel City is set up to win now, or if they’re still one or two pieces away.
Gotham benefits immensely from Angel City’s desire to grab a guarantee at the top of the draft order. Ryan is an excellent creative midfielder who is coming off a career-making performance in the 2022 NWSL Championship. She’s young, fills a clear club need and will no doubt help create chances for a team that struggled to score goals in 2022.
Gotham also essentially gets paid for picking up Ryan, allowing them to send just $100,000 in net allocation money to Orlando for what is likely their first-choice pick anyway. If Thompson is Angel City’s main target, Gotham is next in line for Duke sophomore Michelle Cooper who, in tandem with Ryan, would radically change the club’s goal-scoring outlook and midfield fluidity. Cooper, a proven goal-scorer at both the college and youth international levels, officially registered for the draft on Thursday. She scored 31 goals and registered 16 assists in two college seasons and recently won the Golden Ball while representing the United States at the Concacaf U-20 Championship.
When it comes to the biggest winners of this deal, Gotham made out like bandits.
The Pride also have the No. 3 pick in the 2023 draft, so they aren’t entirely giving up the opportunity to grab a talented rookie through the college system. They also get a huge payday for their troubles, which can be used in the free-agency market. The Pride are in the second stage of a rebuild, with a good group of young players and a strong veteran presence in Marta, who re-signed with the club in December through 2024. The Pride’s ability to attract a superstar in the prime of their career could be what makes them a contender or not.
Ryan is a big loss, and it’s unclear how much the Thorns needed extra allocation money to move around. They still have a very strong midfield core of Crystal Dunn, Rocky Rodriguez, Sam Coffey, Olivia Moultrie and Christine Sinclair, but the main factor in their willingness to give Ryan up might be Lindsey Horan’s impending return from Olympique Lyon, where she was on loan.
The Thorns also now have two picks in the first round of this year’s draft at No. 5 and No. 12, and they have a chance to acquire more depth next year. Portland’s roster still looks stacked for a repeat NWSL Championship bid, but letting go of Ryan could come back to haunt them later.
Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.