Every NWSL offseason comes with player movement, but the months leading up to the 2023 season reflected a new era of player choice. The league’s first free-agency period saw many top players leaving for new environments and teams making a few surprising moves themselves.

Almost every NWSL roster will look different in 2023, with the potential for dramatic returns as teams meet for the first time in the regular season.

Don’t look now, but revenge season might be upon us. Here are the games to circle on your calendar.

March 25: Kansas City Current at North Carolina Courage

The first game of the NWSL regular season wastes no time in getting into one of the most dramatic narratives of the offseason. The Kansas City Current were the big winners of the league’s free-agency period and feature heavily on this list as players take on their former teams.

First up, two-time NWSL champion Debinha returns to the home of the North Carolina Courage in her first game after a high-profile move to Kansas City. Courage head coach Sean Nahas said at the 2023 draft that they had made serious overtures to the Brazilian superstar to try to convince her to stay with her club of five years, and her playmaking ability will surely be missed in North Carolina.

The Current come into the season with high expectations. Debinha appeared to pick up a knock in preseason that might limit her availability for this game. Regardless, the opening match against her former teammates (and current Brazil teammate Kerolin) will be a battle that sets the tone for Kansas City’s ceiling in 2023.

Emily Sonnett was a part of Washington's 2021 NWSL championship run. (Ira L. Black/Getty Images)

March 26: OL Reign at Washington Spirit

OL Reign travels to Washington D.C. on opening weekend, with a few chips on their shoulder to shake off. The Spirit famously ended the Reign’s postseason dreams in 2021 before going on to win the club’s first NWSL Championship. Prior to that, Rose Lavelle found her NWSL rights abruptly sent to Seattle from Washington while playing for Manchester City, a move she said surprised her at the time.

More recently, Washington unexpectedly sent another USWNT mainstay to the Pacific Northwest, completing a draft-day trade that dealt Emily Sonnett to OL Reign. The trade came about quickly, with new Spirit head coach Mark Parsons making a move to address what he referred to as a “structural” imbalance to his roster. This is the second time Parsons has traded Sonnett to a new team, first sending her to the Orlando Pride when he was the head coach of the Portland Thorns.

The Reign had a consistent partnership between Alana Cook and Sam Hiatt in the central defense in 2022, so it will be interesting to see how Sonnett is deployed. No matter, the potential revenge factor in this one is sky high.

April 15: Kansas City Current at Chicago Red Stars

There’s nothing like facing your former captain at home. Vanessa DiBernardo was a Chicago Red Star for eight years, and most recently their captain, before leaving for the Current in her first year of free agency. She was joined by former Chicago teammate Morgan Gautrat, who had played for the Red Stars for five years.

Both midfielders played in multiple NWSL finals with Chicago but decided to sign with a stacked Kansas City roster still in search of their first piece of hardware. The Red Stars team they left behind is now rebuilding around star striker Mallory Swanson after a tumultuous few years behind the scenes. Chicago will want to prove themselves against one of the deepest teams in the league and show what life looks like after the departure of a number of their veterans.

Kansas City used the pick they acquired in the Lynn Williams trade to select Michelle Cooper at No. 2. (Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

April 30: Gotham FC at Kansas City Current

Lynn Williams never registered regular-season minutes for the Current, but this matchup has the potential for revenge nonetheless. Kansas City traded Williams to Gotham FC right as she made her return to the field with the USWNT, after a serious hamstring issue kept her sidelined in 2022.

Relinquishing Williams likely freed up salary cap space for the Current’s stacked midfield and also for rookie Michelle Cooper, whose prowess at Duke made her a clear target for Kansas City with the No. 2 pick in the draft. Cooper is untested at the professional level, meaning this particular game could become a referendum on veteran experience over rookie ceiling.

Gotham will likely be in revenge mode as a team, looking to improve upon their league-worst finish in 2022 and showcase their own offseason moves. If Kansas City is the standard, Gotham will want to rise to meet it.

May 27: North Carolina Courage at Racing Louisville

The offseason’s other surprising trade also involved North Carolina, with the Courage sending Carson Pickett and longtime captain Abby Erceg to Louisville in exchange for rising USWNT outside back Emily Fox. In soccer terms, the trade made some sense for both teams, but the unceremonious end to Erceg’s time at the club where she won multiple championships wasn’t lost on the center back.

Both teams will be eager to show off how they’ve honed their roster in the offseason, with North Carolina attempting to rise back to the upper echelon of the NWSL and Racing Louisville pushing for their first-ever playoff spot. The addition of Erceg and Pickett radically changes the outlook of Louisville’s defense, and they’ll have extra motivation to keep the Courage off the scoresheet. At the other end of the field, Fox is working her way into an assured U.S. roster spot for the 2023 World Cup and will want to excel with the same freedom on the pitch that she had in Louisville.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

The North Carolina Courage are in the midst of a roster overhaul, with Abby Erceg and Carson Pickett traded away in the latest move.

The two defenders were flipped to Racing Louisville in exchange for defender Emily Fox. Erceg, who had served as team captain of the Courage, wrote that her her “heart breaks a little” in the wake of the trade.

“I am as shocked and disappointed as you are,” she wrote. “The intention to see out my career with a club in which I have so many fantastic memories comes to an end, as that intention is unfortunately not a shared one.

“I will never forget the times that we had on and off the pitch. Some of the best moments of my career have been shared with you all. I gave this club everything I had through the good times and the bad so I leave with my head held high.”

Erceg is far from the only Courage player to be traded away in the last two offseasons, as the team has shaken up its core.

Notably, both Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams were dealt to the Kansas City Current before the 2022 season. And already in 2023, the team has dealt away defender Merritt Mathias and forward Diana Ordóñez.

Ordóñez had requested a trade before the NWSL draft. The 2022 Rookie of the Year finalist was dealt to the Houston Dash, which will put her closer to family.

Erceg criticized the deal on Twitter, writing, “Yup, it’s official. We still suck a trades in 2023.” But after her own trade to Louisville, the outgoing Courage captain described herself as “shocked and disappointed.”

The Courage have also lost key free agents. Debinha opted to leave the Courage to sign with the Current after finishing as a finalist for NWSL MVP in 2022.

Emily Fox is on her way to North Carolina in exchange for the Courage’s Abby Erceg and Carson Pickett, the teams announced Monday.

The No. 1 pick in the 2021 NWSL draft, Fox has been a member of Racing Louisville since their first match. She also has played in 24 games for the U.S. women’s national team, including the team’s two wins against New Zealand to start the year.

The 24-year-old defender posted an 82% pass success rate in her second season after finishing as a Rookie of the Year finalist in 2021.

“I’m really excited to have the opportunity to head back to North Carolina,” Fox said in a news release. “Coming from UNC, the Courage were always a team I rooted for and admired. I can’t wait to get to work and represent this club.”

With the addition of Fox, the Courage continue the reshaping their roster this offseason. The departure of defensive cornerstones in Pickett and team captain Erceg comes after 2022 NWSL MVP finalist Debinha departed for the Kansas City Current in free agency.

North Carolina also has parted ways with defender Merritt Mathias and forward Diana Ordóñez. The former was traded to Angel City FC in exchange for forward Tyler Lussi, while the latter was sent to the Houston Dash in exchange for draft picks.

While Ordóñez had requested a trade, Erceg criticized the deal on Twitter, writing, “Yup, it’s official. We still suck a trades in 2023.” Still, after her own trade to Louisville, the outgoing Courage captain described herself as “shocked and disappointed.”

“The intention to see out my career with a club in which I have so many fantastic memories comes to an end, as that intention is unfortunately not a shared one,” she wrote in a statement shared via her Twitter account.

In Louisville, both Erceg and Pickett will reunite with former Courage teammate Jessica McDonald. North Carolina traded McDonald to Louisville last offseason.

Racing loses Fox but receives a defender of a similar style in the 29-year-old Pickett, as well as an seasoned leader in 33-year-old Erceg.

“Obviously Emily is a player of high quality,” Racing coach Kim Björkegren said. “This trade, however, returns a great player at the left-back position in Carson and gives us a veteran central defender in Abby. Both players have great experience and talent and can help lead this team.”

Of the many trades conducted on the night of the 2023 NWSL Draft, Diana Ordóñez to the Houston Dash stands out as one of the more surprising moves.

The 21-year-old forward was sent to the Dash along with the No. 30 overall pick, while the North Carolina Courage received the No. 8 overall pick. With that pick, they chose defender Sydney Collins out of California. The Courage also received an international slot in 2023, as well as Houston’s natural first-round pick in 2024 and $100,000 in allocation money.

The trade was met with mixed reactions Thursday night, even from the Courage themselves.

“We still suck at trades in 2023,” team captain Abby Erceg wrote of the trade on Twitter, implying that the Dash got the better end of the deal.

Courage head coach Sean Nahas told reporters at the draft that Ordóñez herself and not the Courage prompted the trade, as she wanted to be closer to family.

“To be honest, it wasn’t easy, but there’s more to it than trading Diana,” Nahas told The Equalizer. “There were back-and-forth conversations and certain things she was looking for that she expressed to us. So, at the end of the day, we need to make a decision and we wanted to make sure we took care of her, as well, for the efforts and work that she put in for our club.

“She’s a family person, so I think that was a big thing for her. We thanked her for everything that she did. It’s not easy, we had a great relationship with her.”

Sam Laity, who was hired in December as head coach of the Dash, said the trade came together right before the draft began. But Ordóñez had been on his radar since he took the job.

“She was the first person, the first player that I targeted when I took the job,” Laity said. “We had initial discussions about it when I became the head coach… Ordóñez was a player we aligned with from a club perspective and a personal perspective. She has every attribute that you would need to be successful in the league.”

A Rookie of the Year candidate in 2022, Ordóñez was one of the best players on the field, scoring 11 goals to set the rookie record and starting in 17 of 19 games. Houston is coming off its first-ever playoff appearance, and the club will look to build on that in 2023.

Former Chicago Red Stars players are speaking up about the recent accusations made against former coach Rory Dames. After resigning from his position late Sunday, Dames was at the center of a report detailing allegations of emotional and verbal abuse.

Melissa Tancredi, a member of the Red Stars from 2014-15, wrote “FINALLY” on Twitter in response to the Washington Post report.

“So proud of everyone who spoke out, not only in 2014 but even today,” Tancredi wrote. “There’s still more to be done within that organization that’s for sure.”

Abby Erceg, Tancredi’s former teammate with the Red Stars and now the captain of the North Carolina Courage, backed Tancredi up on Twitter. The defender wrote, “Ditto…Was wondering when it was his turn.”

Seven players spoke to the Washington Post about Dames, including Christen Press, who tried to take action seven years ago. The Angel City FC and U.S. women’s national team star first reported Dames’ behavior to U.S. Soccer in 2014 and filed a formal complaint with the federation in 2018.

The report comes on the heels of a tumultuous season for the NWSL off the field. Five of the league’s 10 coaches left their clubs while facing accusations of abuse, including Richie Burke of the Washington Spirit and Paul Riley of the North Carolina Courage.

As a result, the league has undergone major changes, including the resignation of league commissioner Lisa Baird.

The most recent allegations point to U.S. Soccer’s involvement in the NWSL’s culture of silence. The federation has played an integral role in the NWSL since its founding in 2013, operating as acting manager of the league up until this year. In the wake of the Riley scandal, it launched an independent investigation spearheaded by former acting attorney general Sally Q. Yates.

New Zealand national team coach Tom Sermanni had some choice words for the Orlando Pride and North Carolina Courage this weekend.

Sermanni called out the NWSL teams after they denied the release of New Zealand internationals Ali Riley and Abby Erceg ahead of the Olympics.

“It’s unprofessional, unethical and shows a complete lack of respect for the players and New Zealand football. In fact, it reeks of discrimination,” Sermanni told ESPN.

Riley and Erceg are the only Tokyo-bound athletes from Orlando and North Carolina to leave after the clubs’ weekend matches. North Carolina’s Debinha and Orlando’s Marta, playing for Brazil in Tokyo, were absent from their teams’ rosters this weekend.

“These athletes are all going to the same major tournament and those clubs have released every single Olympic athlete except for the New Zealanders,” Sermanni said.

The Pride responded to Sermanni’s comments on Saturday.

“The release date of each player is evaluated on an individual basis, factoring the respective national team’s request, the FIFA required release date, the decisions made by other teams in the National Women’s Soccer League as well as the input of the player,” a team spokesperson said. “Claims of discrimination in this matter are simply unfounded.”

Riley and Erceg are set to arrive in Japan on Monday, only two days before the country’s warm-up game against Great Britain.