Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

The Houston Dash have made Maria Sánchez the NWSL’s highest-paid player, the Wall Street Journal and the Equalizer reported Monday.

The 27-year-old forward has signed a three-year deal with a fourth year option worth nearly $1.5 million total, per the reports. It’s the highest-value contract in NWSL history, surpassing Trinity Rodman’s $1.1 million deal over four years with the Washington Spirit.

Sánchez, who first joined Houston on loan from Liga MX in 2021, led the Dash with four goals and four assists in 2023.

“Her left foot is like magic,” Dash general manager Alex Singer told the Wall Street Journal.

In 2023, she played every single regular-season match for the Dash. Sánchez also plays for Mexico women’s national team, having made 64 international appearances. She played her high school soccer in Idaho, where she caught the attention of publications including Sports Illustrated.

“My end goal was to be a professional soccer player,” Sánchez said. “Back then, I didn’t realize how hard my dream actually was.”

She played collegiate soccer at Idaho State and Santa Clara. In 2019, she was drafted by the NWSL’s Chicago Red Stars. At the time, she was offered $14,584 a year to play.

“I remember looking at the contract and saying, ‘Wow, this is going to be a struggle,’” she said.

After receiving little playing time in Chicago, she played in Liga MX in 2020 and 2021, and then she joined the Dash. The rest is history.

“We are excited to share the signing of Maria Sanchez, a pivotal player and person on and off of the pitch,” Singer said in a news release. “Maria’s is a difference maker who embodies the ambition our club has – her world class left foot and attacking abilities, her desire to be a champion in Houston, and authentic connection to our community are what makes her a club leader.

“Securing Maria’s long-term future was a priority as we know she will play an important role for the Dash for years to come. Signing Maria to this robust, new deal signifies our commitment to investing in infrastructure and talent on the pitch and direction of our club.”

The free agency signing period for the 2024 NWSL season has officially begun, with both restricted and unrestricted free agents now able to sign contracts with clubs of their choosing. Unrestricted free agents can sign with new teams immediately, while restricted free agents can also receive matching qualifying offers from their current clubs.

As in last year’s inaugural free agency, the players with the most freedom are established league veterans, and therefore some of the most valuable players in the league. Signings might start slowly due to free agents being exempt from the upcoming two-team expansion draft, but it’s reasonable to expect another league shake-up before the offseason is over.

Here are a few of the best-known free agents in this year’s class, as well as the journey that got them here and what they might do next.

Crystal Dunn, midfielder/forward

After winning an NWSL Championship with the Portland Thorns in 2022, Crystal Dunn announced right as this year’s offseason began that she’ll be moving on to another squad. She joked during the Skills Challenge at 2023 Championship weekend that she was “looking for a job,” and according to her Instagram, she has already moved out of the Pacific Northwest.

Dunn’s decision to tell the public about her plans right away suggests she might be ahead of the game in picking her next destination, whether it be in the NWSL or abroad. Dunn has already played for the Washington Spirit and the North Carolina Courage in her career, and she has family ties on the East Coast. It seems feasible she could choose to join Gotham’s championship-winning midfield, or even listen to an offer from the Orlando Pride, who have an excess amount of allocation money at their disposal.

Rose Lavelle, midfielder

Rose Lavelle has already taken a circuitous route to her first-ever free agency period. She was drafted into the NWSL by the Boston Breakers and moved to the Washington Spirit after her former club folded. She then was traded to OL Reign in 2020 while playing for Manchester City in England, a move she said came as a surprise to her at the time.

Despite the circumstances that landed Lavelle in Seattle, she’s thrived in her time there. The Reign have a consistent midfield that other clubs envy, and when healthy, Lavelle has had the freedom to pull the strings as the team’s midfield maestro under manager Laura Harvey. Her fit with the team was on full display during the Reign’s 2023 NWSL Championship loss, which might encourage the 28-year-old to extend her contract with the club. But Lavelle isn’t afraid to take leaps in her career, and finding a new home abroad or closer to the region of her NWSL beginnings wouldn’t shock anyone.

Mallory Swanson played just two NWSL games this season after tearing her patella tendon in April. (Daniel Bartel/USA TODAY Sports)

Mallory Swanson, forward

There are a number of reasons to believe that USWNT superstar Mallory Swanson might be open to re-signing with the Chicago Red Stars. Swanson’s husband Dansby is locked into a multi-year contract with the Chicago Cubs, and Swanson herself has flourished upon joining the Red Stars in 2021. Her play in Chicago catapulted her back into the U.S. women’s national team conversation, and she’s been working with their trainers in her slow journey back to the pitch after a patella tendon injury.

But the Red Stars have extensive roster work to do after a last-place finish in 2023, and they don’t currently have a general manager or head coach to make promises to top players who might be worried about the club’s formerly tenuous environment. New ownership appears to be steering the team back on track, but players of Swanson’s caliber will likely have to be reassured that the Red Stars will be contending for the postseason again in the future.

Emily Sonnett, defender/midfielder

Emily Sonnett might be one of the most intriguing free agent prospects in this year’s class. After being drafted by the Portland Thorns in 2016, Sonnett won an NWSL Championship as a center-back with the Washington Spirit in 2021 following a trade from the Orlando Pride (for whom she never actually suited up). Then in 2023, new Spirit manager Mark Parsons abruptly traded Sonnett to OL Reign on NWSL draft day, a move that took the 29-year-old by surprise.

Since joining Seattle, Sonnett has reinvented herself as a player, becoming a steady presence in the defensive midfield, first for the Reign and then on the international stage with the USWNT. Now a free agent, she could slot into any team’s defense or midfield and command space with confidence. As a player who has had to abide by trades in the past, she’s likely looking forward to making her own decision, whether that means staying with the Reign or landing somewhere entirely new.

María Sánchez's scoring talents were somewhat stifled in Houston this season. (Maria Lysaker/USA TODAY Sports)

María Sánchez, forward

While she is a restricted free agent, María Sánchez is the type of player any NWSL club could shape an attack around. She was originally drafted into the league by the Chicago Red Stars, but hit her stride in Liga MX Femenil, playing for Chivas and then UANL Tigres. She returned to the NWSL with the Houston Dash, first on loan and then full-time at the beginning of the 2022 season. Sánchez is a talented winger, with quality on the ball and the ability to make defenders miss and send solid crosses into teammates in the box.

Despite the talent they’ve compiled, the Dash have struggled under numerous managers to convert their style of play into a compelling attacking structure. Houston scored the fewest goals in 2023, nine fewer than the next-worst attack, even after putting together a high-flying frontline that included Diana Ordoñez and Nichelle Prince. With the Dash again looking for a permanent coach to put all the pieces together, Sánchez might be convinced to extend her time in Texas to see out the roster’s original vision. But it also wouldn’t be surprising if the Mexico national team player has her eye on a club that’s already scoring goals to optimize her potential.

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

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — As Mexico’s first-ever match against the Chicago Red Stars neared the hour mark on Saturday, Diana Ordoñez saw the ball in the back of the net before the Red Stars could even react. Taking two steps in front of the penalty area, Ordoñez found acres of space with which to line up a golazo from distance, giving Mexico their fourth goal in an eventual 5-2 win, on a day when the best of the sport were on display.

The MexTour has been a wildly successful endeavor on the men’s side for years, as the Mexico men’s national team connects with fans in the U.S. who might not have the opportunity to travel and watch them in their home country. The men’s team most recently visited Chicago last June for a pre-World Cup friendly against Ecuador in front of 60,000 people at Soldier Field, solidifying the team as one of the most popular in the city and arguably the entire country.

The women’s national team is working on building that kind of following in the inaugural year of MexTour W after a few rocky years on the international stage. Mexico has missed the last two Women’s World Cups with performances during Concacaf qualifying tournaments that don’t reflect the growth in talent in the region in recent years. But Saturday was all about the future, as Mexico drew more than 6,000 fans out to SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, the Red Stars’ home venue.

“When I heard Mexico was coming to play, I was like man, this crowd is going to be rowdy. So I was excited,” said Chicago defender and acting captain Arin Wright, happily sporting a Mexico jersey after the match ended.

The Red Stars were undoubtedly the away team in their home stadium on Saturday, with boos accompanying yellow card challenges and raucous cheers for every Mexico goal-scoring opportunity.

The crowd didn’t leave empty-handed. Mexico found spaces in and around a short-handed Red Stars defense to score five total goals, including a number of strikes from distance complemented by quality footwork in the penalty area. Ordoñez and Maria Sanchez led the charge, each scoring against Chicago just a week after doing the same for the Houston Dash in the NWSL.

“I felt like it was a great day for people that are football people,” said Red Stars head coach Christ Petrucelli. “It’s probably the first time we’ve ever been booed in our own stadium. But it’s OK, it was part of the fun.”

After a number of years when Mexican talent fell outside the NWSL talent pipeline, the door to more overlap between the U.S. and Mexico is appearing to open. Sanchez, Ordoñez, Katie Johnson and Scarlett Camberos are the highest-profile Mexican-American players to rise through the NCAA system and eventually find their way to the NWSL, while American talent is increasingly finding a home in Liga MX Femenil. Most notably, UCLA product and USWNT prospect Mia Fishel is on a goal-scoring tear for Tigres Femenil.

“I think there should be more Mexican players in our league,” Wright said after the game. “I mean, watching this game right there, it shows that they can keep up and that they bring a lot of different talent that we don’t have here in this league. And I think our league could thrive having a little bit more of their technical ability.”

Red Stars midfielder Jill Aguilera, who plays for the Puerto Rico national team, agrees that more opportunities for cross-competition are only good for the region. Saturday’s game was a quick turnaround for Aguilera, as Puerto Rico will play their own version of a club friendly against Liga MX Femenil side Tijuana in California early this week.

“I played Mexico a year ago, somewhat close to today,” she said. “So I was definitely used to the crowd, I knew that it would feel somewhat like an away game. I expected that.”

While the Red Stars did their best to quiet the Mexico crowd, most emphatically with Julia Bianchi’s Olimpico goal off a corner kick, they were also open about their desire to see many of the fans return, perhaps sporting their club colors next time around. The Red Stars’ home outside of Chicago’s city limits has long been a topic of conversation, as the team attempts to connect with the vibrant community northeast of the quiet suburb where they play.

“I think that we struggle a bit, everyone knows, to get fans out here to SeatGeek. So we were really excited to have them come in and have our players really experience that atmosphere that Mexico can bring,” said Wright.

“Overall, we’re just grateful to have as many people as we did out here, and the more we can get fans like this to our regular season games, the better for everyone,” echoed Aguilera.

Wright believes the way to draw crowds back is to continue being active with outreach, and the scheduling of international friendlies is an easy way to make the Red Stars a relevant part of the footballing conversation in the greater Chicagoland community.

“Chicago is a melting pot. It’s so diverse, it has so many different cultures,” she says. “So can we get more games against other countries? That’s how you get more fans is more visibility, and reaching different countries and different fan bases.”

Despite the result, the Red Stars relished the opportunity to be a part of the global game, and Wright is eager for more opportunities.

“The players are gonna be happy to do it,” she said. “Ask us to go to Mexico, twist our arm, we’ll be there.”

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

With just a few weeks left in the NWSL season, the playoff race is heating up.

U.S. women’s national team stars Rose Lavelle and Alyssa Naeher and Mexico national team forward Maria Sánchez came up big to keep their club teams in the thick of the postseason chase.

NWSL Plays of the Week

Maria Sánchez’s rocket

Sánchez struck the shot of the season Sunday, and with it, she brought the Houston Dash fans at PNC Stadium to their feet.

The Mexican international let off a rocket from far outside the box, burying the ball into the upper 90 past a diving Angel City goalkeeper.

Sánchez’s sensational finish helped Houston to a 1-1 draw with Angel City FC, keeping the Dash in playoff contention at fourth in the NWSL standings with 30 points.

Unsurprisingly, Sánchez called Sunday’s banger “probably one of my top goals.”

Rose Lavelle’s screamer

Lavelle played hero for OL Reign on Friday, notching the 80th-minute equalizer to secure a 2-2 draw with the Chicago Red Stars as both teams fight to remain in the playoff picture.

In vintage Lavelle fashion, the star midfielder beat her defender, taking advantage of the time and space awarded to her, and then let off a screamer from the edge of the box.

The goal marks Lavelle’s fourth in 13 regular-season appearances.

Alyssa Naeher’s save

Alyssa Naeher has a busy Friday night, logging seven saves to help clinch the Red Stars’ draw with OL Reign.

The keeper’s most impressive stop came against USWNT teammate Megan Rapinoe, as Naeher denied the OL Reign forward from close range.

Naeher first blocked Rapinoe’s shot before batting away the deflection to keep Rapinoe off the scoresheet.

With the draw, the Red Stars hold onto the sixth and final playoff spot with four matches left in the season. Chicago has 27 points, while OL Reign sits in fifth with 28.

Naeher’s impressive performance not only helped her team keep pace in the playoff race but also added to her case for the starting USWNT goalkeeper position.

Houston Dash head coach James Clarkson was surprised when midfielder Gabby Kessler (formerly Seiler) announced her retirement on Monday.

In a media call Tuesday, as teams opened preseason across the NWSL, Clarkson described the situation as “out of the blue.”

“My head is still spinning to be honest,” he said. “Shocked but can only wish her the best. I hope she’s happy and has a really successful life past soccer.”

The loss of Kessler, who joined the Dash in a trade from the Portland Thorns before the 2021 season, adds to the stinging absence of U.S. women’s national team center midfielder Kristie Mewis. The 30-year-old was selected by San Diego Wave FC in the 2022 expansion draft in December and then immediately traded to NJ/NY Gotham FC.

Evidently, the Dash need to rebuild their midfield, and Clarkson has his hopes set on recent signings María Sánchez and Marisa Viggiano filling that role.

“Bringing in some of the players that we have brought in ideally gives us a different feel, a different look,” he said.

Having previously spent a month with Houston on loan in June 2021, Sánchez signed a two-year deal with the Dash earlier in January. She arrived from UANL Tigres in Liga MX Femenil, where she scored five goals in three games as Tigres reached the Liga MX final in late December.

Sánchez, who’s also scored five goals in 29 appearances with the Mexican national team, will be an important piece on the left side for Houston.

“That is a major signing for us,” said Clarkson. “I think that is going to continue to help us create goals, score goals and give us a real opportunity of winning.”

“I mean, hopefully I can just do my part,” Sánchez said. “Obviously, I was brought in, looked at for a reason. So hopefully I can just do my part offensively. I know defensively as well, but hopefully be able to get some assists and goals in and participate offensively in what the team needs me to do.” 

On Friday, the Dash announced they had acquired Viggiano from the Orlando Pride in exchange for defender Megan Montefusco (formerly Oyster), $30,000 in allocation money and their natural third-round pick in the 2023 NWSL Draft.

Entering her fourth season in the NWSL, Viggiano is coming off 21 appearances and 14 starts with the Pride in 2021.

“We would have been really light at midfield, so getting Viggiano has been massive for us,” said Clarkson.

Finishing in seventh place with a record of 9-10-5, Houston missed out on the playoffs in 2021, a year after they won the 2020 Challenge Cup and placed second in the Fall Series.  The Dash will need to figure out a plan for their defense if they want to return to the playoffs. Last year, the team let in as many goals as they scored — which is a lot considering Houston was among the top-three scoring teams with 31 goals.

Clarkson said the key to reaching success this season is for players to develop individually, and then collectively, to put “a winning, exciting team on the field.”

It also helps to have a core of three 2020 Olympic gold medalists in Canadians Allysha Chapman (defense), Sophie Schmidt (midfield) and Nichelle Prince (forward). England national team star Rachel Daly was third in the league in scoring last year with nine goals, but did not report to the first day of preseason on Tuesday.

Joining Prince and Daly in the attacking third will be Paulina Gramaglia, on loan from UAI Urquiza for the 2022 season.

“She’s got huge potential,” Clarkson said of the 18-year-old. “We saw some moments of some real quality today. She had a fantastic assist and had a great little run where there was a nutmeg and smashed one off the crossbar. So there’s some good stuff there, and hopefully we can continue to evolve it, push it. Hopefully we can see some big things from this year.”

The Dash are relying heavily on transfers this season. The team is in the process of bringing in two more — one who won’t arrive until the summer and another who will ideally be ready to play before that.

Houston aims to have 22 players on the main roster and four development players. 

“We’ve got the vast majority of the roster sorted,” Clarkson said. “We’ve still got some spaces that we plan to fill over the next couple of weeks.”

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.

The Houston Dash have signed forward María Sánchez to a two-year deal from UANL Tigres Femenil, the team announced Thursday.

The Mexican-American player most recently helped Tigres reach the league final on Dec. 20 against C.F. Monterrey Femenil. During the team’s playoff run, Sánchez scored five goals through three games, including braces against Cruz Azul and C.F. America.

“It is fantastic to be adding Maria to the team,” Dash head coach James Clarkson said. “She is an outstanding player and a wonderful person. She’s going to have a major impact on the league this season.”

Sánchez returns to the Dash after they acquired her rights in a trade with the Chicago Red Stars. In three appearances with the Dash during a short-term loan in June, the forward scored her first NWSL goal to help Houston beat Orlando on June 26.

Drafted No. 15 overall in the 2019 NWSL Draft, she appeared in nine matches for the Chicago Red Stars.

Sanchez was one of nine players the Dash opted to protect during the 2022 NWSL Expansion Draft.

“Joining the Dash is such a privilege for me,” Sánchez said. “It’s getting another shot at my dream, and I couldn’t be more excited to do it with a team and coaching staff that I have tremendous respect for!”

Sánchez has spent some time with the Mexican Women’s National Team, notching five goals in 39 appearances for El Tri. She was also part of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup squad as the second youngest player on the team.

As the forward was born in Idaho, she qualifies as a domestic player and will not occupy an international roster spot.

The Dash now have 19 players under contract for the 2022 season.