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As the National Women’s Soccer League’s offseason draws to a close, we’re reflecting on the tremendous strides the league has made in the last few months — from blockbuster trades to an expansion draft, new celebrity investors, to a cross-Atlantic talent race with the FA Women’s Super League, the NWSL is breaking new ground for women’s soccer, and we’re here for all of it.

The 2021 season will kick off with a month-long Challenge Cup starting April 9th. But first, here are the five biggest headlines from a monumental offseason.

1) Angel City FC, North Carolina Courage, and Chicago Red Stars add celebrity investors

What do Natalie Portman, Abby Wambach, Mia Hamm, Serena Williams, Candace Parker, and David Dobrik all have in common?

Each of these A-listers has invested in Angel City FC, the NWSL’s newest addition based in Los Angeles, California. Still not impressed? What if we told you Billie Jean King, Jessica Chastain, Eva Longoria, and Alexis Ohanian were all part of the team?

Angel City, who is set to take the pitch in 2022, has revolutionized investment in the women’s game as we know it.

Just a few months after Angel City stunned the world with the news of their investment group, the North Carolina Courage added a celebrity owner of their own in late January — professional tennis player and four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka, who became the first outside investor in the North Carolina Courage since Steve Malik acquired the team in 2017.

Later, on March 1st, the Chicago Red Stars expanded their ownership group as well, announcing that former Chicago Bears defensive end Israel Idonije, Olympic gold medalist ice hockey player Kendall Coyne Schofield, ESPN’s Sarah Spain, music executive Colleen Mares, NFL marketing leader Julie Haddon, and local entrepreneur Marie Tillman had elected to invest in the team.

Needless to say, celebrity investments are becoming a trend in the National Women’s Soccer League, and there’s a chance the group-ownership model could spread. We’re certainly not opposed to seeing more big names bet on the future of women’s sports.

2) US Women’s National Team takes over the FA Women’s Super League

Speaking of trends, several USWNT players headed abroad to pursue a playing career in the FA Women’s Super League this offseason, including defender Abby Dahlkemper, midfield staples Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle, and forwards Tobin Heath, Christen Press, and Alex Morgan.

The flurry of signings led to an increased scrutiny of the NWSL regarding its ongoing talent leak, with fans beginning to worry that high-profile players were jumping ship not only for temporary Olympic prep but also for better compensation. Dahlkemper herself signed a 2.5 year deal, meaning she won’t be returning stateside anytime soon.

3) Crystal Dunn Heads to Portland

Also making moves during the offseason was USWNT star Crystal Dunn, the key piece in a blockbuster trade that involved the North Carolina Courage, OL Reign, and the Portland Thorns.

The trade began with OL Reign sending both allocation money and goalkeeper Casey Murphy to the North Carolina Courage in exchange for Dunn. In turn, the Reign dealt Dunn to the Thorns, receiving an international roster spot for the 2021 season, a 2022 first-round draft pick, and some allocation money in return.

To some, this deal came as inevitable given that Dunn’s husband, Pierre Soubrier, is the head athletic trainer for the Portland Thorns, and playing for the North Carolina Courage required Dunn to live across the country from him. Others, however, were shocked — the trade dealt quite a blow to the Courage, who won two NWSL championships and two NWSL Shields with Dunn playing an integral role.

As for the Thorns, the addition of Dunn to a roster that already included Christine Sinclair and Lindsey Horan now has the team entering the season as Championship favorites.

4) Racing Louisville FC enters the game

In November, Racing Louisville FC selected its roster during an expansion draft, picking up fourteen players:

  1. Addisyn Merrick (North Carolina Courage)

  2. Julia Ashley (OL Reign)

  3. Jennifer Cudjoe (Sky Blue FC)

  4. Cecelia Kizer (Houston Dash)

  5. Katie Lund (Washington Spirit)

  6. Alanna Kennedy (Orlando Pride)

  7. Lauren Milliet (North Carolina Courage)

  8. Kaleigh Riehl (Sky Blue FC)

  9. Caitlin Foord (Orlando Pride)

  10. Katie McClure (Washington Spirit)

  11. Erin Simon (Houston Dash)

  12. Michelle Betos (OL Reign)

  13. Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns)

  14. Christen Press (Utah Royals)

Prior to the draft, Louisville received forwards Savannah McCaskill and Yuki Nagasato from the Chicago Red Stars in exchange for full protection during the expansion draft. Louisville has since sent Jennifer Cudjoe back to Sky Blue FC in exchange for allocation money and the 13th overall pick in the 2021 NWSL draft, during which Louisville continued to add to their roster.

Most significantly, Louisville drafted UNC standout Emily Fox first overall. And while it’s still not clear how soon players like Heath, Press and Foord will report to Louisville, given that all three are currently playing in the FAWSL, having Fox as a franchise corner piece should give fans a reason to be optimistic.

5) Catarina Macario goes pro… then heads to Europe

Last but certainly not least, Stanford star Catarina Macario announced on January 8th that she would be forgoing her senior season with the Cardinal to start her professional career. Just four days later, on January 12th, it was announced that the two-time Hermann Trophy winner had inked a 2.5-year contract with Lyon, the seven-time UEFA Women’s Champions League winners.

Since signing with Lyon, Macario has also logged two caps for the USWNT, scoring a goal in her second appearance for the US to lift them to a 6-0 victory over Columbia.

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