Big things are afoot in USWNT player movement news. Christen Press will return from Goteborg in the Swedish Damallsvenskan as part of a big three-way trade between the Chicago Red Stars, the Houston Dash, and the Utah Royals.
The Houston Dash still hold the rights to Press and seem to have leveraged them pretty well, considering Press made it clear she was never going to play for Houston. Meanwhile, Chicago is unloading Sofia Huerta to Houston, who will send Press’ rights to the Utah Royals. Here, we drew you a diagram.
There are other player moves attached to these trades as well. Chicago also got a conditional first-round draft pick in the 2020 college draft for Press and sent Taylor Comeau to Houston with Huerta. For Chicago - Utah, Chicago sent Sam Johnson and Utah sent Brooke Elby, the number one overall college draft pick in 2019, a first round draft pick in 2019, conditional first and second-round picks in 2020, and a first-round pick in 2021.
Possibly the most interesting point of conjecture here is Huerta’s move to Houston and whether Vera Pauw will play her at right back. Huerta was never going to develop into the RB that Jill Ellis wants while at Chicago, and based on social media, it seems like there was really no love lost between Huerta and head coach Rory Dames. Chicago could also be counting on the return of Morgan Brian, fresh off a plane from France, to bolster their roster, assuming they can keep her healthy.
But Houston is also in need of help in the midfield with Kristie Mewis’ season-ending injury, and Huerta could help on the goalscoring end. Houston has rotated a couple of players through that RB position, but with the signing of Australian Clare Polkinghorne, that could point to Pauw wanting Huerta for her offensive capabilities, regardless of what USSF would prefer.
If this all seems a little convoluted - well, it is. And it’s probably a signal just how much US Soccer wants its stars to play at home, with perhaps a sprinkle of Jill Ellis not really rating the Damallsvenskan as a competitive league. Press probably asked for Utah as one of several preferred destinations, and Utah, needing a goalscorer, was willing to spray Chicago with a draft pick hose until they said yes.
Utah already has a fairly talented midfield but are struggling a little bit to get the ball in the net with 10 goals in 11 games. They also currently register the lowest SOG in the league, less than even last-place Sky Blue FC. Adding a talented striker to the lineup is probably a very attractive prospect to Laura Harvey.
In the larger picture, particularly in terms of USSF - NWSL relations, maybe this is another glimpse of how US Soccer sometimes pulls strings to the detriment of club autonomy. Houston looked quite content to sit on Press’ rights until they felt they could leverage them for a high-value trade, so if they were nudged to make Press available to Utah (and I’m not saying they were - this is pure speculation), and then two other teams had to get dragged into the mix in order to make the whole thing work, that seems inefficient and overly involved. Then again, perhaps this was a way to get several players what they wanted at the same time while also allowing the clubs involved to make moves that actually benefited them. The dominoes just happened to fall in the right way at the same time, making for a win-win situation for the teams, the players, and fans who love drama.