In a stunning move, the Washington Spirit have traded USWNT star midfielder Rose Lavelle to OL Reign...sort of. With reports linking Lavelle to a move to Europe in the very near future, the Spirit have effectively traded her NWSL playing rights to the Reign. In exchange, Washington will get $100,000 in allocation money, the Reign’s natural 2022 first round draft pick, and there are conditions built into the deal that could be triggered when (or if) Lavelle returns to NWSL that would send more allocation money to the Spirit.
The Athletic’s Meg Linehan recently reported that Manchester City had made a formal offer to Lavelle, along with USWNT teammate Sam Mewis. Mewis has since signed with Man City, and according to Linehan, Lavelle’s move to join her will be announced in the very near future:
And with the Reign/Spirit trade done, can finally report that according to multiple sources, the Rose Lavelle to Manchester City trade is officially a go, one year contract, mutual option.— Meg Linehan (@itsmeglinehan) August 16, 2020
Mewis & Lavelle signings now complete. #NWSL #USWNT https://t.co/YWvxliHYfH
The Reign’s press release specifically spelled out that the move is for Lavelle’s NWSL rights:
The agreement with Washington was made with the understanding that Lavelle is expected to sign an agreement to play outside the NWSL with immediate effect. As a result of the trade, OL Reign will control Lavelle’s future playing rights in the NWSL.
If Lavelle does in fact sign outside of the NWSL, the deal starts to make more sense. Washington has had a good history of drafting well, with multiple starters coming in via that route in the last couple of seasons. The allocation money also gives the Spirit immense flexibility, and can be used to fund raises for players that hit certain benchmarks, transfer fees for international targets, or even off-the-field improvements to infrastructure.
Still, trading away the team’s biggest names — indeed, one of the biggest names in women’s soccer on the planet — is a major move. Effectively, the Spirit are betting on Lavelle staying abroad for a longer period of time, while the Reign will be hoping that she’s back in NWSL after the first year of her European deal ends.
That leaves the Spirit with an obvious question: how do you win games without your best attacking player? On one hand, Washington has a lot of firepower even without Lavelle: Ashley Sanchez and Jordan DiBiasi both seem to have USWNT appearances in their futures, while Kumi Yokoyama added an element of creativity coming off the wing that wasn’t previously there. Bayley Feist’s emergence during the Challenge Cup had given head coach Richie Burke a difficult lineup question, as he had to figure out how to get her and DiBiasi into the same lineup with Lavelle while not shifting away from the 433 formation that the team seemed most comfortable with.
However, when the Spirit rested Lavelle in Utah, the returns were quite mixed. They were mostly outplayed during the first half against the Portland Thorns, before offering more once Lavelle entered the game at halftime. While Washington did fare well enough without Lavelle in a 1-0 win over the Houston Dash to end the group stage, it was a game they probably could have won more comfortably with Lavelle on the field. Tellingly, with Lavelle unavailable due to input from the USWNT medical staff, they were unable to break down Sky Blue FC despite largely controlling play, going out on penalties after a 0-0 draw.
Figuring out how to win without Lavelle has been a problem the Spirit had to solve, for various reasons. Now though, it appears to be the number one question facing the club.