The Portland Thorns have acquired two-time World Cup winner Becky Sauerbrunn from the Utah Royals, the NWSL clubs announced on Tuesday.
The Thorns traded defender Elizabeth Ball and $100,000 in allocation money to the Royals in exchange for one of the best-known defenders in the history of women's soccer. In addition to two World Cup titles and 174 caps for the U.S., Sauerbrunn is the four-time NWSL Defender of the Year and a member of the league's Best XI in each of its first seven seasons.
Sauerbrunn, 34, played her first five NWSL seasons for FC Kansas City, then transitioned to Utah when FC Kansas City ceased operations and its players provided the foundation for the new Royals team affiliated with Real Salt Lake of MLS. She resides in Portland in the offseason and sought out the move, according to statements issued by both teams.
"We are so thankful for her contributions as part of the team and community," Utah general manager Stephanie Lee said in a statement. "And we are happy we can grant her request to be home in a way that allows us to utilize resources in other avenues to better the team."
The trade marks the first time that a team swapped allocation money for a player (the Royals can receive additional allocation money if unspecified conditions are met). The 2020 season will be the first in which teams use allocation money, which allows them to exceed the salary cap.
That new allocation pool is unrelated to the players allocated to the NWSL by the U.S. and Canadian soccer federations and whose salaries are paid by those organizations. Sauberunn is among the players aligned with the NWSL by U.S. Soccer for 2020.
Portland has long been the league's highest-profile franchise, with attendance averaging more than 13,000 in all seven seasons and setting a record at more than 20,000 per game in 2019. However, the Thorns have seen the North Carolina Courage earn top billing on the field in recent seasons. The Courage are two-time defending champions and three-time NWSL Shield winners as the regular season's best team. After reaching the playoffs a season ago before losing to the Chicago Red Stars in the semifinals, the Thorns have been among the offseason's most active teams.
Shortly before the NWSL draft in January, Portland traded Margaret Purce and a draft pick to Sky Blue FC for midfielder Raquel Rodriguez, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 draft.
The Thorns also traded U.S. defender and former No. 1 overall pick Emily Sonnett, the rights to Australian Caitlin Foord and draft picks to the Orlando Pride for the No. 1 pick in this year's draft. Portland then used that pick on Stanford forward Sophia Smith, a prolific college and youth international scorer who left school after her sophomore season. An additional trade of draft picks and allocation money then brought the No. 2 pick, which Portland used on Washington State forward Morgan Weaver.
But with Sauerbrunn now joining veterans like Tobin Heath and Christine Sinclair, it is clear the Thorns aren't ceding the present to the Courage in their effort to restock for the future.
For its part, while trading away an irreplaceable player, Utah was able to accede to Sauerbrunn's desire for the move while still acquiring a talented young replacement and financial flexibility. Ball made 16 appearances for the Thorns last season.
The Thorns open the regular season against the Royals on April 18 in Portland.