The long-rumored blockbuster transfer finally happened: Sam Mewis, one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the world, left the American club North Carolina Courage yesterday for Manchester City of the FA Women’s Super League. Her international teammate and regular ankle-breaker Rose Lavelle, who won the Bronze Ball at last year’s World Cup in France, may be joining her soon. While seemingly irrelevant to Frauen-Bundesliga at first glance, Mewis’s transfer could kick off an unanticipated trend in the next few weeks.
The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) is the best and most competitive women’s soccer league in the world, and almost all United States national teamers play their club soccer there. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, it is likely that the NWSL will not resume play until 2021. Facing the prospect of a long layoff before next summer’s rescheduled Tokyo Olympics, many NWSL players are now seeking temporary or permanent homes in Europe.
Besides Mewis, there have been several other confirmed moves from the NWSL to Europe, most notably English striker Jodie Taylor transferring from OL Reign to Lyon in France. Rachel Daly—who won the MVP award at the recently concluded NWSL Challenge Cup—and Welsh star Jess Fishlock have both indicated their interest in going on loan in England.
Professional sports are the reward of a functioning society. The full-blown public health disaster in the United States right now has created an unusual situation where European clubs have access to players of a much higher caliber than they normally could attract. While most German clubs cannot compete financially with most English and top French clubs, and they might be weary of having players for only half a season (the NWSL is a summer league), could we still see some NWSL-to-Germany transactions before the Frauen-Bundesliga season begins in September?
Following the tradition of #WoSo banters and inspired by a recent Stadio episode, here is one loan signing from the NWSL for each Frauen-Bundesliga club, listed in reverse order of their positions last season. Unlike the Stadio list, I am considering all NWSL players, not just United States internationals who play there. I tried to consider as many realistic variables as possible, including player’s injury and contract status (with one notable exception that you will see below). Also, let me be absolutely clear: these are not transfer rumors and I do not have inside information about potential moves; consider them fantasies and conversation starters only from a fan of both leagues.
SV Meppen: Jade Moore, DM
SV Meppen finished fourth in 2. Frauen-Bundesliga last season and were promoted because ahead of them were two reserves teams ineligible for promotion to the top flight. To be honest, I have never watched them play so an educated guess is difficult here. But I believe a solid back six helps minnows stay up and they have already signed a few attacking players like Janelle Flaws and Beattie Goad, so I went for English defensive midfielder Jade Moore. Moore only moved from English club Reading to Orlando Pride this year, and Orlando had to withdraw from the NWSL Challenge Cup due to (false?) positive COVID-19 tests from staff and players, so she has not played a single competitive minute since the shutdown and will be desperate to get game time. At Meppen, Moore will be a 90-minute player every single game.
Werder Bremen: Kelli Hubly, CB/RB
Werder Bremen won the 2. Frauen-Bundesliga last year to earn their spot with the big girls this year. Like Meppen, I did not watch Bremen last season so I followed the same philosophy and went with Kelli Hubly from the Portland Thorns. Stepping in after starter Becky Sauerbrunn got injured, Hubly had an excellent NWSL Challenge Cup and helped the Thorns upset the top-seeded North Carolina Courage in the quarter-finals. Relegation battlers need good defenders to have a fighting chance, and Hubly’s ability to play both center-back and right-back (in both four-back and three-back set-ups) at a high level offers additional flexibility that is often invaluable over the course of an entire season.
Bayer Leverkusen: Casey Short, LB/RB
Have you noticed a theme yet? If you are a potential relegation candidate, shore up your defense first, and there are few better defenders than Casey Short. Short was the last cut from the United States’ World Cup squad last year, when then-head coach Jill Ellis prioritized bringing a seventh forward and more attacking full-backs in her place. She responded to that crushing disappointment by leading Chicago Red Stars to the 2019 NWSL championship match and became the only player to make the NWSL Team of the Month every month during the season. At 29 years old, Short is in her prime and arguably the best defensive left-back in the world right now. While she does not offer much going forward at the international level, count on a few goals from her over the league season as well. Plus, she already has experience playing in Europe.
MSV Duisburg: Bethany Balcer, AM/FW
Bethany Balcer was the breakout star of the 2019 NWSL season, going from unknown trialist to Rookie of the Year. She was the leading scorer for OL Reign (then known as Reign FC) and earned her first international call-up at any age level to United States head coach Vlatko Andonovski’s talent identification camp in December last year. To continue that upward trajectory, Balcer needs to play, and she should have no problem being the first offensive option on a middling team like MSV Duisburg. Balcer’s success comes from being able to get her shots off quickly when she spots an opening, and she can play all four attacking positions across the frontline. She signed a three-year contract extension with OL Reign earlier this year so there is little financial incentive for her to go on loan, but for her development I hope she will go get competitive minutes somewhere between now and 2021.
SC Sand: Kristen Hamilton, FW
SC Sand’s top scoring forward had three league goals last season, then she was sold to Bayer Leverkusen. Needless to say, scoring help is very urgently needed. Enter Kristen Hamilton. It is ridiculous that a forward who contributed nine goals and five assists last season and who just won the Julie Dolan Medal as the best player in the Australian W-League is not an automatic starter for her club team and only has one senior international cap, but such is the squad depth North Carolina Courage have built. Like Balcer, Hamilton just signed an extension; unlike Balcer, at age 27 Hamilton is not a prospect anymore. Maybe the financial incentive is not there for her to go on loan, but consistent playing time now might be Hamilton’s last shot at the slim chance of breaking into the United States national team, and SC Sand could offer her that platform.
SC Freiburg: Kailen Sheridan, GK
SC Freiburg lost their starting goalkeeper and German international Merle Frohms to Eintracht Frankfurt this off-season. Why not replace her with Canadian international and Golden Glove winner at the NWSL Challenge Cup Kailen Sheridan? Playing in front of a bad defense at Sky Blue FC, Sheridan has put up absurd numbers—in both traditional and advanced metrics—for several seasons now, and it is long overdue for her to take over as Canada’s No. 1 between the sticks. She is a complete modern goalkeeper with few holes in her game, and like most elite goalkeepers she is a tremendous leader on her team. With Canada moving on from Kenneth Heiner-Møller, hopefully a good loan stint will finally compel the next head coach to pick Sheridan consistently at the international level.
Eintracht Frankfurt: Ali Krieger, RB/CB
This is the aforementioned one transaction that absolutely will not happen because she has signed on to do some broadcasting work during the NWSL hiatus, but in my fantasy world Eintracht Frankfurt will bring back two-time World Cup winner and club legend Ali Krieger this year. Krieger was part of the FFC Frankfurt squad who won everything on offer (the domestic double and the Champions League) in 2008, still speaks fluent German after spending five seasons there, and has often discussed fondly of how playing in the Frauen-Bundesliga helped establish her international career. During an off-season of transition into the Eintracht set-up, bringing Krieger back would have provided the club a continuous link to their glory days and veteran leadership to the young team. Unfortunately, one could only dream…
SGS Essen: McCall Zerboni, CM
SGS Essen lost their best forward, midfielder, and defender this off-season, and it is safe to say that the replacements that they have brought in are not sure things in comparison. While the club have an excellent reputation of developing players and selling them on, it would be beneficial to bring in some experience so that if the play does not immediately come together there would still be calm and stable leadership around the team. This scenario sounds tailor-made for McCall Zerboni. A late bloomer, Zerboni had become the oldest player to debut for the United States national team and was on track to make last year’s World Cup squad before a broken elbow derailed her chances. She then requested a trade from the defending champions North Carolina Courage to perennial bottom dwellers Sky Blue FC because she “wanted to feel uncomfortable again.” All of Zerboni’s teammates past and present praise her for being a fantastic mentor and teammate, and playing abroad for the first time would certainly qualify as a new challenge for her.
Turbine Potsdam: Jennifer Cudjoe, CM
While there have been some exciting off-the-field developments for Turbine Potsdam this off-season, their transfer activities have left a lot to be desired. For (at least) the third consecutive summer, Potsdam have seen established internationals leave the club and replaced them with young and unproven players. This off-season, their top scorer Lara Prašnikar left for rivals Frankfurt, and Potsdam brought in a number of German youth internationals to fill her void. But who will get the young guns the ball when their top midfielder Sarah Zadrazil also left? This local fan here wants to see Ghanaian midfielder Jennifer Cudjoe play in Babelsberg. Another unheralded player, Cudjoe earned a short-term contract via open tryouts; by the end of the NWSL Challenge Cup she had become an undisputed starter for Sky Blue FC. Sure, maybe bringing in a player of Cudjoe’s stature as opposed to, say, Mewis’s won’t change the perception that Potsdam have become a selling club, but selfishly I want to be able to watch Cudjoe play in person week in week out, so here she is.
TSG Hoffenheim: Ashley Sanchez, LW
Player comparisons, especially between female and male soccer players, are often a sign of analytical laziness that relies on stereotypes. That being said, does anyone else get a Clint Dempsey vibe from Washington Spirit’s winger Ashley Sanchez? They both have an attitude and they both love to just “try s**t” on the field. Of course, the playing style comparison ends there. Sanchez was the youngest player who saw the field at the NWSL Challenge Cup and she was a dribbling menace out wide. She got a back-heel flick assist off of a corner. She is one of the most unpredictably creative players in the NWSL already. Hoffenheim played extremely fun soccer last season. Let’s add Sanchez to the mix and see what happens.
Bayern Munich: Midge Purce, RB/CF
Bayern need to add to three areas this off-season: midfield depth to replace former captain Melanie Leupolz, a dominant center forward who guarantees double-digit goals, and some full-back depth after Kathy Hendrich left for rivals Wolfsburg. For the first, they signed Zadrazil from Potsdam. For the second, Lea Schüller has been as good as advertised in pre-season. For the third, I hope they bring in Midge Purce. Let the record show that this fan, like many others, thinks that playing an effective striker like Purce at right-back is simply wasting her talents. Unfortunately, it appears that she is the next in a long line of American players whose only shot at cracking the national team roster is by converting to full-back. To get better at defending, Purce must learn that position by playing it consistently. Imagine Purce at right-back, Giulia Gwinn at right wing, plus Schüller and Linda Dallman up top and Lina Magull pulling the strings in midfield? Whew; that’s some serious speed and firepower to overload the right side.
VfL Wolfsburg: Abby Erceg, CB
It is my opinion that Wolfsburg haven’t had a world-class center-back since Nilla Fischer left. Lena Goeßling, Dominique Janssen, Sara Doorsoun and co. are all top-level players, but for a club of Wolfsburg’s ambition they need a center-back who is dominant in all phases of the game. Abby Erceg, 2018 NWSL Defender of the Year, is that absolutely world-class player Wolfsburg need to reclaim the European title. Captain of North Carolina Courage, her club coach Paul Riley compared Erceg’s impact favorably with Virgil van Dijk’s on Liverpool. Having already played in four World Cups and three Olympic Games for New Zealand by age 30, Erceg is at the peak of her powers and should walk into Wolfsburg’s starting line-up immediately.
Who are your dream NWSL-to-Germany signings? Comment below or share them on Twitter!