Last Thursday, the North Carolina Courage announced a trade that shocked many around the league. The team sent Katelyn Rowland, Kristen Hamilton and Hailie Mace to Kansas City, receiving Amy Rodriguez and $60,000 of allocation money for the trio.
Just one day after the trade, the Courage and Kansas City faced off against each other, with each team taking home one point. After the game, both Courage head coach Paul Riley and Hamilton spoke about the trade in their respective post match press conferences and offered some additional context to the trade. Based on what the two had to say, here is the good, the bad, and the ugly of the trade.
Even if it doesn’t right now, the trade looks likely to make business sense for the Courage in the long run. With two teams, San Diego and Angel City FC, set to join the league after this season, the upcoming expansion draft played a role in the decision to make the trade.
“I almost guarantee that we won't be able to protect two of those three players that we just let go to Kansas City,” Riley said after the Kansas City game. “Obviously, the fans won’t know that. The people won’t know that, but that's the truth of it. Sometimes you have to make business decisions too. And because the expansion is coming, we will lose players. We lost three and I would think, two of them are from California, that two of them would be hot on the radar of those teams. To lose those type of caliber players for nothing, just like we lost [Addisyn Merrick], and Lauren Milliet is difficult. That's losing a lot of players for no reason.”
On the KC side of things, the trade makes even more sense. According to Riley, Kansas City had been attempting to acquire Hamilton since preseason and that the trade was more their initiative than the Courage’s. KC is currently bottom of the NWSL table and swapped a veteran striker who had not been producing much this season, for three really solid players.
While KC likely got the better deal, the trade isn’t a bad one for the Courage. Once the Olympians return, none of Mace, Hamilton or Rowland are likely to make the starting lineup on a consistent basis. It remains to be seen if Rodriguez will, but she is a proven goalscorer in the league and, just like Hamilton, will challenge Lynn Williams and Jess McDonald for a starting spot.
From a tactical standpoint, Riley said they were looking at the team’s chances-to-goal ratio, and Rodriguez is certainly a player who can do that once she has adjusted to her new team.
“The other one was just trying to reduce our chances to goals ratio,” Riley said. “We have to create 16 or 18 chances just to get a goal, we have to reduce that. One of them was to bring a goalscorer in, and that's what we've done. Hopefully it will pay dividends as the season goes on. It's gonna take a little while to get her up to speed.”
The last big piece of this trade that does make sense is the $60,000 of allocation money that came along with Rodriguez. What, or rather who, the Courage will use that money for will go a long way to understanding the trade.
Throughout the season, Riley has teased two potential signings and while the first, a move to bring Abby Dahlkemper back to the club, fell through, Riley said previously that the second deal would likely happen during or after the Olympics. With Riley saying the trade was KC’s initiative and not theirs, it’s unlikely that Rodriguez was the second of those signings and another player could be on their way to the Courage later this season.
While losing two long-serving players like Rowland and Hamilton is hard, Mace is the biggest future loss for the team. One of the youngest players in the Courage’s squad prior to the trade, Mace is the latest in a long line of promising young players to leave, or never join, the club.
At the last expansion draft, the Courage prioritized protecting their core over promising young players, allowing Louisville to pick up both Lauren Milliet and Addisyn Merrick. Milliet had been on the fringe of the Courage’s starting lineup during her time with the team, but looked primed as the successor to any number of the Courage’s current great midfielders and Riley spoke incredibly highly of her future. Although she just spent one year with the team, Merrick turned out to be a gem of a fourth-round pick and really exceeded expectations in her rookie year.
The Courage also traded away their first-round pick from 2020, Ally Watt, picking up Taylor Smith and the rights to Jodie Taylor in the process. While Taylor’s rights were eventually flipped to Orlando for Carson Pickett, who has been one of, if not, the Courage’s best players this season, Smith has barely played since her return to the Courage.
Lastly, the Courage’s first-round pick in 2021, Deanne Rose, opted to not sign with the Courage. Although she has not signed with a team yet, Riley confirmed the player would not be joining the Courage earlier this year.
While the Courage’s roster is certainly not old, the vast majority of its stars are in or entering their peak years, and without many young players ready to take those spots one day, the Courage could be heading for a lot of future turnover.
While the trade makes business sense, and as Riley said, sometimes business decisions need to be made, that doesn't make it any less ugly. The ugly part of the trade goes beyond even the fact that the Courage traded two of their long-serving veterans, with the timeline of the trade being very harsh for all four players.
Riley said that the trade was completed on Tuesday, July 20 and the players were informed that next morning. On Thursday the trade was announced and the former Courage trio flew out to KC that morning, facing off against their former team just one day later. With the Courage already headed to KC for the game on Friday, Rodriguez remained there and met her teammates at their hotel the morning of the game.
“It’s tough,” Hamilton said after her first game with KC. “I mean, I think that nobody expected it, to be able to pack up in a day, and leave a team that I’ve been with for six years. You know, I think it was tough for Amy, it was tough for all of us. Kate’s been here a long time. Mace, I don’t think she thought she was ever gonna leave the Courage. Yeah, I mean it’s tough, it’s weird. It’s kind of shitty. Sorry, excuse my language.”
Trades happen in sports, that’s just part of the game, but in a league like the NWSL, trades can be a little bit harsher. To put it simply, players in the league simply don’t get paid enough to be asked to pack up shop and move within a day’s notice. According to the NWSL Players Association (NWSLPA), one third of their members make the league's minimum salary of $22,000 per year and 75% make $31,000 or less. In comparison, the WNBA’s minimum salary is $58,710.
There are plenty of players in the league who have had, or currently have, side hustles to augment their salaries. Players like the Courage’s Jess McDonald, Portland’s Emily Menges, Louisville’s Cheyna Matthews, Kansas City’s Darien Jenkins and many more shared their experiences on social media after the NWSLPA announced their #NoMoreSideHustles campaign.
Currently, the NWSLPA is negotiating a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and trades like this will likely be something discussed.
“I think the story is important,” Hamilton said. “It’s important to shed light on. ... And everybody that I’ve told has been like, how, what are you guys talking about, you have to go and fly and play your whole team the next day? I said I was happy to do it. I am a professional. I want to come out and this is my new team. I want to help them try and get our first win of the season, so for me that was my mentality, but at the same time, I think that our rights need to be protected. I think that we need to have control over our rights and have some say in where we want to play.”