Gotham FC’s star-studded free agency moves — Sam Kerr suffers ACL injury

The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie M. Peterson, Jan. 8, 2024

Welcome to the first 2024 edition of the Soccer Monday newsletter. Before we get into Gotham FC’s moves, there was a bit of breaking news on Sunday that certainly stung for fans of the women’s game. Australian star Sam Kerr tore her ACL while training with Chelsea in Morocco. Obviously, she won’t be available for the remainder of Chelsea’s season, or for Olympic qualifying for Australia.

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Australia women’s national team coach Tony Gustavsson said via a statement:

“Considering how hard Sam has worked over the past six months to return to play, this news is a devastating blow for everyone. With her ability to lead by example, Sam’s guidance and influence on the team is significant and, as a result, this will be an incredible loss for the national team. Our focus now is on ensuring she has all the support she wants and needs to navigate recovery and rehab.”

Gotham super signings

Let’s review Gotham’s moves so far in the past week or so: first, they signed free agent Crystal Dunn. Then they celebrated the new year in Times Square.

But they weren’t done! Gotham also signed free agent Tierna Davidson away from the Chicago Red Stars. Dunn and Davidson appeared on The CBS morning show. Please take note of Dunn’s all-leather look. Amazing.

Here’s the interview referenced in the clip where Dunn said she didn’t feel “valued” by the Portland Thorns.

The split was understandable, given the issues surrounding Dunn’s husband, Thorns trainer Pierre Soubrier. He was dismissed from the club last year after an investigation revealed he had administered a controlled medication to players without a prescription. It is my understanding from sources connected to the team that it was just a matter of time before Dunn moved on.

“I felt very fortunate that free agency came when it did, because I was ready. At the end of the day, it’s really about finding comfort in a place that you want to be. Once the decision was made that I just am going to move on from Portland, to me, I was just at such peace. I’m just happy that I can call New York my home again,” Dunn told Pro Soccer Wire’s Jason Anderson.

Davidson, for her part, penned a lovely thank you to Chicago.

But Gotham wasn’t finished. On Thursday the team signed free agents Rose Lavelle and Emily Sonnett through 2026.

Here’s just some of the star power now assembled on the team’s roster: Dunn, Davidson, Sonnett, Lavelle, Kelley O’Hara, Midge Purce, Lynn Williams and Esther Gonzalez. It’s impressive what GM Yael Averbuch West has done in over the past year: Gotham went from a last-place finish in 2022 to the league champions this past season. And along the way the club also cultivated some wonderful stories: Ali Krieger‘s triumphant final season, and bringing back Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly.

Gotham has already pulled off a rare worst-to-first season. Now let’s see if they can repeat.

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This past week also saw the sale of the Portland Thorns — finally — to the Bhathal family, which also has an interest in the NBA’s Sacramento Kings.

A source told The AP the deal was worth $63 million, just slightly under Sportico’s valuation of $65 million. As part of the deal, the $1 million fine that Thorns owner Merritt Paulson owed the league was paid. It was one of several fines levied in the wake of the misconduct scandals that shook the league.

The Sacramento Kings are certainly moving in the right direction after a turbulent decade. There was the possibility the team would be uprooted and moved to Seattle, when the Bhathals, part of an ownership group under Vivek Ranadive, stepped in and bought the team. The group is credited with helping the Kings return to the playoffs for the first time in 16 years, as well as a key role in revitalizing downtown Sacramento. Ask any Kings fan about “Light the Beam!”

The lessons learned from the Kings should help guide the Bhathals’ stewardship of the Thorns. I’ve heard from several former supporters turned off by the team who are looking into buying season tickets again.

The Rose City Riveters issued a statement saying the supporters group was relieved at the sale.

“We are aware what the Bhathal ownership group have been able to accomplish in the NBA and are cautiously optimistic about what they can do for the Portland Thorns. We are open to and look forward to forging this new relationship, to conveying our passion about supporting the players, the club and Portland. We look forward to learning more about the Bhathal plan for continuing the path of keeping the Thorns a place players and fans want to be.”

The Thorns can continue to practice at Providence Park through 2025 while a dedicated team practice facility is built. My source says there’s already a potential site for a training center.

Paulson has agreed to help with the transition in the meantime, aiding the new owners in things like ticket sales. And they’ll continue to play at the downtown stadium.

Now the big questions for the Thorns surround the roster. Meghan Klingenberg and Becky Sauerbrunn are free agents. Not sure I see either leaving, due to ties in the community. Sophia Smith‘s contract expires at the end of this year. Signing her to an extension should be a priority for the team, but there are already rumors that European teams are interested. Hello PSG?

On to the links!

Hey all, I worked on a project that was rolled out over the holiday, while I was at a retreat. I’m really proud of this one. It’s about a Native American teenager from Oregon who wants to become the first woman to reach the Professional Bull Riders’ top level, Unleash the Beast. She’s an amazing kid. Hope you’ll give it a read.

Burkle named in Epstein documents

Washington Post says Spirit are targeting Jonatan Giráldez for coaching vacancy

The Royals’ return gives homegrown stars new hopes for opportunity

Interesting story from The Athletic on scouting in women’s football

Mock draft from CBS Soccer’s Sandra Herrera with some details about the draft, including a few prospects

Ryan Clarke from The Oregonian covers the sale of the Thorns. Clarke is leaving the soccer beat, to help out of NBA and college football. A huge loss on the soccer side, but cool for Ryan.

Jeff Kassouf from the Equalizer looks at the increase in NWSL’s salary cap

Forbes looks forward to the new year in soccer

CBS Soccer had some predictions for the New Year

Onye Echegini from Florida State won the MAC Hermann trophy. She’s headed to Juventus.

NWSL teams join the Coachella Valley Invitational.

The Equalizer with a smart piece on the uneven growth in women’s soccer.

Jonathan Tannenwald has a nice story on Korbin Albert for the Philly Inquirer.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Annie Peterson