As we’ve noted, this is the first NWSL offseason with true, genuine, artisanal and authentic free agency. It’s a delight, and a long time coming. However, as eager as we were for our minds to be blown by daily announcements, they’ve instead been a trickle.
Since we’ve finally reached a relative handful of signings three weeks later, let’s take a look at some of the big names who have signed new deals, and what it could mean for the 2023 NWSL season.
1 & 2. Vanessa DiBernardo & Morgan Gautrat, midfielders, Kansas City Current
Kansas City has entered the free agency chat with the biggest signings so far. That’s right, plural. Former stalwart Chicago Red Stars midfielders, Vanessa DiBernardo and Morgan Gautrat, joined the Current on two-year contracts. This is yet more ambition from one of the most ambitious ownership groups in the league. It was a bit brutal that the 2022 Current’s primary deficiencies – midfield and an ability to vertically stretch a defense – weren’t highlighted until the championship game. They had attempted to solve both problems ahead of the season, but new signings Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams both picked up season-ending injuries.
With Williams on the mend, it was important to address midfield, and getting one of DiBernardo or Gautrat would have been excellent, but securing both is outrageous. DiBernardo and Gautrat give them instant in-match versatility, control, technique, vision and intensity in the middle of the park. It’s far too early to start discussing 2023 Championship favorites, and there are still plenty of moves to be made around the league, but this is a trophy-winning move.
3. Danny Colaprico, midfielder, San Diego Wave FC
San Diego Wave signing ex-Chicago Red Stars midfielder Danny Colaprico has been the biggest free agency splash so far. In Colaprico’s introductory presser, Wave head coach Casey Stoney spoke about the midfielder’s importance in altering their style of play. “I think something that we’ve reviewed and learned is we’d like to possess the ball a lot more,” said Stoney. “I think the way she [Colaprico] plays and dictates the game – a passing game – and her game awareness and understanding I think is something that will really add to our midfield.”
In 2022, the Wave were one of the most direct teams in the league, but lacked the personnel to change tempo and control a game, which hurt them in the playoffs. It’s a difficult task in the NWSL, but there are few midfielders better qualified at wrangling the chaos within NWSL games than Colaprico.
4. Kristen Edmonds, defender, Gotham FC
Gotham’s rebuild continues by adding another player to the Stop Allowing Goals Department. Kristen Edmonds, a defensively versatile and key piece to NWSL Championship runners up Kansas City Current, is heading north to Gotham. Edmonds is experienced, calm with the ball at her feet, excellent at reading danger, and can fill most roles across the backline, or even midfield. Off the pitch, Gotham has recently become known for pre-match fits and social media expertise, and Edmonds has the timing and transitions and fits to feel right at home.
5. Jasmyne Spencer, forward/fullback, Angel City FC
We know this is not technically a new signing by a club, but Angel City re-signing Jasmyne Spencer still has an impact league-wide. Firstly, the variety of dangerous wide players in the NWSL makes quality fullbacks a must. It’s also very hard to break down defenses without one who can defend, get forward to help attack, and recover in transition – but Spencer can do it all, and was surely in-demand. Specifically for Angel City, an ungodly and cruel amount of injuries derailed their season from what they’d envisioned and in the process gave Spencer a lot of duties. From defensive work to ball progression and chance creation, Spencer’s performances made her a fan favorite. As Angel City continues to build their squad, and as injured players get back to the pitch, the club will be looking to make the statement in 2023 that injuries kept out of reach during their inaugural season.
6. Estelle Johnson, defender, North Carolina Courage
The North Carolina Courage were a single point away from leapfrogging Chicago to claim the final playoff spot. More agonizingly, throughout the season they threw multiple points away as matches became track meets rather than controlled contests. Turning an opponent’s late winning goal (which happened four times) or late equalizer (which also happened four times) into any point or points at all would have kept them playing in the postseason. Johnson, with her experience, organization and elite slide tackling ability, will immediately help settle a porous defense.
7. Abby Smith, goalkeeper, Gotham FC
Goalkeepers are typically more functional than flashy signings, unless the previous year your club gave up the most goals in the league. Such is the case with Gotham, so turning their fortunes had to start with a new keeper. Luckily for them, this is the first offseason with free agency, and even luckier, NWSL veteran Abby Smith was among those eligible to test the market. Smith has had the unfortunate streak of being behind AD Franch and Bella Bixby on separate teams in consecutive seasons, but has the experience and shot-stopping ability to be an immediate solution to one of Gotham’s biggest problems.