Yes, Women's Professional Soccer fans. That headline is true, a story reported by Equalizer Soccer that proves the old adage: In every joke there's a grain of truth. In this joke, the grain is the entire nugget. That's the only way I can describe the Beat's decision to trade last year's number one pick, potential franchise cornerstone Tobin Heath, as well as one of the league's better attackers, Eniola Aluko, to Sky Blue FC for draft picks and future considerations.
Sky Blue also gets midfielder Angie Kerr, but the focus of this deal will be on Heath, who missed most of her first season with an ankle injury. That's the only on-field justification Atlanta, about to start their second season, can have for the deal, but considering they got only draft picks for the star, the on-field rationale is thin.
When Heath was drafted out of North Carolina at this time last year, it would have been unfathomable for Atlanta to trade down for two other draft picks. Now they've not only done that, sending a first overall pick to Sky Blue for the fourth and eighth picks in the upcoming draft, they've thrown in Eniola Aluko. And Angie Kerr.
About to enter her second year, Heath was limited to three matches in 2010, suffering with an injury incurred in preseason. The Beat would end their inaugural campaign at the bottom of the league, finishing seventh as their planned franchise linchpin sat out, a tough blow to a player who won NCAA titles in three of her four collegiate years. Heath, only 22-years-old, has also made 19 appearances for the full women's national team and represents the United States' most creative presence in midfield.
That's the real subtext to this story. Heath's talents on the ball represent a potential transcendent figure. Heath adds an enticing element of flare for those who might feel the women's game too regimental. In a world that's becoming obsessed with the attacking midfielder's role, the middle of the three in the 4-2-3-1 cliché, Heath can provide an anchor for fanatics.
And now Atlanta has gone and traded her, which isn't an evil in an absolute sense, but considering what they got back, this looks like a salary dump. With the WPS struggling and contract parameters are being loosened, players signing new deals are receiving deflated wages. Heath has a contract that dates back to before last year's struggles. In a league that has considered negotiating deals that are purely appearance-based (with wages approaching legal minimums), Heath's deal may be too much. At least, in relative terms.
That begs a whole chicken-egg scenario. If you're trading marquee players for financial reasons, how do you improve your balance sheet without players people will pay to see? Though Heath's salary is a ways above minimum wage, it's also less than a lot of white-collar workers, reading this article from their cubicles, make each year. Any non-Marta player in WPS is likely to be a relatively minimal investment.
So trading Heath, Aluko (who has scored 16 goals in 39 WPS appearances) and Kerr (40 appearances over two years) not only looks short-sighted, ill-advised and cheap, it's also penny pinching, and there's a huge difference between cheap and penny pinching. One is justifiable in the spirit of "we can't afford to make poor decisions." The other is petty, and trading three quality players for a few draft picks when the league's average salary is $27,000? The math barely justifies the decision.
Given a league with standard player contracts and the need to replace these players on the roster, the Beat may have just given away the league's best long-term commodity (and one of its most consistent scorers) to save a few thousands dollars. If a team is that concerned about a few thousand bucks in their player budget, they're either in more trouble than we know or have a perverse perspective on franchise management.