New Utah Royals manager Laura Harvey has a reputation for making a lot of trades, and she made a huge one on Friday. Utah has acquired United States women’s national team star Kelley O’Hara, along with midfielder Taylor Lytle and a third round pick in the 2018 NWSL draft.
The price was steep — Utah had to send Christina Gibbons, Shea Groom, and the No. 4 overall pick in this year’s draft to Sky Blue FC.
O’Hara has mostly played at fullback for the USWNT during this cycle, but it’s likely that Harvey traded for her to play a more attacking role. The core of Utah’s roster missed the playoffs over the last two seasons as FC Kansas City, with its biggest problem being a lack of service for its strikers. O’Hara — an excellent dribbler and crosser — played a huge part in Sam Kerr’s 17-goal season in 2017 and should be a big boost to Utah’s forwards too.
Who those forwards end up being is anyone’s guess. Utah currently has Sydney Leroux and Amy Rodriguez on the roster, who make an excellent strike partnership when at their best. But Rodriguez is coming off a torn ACL, while Harvey traded Leroux once before, in 2014. In any event, Utah badly needed a wide player to provide better service, and O’Hara is one worth giving up a lot for.
Trading O’Hara was probably a difficult decision for Sky Blue to make, but it picked up as good of a haul as it could have reasonably expected to get. Gibbons was a rookie of the year contender in 2017 and is on the fringes of the USWNT squad. She’s played fullback and winger but had her best games in a new position for her, central midfield.
Groom is also versatile, having played at striker and on both wings, and at 24 likely still has a lot of room for improvement. Groom also has a reputation for physical play, something Sky Blue lacked last season.
Sky Blue will also have a lot of options to get a great player with the No. 4 overall pick. Physical attacker Savannah McCaskill, playmaker Rachel Corboz (whose sister Daphne plays for Sky Blue), box-to-box midfielder Gabby Seiler, and speedy forward Imani Dorsey are among the top prospects whom new Sky Blue manager Denise Reddy might consider at that spot.
While Sky Blue might feel like it got the better of this trade in terms of talent, it puts the team in a difficult salary cap position. As a USWNT player, O’Hara’s salary does not count against the cap. While none of Gibbons, Groom or the No. 4 pick should be prohibitively expensive — they’re all young players — they do have some cap charge. Sky Blue now has no USWNT allocated players and just one Canadian allocated player: goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan. At present, it’s the only team in NWSL with only one allocated player, putting the team at a significant disadvantage.
Don’t expect this to be the end of Harvey’s wheeling and dealing this offseason. She’ll be making a few more deals, plus some big international signings, to get Utah’s squad back into playoff contending shape. As for Sky Blue, it will feel like it gave up a star player to build a much deeper squad. An injury or two in midfield was devastating last season, and it won’t be anymore.