In a shock move that made waves in local and league circles alike, Sky Blue dealt both forward Mallory Pugh and midfielder Sarah Killion Woldmoe to Chicago Red Stars in exchange for a pair of 2021 first round NWSL draft picks (the 4th and 8th picks respectively), a conditional 2022 first round pick, and an international slot for the next two years.
To say this is a surprise move is an understatement. Pugh had only been added at the start of last season, and her acquisition had been considered a coup for a club on the rise. Killion Woldmoe was also a stunning loss, as the midfield stalwart had gone the full 90’ in every game Sky Blue played in 2020 in addition to serving as team captain.
Such a baffling move on the outset was clarified to a fair extent when subsequent reports stated that both players had been searching for a trade. Killion Woldemoe was looking for a move back to the Midwest (she’s a native of Indiana) to be with her husband. Pugh’s exact reasons remain less clear, but general manager Alyse LaHue also confirmed she had been seeking an exit as well.
Needless to say, regardless of motives, such a trade has a significant impact on the immediate future of the club. Sky Blue is now without two of the three players that made up a midfield trio that towards the end of the year perhaps had an argument for one of the strongest in the league. And while Pugh was nagged by injuries that kept her from seeing the field for most of the year, there’s no denying that she’s a dynamic talent that, if fit, was likely to play a huge role in Sky Blue’s attacking prowess for the 2021 season.
The club now faces the need for a major reload in the upcoming draft- in addition to the departures of Killion Woldmoe and Pugh, several major pieces on the Sky Blue roster are starting to head towards the presumed close of their careers. Last year’s preferred center back pairing of Estelle Johnson and Gina Lewandowski will both be back for next season, but Johnson is 32 and Lewandowski is 35. Carli Lloyd continues to defy Father Time by returning for another season at 38, but she didn’t play a single minute last season and has alluded to a potential retirement after the 2021 Olympics. Front line staple Nahomi Kawasumi will also return for another season, but at 34 it’s clear she’s slowly losing some of her pace, though retains her strong technical qualities.
Thankfully, Sky Blue has plenty of space to maneuver in the upcoming draft. Barring any further trades (which is certainly possible given their ample amount of picks), they will head into draft day on January 13th with the 3rd, 4th, 8th, 13th, 23rd, 33rd, and 40th picks. Though it’s hard to pick the brains of any club in a league where unexpected moves are often the status quo, one would imagine LaHue and head coach Freya Coombe will look to bulk up a midfield core that’s down to only four players who played the position last year. The defense will also be need of bolstering, especially given it remains unclear whether Midge Purce is considered a defensive option or not.
It will certainly be interesting to see how the club’s coaching staff and front office judge a draft class that doesn’t necessarily have a standout defensive midfielder, should they look for a Cudjoe replacement, nor centre back, if they want to add a young option to their depth at the back. Regardless, it looks to be another season of significant change at Sky Blue.