Sky Blue FC is doing its part to light up the NWSL offseason hot stove, swinging a trade with the Portland Thorns that brings Margaret Purce east and sends Penn State alum Raquel Rodriguez to the Rose City.
Purce, a 24-year-old Maryland native, can play as a striker, a winger or an outside back. It’s an unusual skill set, but it has propelled her to a quite successful three-year career in the NWSL. The Harvard product first played for the former Boston Breakers in 2017, then moved to Portland when the Breakers folded at the end of that year.
She had a terrific 2019 campaign, stepping up in a big way while the Thorns’ many stars were at the World Cup. Six of Purce’s 8 goals came during that stretch. Her efforts so impressed manager Mark Parsons that he kept her in the starting lineup for all but three games the rest of the way.
Late in the year, Purce earned her first U.S. national team cap, playing all 90 minutes at right back in a Nov. 10 friendly against Costa Rica. She was just the second Ivy League product ever to play for the national team, after Paoli native Kristen Luckenbill (Dartmouth) in 2004.
Rodriguez has been with Sky Blue ever since she was picked No. 2 overall in the 2016 draft by the New Jersey club. The 26-year-old Costa Rica native has played 76 games over four seasons for the club, recording 8 goals and 5 assists.
At Penn State, Rodriguez led the Nittany Lions to the 2015 national championship and won that year’s MAC Hermann trophy, college soccer’s Heisman.
She also has been a star of Costa Rica’s national team for many years. In 2015, she helped the country reach the Women’s World Cup for the first time and scored its first ever goal at the tournament.
“I’m extremely grateful to Rocky for giving her heart and soul to this club for four years,” Sky Blue general manager Alyse LaHue said in a statement. “It was an absolute privilege to be able to work with her, and we wish her nothing but success in the next phase of her career.”
Sky Blue is heading into its first season at Red Bull Arena after spending all 10 of its previous years at Rutgers’ Yurcak Field. The club has five area natives on its roster: New Jersey’s Erica Skroski (Galloway Township), Madison Tiernan (Voorhees) and Carli Lloyd (Delran), and Pennsylvania’s Jen Hoy (Sellersville) and Gina Lewandowski (Coopersburg).
Lloyd is with the U.S. women’s national team at a training camp in Tampa, Fla., ahead of the start of Concacaf’s Olympic qualifying tournament later this month.
Portland also sent a 2021 first-round draft pick to Sky Blue, amid a series of moves the Thorns are swinging in an offseason overhaul. One of them sent U.S. national team defender Emily Sonnett, the rights to Australian forward Caitlin Foord, and the Nos. 7 and 14 picks in this year’s draft to the Orlando Pride for this year’s No. 1 pick. Foord is expected to leave the NWSL for Europe, but the Pride would keep her if she doesn’t.
If that seems like a lot, there’s a good reason for it: Portland’s move is expected to persuade Stanford junior Sophia Smith, an elite U.S. national team forward prospect, to leave college early and turn pro. Smith has been a regular with U.S. youth national teams, and is at the current senior national team camp.
The NWSL will be in the spotlight quite a bit over the next few days, headlined by the annual college draft on Jan. 14 at the United Soccer Coaches convention in Baltimore. League president Amanda Duffy is to step down from her role on Feb. 15 to become executive vice president of the Orlando Pride, with a new chief executive to be hired and given the title of commissioner. What Duffy will do between now and then is unknown, and questions have been raised about conflicts of interest.
Meanwhile, the league has yet to announce its schedule or TV home for this year.