On Thursday afternoon, the North Carolina Courage announced that they had made a series of five roster moves to accommodate the return of their four USWNT players from the 2019 Women’s World Cup. With the quartet of Crystal Dunn, Sam Mewis, Abby Dahlkemper, and Jess McDonald returning to the team, the Courage were forced to cut players to get back underneath the 22-player roster limit, with one additional supplemental player.
Leshnak’s signing challenges Rowland
The main focus of the team’s announcement was the permanent signing of goalkeeper Sam Leshnak. It’s a strange move on first viewing. The Courage already have two rostered goalkeepers, starter Stephanie Labbe and backup Katelyn Rowland, so adding Leshnak gives the Courage three active goalkeepers. Some teams, like Reign FC, technically have four goalkeepers, but two of those are out with either season-ending injuries or on the 45-day disabled list. North Carolina just has three healthy goalkeepers.
While it seems odd initially, the implications are pretty straightforward. Katelyn Rowland has been extremely poor in her play this season. Coming off of a shoulder injury, Rowland started five games while Labbe was away playing for Canada at the World Cup. In those five games, she allowed nine goals and made ten saves, including some bad misplays. After three bad games, Rowland was benched in favor of Leshnak, an undrafted rookie out of UNC-Chapel Hill. Leshnak started two games, allowing one goal and earning three saves, but after North Carolina’s bye week, head coach Paul Riley returned to Rowland as the starter. She played well in the team’s 2-1 win over the Washington Spirit, including a highlight-worthy save, but she was back to her poor form in the following game against the Houston Dash.
All of this boils down to the fact that the backup goalkeeper position is fully up for grabs at this point. I would be shocked if both of these players are on the final roster at the start of 2020, but most teams have a non-rostered third goalkeeper floating around the team. Which player earns the backup spot is currently up in the air.
Saying goodbye to four untested players
Now to the four players that got cut. The first two players, rookie Peyton Perea and first-year player Shannon Horgan, had been added as National Team Replacement players. Neither one was widely expected to get a roster spot as they had joined the team as Non-Roster Invitees during preseason. Effectively, these are practice squad players who are available when international play or injuries diminish a squad. Both players, according to the team, will continue to train and be available for future NTR contracts.
Defenders Julie King and Ally Haran have also been waived, but their situation is different. Starting the season, both King and Haran were active, fully-rostered players who were expected to challenge for starting center back roles during the World Cup. For whatever reason, either due to fitness or talent, neither player was able to earn a minute of playing time. Instead, Riley opted to slot Cari Roccaro into the defense when an extra center back was needed. The two players have very different career outlooks at this point.
Julie King was selected by the North Carolina Courage in the 2018 Boston Breakers Dispersal Draft. When the Breakers folded ahead of the 2018 National Women’s Soccer League season, the remaining nine teams were provided an opportunity to draft players from their roster. The Courage drafted King and Canadian international Allysha Chapman. Chapman was traded to the Houston Dash last season for a first-round pick in the 2019 NWSL College Draft, but King remained on the roster as she recovered from ankle surgery.
King remained on the team as her ankle healed, and it felt like she was getting back to a position where she might be able to play. Having made 95 appearances in five years for the Breakers, King is a skilled defender. It seems likely that King would get the chance to prove her skills to another NWSL team, but at 30-years-old and nearly two years removed from professional play, she might instead opt to hang up her cleats.
Haran is in a very different situation. After graduating from college in 2017, Haran went to play professionally in Iceland for UMF Selfoss. She had a stellar season in Iceland, and the move back to the United States seemed to fit into a nice career arc for her. For whatever reason, though, Haran was never able to log a minute for the Courage. She is a big, strong defender, but something in her game or fitness must not have been up to snuff for the very competitive NWSL.
Haran will probably search for another NWSL team to try out with, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that she has moved back to Europe to play. There is a big market across the continent for young, talented Americans at mid-level teams. Specifically, leagues in the Netherlands and Sweden are common landing places for players like Haran who want to play professional soccer but can’t quite break into the league in America.
We look forward to following the careers of these four cut players and wish them all the best.
*Edit: A former version of this article incorrectly identified Leshnak’s alma mater as Wake Forest