Two more U.S. women's national team stars are headed to Manchester.
Christen Press and Tobin Heath have signed with Manchester United Women, following Manchester City's double signing of Rose Lavelle and Sam Mewis. Both Press and Heath are signed through the end of the 2020-2021 FA Women's Super League season, Man United said in a pair of announcements Wednesday.
Press leaves NWSL's Utah Royals, while Heath leaves the Portland Thorns, though both clubs will retain those players' rights if and when they return to the league–the same way that Lavelle's rights remain with OL Reign and Mewis's with the North Carolina Courage. The departures of the 2015 and 2019 Women's World Cup winners continue the trend of players leaving the U.S. league for other opportunities, at the very least temporarily. The reasoning for it is multifold, with the coronavirus pandemic in the United States still not controlled, while other countries have suppressed the outbreak to a greater degree. On top of that, NWSL is continuing a piecemeal 2020 slate of matches, following the summer's Challenge Cup tournament with a fall series full of games against regional foes.
The stakes and competition are currently greater abroad, making the WSL an attractive alternative. Press and Heath both opted out of participating in the Challenge Cup for personal reasons due to coronavirus concerns.
They're all able to essentially leave NWSL without a fight considering their contracts are with U.S. Soccer and not the league, per the NWSL's current setup. This won't be Press's and Heath's first foray into European soccer. Press played for Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC (2012 and 2018) and Tyreso (2013-14) in Sweden, while Heath had a short stint with PSG in 2013-14.
“Manchester United is an exceptional club and I’m thrilled to be joining them," Heath said in a statement. "I’m looking forward to the challenge of competing in England, playing with and against some of the best players in the world. I have big ambitions for this season and can’t wait to get on the pitch with my new team and start this next chapter.”
Press leaves behind a Utah Royals side reeling from revelations regarding club owner Dell Loy Hansen and chief business officer Andy Carroll, with reports from The Athletic, SB Nation and ESPN lifting the lid on a toxic culture that has permeated through the organization that also owns MLS's Real Salt Lake and USL Championship's Real Monarchs. That company, Utah Soccer Holdings, is in the process of being sold.
“Christen is a world-class player and we are thrilled to have her on board at the club," Man United manager Casey Stoney said. "She has a proven record and her stats speak for themselves; she’s a ruthless striker who scores so many different types of goals, and I know she can add some real quality to our squad. Christen is also hugely experienced and for me it’s fantastic to add another senior figure like her in the dressing room.”
Emily Sonnett is another U.S. player headed to Europe at this time, leaving the Orlando Pride on loan with Goteborg. U.S. players aren't the only ones bolting NWSL on short-term arrangements, either. The Pride have eight others temporarily leaving the club, while Houston's Rachel Daly, the Challenge Cup's MVP, secured a loan to West Ham through the end of 2020 on Thursday. OL Reign's Jess Fishlock (Reading) and Jodie Taylor (Lyon) and Utah's Rachel Corsie (Birmingham) are among the others securing moves abroad. Chicago's Yuki Nagasato, meanwhile, secured a landmark short-term move to a Japanese men's team, as she'll play on loan for amateur side Hayabusa Eleven.
The good news for U.S. fans wanting to see many of these players more regularly is that the matches for England's top flight will be more easily visible on this end of the Atlantic this season. NBC Sports will be carrying 50 Women's Super League games via its app and on NBC Sports Network as part of a new partnership for the 2020–2021 campaign.