Alex Morgan is one of the most recognizable female soccer players in the world. Playing in the fledgling National Women's Soccer League, she would seem to be untouchable -- one of the rare talents who can draw a national spotlight for both herself, her team and the small-but-ambitious league.
Yet the Portland Thorns, by several measures the most thriving of the NWSL's nine -- soon to be 10 -- teams, is handing Morgan over to an expansion team, the Orlando Pride. Which begs the question: What is Portland thinking?
If you ask Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl, who first reported the trade, the explanation is simple: Morgan wanted to play in the same city as her husband, Servando Carassco, a starting defensive midfielder for Major League Soccer's Orlando City. She requested the trade from Portland, and the team granted it.
In return, the Thorns are going to get a nice compensation package: USWNT fullback Meghan Klingenberg, two roster spots allocated to international players, and the top pick in the NWSL draft. That's not bad, but it's a mere consolation prize in exchange for the best player in soccer.
Wahl argues that the move is actually better than it looks, particularly for the NWSL as a whole. The Thorns are the league's leaders in average attendance by an enormous margin, and that's not because of Morgan: Portland is a rabid soccer city that has embraced the professional women's franchise. Even with Morgan shipping out, local support is not going to wane. Portland will continue to draw the strongest crowds in the league.
But Morgan could be very useful to the Orlando Pride, which will start play in 2016 and will be building its fan base from the ground up. The introduction of a widely known star could help draw crowds and encourage local embrace of the team. For the NWSL, Morgan's relocation could be the catalyst for a successful expansion project.
If Portland had come to the conclusion that trading Morgan would be best for the franchise, that would be one thing. There's an obvious argument to be made that all parties could end up benefiting from the trade.
But, as Wahl points out, the Thorns did not pursue this trade on their own.
"According to sources with knowledge of the deal, Portland would not have agreed to trade Morgan unless she had made her request for personal reasons," Wahl writes.
Considering the impetus for this blockbuster trade, the handling of Morgan has a much different look to it than what we've seen in men's sports. Would the Oklahoma City Thunder ever trade Kevin Durant just to unite him in the same city as his partner? Would the NFL's Green Bay Packers ship Aaron Rodgers off to San Diego so he could play closer to Hollywood, where his actress girlfriend Olivia Munn plies her trade?
It's a laughable proposition, and one that raises interesting questions about the NWSL. For starters, is the league taking itself seriously enough by letting its premier player dictate where she will play? If Carrasco is traded to another MLS team -- and it's more likely a matter of when as Orlando City is his fourth MLS team since 2011 -- should we assume Morgan's trade request is not far behind?
And what does it say about the stature of female soccer players compared to their male counterparts? Why is Morgan being relocated for Carrasco when she makes nearly 10 times more in salary than her husband -- and that doesn't count endorsements and money from the USWNT?
Morgan's moving to Orlando might be a good thing for the NWSL, which will continue to have a strong base of support in Portland. But the league might also want to consider the message it sends when a player's personal life can so easily alter the makeup of a franchise. Yes, it's nice that Morgan was accommodated, and we all wish our employers were so accommodating of personal matters.
But is that the sort of precedent the NWSL wants to set? And what should soccer fans make of such a move?
Tough questions without any answers. But I'll say this: Until this week, I would never have told you that Servando Carrasco carried more clout than Alex Morgan.