Utah Royals FC to send star defender Becky Sauerbrunn to Portland Thorns

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Royals defender Becky Sauerbrunn speaks about her World Cup experiences at a news conference in Sandy on Wednesday July 17, 2019.

Utah Royals FC said it wanted to get younger. It said it wanted to start looking toward the future while also keeping an eye on winning in the present.

But no one thought those goals would possibly be at the expense of one of the club’s foundational pieces.

The Royals are finalizing a trade that will send star defender and captain Becky Sauerbrunn to the Portland Thorns, The Salt Lake Tribune confirmed Tuesday. Multiple reports indicate Sauerbrunn will go the Thorns in exchange for allocation money and a player.

The deal was first reported by soccer website The Equalizer. The Royals have now made two trades involving allocation money, which was introduced into the NWSL in the offseason.

The other trade was to acquire the first-round pick that became Tziarra King.

Sauerbrunn is widely considered the best defender in the National Women’s Soccer League and also the country. She is the reigning NWSL Defender of the Year, and a regular starter for the U.S. Women’s National Team, which won its second consecutive FIFA Women’s World Cup last summer.

Sauerbrunn was also named to the 2019 Best XI for the league, marking her second consecutive selection. She is also on the USWNT team that will vie for a gold medal at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

The St. Louis native had the utmost respect from her Royals teammates. She served as mentor to some of the younger players, and was counted on by the veterans.

During a news conference shortly after the USWNT returned from the World Cup, fellow defender Kelley O’Hara answered a question about Sauerbrunn with, “Let me count all the ways I love Rebecca Sauerbrunn.”

Sauerbrunn joined the Royals in 2018 when the club absorbed the contracts of the now-defunct FC Kansas City. She, Christen Press and Kelley O’Hara have played together on both the national team and Utah for the better part of the previous two seasons.

The veteran center back started all 14 games in 2019 and played nearly 1,300 minutes. She also scored one goal.

Sauerbrunn is a former two-time NWSL champion with Kansas City.

With the reported departure of Sauerbrunn, Utah’s defense outlook may change significantly. Second-year player Gaby Vincent may be tasked to fill that center back role and be in tandem with Rachel Corsie.

Sauerbrunn will turn 35 in June of this year. Her professional soccer career began in 2005 with the Boston Renegades.