Carolina and San Diego combined for the first major trade of the WUSA and the first trade in the league's regular-season history, with the Courage sending Norwegian goalkeeper Bente Nordby and Chinese defender Wen Lirong to the Spirit for Swedish defender Kristin Bengtsson and goalkeeper Ulrika Karlsson.
The trade amounts to the league's sixth-place team (San Diego) and it's cellar-dweller (Carolina) trading internationals who have disappointed in the WUSA, despite the fact that all four have starred at the international level. Nordby is one of the best goalies in the world at the international level but has not translated that success to her WUSA play. Likewise, Wen has struggled in Carolina's backline, which has allowed the most goals in the league (25).
On the surface, Carolina may get the better of the deal, because, while Bengtsson has been an average defender in San Diego, Bengtsson has been a bit more consistent than Wen. The switch of goalies may be a wash. How Karlsson plays for Carolina is a mystery. Whether Karlsson, who has not played since starting San Diego's first game, plays is also unknown. She is not as good as Nordby at the international level and will have to battle Carolina's backup Kristin Luckenbill to avoid a spot on the Courage bench.
The upside for San Diego is that perhaps a change of scenery -- and a better defense in front of her -- could bring the international version of Nordby to the Spirit nets. Also, Wen may be inspired to play better now that she's on the same team as fellow Chinese defender Fan Yunjie.
The Swedes, who lost, 1-0, with their national team to Germany in the European WomenÆs Championship final on July 7, will join the Courage on Wednesday night in Boston before CarolinaÆs Thursday night contest with the Breakers.
"While it is never easy to part with a world class athlete, like Wen Lirong or Bente Nordby, the Carolina Courage organization is committed to putting a winning product on the field, and we feel this trade will help us do that," Courage President Jerome Ramsey said. "We are getting two great players in Kristin Bengtsson and Ulrika Karlsson, who will make this team better immediately."
Bengtsson has been a member of Sweden's National Team since 1991, competing in two Olympics and two Women's World Cups. She started every game for Sweden in the 1999 Women's World Cup and netted one of the most memorable goals of the tournament, hitting a 30-yard blast into the upper left corner against China. Bengtsson was a major factor in SwedenÆs success at the 2001 European Championships, playing every minute of the overtime final. A versatile, left-sided player, Bengtsson can play in midfield or in defense for the Courage.
Karlsson has participated in five major championships for Sweden, including the last two Olympics, the 1999 Women's World Cup, and the 1997 and 2001 European Championships. Karlsson was voted Sweden's Female Player of the Year in 1997, and was a member of the 1999 FIFA Women's World All-Star Team that defeated the USA, 2-1 on Feb. 14, 1999.
"Wen Lirong and Bente Nordby are two outstanding players, who have made significant contributions to our team in its very brief history," Carolina coach Marcia McDermott said. "They are classy individuals, and weÆll miss them. At the same time, we are confident in the players we have assembled on this team. This trade is an affirmation of our confidence in our young players. Kristin Luckenbill and [defender] Jaclyn Raveia have demonstrated, through their performance, that they are ready to step up for the Courage."
Like Carolina, San Diego had to make a move to try to move into the top four spots in the league. The top four teams at the end of the regular season reach the playoffs.
"Besides salary cap issues, the main reason there hasnÆt been trades has been that the coaches really wanted to see how their draft picks panned out," said San Diego general manager Kevin Crow, who attended most of Euro 2001. "But now, more than halfway through the season, some teams need a little push to make the playoffs and we feel these moves are for the long-term and short-term benefit of our club."
Nordby, 26, is widely hailed as one of the top goalkeepers in the world, and along with the USAÆs Briana Scurry, is one of the only two keepers in womenÆs soccer history to have won two world championships. Nordby was in goal for Norway when it won the 1995 WomenÆs World Cup and also last summer at the 2000 Olympics, playing a spectacular game for her country in the championship game to help win a gold medal. She has played in every world championship ever staged in womenÆs international soccer, also starting for Norway at the 1991 WomenÆs World Cup, 1999 WomenÆs World Cup and 1996 Olympics.
"Nordby gives us one of the best goal goalkeepers in the world," Spirit coach Carlos Juarez said. "She has excellent distribution and an amazing amount of experience in important games. As we make a run for the playoffs, she could potentially be a vitally important addition to our team."
Wen, 31, is one of the most experienced players in womenÆs soccer history. She is a 15-year member of the Chinese national team who has played over 160 times for her country. She played in all three WomenÆs World Cups that have been contested and both Olympic womenÆs soccer tournaments. Wen joins her Chinese national team teammate Fan Yunjie on the Spirit. The pair has played over 100 games together in the center of the Chinese defense, including the historic 1999 WomenÆs World Cup final, and may enjoy a reunion in the center of the Spirit defense.
"We feel that potentially putting Fan and Wen together gives us experience and stability in the middle of the field," added Juarez. "WeÆve been trying different players in the center of our defense, but obviously this pair could be a very good combination for us."
With the trade, the Spirit essentially acquired players that were both first round draft picks. Wen was the sixth overall pick in the Global WUSA Draft while Nordby was part the Norwegian pair (along with midfielder Hege Riise) that were chosen first by Carolina in the WUSA Foreign Player Allocation Draft.
Karlsson and Bengtsson were the SpiritÆs picks in the inaugural WUSA Foreign Allocation Draft as the duo was chosen eighth after San Diego was allotted the final picks in the draft due to the strength of their three allocated founding players -- Joy Fawcett, who has yet to play for the Spirit, Julie Foudy and Shannon MacMillan. Both Karlsson and Bengtsson helped Sweden reach the championship game of Euro 2001 last Saturday, where they lost 1-0 to host Germany in sudden-death overtime.
Karlsson has a special place in club history having started the first-ever match against Philadelphia on April 22, 2001, but has not seen action since, as Jaime Pagliarulo has emerged as one of the leagueÆs best in goal. Karlsson has been in Europe for a month with the Swedish national team and has missed five matches.
Bengtsson has been with SwedenÆs national team for the past three weeks and missed four Spirit matches while at the European Championship. She started seven games for the Spirit, playing 547 minutes but did not register a goal or an assist.
"Both Ulrika and Kristin were a very positive part of our team, on the field and off," added Juarez. "They are talented players who have done a lot for soccer in their country and we wish them the best with Carolina."
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