Friday, April 12, 2024

Mallory Swanson signs record-breaking NWSL contract with Chicago Red Stars: ‘It’s the start of something new’

United States women’s national team striker Mallory Swanson signed a record-setting contract with the Chicago Red Stars, the club announced on Tuesday. The striker will stay in Chicago through 2028 on a four deal with a fifth-year option, a newly allowed league contract.

The deal’s terms will make Swanson the highest paid athlete in the league, surpassing a recent deal signed by Houston Dash winger Maria Sanchez. The Mexican international resigned a three-year contract through free agency reportedly worth $1.5 million. CBS Sports understands Swanson’s contract is thought to be more than $400,000 per year, and would put her deal toward the $2 million mark. 

Swanson was previously traded to Chicago in 2021 from Sky Blue FC (now NJ/NY Gotham FC), and her latest contract is the first official USWNT player signing for the club under a new Red Stars ownership group. MLB Chicago Cubs co-owner and WNBA Chicago Sky minority investor Laura Ricketts led a collective of investors that finalized the sale in October 2023

Ricketts and the group have since hired a new club president, Karen Leetzow, and they are working toward rebuilding and establishing a new club culture. With this groundbreaking contract, Swanson is officially the face of that rebuild moving forward. 

“The Red Stars could not be more excited that Mallory Swanson has decided to extend her career with us here in Chicago,” said Leetzow. “Mallory exemplifies the grit, focus, and resiliency of our franchise and is an anchor for this team. Mal is a born leader on and off the field and I look forward to working with her to make the Red Stars a championship team.”

The club has seen massive player turnover in the last two offseasons after the franchise, former head coach, and former owner, were implicated in multiple reports and investigations involving club culture and harassment. Player departures have continued during the current offseason as the organization looks to revamp its culture and start a new chapter. 

A new year, a new start for Mal Swanson

Swanson has been the focal point of the Red Stars’ attack since her arrival to the club, putting up two MVP finalist seasons, and earning MVP runner-up in 2021. In her first three seasons, she led the team with 18 goals and 10 assists through all competitions with the club to date, and did so while playing under two different head coaches.

Still, despite Swanson’s tenure in Chicago dating back three years, the new contract does symbolize of a fresh start. The Colorado native was in remarkable form heading into the 2023 regular season with a FIFA Women’s World Cup on the horizon but her year was brutally cut short when she sustained an injury during a friendly against Ireland. 

“Just to play. Plain and simple. Just to play,” Swanson told CBS Sports about her aims. “I’m looking forward to going into preseason, getting there, seeing all my teammates, and building new relationships. And just to be able to play again, I’m really looking forward to [that].

It was a torn patella tendon in her left knee put her a stop to a blazing hot year. Swanson had seven goals through six matches for the national team with buzz around her set to be the breakout start at the 2023 World Cup. The national team struggled at the tournament without her presence on the pitch, and her seven international goals were the most by any forward on the team by the end of the year.

The Red Stars also struggled without her. The team simply couldn’t, good for a last-place finish on a 12-team table, and missed out on the playoffs for the first time since 2015. It set the stage for what would be another offseason of player departure, but a first experience for new ownership, and landing Swanson was a priority for all involved.

Family was a key factor in the next contract for Swanson. Her husband, Dansby Swanson, is the shortstop for the Chicago Cubs and still has six years remaining on his deal. The length of Swanson’s Red Stars contract is the longest deal signed by any free agent this offseason and she signed it intending to spend a significant part of her career in the same city alongside her husband.

“I think free agency can be different for everyone. I wasn’t very stressed If I’m gonna be honest. I’m obviously very happy and honored to have signed a new deal with Chicago and to stay with the Red Stars.”

Being part of a new era

Free agency is still relatively new to the NWSL and like any pro sports league, there are plenty of unknowns to navigate. Swanson was a top free agent target in the league, with interest from other teams, but ultimately uncertainties around whether they could pry her away from her current work-life balance weighed on her as she decided to stay with the Red Stars.

“Ultimately, I think it kind of like goes back to being in Chicago with Dansby as well. I’ve always said that family is the most important thing. I think family comes before my career.”

The forward says the concept of a one-year or short-term deal elsewhere wasn’t out of the realm of possibility, with previous reports detailing interest by Racing Louisville FC, but the ability to stay in market and new ownership quelled any free agency anxieties. 

With free agency introduced last offseason, it meant there was a way for clubs and players on the market to shop for other opportunities. The concept of pitching players to be part of a rebuild has challenges but for the Red Stars and Swanson, it came down to a shared vision. 

“In conversations that I’ve had with Laura [Ricketts], she’s very passionate about the vision and the future of the club. She also was very willing to listen to players and hear the feedback and hear [about] their experiences. For me, that’s super important. Her vision for the club is going in the right direction.”

“I think that it’s the start of something new. That can be super, super exciting. Also, with Chicago, you’ve always had this hardworking, grit, head down mentality, and I think that you can bring that into this new identity.”

Donaldson brings an enticing vision

While Swanson and the club are in the process of defining what that identity looks like, they’ll have a new coach to help set things in motion. After hiring a Club President the Red Stars announced former Jamaican women’s national team coach Lorne Donaldson as the new head coach.   

Donaldson made history with the national team as the first Caribbean nation, men or women’s, to ever make the World Cup knockout rounds. He has an extensive background in youth club soccer and is a former youth coach of Swanson. 

“He can definitely bring out the best in players and definitely knows how to bring out the best in me as well,’ said Swanson of the hiring.

“[He’s] a great fit for the group. I think one of my favorite things about him as a coach is that he can bring out the best in anyone. He knows how to bring out the best in player 26 or player one. He can bring out the best in whoever it is and that’s just super special. He knows how to get the best out of me, when to push me, what part of the game I need to do more of.

There’s like this perfect balance of having fun and then putting your head down and work. It’s the perfect balance of how he does that. Because at the end of the day, we’re here, we’re playing a game as a job. We’re very blessed and fortunate to do that, and it should be fun. I think that he can also bring that out of the group too. This group deserves that.”

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