Adrianna Franch revealed herself to us in moments like this spring’s NWSL Challenge Cup final, when her save of Nahomi Kawasumi’s penalty kick paved the way for Portland Thorns FC’s tournament title. She revealed it while ascending to the team’s starting goalkeeper’s role and helping them win the 2017 NWSL title, just as she revealed it in fighting back from a knee injury that required surgery in 2020 to earn a spot on the United States’ Olympic team in 2021.
She is a World Cup winner. An Olympian. A two-time NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year. An NWSL champion. She is somebody who has established herself as the best goalkeeper in the first decade of Thorns soccer while erecting a high bar for the decade to come. She is the type of a player who, when she departs a team, has earned a pause, a reflection, and a question: What has that team lost? Adrianna Franch is a player who deserves a moment.
On Tuesday, that departure arrived. As announced one day after the news broke publicly, Franch has been traded to Kansas City NWSL, landing her with her third NWSL team in exchange for another goalkeeper, Abby Smith, and $150,000 in allocation money. Bella Bixby, the Thorns’ starter in goal over the last seven games, is now the team’s number one.
“[Franch] has been a critical part of our team’s success since her arrival not only on the field in helping us win a championship, but also off the field with her incredible commitment and passion for this community and city,” Gavin Wilkinson, Thorns president of soccer, said in the team’s statement. “In speaking with AD we came to the collective decision that the opportunity she has in Kansas City makes sense for both sides and we wish her all the best.”
In exchange, Portland gets allocation money equal to just short of 22 percent of the salary cap, as well as a goalkeeper who has been part of United States senior national team camps, before. They also dodge the specter of losing Franch for less allocation money this offseason, when two expansion teams will select players from existing teams’ rosters. In exchange, Kansas City gets a player whose resume as impressive as any goalkeeper in the young history of the NWSL.
“AD has consistently been a key player and an important leader for us,” Thorns head coach Mark Parsons said. “She has grown with this team throughout its most successful years and we are all extremely grateful for her commitment to this club and the Portland community.”
Unfortunately, Franch’s Portland legacy met the reality of professional goalkeeping. Only one `keeper can play at a time, and because of that, it may have been a question of when, not if, her competition with Bixby would end. And in terms of timing, that legacy also met a want from a team willing to pay steep market value. Ultimately, Franch’s legacy in Portland ran up against the clock.
But for one day, that legacy deserves to be in focus. Here is Why It Matters when remembering Franch’s time in Portland:
How We Got Here
Since joining the Thorns in December 2015, Franch has established herself as one of the top goalkeepers in U.S. soccer, if not the world. She became the team’s full-time starter in 2017, helped Portland to that year’s title while earning the league’s Goalkeeper of the Year award – an honor she reclaimed in 2018. In February 2019, she made her debut with the United States’ senior national team and has since gone on to make eight appearances, earning a winner’s medal at the 2019 World Cup and a bronze medal at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics.
That resume reflects why Franch’s new team, Kansas City, was willing to give up so much to add her to their roster. It’s also why news of her trade came as a shock to so many. But for those who’ve watched the Thorns over the last year, that shock had to be coupled with context. Since last summer, it’s become clear Portland had two goalkeepers capable of being their number one.
Just before the 2020 Challenge Cup, a knee injury that had bothered Franch throughout the team’s preparation became unsustainable. Surgery sidelined her for almost nine months. When Portland started their tournament, Bixby — a local product who was drafted out of Oregon State in 2018 — was in goal. She went on to be the best goalkeeper over the tournament’s preliminary round before her own knee injury ended her season.
When Franch departed for Olympic preparations this year, Bixby got her second spell as a starter. Again, she was the NWSL’s best goalkeeper during her time in the lineup. Since the beginning of July, the Thorns are 5-0-2, have recorded five shutouts, and have only allowed two goals. Combined with her performance at last summer’s Challenge Cup, Bixby has now made 11 starts, kept seven clean sheets, and allowed only five goals. She has not allowed more than one goal in a game since her professional debut last summer.
That track record may have forced the Thorns’ hand, though the realities of the coming offseason were also a factor. While an ideal world would allow Bixby and Franch to coexist, compete with each other, and potentially both contribute to the Thorns, two new teams are coming into the league this offseason. The NWSL will have another expansion draft, and the Thorns, like every other team, are probably going to lose players.
Franch barely made it thought last year’s expansion draft, when it was believed she would be heading to Racing Louisville. Come draft time, though, the NWSL’s newest team changed course. They selected Tobin Heath. The odds of Franch being a Thorn after another expansion draft, one where two teams would have to pass on her, seem very low.
Why This Matters for the Portland Thorns
Even if you agree with the trade’s logic, you can do so reluctantly. We’re not supposed to be happy when somebody we care about departs.
The reason people care goes beyond Franch’s performance, though that would be enough. In terms of her accomplishments over the history of the league, Franch is in the conversation with Chicago’s Alyssa Naeher as the best goalkeeper in the history of the NWSL. Most of those accomplishments happened in Portland. The Thorns have had another Goalkeeper of the Year (Michelle Betos, 2015) and two other high-level internationals in goal (Karina LeBlanc, Nadine Angerer), but Franch has been a more valuable goalkeeper than any of them.
Who Franch is as a person is also playing a part. There is a unique combination of intensity and competitiveness, joy and vulnerability that makes Franch more relatable than most. She is trusted by her teammates but always implores them to be more, and in the elation of her highest moments, she’s shown a connection that transcends the gap between goal and the field.
That’s a form of leadership, one that’s going to be missed. The Thorns don’t lack for influential players, but there are specific, distinct roles people like Christine Sinclair, Emily Menges, Meghan Klingenberg and Becky Sauerbrunn serve. Bixby is starting to serve on, too, but it’s different than Franch’s. When playing levels dropped, Franch was one of the first to ask for more, and when that more arrived, she could be one of the most reverential of what the team accomplished.
Teams have to be prepared for scenarios where players like that depart, but when that preparation becomes action, it’s always difficult. Be it her eruptive highs, her vulnerability and persistence in the face of obstacles, or a backstory that saw her go from Kansas to Oklahoma, New York to Norway then Portland, Franch was always so easy to root for. No doubt, we’ll miss that, too.
Why This Matters for Adrianna Franch
As reported yesterday with the news, Franch was aware this deal, and with its arrival come a number of silver linings. It’s been noted elsewhere that the trade gets Franch closer to where she was born and grew up, but it should also be noted that Franch and her family had made Portland their home. Moving to Kansas City is a significant change, but it may be easier than other moves.
Franch is also going to a place where she will be an incredibly important player. The price Kansas City paid speaks to how much they want her, and undoubtedly, she’ll be their number one, protected in expansion, and one of the leaders of an improving group. KC NWSL may be at the bottom of the league and coming off their first win, but they’re a team that’s consistently worked hard and pushed opponents. Franch joins a squad that’s earned the NWSL’s respect, even the points haven’t come.
She’s also getting playing time. She’s getting a way to continue fighting for the top spot in her national team. She’s getting an organization that is committing to her as part of their core, and she’s getting all the stability that goes with it. Given some of the questions she’d had to deal with over the last year, that security might feel pretty good.
In Portland, Bixby now has the runway she needs, and after her performances this summer, now feels like the right time to keep her in goal. There’s nothing more she could have done to prove she is ready to be a number one.
For Franch, after days of coming to grips with future, her future is now. As early as Saturday in North Carolina, she could be her a new uniform, and while that new look will be shocking for us, it could also be the start of something great.
From college to pro, United States to Norway, Franch has excelled at every stop. There’s no reason to think Kansas City will be any different.