Reign FC has acquired the rights to defender Julia Ashley from Sky Blue FC in exchange for forward Ifeoma Onumonu. The team also confirmed on Friday that Christen Westphal has been traded to the Portland Thorns. The deal — but not Westphal’s name — was announced yesterday when the club acquired the 34th overall pick from the Thorns, which was used to select Meg Brandt.
While the team has only acquired Ashley’s rights at this point, it sounds like a contract is all but final.
“We have been working to bring Julia to Reign FC for nearly a year — we think she is a great emerging talent and can contribute to our club this season,” said Reign FC CEO Bill Predmore in a team release.
Sky Blue drafted Ashley, 23, with the sixth overall pick of the 2019 NWSL College Draft, but the defender never appeared for the club. She was clear about her concerns with the club on draft day, as Sky Blue was still dealing with an onslaught of bad press for not providing adequate resources to players. Things have improved dramatically for the club in the last year.
Ashley went on to sign a contract with Linköpings FC in the Swedish Damallsvenskan. She was limited at Linköpings due to injury, but has seen more significant playing time in recent months after joining Adelaide United in Australia’s W-League. Ashley has started and played the full 90 in all seven of the club’s matches — mostly being utilized as a centerback.
Unfortunately, the club currently sits at the bottom of the W-League ladder, although that is primarily due to their inability to score goals. Adelaide has only six goals in seven matches.
“I’m honored and humbled to be joining Reign FC and very grateful to be a part of such a talented, hardworking group,” Ashley said in a Reign FC release. “I’m looking forward to meeting all the coaches and players and will do everything possible to help the Reign succeed and reach our goals in the upcoming 2020 season.”
Ashley was a four-year starter at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she helped lead the Tar Heels to a College Cup final her senior year. Heading into her senior year, she was named to the watch list for the MAC Hermann Trophy. That year, playing mostly right back or centerback, she led the Tar Heels in assists (10) and tied for the team lead in goals scored (6). That includes the game-winning goal in the 108th minute of the team’s NCAA semifinal win over Georgetown, where she led an impressive passing sequence before finishing in the box.
GAME. WINNER.#WCollegeCup pic.twitter.com/is1sN0rpq2— NCAA Soccer (@NCAASoccer) December 1, 2018
In addition to some offensive punch, Ashley brings to the Reign endurance and speed. Her UNC coach, Anson Dorrance, said the former high school track star ran 11 miles in the College Cup quarterfinals against UCLA. She then played 108 minutes against Georgetown and went 90 minutes just 48 hours later in the College Cup final.
“I am really excited to get back to work in the U.S. after spending the majority of 2019 overseas. I’m also very excited for the incredible atmosphere in Tacoma created by the Royal Guard and many other excellent supporters of Reign FC,” Ashley shared.
Onumonu, meanwhile, should add some strong depth to Sky Blue’s attack. She was a spark for the Reign in 2019 — scoring a crucial goal that sent the team to extra time in the NWSL semifinal against the North Carolina Courage. She finished the 2019 season with 21 appearances (eight starts), scoring three goals and notching one assist.
“While incredibly excited to add Julia to the club we are sad to see Ifeoma depart. She added something special to the team last season, creating some critical goals while showing that she can be a force in the NWSL,” Predmore shared.