Football: Football Ferns legend Abby Erceg traded from North Carolina Courage to Racing Louisville in NWSL

Football Ferns pioneer Abby Erceg has been traded by US club North Carolina Courage to Racing Louisville in the National Women's Soccer League.

After six years as captain, leading them to two championships, Erceg, 33, has bid an emotional farewell to teammates and fans on Twitter, just a week after NZ Football confirmed she had retired from the national team to focus on her pro career.

She and teammate Carson Pickett are now headed to Louisville in exchange for US national team defender Emily Fox, who - ironically - faced New Zealand in two tests this month.

"Courage country, my heart breaks a little today and believe me when I say I am as shocked and disappointed as you are," tweeted Erceg.

"The intention to see out my career with a club in which I have so many fantastic memories comes to an end, as that intention is unfortunately not a shared one.

"I gave this club everything I had, through the good times and the bad, so I leave with my head held high and I hope I led your team in a way that you were proud of. Thank you for everything, from the bottom of my heart, thank you." 

En route to the 2018 NWSL crown, Erceg was named to the Best XI and Defender of the Year, and was nominated to the Second XI the following year, when they defended the title.

Last season, North Carolina languished in seventh with a 9-8-5 record, two spots ahead of Louisville (5-9-8).

The Courage have been active during the off-season, but this month, Erceg was critical of a trade that sent Mexican forward Diana Ordonez - who scored 11 goals in 12 appearances last season - to Houston Dash.

"Yup, it's official," she tweeted. "We still suck at trades in 2023."

The first footballer - male or female - to play 100 tests for New Zealand, Erceg has now retired three times from the national team, but her latest withdrawal, just six months before a home World Cup, raised eyebrows on the eve of the US fixtures at Wellington and Auckland. 

"We respect Abby's decision to step away from the national team set-up and focus on her club career," said Football Ferns coach Jitka Klimkova. "Abby has been an important part of the Ferns journey and her legacy in the game here is indescribable.

"We wish her all the best for the future."