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How to Fix the Expansion Draft in NWSL and MLS

MLS and NWSL aren’t going to stop expanding, but it’s long past time to fix the broken expansion draft problem.



Credit: Thad Bell

In American Soccer, expansion is a way of life. Major League Soccer has ballooned from its 10 original teams to 29, with a 30th on the way in 2025 (San Diego FC). The National Women’s Soccer League has recently joined the fray adding two teams in 2022 (San Diego Wave and Angel City) and two more in 2024 (Bay FC and Utah Royals) with another announced team on the way in the future (Boston).

This leaves out the seemingly endless expansion of lower-level leagues and the additions of even more leagues themselves.

With the expansion of the leagues, comes the need to fill out rosters. That usually means poaching players from within the league. That stark reminder came for KC fans when the Kansas City Current traded budding star Alex Loera to expansion side Bay FC on Wednesday.

But I’m here to tell you, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Why the Expansion Draft is Awful

Let’s be clear. No one likes the Expansion Draft, except perhaps the Sporting Director building a new team. The fans hate it. The existing teams hate it. And the players hate it.

For fans, it’s awful because you lose your favorite players, often for little compensation. Your team may have just gotten worse, and it’ll hurt extra when that player comes back on their new team and wreaks havoc. Fans want success and happiness for the players they love, even when they play elsewhere at times, but they really want that success to come on their team.

Speaking of the team, imagine losing a player you recruited, scouted, traded for or drafted for almost nothing in return. Your team is down a player, and you have to use capital and resources to replace them. In the case of the upcoming NWSL expansion draft, teams can only protect nine players ensuring you’ll lose at least one starter. At least the Current got a haul for Loera, but she is young, talented and looked like a future USWNT player to me. Bay FC may have still gotten a bargain.

And for the playersAnd for the players, imagine the disruption to your life. You suddenly are forced to move, which is something professional athletes deal with all the time, but it’s still tough. And it’s one thing when you choose to sign with another team and another when you are traded or drafted away.

Look at the Alex Loera example. She’s made it pretty clear on her social media she was told she’d be protected and then she was surprised to find out she’d been traded. For the team’s part, they’ve chosen not to comment.

How to Fix the Expansion Draft

So, what can be done about all of this? New teams need to be able to build competitive sides and part of that will be with NWSL or MLS veterans and not just ones thrown on the scrap heap.

You’d think the solution is so complicated that it can’t be easily implemented. But the solution is actually incredibly simple. I’ve got a whopping two-point plan.

Give teams more international slots and more allocation money.

International Roster Spots

Soccer, or football if you will for a moment, is a global game. There is incredible talent around the world that a team can be built from. It’s not like the NFL where there is essentially one league to find talent and beyond that it’s the college draft. Instead, you can pick up players from all over the world.

The issue is, NWSL teams only get five international slots and MLS teams get eight. Sure, trades can happen to acquire more spots, but I imagine most clubs would be okay with giving out additional slots to expansion teams the first few seasons if that meant they didn’t have to lose a player or players through an expansion draft.

Plus, if expansion teams had more international slots, they could be a little looser with how they use them. Currently, with limited slots, you have to be picky with them. If you had two or three more, you could sign a fringe player and not need to ‘hit’ on all the international moves. Plus, in the subsequent years, you can work on getting them a green card and them not counting towards your totals.

More Allocation Money

In the NWSL it’s simply called allocation money, in MLS it’s either Targeted or General Allocation Money (though all the additional would be in the form of GAM). In MLS, they already give more to expansion sides, but just give even more to stop these silly drafts.

If you give expansion teams more of this money, they can use it how they see fit to build their teams. They can make trades, like the aforementioned Loera trade, or simply use that money to sign more expensive players and buy down their cap charge.

That way, instead of a team like the Kansas City Current being somewhat forced into making a deal like they did this week to gain protection from losing an unknown player, they could drive a harder bargain and make it worth their while if they choose to make a similar move.

The answer feels easy. If MLS and NWSL are going to keep expanding, and with the growing fees I’m sure they are, let’s give a little respect to the existing teams and stop tearing them apart for the benefit of the new kids in town.

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