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The NWSL Failed Its Teams and Players in the Expansion Draft

The NWSL failed the Kansas City Current, its other existing teams and its players, and for what? The pockets of Bay FC’s rich owners?



Credit: Thad Bell

On Friday, the National Women’s Soccer League expansion draft came and went. The draft itself was relatively uneventful with just seven players being chosen and five picks being passed on entirely. The real drama happened in the lead up to the draft when a series of unfortunate events went down. Those events led to numerous trades to acquire protection from the Utah Royals and Bay FC pillaging NWSL rosters in the draft.

As you can see in the above chart from the Equalizer’s Taylor Vincent, 17 trades were executed. That’s an NWSL record to obtain protection from losing players in the expansion draft.

The NWSL Screwed Their Existing Teams

So, why were a record number of trades made? Because of failings all around the league.

First, the NWSL chose to give these two expansion teams, including Bay FC who paid a record expansion fee, double the number of picks as in the 2022 draft when the San Diego Wave and Angel FC joined.

Then, the league changes the rules on how protection works. In that 2022 draft, teams could only lose one player to each team. In 2024’s version, teams could lose two players to a single team. So, when the Kansas City Current traded Alex Loera away to acquire protection from Bay FC, they were still at risk of losing two more players to Utah.

Part of that should be blamed the duo running the KC Current’s front office — Camille Ashton and Vlatko Andonovski. They should have understood the rules. But in their defense, the committee in charge of the rules didn’t even understand them! From the Athletic:

“The Athletic reached out to members of the competition committee on Sunday. San Diego Wave FC president Jill Ellis told The Athletic that, after conversations with the rest of the group, a majority of its five members (including herself) had not read the rule with this same understanding as the league. “

That left the KC Current, and many other teams, in a pickle when the trade deadline on December 12th rolled around. 11 of the 17 trades were executed on the day of the deadline. All the leverage was in the hands of Utah and Bay FC. Either make a trade, or risk alienating your roster when you release your tiny protection list and show everyone who you chose not to protect.

And that’s the final point where the NWSL failed its existing teams. They only allowed teams to protect nine players! Ahem, Commissioner Berman, teams start eleven players.

How Bad did Kansas City do in Trades?

On the surface, it looks really bad. Let’s break down the moves to see who got what, in addition to the KC Current not having to expose players to the draft.

Bay FC Trade

  • Bay FC get: Alex Loera
  • KC get: $175,000 in allocation money

Utah Royals Trade

  • Utah get: Kate Del Fava and the 4th Overall Pick in the 2024 Draft
  • KC get: $75,000 in allocation money

The KC Current lost two starters in Loera and Del Fava from the 2023 season. Kate played in and started every single league game. Loera missed time with injury but was a ‘write in pen’ starter down the stretch. I’d argue Loera may be one of the top two or three players on the entire roster. Del Fava may have been fighting for her job against Hanna Glas in 2024, but she is a consistent, quality NWSL starter.

What can’t be ignored is the haul of allocation money Kansas City received in return. First, it’s important to know loosely what allocation money is. In 2023, the NWSL salary cap was $1,375,000 but there is an additional $600,000 available in allocation money. That money can be used to spend beyond the cap and above the NWSL player salary max. Also, it can be rolled over into another season to spend on that future year’s cap.

Acquiring $250,000 in allocation money almost adds another 50 percent in allocation money to spend. No one else came close to that sort of return in money alone. While allocation money has doubled since it’s 2020 introduction, the Loera trade is a solid return. Previously, Alex Morgan, arguably the most recognizable female athlete in the world at the time, was traded to San Diego for $275,000 in allocation money.

However, the Utah trade looks far worse. Had the KC Current front office realized the rule sooner, maybe they wouldn’t have been so desperate and gotten taken advantage of.

Let’s look back to last year’s draft. There were a series of trades at the top of the draft, but most of them included players. The only straight allocation money for a pick trade was Gotham FC acquiring the second overall pick for $350,000 and a 4th pick from the Orlando Pride. You will then recall, that second overall pick being dealt to the KC Current for USWNT star Lynn Williams so the team could select Michelle Cooper.

The fourth overall pick isn’t worth as much, and there is some argument this draft class is weaker, but Utah won that trade, big time.

The Players Hate All This Too

Alex Morgan’s Instagram Story

Alex Morgan took to her Instagram to voice the displeasure that players are feeling about this as well.

“The @NWSL expansion draft should not exist. Period. If you reach free agency and choose the club and city you want to play for, you deserve the (opportunity) to see that through. It was torture watching the expansion draft, really.”

This was in response to her teammate, Rachel Hill, being selected by Bay FC after a single season with the San Diego Wave after she joined as a free agent last offseason.

Several coaches voiced their displeasure over the draft as well. Laura Harvey, coach of the OL Reign said, “I’d just like to make it official. I dislike the expansion draft.” Wave head coach Casey Stoney added, “We have to find a different way!!!!”

“I don’t think people actually realize the damage that is created by this process and what it does to players, clubs and those relationships,” said North Carolina Courage head coach Sean Nehas. “We should be protecting the league and not 9 players per roster. There needs to be another way.”

And even the Utah Royals Sporting Director, Kelly Cousins nailed it on the head, despite benefiting greatly from the draft.

“I think it is something that probably should change because you’re saying a player could be uprooted. We’re a week away from Christmas, and now they might have to move to the other side of the country.”

On the Snacks podcast, former KC Current players Lynn Williams and Sam Mewis tried to pin down the Commissioner Jessica Berman on this subject, and she didn’t really answer them.

“Are we going to continue to do an expansion draft now that we have free agency and now people have the ability to go talk to other teams,” asked Lynn Williams as they spoke on continued NWSL expansion. “Will every single time a new team comes in, we’ll do this expansion draft? I guess my concern is that how are we supposed to build a team if every year or every two years players are getting taken away from that team?”

Berman goes on to give a long, elaborate answer about sports in America versus sports abroad. She essentially tries to justify the draft as “that’s how it’s done” in America. But that doesn’t mean the rules have to be written so poorly. You can hear the full answer around the 36:30 mark.

Oh, and commish, I already gave the NWSL (and MLS for that matter), a solution to this problem.

How to Fix the Expansion Draft in NWSL and MLS

This needs to be the last ever expansion draft in the NWSL.

The expansion draft is a joke and the Longs and others around the league should be in the commissioner’s ear that it has to stop. Teams spend so much money, time and effort bringing in players to lose them for nothing. Not to mention the toll on the players.

This is made all the worse by KC being an “expansion” team three years ago, but not getting to do a draft, just getting handed the shell of the old Utah roster when they traded away all their best players just before the sale. Looking back at that inherited roster, only Lo LaBonta and Elizabeth Ball are still around. Del Fava was too, until last week.

Considering the NWSL loves the KC Current and what they are doing for the game, they screwed them here. Badly.

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