Free agency enters its second year in the NWSL today, meaning there are several Washington Spirit players whose careers are now in their own hands. Who could be leaving the team this offseason? When will we find out? And what exactly is a restricted free agent? We’ll try to explain.
A brief history of NWSL free agency
The National Women’s Soccer League had no free agency for its first several years of existence. Players could only be drafted, traded, or picked up from a waiver list, with little-to-no say about which team held their rights to play in the league. That changed with the adoption of the league’s first collective bargaining agreement in 2022. The CBA allowed players with a set number of years in the NWSL to become free agents at the expiration of their contracts, beginning at the end of the 2022 season.
Free agency set off a firestorm across the league, with several players leaving their long-time teams to try something new in 2023. For the Washington Spirit, it led to the departure of Kelley O’Hara, who signed with NJ/NY Gotham FC (and got the team fined when she announced it on Men in Blazers in violation of rules on timing). The Spirit’s first free agency signings secured the return of Tori Huster, Nicole Barnhart, and Amber Brooks – all of whom signed one-year contracts with the team.
Teams had until today to exercise options on existing player contracts, and any eligible players whose contracts are expiring at the end of the season may now begin negotiating with other teams in the league. They’ll have to wait until December 5 to sign and announce new agreements, though.
Types of free agency
The standard kind of free agency allows players whose contracts are expiring to negotiate with any team for a new agreement. For the first year of free agency, a player was required to have 6 or more years on an NWSL roster to be eligible. Beginning this year, players with 5 or more years of experience in the league are eligible to become free agents.
A new category this year, restricted free agency increases the amount of control players with 3 or 4 years of NWSL service have over where they’ll play. These players can negotiate for new contracts with other NWSL teams, but, after they receive an offer, their current teams will have 7 days to match that offer and will keep the player if they can do so.
Impact on current Spirit roster
As things now stand, the Washington Spirit has 4 players who are now free agents and 2 who are restricted free agents.
All three of the Spirit’s 2023 free agent signings – midfielder Tori Huster, goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart, and defender/midfielder Amber Brooks – are eligible again this offseason after the expiration of their one-year agreements. They’ll be joined by midfielder Bayley Feist, who was playing on an option year this season.
Midfielder Marissa Sheva, with 3 years of NWSL service, and newly-converted forward Camryn Biegalski, who has 4 years of NWSL service, will be restricted free agents.
Though most of the Spirit’s Starting XI is currently set to return next season, all of their free agents have played essential roles on the team this year and throughout their careers. In particular, Huster is a proven leader and original member of the team, who fought her way back from injury this season, and Barnhart has established herself as a reliable backup to Aubrey Kingsbury in goal. Each of the other 4 has started more than one game for the team this season, with Biegalski and Sheva contributing a goal apiece.
With three regular season games and playoffs still to come, it will be some time before we learn the fates of these 6 players, or the other players on the NWSL’s free agency list. As always with the NWSL, though, chaos is guaranteed.