Amid the trades, waivers, and free agency signings of this NWSL offseason, one event threatens to shake up existing teams more than most: the 2024 Expansion Draft.
Set for December 15, the Draft will usher two new teams, Bay FC and Utah Royals FC, into the league by giving them the opportunity to swipe players from the existing teams. Under this year’s rules, each existing team can lose up to two players on Draft Night and can only protect 9 from being selected.
Washington Spirit, along with the rest of the league, will need to do what they can to preserve the core of their team, and we’ve got some ideas about how they should do it! Keep reading for our thoughts on who the Spirit should protect, how they should approach draft night decisions, and whether they should trade their way out.
The Spirit can only protect 9 players in the Expansion Draft, which will make for some tough calls. Is there anyone you think is a total lock for protection?
Annie: Trinity Rodman, Aubrey Kingsbury, Ashley Hatch, Ashely Sanchez, Andi Sullivan, Sam Staab. Damn, that’s already 6!
André: I wanna caveat my thoughts with two truths, 1) I hate expansion drafts and though they’re a seemingly necessary pain, I wish there was some other way; and 2) sure would be nice to have a head coach helping to make these decisions!!
Ok, now onto the task. Most of the locks for protection jump out straight away, Rodman obvs, Sanchez obvs, Sullivan, Staab and Kingsbury obvs. Hatch too, because as much as Spirit supporters thought that might be her walking in Utah’s first player tease (it turned out to be another player with Utah ties), if she’s eager to return to her college home, you’d rather Utah be forced to hand over roster protection plus some of that sweet, sweet allocation money.
Who do you think should round out the 9?
André: Things get tough from here. Ricketts is exempt as an under-18 player. Free agents can’t be protected, so Barnhart, Brooks, Feist and Huster (unrestricted), and Biegalski and Sheva (restricted) aren’t eligible. Jaurena was signed on a one-year deal and may already be heading back home to France. Kuhlmann and Heilferty are likely be exempt due to long-term injury.
This leaves rookies Bosselmann, Douglas, Silano, Tanner and Metayer, the two midseason international signings, Sarr and Butel, plus McKeown, Carle, Bailey and Elwell.
I’m protecting Sarr, McKeown, and Carle.
Annie: I think I have the same group as André: McKeown, Sarr, and Carle. All three of them showed a lot of value this season, and I know Sarr in particular is someone the team worked hard to bring to DC and wants to make a major part of their attack (assuming that didn’t all get thrown out the window with the departure of Mark Parsons!).
It’s very painful to me to leave MY rookie of the year Paige Metayer and Dorian Bailey off this list. Not being able to protect a full 11 players is so crazy.
There’s a new rule this year that teams can protect a 10th player after they’ve had one selected in the draft. How should the team approach that decision?
André: To be honest I’ve been a bit cheeky leaving Butel out of my nine, but it’s because I don’t believe Utah or Bay FC would be silly enough to take a player who just moved from France six months ago. The same could be said for Sarr of course, but she likely peaked more eyebrows than Butel.
Once someone is selected, I’m protecting Bailey. If Utah or Bay FC select Bailey, then Butel.
Annie: I actually find this aspect of the process very interesting. It wasn’t part of the previous two expansion drafts, and it will mean teams will have to be prepared to make quick decisions on draft night. Could be exciting!
Of course the 10th protection slot will vary based on who is drafted first, but I’d be prepared to protect Bailey or Metayer if I were in charge.
The final question: will any of this even matter? Teams have already started trading with the incoming teams for protection, as they did in 2021. Will the Spirit make similar deals and avoid the Expansion Draft altogether?
Annie: Do I think the Spirit will make trades for protection? Yes. Uncertainty appeared to be a powerful motivator for teams before the 2021 expansion draft, and protection trades would allow the Spirit to start signing new players before Dec. 15 without having to expose anyone else.
Whether they should is a different question. To me, it all comes down to price. Two years ago, Angel City and San Diego were able to get a lot out of each individual trade. For example, the Spirit traded both starter Tegan McGrady and a first round college draft pick to the Wave for protection alone. The calculus might be a little different this season, with Orlando garnering allocation money in addition to protection in both of their deals. If Washington can work out something similar, it might be the right call, but I’d hate to see them give too much away out of fear again.
André: This is the most interesting question to me. Mark Krikorian hasn’t done the best job of assembling talent around the mainstays of the team. Last year the only free agents signed were already on the team, every offseason signing had ties to his Florida State days (Carle, Jaurena), and the draft approach was odd.
I think they could be looking at the expansion draft as a mechanism that provides an opportunity to open roster spots and bring in talent without having to make trades. Still, I would feel much better if it didn’t seem as if Krikorian was acting alone.