NWSL Draft: How does it work?

NWSL ball and team flags during the 2020 NWSL College Draft at the Baltimore Convention Center on January 16, 2020 in Baltimore, Maryland.

Throughout the years since the inception of the NWSL, the draft has brought forth some absolute gems that the US has to offer. It is often through the draft that college players get a chance to make it into the professional league. And this happens across all American sports; not just football or soccer.

Most non-Americans who follow the game are not usually familiar with the draft and how it goes. So what is the draft and what exactly happens? This articles seeks to simplify the entire process.

How different is the draft from other countries’ recruitment?

Throughout Europe and other countries across the world, professional teams get new recruits from their youth systems. Players slowly integrate into the first team and if they are good enough, they get to be a mainstay in the side. The American system works a bit differently because most teams do not have a youth team set-up. If they do, young players rarely make the step to the main team unless it is via the draft.

In the US, one needs to fully complete their college education to get a chance to be drafted. These kinds of regulations do not exist in most parts of the world. The aim of the draft is to create a level playing field for all the teams in the league. This is how they do it.

How the NWSL Draft works

College players register under the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to participate in college tournaments and league. At the end of their college career or during their senior year, players are eligible to apply for the draft as long as they are in the last year, or have completely finished their collegiate season by the time the NWSL season comes to an end.

The draft then takes place after all the players apply and the league approves. This is where the real deal starts. The draft has four rounds from which teams pick one player per round or trade their picks to other teams in exchange for allocation money.

The teams make their picks in reverse order of the standings from the previous season. So the team that finished at the bottom of the standings gets the top draft pick. With every round, the bottom teams get to pick first and this goes on until the team that won the championship get their pick in that round. And all this is in a bid to avoid the creation of a super team that gets to dominate for long periods, like what we see in other football leagues.

The NWSL Expansion Draft  

For the upcoming 2022 season, there will be two additional teams to the NWSL. San Diego Wave FC and Angel City FC. The introduction of the two California-based teams will see something new being done as this is the first time the league has two expansion teams. Now a newly formed team will need players, right? And these players have to come from the already existing teams thereby creating the expansion draft.

The draft took place on December 16 and prior to this, the other teams in the league created lists of protected and unprotected players. Basically players that can and cannot be chosen by the two new entrants, so San Diego and ACFC each got a chance to pick nine players from the other teams.

Furthermore, both teams received $150,000 in allocation money. They could either keep this money or give it in exchange for an unprotected US allocated player. This is a player who gets their salaries from the US or Canadian soccer federations.

The expansion teams also get to go first in the normal draft picks that come after the expansion draft. It is important not to confuse the two. This year, San Diego got the overall number one draft pick in Naomi Girma, from Stanford University. She becomes the fourth player from the California school to be first overall pick in the past five editions of the NWSL Draft.

The draft can be a long and tedious process if one doesn’t understand how it all works. It is certainly different from other leagues, but that is what sets it apart. Whether it creates a level-playing field is up to you to decide.