NWSL releases rules for December expansion draft

Bay FC and Utah Royals logos

NWSL fans might be getting nervous, and it’s not just because of this weekend’s playoff semifinals. On December 15, an expansion draft will shake up the league’s rosters. 

On Wednesday, the National Women’s Soccer League announced the rules for the upcoming player draft that will allow the two 2024 expansion clubs to select up to twelve players from current league teams.

San Francisco’s Bay FC and Salt Lake City’s Utah Royals will take turns selecting players, beginning with Bay FC’s first pick. However, not every NWSL player is eligible in the draft.

Who can be drafted?

Existing clubs can protect nine players on their roster. Clubs must submit a list of their nine protected players to the league by December 12. These players cannot be drafted by the expansion clubs. 

Clubs must evaluate which of their players are the highest priority to protect. Who is most critical to the team’s performance and the club’s vision for the future? 

Based on league rules, no team can lose more than two unprotected players due to the expansion draft. 

Additionally, U18 players cannot move from club to club in the expansion draft based on league regulations that prevent these young players from being drafted or traded. 

There’s another stipulation in this year’s expansion draft: free agency. 

Added to the league’s latest collective bargaining agreement with the NWSL Players Association, free agency provides certain players with the ability to sign with clubs — rather than have their rights traded, as was standard in the first decade of NWSL play.

Unsigned free agents are ineligible for selection in the expansion draft process. The current list of free agents includes notable names like Angel City’s Savannah McCaskill, Portland Thorns’ Becky Sauerbrunn and the Chicago Red Stars’ Mallory Swanson, among many others. 

These players can wait until after the expansion draft to sign with their previous club — or a new team — to remain an unsigned free agent through December 15 and avoid selection in the expansion draft.

What happened, and what’s next?

The last expansion draft, held in December 2022, saw San Diego Wave FC and Angel City FC build an initial portion of their rosters. The 2022 expansion draft had more stipulations on the amount of US players available for selection and fewer players selected overall.

The 2024 NWSL expansion draft will air on CBS Sports Network with coverage beginning at 7:00 p.m. ET.

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