Racing Louisville FC is gearing up to make their NWSL debut in 2021. But first, they need a team.
The franchise is entitled to select up to 19 players from the other nine NWSL teams in the expansion draft on Nov. 12, 2020. Each team is to create a list of protected (ineligible to be selected by Louisville in the draft) and unprotected players (eligible to be selected), which will be made public on Nov. 5.
In total, teams are allowed to protect up to 11 players, including a maximum of two U.S. allocated players. For some teams, including the North Carolina Courage and Utah Royals FC, the decision over which U.S. allocated players to protect is easy as their roster only carries two U.S. women’s national team (USWNT) players. Houston Dash and Washington Spirit don’t carry any. But other teams have a hard decision to make.
Portland, Orlando and OL Reign each have three or more USWNT players to choose from. Read on to see our predictions for which U.S. allocated players will remain protected.
PORTLAND THORNS FC
U.S. Allocated Players: Crystal Dunn, Adrianna Franch, Tobin Heath (signed to Manchester United through 2021), Lindsey Horan, Becky Sauerbrunn
It would be a huge surprise if Lindsey Horan isn’t protected. The midfielder is not only one of the scariest threats in the league to opposing teams, but is also Christine Sinclair’s other half to the Thorns’ offensive dynamic duo.
Things get tricky when it comes to who will be the second protected player. Becky Sauerbrunn and Crystal Dunn bring the defensive skills the offensive-minded Thorns need while Adrianna Franch is the starting goalkeeper for Portland and was even named goalkeeper of the year in 2017 and 2018. What to do, what to do….
The other protected player will likely be Sauerbrunn. The Thorns need to keep a reliable back line, and while fellow defender Dunn’s work on the wing is impressive, it isn’t what Portland needs right now. They’ve already got Meghan Klinenberg and Ellie Carpenter for right and left fullback. What the team needs is a strong defender who plays in the centre. Sauerbrunn’s experience and leadership are valuable to the back line that has yet to be brought up to the same level as the offence.
If it weren’t for backup goalkeeper Nadine Angerer, the protected players could just as easily be Horan and Franch, but with the two-time FIFA World Cup champion on the bench, there isn’t much to worry about if the Thorns have to say goodbye to Franch.
U.S. Allocated Players: Ashlyn Harris, Ali Krieger, Emily Sonnett, Alex Morgan
Alex Morgan is currently with Tottenham Hotspur, but Pride Head Coach Marc Skinner believes she will return for the 2021 NWSL season, in which case he will likely keep the world-famous player protected. Assuming CANWNT goalkeeper Erin McLeod returns from Iceland in time for the NWSL, Skinner won’t be too concerned about protecting the Pride’s starting goalkeeper, Ashlyn Harris, and will likely protect Ali Krieger instead to ensure a solid defensive line. Krieger and Emily Sonnett subjectively sit on the same defensive skill level, but Krieger has the slight, slight edge given that she’s been on the team longer and has a longer history with the Pride’s playing style and teammates, especially since Sonnett didn’t get to make a single appearance with the Pride during the Challenge Cup.
U.S. Allocated Players: Rose Lavelle, Allie Long, Megan Rapinoe
Ever since the 2019 World Cup, all eyes have been on rising star Rose Lavelle and FIFA best women’s player Megan Rapinoe. However, there might be a chance that OL will protect USWNT bench player Allie Long due to the fact that Lavelle is currently overseas with Manchester City. Although Lavelle is only on a one-year contract, her name wasn’t mentioned in a recent roster update posted by the Reign.
CHICAGO RED STARS
U.S. Allocated Players: Morgan Gautrat (Brian), Tierna Davidson, Julie Ertz, Alyssa Naeher, Casey Short
*Predictions for Chicago are hypothetical as they made a trade with Louisville to protect their whole roster
Of the five USWNT players on the Red Stars, including 2020 NWSL defender of the year Casey Short, it is likely that Julie Ertz and Alyssa Naeher will be guaranteed to stay with Chicago. Naeher is the starting goalkeeper for the USWNT while Ertz is captain of the Red Stars and was named U.S. soccer player of the year in both 2017 and 2019. Naeher and Ertz get the most playing time of Chicago’s five U.S. allocated players.
OTHER U.S. ALLOCATED PLAYERS
North Carolina Courage: Abby Dahlkemper, Sam Mewis
Sky Blue FC: Carli Lloyd, Mallory Pugh
Utah Royals FC: Kelley O’Hara, Christen Press (signed to Manchester United through 2021)
Featured photo: Alyssa Naeher of the Chicago Red Stars (courtesy of fansided.com.)