Thursday's NWSL Expansion draft on saw Angel City FC and San Diego Wave FC add more to their rosters heading into their inaugural seasons. This is the first time the league held an expansion draft that featured more than one team picking and only seven players were selected from nine available slots. While Angel City went through with clear goals and added their players with no frills, San Diego passed twice before taking Kaleigh Riehl with the ninth and final pick of the night. As the draft came to a close, the NWSL trade window reopened with a small flurry of moves.
Before we get into some early winners and losers from the draft, here's a look at the trades made (for complete draft results, click here):
- Angel City FC received the first-round pick (No. 6 overall) from the Houston Dash in exchange for their second-round pick (26th overall) and $125,000 of allocation money.
- NJ/NY Gotham FC received midfielder Kristie Mewis from San Diego Wave FC in exchange for $200,000 of allocation money.
- San Diego Wave FC received defender Christen Westphal and the rights to Amirah Ali from Portland Thorns FC in exchange for $50,000 of allocation money.
- San Diego Wave FC received forward Alex Morgan from the Orlando Pride in exchange for midfielder Angharad James and $275,000 of allocation money.
Winner: Teams that kept their depth
Heading into the event, NWSL teams did everything that they could do to keep their depth intact. With only the Houston Dash and Orlando Pride rosters being fully exposed to the draft, it says something about the growth of the league. Teams want to ensure that their best talent is kept and by working out deals with the Wave and Angel City, it was accomplished. While the protections do have an issue of watering down the draft, the best moves aren't made by selecting players in an expansion draft, they're done by getting creative in front office operations which is just what transpired in the pre-draft window.
Loser: OL Reign
Part of having a deep roster means that you can't protect everyone. OL Reign had partial protection as none of their forwards could be selected but they still lost some key pieces on Wednesday. Midfielder Dani Weatherholt and defender Kristen McNabb were both major parts of a squad that finished second in the league last season. Weatherholt not being on a national team also adds an important dimension because she is available all season and can play as a six or an eight while Kristen McNabb can play anywhere in defense as a starter or substitute, adding important flexibility that OL Reign will clearly miss.
Winner: The return to California
Whether it was via trades made during the pre- and post-draft process or by the draft selection of Weatherholt, a Laguna Beach native who saw her wish honored with a move to Los Angeles, as the league grows, players have managed to use their leverage to seal moves near their hometowns. After the draft was completed, Alex Morgan was officially moved to San Diego to mark return to Southern California in what was the biggest worst-kept secret of the draft process.
Loser: The need for an expansion draft
As a continuation of speaking about the growth of the league and the depth that teams can acquire by making moves outside of the draft, San Diego passed twice and essentially tipped their hands to future moves that happened after the draft was completed. With more money in the league, it gives these expansion teams many ways to be competitive without needing to poach players from other teams in the league, especially when the draft can uproot players who are just settling in an area.
San Diego's passes kept us on the edge of our seats. Then they hammered it home by selecting Kaleigh Riehl after the two passes made. But it didn't stop there as the trade window opened and we saw a quick flurry of four deals go through. Both teams end the night closer to a full roster ahead of the Saturday's NWSL Draft on Paramount+ and CBS Sports HQ beginning at 2 p.m. ET., and that gets everyone excited and anticipating the start of the season with full rosters.