Welcome back to the Vibe Check! The place for you to get an insider's view and my unfiltered takes on the latest across women's soccer. The NWSL recently held its expansion draft, and fans are hopeful that free agency chaos will kickoff. Unfortunately, though, it might be on its way to a long winter's nap. Let's get right to it!

Expansion draft keeps free agency quiet

The expansion draft was nearly irrelevant by the time it officially began on Friday. A flurry of trades at the deadline (and more that followed) saw only a handful of teams left to participate in the double expansion event. A major factor involved was the new rule that free agents were not allowed to be placed on protected or unprotected lists and were unable to be selected.

In our last Vibe Check, I talked about how the free agency market was quiet, at least in terms of deals getting publicly announced, and I spoke about potential landing spots for Crystal Dunn. Now that the expansion draft has concluded, all that paperwork that's piled up at the league office should be finalized as new deals roll out this week.

Unfortunately those of you looking for peak chaos may have to temper expectations a bit.  Sources have told me that while some deals were being negotiated and changing by the hour, many others are waiting until after the holidays. So, look for the more orderly re-signings or extensions ahead of the holidays, and marquee player announcements and whatever chaos they may bring set more for the new year. 

We're all expansion draft losers!

Now that the expansion draft has settled, did anyone actually win this thing? Even if someone tries to make an argument for the draft as an example of good old-fashioned America Sports Entertainment, the complexities involving people as assets and general player wellness hamper any chance of good feelings. 

The inconvenient truth is that the league and its players are just in year two of a CBA negotiated ahead of the 2022 season. There's a minimum wage that is still under $38,000, and the idea of asking a pro who might be in the early years of their career to uproot and start over might be more disruptive than beneficially life-changing. In the end, only seven players were drafted, with Utah Royals FC and Bay FC electing to PASS on five selections between them. 

The two expansion sides were even part of post-draft deals (that were partially negotiated during the draft) that sent two of their respective selections to different clubs. San Diego Wave FC participated in a three-way trade with Bay FC and Houston Dash to ultimately get midfielder Sierra Enge back to the club. 

NWSL coaches and executives have been vocal about the overall expansion event and its difficult processes for all involved.

"Mark this one down under things that should have never had to happen," said Wave FC General Manager Molly Downtain in a social media post. She then went on to thank Houston Dash General Manager Alex Singer for being a "good partner" in the process of getting Enge back to San Diego. 

OL Reign's Laura Harvey, and Wave FC's Casey Stoney, each expressed their discontent with the expansion draft. North Carolina's Sean Nahas took to social media as a plea for the league to find another way forward as the league eyes another double expansion ahead of the 2026 season.

"I don't think people actually realize the damage that is created by this process and what it does to players, clubs and those relationships," said Nahas before saying there needs to be another way.

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Expansion drafts are a tried-and-true process across American sports, and have been part of the league since 2015, but in no way has the process been a boon to fandom in the league or brought in waves of new interest. No one has ever said, "Expansion draft 2016 made me a fan for life."  There is nearly nothing about the expansion draft that has boosted the league, its players, or its fans in the years that it has existed. Go and ask a Racing Louisville fan about their expansion draft in 2020, a process which didn't consider player welfare and which saw the team selecting players like Tobin Heath and Alana Kennedy that had no intention of playing for them (though given what we now know about Christy Holly, who has since been fired for cause, is it any surprise?).  There is a two-year window till the next expansion sides enter the league. There is time to find another way. 

Women's Super League

If NWSL free agency signings will linger till January, then watch out for some overlap with the transfer window in Europe. Barclay's Women's Super League is officially on holiday break, and teams won't be back in action until the FC Cup fourth round on Jan. 14. 

All the chatter of player movement won't slow down now that the end of the year is upon us. "The squad is not permanent. I can see players in and out in the winter transfer window," said Arsenal manager Jonas Eidevall. 

There are already rumors that Lioneeses goalkeeper Mary Earps is set to depart Manchester United for Arsenal, and Gunners may say farewell to Irish international Katie McCabe with USWNT fullback Emily Fox on their radar