The 2020 expansion draft has concluded and Racing Louisville FC now has the beginnings of a roster to carry them into next season.
Prior to the draft Louisville acquired Savannah McCaskill and Yuki Nagasato from Chicago Red Stars as well as picking up Cheyna Matthews off waivers from the Washington Spirt. But the bulk of the new teams roster was supposed to be built Thursday night.
International and U.S. allocated players
Louisville also selected a number of top international picks to build out their roster. Early on they drafted Australian internationals Alanna Kennedy and the player rights to Caitlin Foord from the Orlando Pride. The two are currently playing overseas with Tottenham and Arsenal, respectively. Kennedy has been with the team since 2017 while Foord was acquired over the off season but never played for the club.
But the real fireworks happened towards the end of the draft when Holly and Louisville also selected the player rights to Tobin Heath from Portland Thorns FC and Christen Press from Utah Royals FC. Both players are currently playing overseas with Manchester United. Heath and Press are obviously megastars but it's unclear when, or even if, they will return to the league, to say nothing of whether they'll actually suit up for Louisville.
Utah Royals FC opted to leave Press available for selection despite being able to protect two allocated players and GM Stephanie Lee commented on the evening's transition.
"We are appreciative of the contributions made by Press and wish her luck in the next chapter," said Lee.
"The decision to leave Press unprotected allowed us to focus on players we were certain would and could show up to contribute to the 2021 season, and provides us with some flexibility with Allocation Money during our current transition."
Taking such prolific players for you club has immediate benefits, these are, after all, some of the best players in the world. They bring not only elite level talent but also international recognition, ability to market, and overall professionalism. But there's also risk. Stars are great but only if the stars are actually playing for the club. Some short term player contracts for players overseas run through 2021, and the Olympic games also on the docket for 2021 after being postponed due the pandemic. International and U.S. allocated players could very well be gone for large chunks of whatever an NWSL season looks like next year, perhaps not eyeing an actual return to club play until August of 2021.
Granted, Holly has been adamant in his pursuit for players to build his roster now and to keep an eye in the very near future when NWSL will go through another expansion draft when they welcome Angel City FC in 2022. In media availability he has been clear that he intends to build for the present and the future, and perhaps these selections of Heath and Press in particular will have a different meaning down the line. They remain potential valuable assets for a club building from scratch even if they never actually make it to Louisville themselves.
Top picks of the rest of the night
The rest of the draft involved players who, while they might be less well known internationally are more likely to make both immediate and last contributions to their new club. Addisyn Merrick and Lauren Milliet from North Carolina Courage are selections with huge upsides that will likely make an impact for the club on day one. Louisville also selected Jennifer Cudjoe from Sky Blue FC, a midfielder who had a break out 2020 during the Challenge Cup and Fall Series.
Louisville also made a number of upside plays over during the draft, selecting players with potentially high ceilings, but whose development is uncertain. Katie Lund was taken from Washington Spirit after one year working as back up goal keeper along side Aubrey Bledsoe. Cece Kizer was selected from Houston Dash after being drafted by the club in 2019. She holds the Ole Miss record for goals and points. Both players remain unproven at the NWSL level but will likely have more of a chance to prove themselves for Louisville than they did with their former clubs.
NWSL trade windows opens Friday at 9 a.m. ET, and there is real potential for more deals to be potentially worked out in a post expansion draft world. Portland and Utah will receive $75,000 in allocation money grants after Louisville selected two allocated players in Heath and Press. The money can also be used on a top pick in the upcoming NWSL college draft with a future date to be announced.
Here is how Racing head coach Christy Holly selected from the remaining eight clubs
- Addisyn Merrick (defender, North Carolina Courage)
- Julia Ashley (defender, OL Reign)
- Jennifer Cudjoe (midfielder, Sky Blue FC)
- Cecelia Kizer (forward, Houston Dash)
- Katie Lund (goalkeeper, Washington Spirit)
- Alanna Kennedy (midfielder, Orlando Pride)
- Lauren Milliet (midfielder, NC Courage)
- Kaleigh Riehl (defender, Sky Blue FC)
- Caitlin Foord (midfielder, Orlando Pride)
- Katie McLure (forward, Washington Spirit)
- Erin Simon (defender, Houston Dash)
- Michelle Betos (goalkeeper, OL Reign)
- Tobin Heath (midfielder, Portland Thorns)
- Christen Press (forward, Utah Royals)