Ahead of Racing Louisville's expansion draft on Thursday, clubs announced their lists of protected players, providing a first glimpse at players available to Louisville as the new team begins the process of building a roster.
The newest NWSL club started making moves even before the draft, making a trade with Chicago Red Stars for forwards Yuki Nagasato and Savannah McCaskill in exchange for full roster protection in the upcoming draft. Louisville also added forward Cheyna Matthews who will join the club after pregnancy.
The remaining eight clubs were allowed to protect 11 players, with up to two U.S. allocated players, and all other players and player rights left available for expansion selections. Racing will be able to select up to 18 players to help build out their roster for the upcoming year.
Let's take a look at some of the notable talent Louisville could have their eye on from each club.
Chicago Red Stars
- Chicago has full roster protection after trading Savannah McCaskill and Yuki Nagasato to Louisville.
Along with North Carolina and Portland, Red Stars are a top tier club to select players from. The side has several USWNT players, NWSL veterans, and a host of promising young talent. The front office decided to get in front of the expansion draft and strike up a deal, and now have full roster protection from the upcoming draft.
- Cecelia "CeCe" Kizer
- Christine Nairn
- Ally Prisock
- Brianna Visalli
Houston Dash currently have 19 total unprotected players. Nairn is a league veteran, and could provide an immediate impact both in midfield and as a free kick specialist. Kizer, an Ole Miss Rebel, is the school leader with 48 career goals and 119 points before getting drafted in 2019 by the Dash. Prisock has shown strong individual performances on the back line and could slot in at outside back or center back where defensive depth is essential in this league.
But, the standout on this list is likely Brianna Visalli, a ball winning midfielder who can connect with the top line or play on top if needed. She joined Houston via FA WSL after stints with West Ham United and Birmingham City and she was an important contributor to the championship stretch run.
North Carolina Courage
- Ryan Williams
- Addisyn Merrick
- Katelyn Rowland
- Ally Watt
- Lauren Milliet
After a disappointing quarterfinal exit from the Challenge Cup and a fifth place standing in the Fall Series where they struggled against their south pod rivals Houston Dash and Orlando Pride the Courage have had a busy offseason. trading star Crystal Dunn though the team still has a solid veteran protected list going into the expansion draft. But, there are a number of promising talents who saw lots of time in an uncertain season that could interest Louisville.
Williams and Merrick offer options on the back line in a league where attacking defenders are sparse. They could prove to be big losses to the Courage after also losing veteran outside back Jealene Daniels to retirement. Rowland would bring experience in goal to a new roster.
Watt is currently out recovering from an ACL injury, and selecting her would add another forward who wouldn't join Racing for some time, but she is a highly rated prospect, a potential high risk, high reward option. Milliet is a player who slotted in an experienced midfield during both Challenge Cup and Fall Series playing with and in place of massively talented players Sam Mewis and Denise O'Sullivan.
- Kristen Edmonds
- Konya Plummer (International)
- Shelina Zadorsky (CAN Allocated)
Orlando Pride left U.S. players Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris unprotected, but head coach Christy Holly could be keeping an eye on banking allocation money and looking else where for defenders and goal keepers.
Zadorsky is a Canadian allocated player and could provide both salary space and veteran defending for a new club. Kristen Edmonds has split time on the backline and in the midfield for Orlando, and could bring that duality with her to Louisville as well.
Plummer is co-captain of the Jamaican women's national team, a center back with international experience, who was just drafted out of UFC in the 2020 college draft and could be a building piece defensively for the right club.
Portland Thorns FC
- Bella Bixby
- Brittany Eckerstrom
- Adrianna Franch (U.S. Allocated)
A massively talented roster that has left several prospects unprotected, including USWNT forward Tobin Heath and three goal keepers, is likely to lose some players in an expansion draft. Louisville could go for the jugular and take two goalkeepers from this team and move on to other to fill out defenders, midfielders, and forwards.
Picking up an allocated keeper in Adrianna Franch, or a strong prospect in Bixby, would set them up in net and still allow them to fill out their roster while banking some allocation money of their own.
- Morgan Andrews
- Michelle Betos
- Taylor Smith
- Jasmyne Spencer
- Rosie White (International)
OL Reign left a big name unprotected in Megan Rapinoe, but the forward has been vocal about her desire to remain in the Seattle area and her concerns about playing during a pandemic. So there will likely be difficulty convincing a player of that notoriety to make a jump to a new club.
Smith and Spencer both made their returns to the pitch from injury this year for OL Reign and could continue those journeys with a new club if Lousiville is looking to add to their backline and their top line respectively. Michelle Betos is a veteran goal keeper who is currently rehabbing from a meniscectomy, but is a proven and tested goal keeper in the league with playing stints in Portland and in Seattle.
Midfielders Andrews and White could be on Louisville's radar as well. Andrews was a top draft prospect out of USC and could perhaps break out on a new club with more playing time, while White is a New Zealand international who already has club playing experience with Yuki Nagasato from their time with Chicago Red Stars.
Sky Blue FC
- Jennifer Cudjoe (International)
- Caprice Dydasco
- Elizabeth Eddy
- Sabrina Flores
- Estelle Johnson
- Kaleigh Riehl
A club that currently in the process of building its future has several players that could be selected in an expansion draft. Several defenders, midfielders, and forwards are available for selection and Louisville might have a harder time deciding who not to select.
Cudjoe is a promising target after impressive performances at defensive mid and was one of Sky Blue's standout players in 2020. Eddy is someone who can mark forwards and defenders while helping stretch backlines in the attack.
Dydasco and Johnson provide assured veteran defensive options for any backline, while Flores showed strong performances through out games in the Challenge Cup and Fall Series. Riehl is rated out of Penn State and has spent time in the U18, U20 and U23 levels.
Utah Royals FC
- Brittany Ratcliffe
- Arielle Ship
- Mallory Weber
- Gunnhildur Jonsdottir
The club is currently in state of transition opting to protect a number of rookies, first year, and second year players ahead of the expansion draft. USWNT player Kelley O'Hara was also protected, and USWNT forward Christen Press, currently playing overseas with Manchester United, was left unprotected.
Depending on the needs of Louisville, the idea of selecting veterans could be enticing, to balance out younger riskier prospects selected elsewhere. Ratcliffe, Weber and Ship are experienced league attackers who could round out a forward core, while Iceland international could make an immediate impact in a new midfield.
- Megan Dougherty Howard
- Katie McClure
- Meghan McCool
- Jessie Scarpa
- Crystal Thomas
- Kumi Yokoyama (International)
The Spirit are another team with tons of talent to potentially build a roster from. McCool, Scarpa, McClure are all rookies while Thomas is a first year NWSL player. Each are midfielders and forwards who could be a welcomed addition to any midfield or attacking core.
Doughtery-Howard is a four year Spirit player who could perhaps be a regular in a new midfield, and Yokoyama could be a great addition alongside Nagasato depending on how international slots work out for Louisville.
Louisville's challenge in the draft will not only be selecting the best players but selecting the best fit. The team needs to identify players looking for change, or a new challenge and target them while building out their roster. It's not just about selecting the player, but getting them to buy into what is being built and competing with a new badge. It's as much about building a squad of players that want to commit to a new project as it is simply fielding the most talented 11 an expansion draft can provide. It's big moment for the league, and an even bigger one for currently unprotected players.