Full details of the upcoming 2024 NWSL Expansion Draft, which will populate the rosters of Utah Royals and Bay FC, were announced by the league on Wednesday. The draft will take place virtually on Friday, Dec. 15, with existing clubs required to submit a list of protected and unprotected players to the league by no later than 11 AM PT on Tuesday, Dec. 12.
Each team is permitted to protect nine players, with no consideration for position group or national team status. A team can protect one additional player after one of their unprotected players is selected, and each team can lose no more than two players in the draft.
Notably, unsigned free agents are not eligible for selection in the draft and do not need to be protected, giving clubs an incentive to wait to sign any such players until after the expansion draft. OL Reign’s current roster includes five players who will either be restricted or unrestricted free agents this offseason: Angelina, Tziarra King, Rose Lavelle, Emily Sonnett and Nikki Stanton.
In addition, any players signed via the league’s recently added U-18 mechanism are automatically exempt from the draft, and players with no-trade clauses must be included in a team’s list of nine protected players. Players who are on loan, such as Luany and Jimena López, and those who have left the league but whose NWSL rights are still controlled by a club, are eligible for selection in the draft.
Utah and Bay FC each start with 12 expansion draft picks, with Bay FC selecting first and the teams alternating picks. In the previous expansion draft, many teams made pre-draft trades with Angel City and San Diego to further protect their rosters and we might see similar moves ahead of this year’s draft after the postseason trade window opens.
In addition to the expansion draft rules, the league announced several additional details surrounding initial team-building activities for the two expansion clubs. Most notably, in addition to the $600,000 in allocation money each team could purchase in 2023, they were given access to an additional $240,000 in allocation money, all of which can be carried forward to 2024 if unspent. They are also able to pay up to $500,000 in transfer fees over the next year without that money counting against their available allocation money.