The dust has settled and Bay FC and Utah Royals FC have made their expansion draft selections as they continue to build out their respective rosters ahead of entering play in the 2024 NWSL Season.
The result is OL Reign said goodbye to Alyssa Malonson and Elyse Bennett, who were selected first and second in the expansion draft.
Bay FC selects defender Alyssa Malonson
Malonson joined OL Reign in January 2022 via trade with North Carolina Courage and went on loan to FC Nordsjælland in Denmark that summer. She was recalled in January 2023 and made nine appearances for OL Reign in all competitions in 2023 – earning one assist in the NWSL Challenge Cup, finding Bennett for the game-winning goal.
Utah Royals FC selects forward Elyse Bennett
Bennett joined OL Reign last offseason via a trade with Kansas City Current the day before the 2023 NWSL Draft. She made 29 appearances in all competitions for OL Reign, scoring three times and notching two assists.
OL Reign and Chicago Red Stars were the only teams in the league that didn't make any trades with either of the expansion teams for some form of protection before Friday afternoon's draft. While the Reign had two players selected, no Chicago players were picked.
The San Diego Wave and North Carolina Courage both made deals with Utah for protection – and both lost two players to Bay FC as a result.
Racing Louisville only had a deal with Bay FC, but lost just one player to the Salt Lake club after Utah passed three times during the draft.
“We are grateful for the contributions of both Alyssa and Elyse during their time with the club. I’m confident they will both continue to make a positive impact in this league, and we wish them nothing but success during this new opportunity," OL Reign general manager Lesle Gallimore said in a club press release after the expansion draft.
Additionally, Gallimore spoke with media after the expansion draft.
She confirmed that the team explored making a trade for draft protection from each of the expansion teams, but summarized that the price to acquire protection was too high for OL Reign in the context of their other offseason priorities and likely losses.
"It wasn't for lack of trying and there were a lot of last minute things that went through, and you can look at what people got for what, and you can still lose two players if you get protection from one and not the other," she noted. "So we worked at that and at the end of the day when [assistant manager] Santi (Gallo), myself, [OL Reign head coach] Laura (Harvey), and [OL Reign CEO] Vincent (Berthillot) were looking at our assets, again we were in the final for a reason – we have a good, deep roster, we didn't think the tradeoff was worth what people were asking or willing to give us for protection. So off to the draft we went."
When Malonson was selected by Bay FC to start the expansion draft, OL Reign protected defender Sam Hiatt. Gallimore was asked about going that route as opposed to protecting Bennett or another player, with her summarizing the value of a defender who has been with the club for some time and the knowledge Reign Original Lu Barnes is on the back end of their career.
"I won't get into specifics as to why one over the other because that's for us, to be fair. I don't think we want to get into too many details when talking about that kind of thing, because it's a difficult the position we're put in to be honest," she explained. "Sam played a ton of minutes for us, obviously Lauren Barnes is someone who is towards the end of her career here at the club, and at the end of the day, that's part of the reasoning. Sam is a quality player that we've invested in, that we felt in that position with Lu moving on probably sooner than later, is important for us to have."
Next up for the NWSL offseason period is the announcement of free agent signings. The league transaction window reopens at 9 AM ET/6 AM PT on Saturday, so any completed deals can be announced starting then. For OL Reign fans are eager to know if midfielders Rose Lavelle, Emily Sonnett, Nikki Stanton, and forward Tziarra King will be wearing a Reign jersey in 2024 and hopefully beyond.
"Those discussions have been ongoing," Gallimore confirmed. "As you guys are all aware of, the rules are that we don't have to protect free agents if they didn't sign before the expansion draft. So that gave us some wiggle room with the protected and unprotected lists, and these have been long, long ongoing discussions since the day I arrived in June – to be honest, the first half of the year before I was here, too. These discussions and negotiations with these players and their agents were ongoing all season, trying to be respectful of the season itself, the players themselves, the World Cup. It's something that obviously it's coming to crunch time and what I can tell you is that we have done everything in our power to be able to sign our free agents and in the coming days, I believe time will tell what the decision is and we're hopeful."