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What the NWSL Expansion Draft means for OL Reign

We hate this time of year.

Utah Royals FC v OL Reign Photo by Jane Gershovich/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Just weeks into the long 2020 NWSL offseason, OL Reign is busy preparing for an Expansion Draft hosted by Racing Louisville FC, the new club entering the league in 2021. The draft will stream on the NWSL Twitch channel at 4 PM PT on Nov. 12.

Get ready, OL Reign fans. It’s going to be a ride.

Just last week, the Chicago Red Stars sent Yuki Nagasato, Savannah McCaskill, a 2021 and 2022 international slot, and their 2021 first-round draft pick to Louisville just to avoid having any players selected in the NWSL Expansion Draft. If that feels like a lot to give up, it should also give an indication of what’s on the line for all teams in this draft.

Here’s what’s at stake for OL Reign.

How many players can OL Reign protect?

Each existing NWSL team is allowed to protect up to 11 players. That’s not going to be an easy decision for the Reign, as the team has strong depth across the board. OL Reign’s current roster features 25 players, including 17 players under contract for the 2021 season and eight players who have been extended contract offers for 2021 (see full roster at the bottom of this story).

Fans should brace for the inevitable, as OL Reign expects they’ll have to say goodbye to a player or two.

“No matter what we do, we’re going to lose a couple of players. There’s not really any way to escape that at this point,” said OL Reign CEO Bill Predmore in a conversation with Ride of the Valkyries.

“In terms of a protected list, we’ve had a version of it for months and it changes all the time. Some names go on that are more and more certain, but some go on and off depending on how we think things will play out in that draft. We’ll try to make sure we’ve protected ourselves with keeping the players we believe can be the most helpful for us next season.”

Louisville can only select up to two players from each team — so unless a wild trade occurs, that’s the maximum number the Reign could lose.

What about Reign players on short-term deals this year?

Some of those players have been offered new contracts for 2021. However, OL Reign declined to extend the contracts of goalkeeper Carly Nelson, defender Kim Hazlett, and forward Miranda Nild, all of whom were on short-term contracts this year. Those three players are eligible to be signed by any team in the league, not just Racing Louisville FC.

What about U.S. WNT players?

Among its list of protected players, OL Reign can only select two players allocated by the U.S. women’s national team. The club currently has the rights to three USWNT-allocated players: Megan Rapinoe, Allie Long, and Rose Lavelle. One of these players has to be left off.

Lavelle — one of the best midfielders in the world right now — is currently signed with Manchester City through the end of their FA WSL season in May, with an option to extend another year. OL Reign have taken a hands-off approach so far with Lavelle, because the club knew she wanted to give it a shot in England.

“When she’s ready, we’ll be ready to have that conversation with her,” said Predmore. While its possible Lavelle could be eager to join the Reign immediately after the WSL season, Predmore notes that’s a pretty unlikely option because of the short gap before national team starts its Olympic training camp. The two most likely scenarios are 1) she stays with City another year, or 2) she comes to Tacoma after the Olympics. “We’re obviously hoping for the latter. With that, it’s going to probably be the May timeframe before we have a definitive answer.”

As for Rapinoe, Predmore reiterated her commitment to the club. “Every indication I have when I speak to her is that it’s her plan to return. She’s explicitly stated she doesn’t want to play anywhere else,” he shared. While he didn’t want to put words in her mouth, Predmore believed Rapinoe would return to Tacoma at the beginning of the year and would like to try to make it onto the 2021 Olympic squad.

Predmore noted, however, that Rapinoe had — and continues to have — genuine concerns about COVID-19. “I think her decision not to play [in 2020] was largely a function of those concerns, so things that could impact her willingness to come back are where we’re at from a COVID perspective in January.”

Allie Long, on the other hand, has been a critical part of the Reign’s midfield for the last three years. She’s not likely to be on the 18-person Olympic roster, which makes her even more appealing to either the Reign or Louisville for 2021.

Leaving any of these three names off is a risk, but the team has to make a decision. The potentially good news for OL Reign is that Orlando and Portland have four and five U.S. Allocated Players, respectively, so there will be a lot of appealing names out there for Louisville.

If OL Reign’s USWNT-allocated player gets selected, Louisville cannot take any more players from the club. The expansion side also can only take a total of two U.S. Allocated Players from all teams. Any team that loses an U.S. Allocated Player in the draft will also receive an Allocation Money Grant of $75,000.

What about players on OL Reign’s Discovery List?

Players that are on the Discovery List of any of the nine current NWSL clubs are not eligible for selection.

Are any other players eligible?

Players whose NWSL rights are held by a team, but who are not under a current contract, are available for selection. For example, OL Reign retained the rights to Jodie Taylor and Steph Catley after they transferred to Europe without a transfer fee. While it’s unlikely, Louisville technically could select either player in the draft.

Other players who might not have active contracts due to season-ending injuries, or who weren’t signed after getting drafted, could also be selected. OL Reign, for example, retained the rights to defender Sam Hiatt and midfielder Meg Brant, both of whom were selected by OL Reign in the 2020 NWSL College Draft but aren’t currently signed for 2021.

All teams will also have to disclose to Racing Louisville if any players won’t be able to play by January 1, 2021 due to injury, retirement, loan or any other reason.

What’s the timeline?

Unprotected and protected player lists will be distributed to all NWSL clubs on Nov. 5 by 10 AM PT. The NWSL will release those lists to the public the same day.

The draft begins at 4 PM PT on Nov. 12 and will be streamed live on the NWSL Twitch channel. It will go for up to 18 rounds, with one player selected per round.

A full breakdown of the rules can be found here.

Current OL Reign Roster

Goalkeepers (1): Michelle Betos (SEI)

Defenders (8): Julia Ashley, Lauren Barnes (LOAN), Amber Brooks, Steph Cox (CON), Machaela George (LOAN), Madison Hammond, Celia Jiménez Delgado (INT / LOAN), Taylor Smith

Midfielders (9): Morgan Andrews (CON), Shirley Cruz (INT / CON), Jess Fishlock (LOAN), Kelcie Hedge (SEI), Allie Long (FED), Kristen McNabb (CON), Quinn (LOAN), Dani Weatherholt (CON), Rosie White (CON / INT)

Forwards (7): Bethany Balcer, Sofia Huerta, Darian Jenkins (LOAN), Yuka Momiki (LOAN), Leah Pruitt (CON), Megan Rapinoe (FED), Jasmyne Spencer (CON)

INT – International Slot | CON – 2021 Contract Offer Extended | FED – U.S. Soccer Federation Player | SEI – Season Ending Injury | LOAN – Player on Loan