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Analysis & Poll: Who Should Washington Protect in the NWSL Expansion Draft?

Here we go again. After a relatively quiet fall, the NWSL offseason is heating up with an expansion draft a week later.

Photo: Cynthia Hobgood

To build the roster for one additional franchise this season, the National Women's Soccer League will hold an Expansion Draft this Friday. The Houston Dash will be able to select up to 10 players from the expansion draft list of unprotected players. A complete list of protected and unprotected players for all clubs is expected Wednesday.

As a club that did not make the playoffs in 2013, the Washington Spirit will be able to protect a total of 10 players. Any club with more than two U.S. allocated players must leave at least one U.S. allocated player unprotected.

The draft will take place via conference call Friday, Jan. 10 at 11am ET. Click here for complete draft rules, as there are many.

Decisions, decisions

Let's start with what is at the top of most people's minds: The U.S. allocations. The Spirit currently have three U.S. allocated players: Midfielder Yael Averbuch, goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris and defender Ali Krieger. The club will be unable to protect all three players.

Of the three, the most obvious to protect is Krieger. She is solidly a part of the national team picture. She also has local ties to the area, though I doubt that is a deciding factor here. This is the no brainer of the trio.

After playing two seasons in Sweden for Göteborg FC, Averbuch has entered the NSWL and is newly allocated to Washington in place of Lori Lindsey. A highly technical player, Averbuch has the potential to make a large impact on the club. She's a set piece specialist and will be relied upon to feed the Spirit frontrunners accurate service in the run of play.

Starting goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris remains in the very competitive U.S. national team goalkeeping pool and is coming off a successful short-term campaign in Sweden with Tyresö, leading the club into the quarterfinals of the Champions League along with Krieger. Harris was, of course, a vocal leader for Washington last season. She had minor (clean-up) knee surgery locally this fall and is making a fast and impressive recovery.

Spirit head coach and general manager Mark Parsons has a bit of an impossible choice to make. The team is trying to rebuild from a hard first season and the last thing anyone probably wants is to lose an international-level player. However, I believe it's pretty simple. You protect your starting goalkeeper. Even though Houston made a trade for Erin McLeod today, I still wouldn't risk losing Harris.

All of this is not to say Averbuch isn't fabulous. She is. And it would certainly be preferable to be able to protect three, as it appears FC Kansas City and Seattle Reign are able to do, since they have four U.S. allocations and rules state only one U.S. player must go unprotected.

As for the full 10 that I'd protect, some of the rules are a little wonky. Some information is not clear in terms of player contracts. Full disclosure: I don't have detail on every player's contract, but based on everything I know and given all of the factors, I'd protect this group:

  1. Ashyn Harris (US allocation)
  2. Ali Krieger (US allocation)
  3. Robyn Gayle (Canada allocation)
  4. Diana Matheson (Canada allocation)
  5. Renae Cuellar (Mexico allocation)
  6. Jodie Taylor (international-England)
  7. Tori Huster
  8. Lori Lindsey
  9. Christine Nairn
  10. Stephanie Ochs

We've covered the U.S. players. And no real need to explain Gayle, Matheson and Cuellar (acquired in the off-season and should provide some much-needed offense.)

It appears teams must protect international players that aren't allocated which would mean Taylor (another off-season addition) will be protected. She's is a strong choice regardless, and looks to help on the offensive side of the ball. She was just named player of the week in Australia's W-League.

I didn't include Candace Chapman on this list as I am unsure she's still under contract with Washington (and she also has a green card so the international rule may not apply anyway.) My hunch is one way or another, she'll end up in Houston with former Notre Dame coach Randy Waldrum. Instead, I'm going with Tori Huster, named the Spirit's 2013 team defender of the season and a midfielder at heart.

Christine Nairn, acquired via trade from Seattle, was a rock for the Reign in 2013. She played all 22 games, scored three goals, had five assists and sent in 47 crosses. She is also posses exactly the kind of edge Washington needs. I wanted to see her as the club's top draft pick last season. Better late than never. The team will surely protect her.

While team captain Lori Lindsey lost her U.S. allocation spot, she is expected back as a free agent and still looks to be a core part of the team.

Last but not least, Ochs started to peak at the end of the 2013 season and is having a strong season (4 goals) alongside Lindsey for Canberra United in Australia this winter. No question for a team in need of strikers: Keep Ochs.

In short, protect Krieger and Harris, and hope you can still hold on to Averbuch since Houston can only take two U.S. allocations. The rest will work itself out without too much upheaval. I suspect, given the news of McLeod going to Houston, Washington went out on a limb and took the risk leaving Harris unprotected. Only time will tell.