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Washington Spirit protect 11 players ahead of NWSL Expansion Draft

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Racing Louisville is probably going to select two very good players from the Spirit, but now we know who they won’t be able to pick

Kelley Piper / Black and Red United

The Washington Spirit today announced their list of protected players ahead of next week’s NWSL Expansion Draft. Racing Louisville, who recently added former Spirit attacker Cheyna Matthews via the Re-Entry Wire, will have the opportunity to select up to two players from the other teams around the league next Thursday at 7:00pm.

The Spirit’s list of protected players, in alphabetical order, is as follows:

  1. Dorian Bailey
  2. Aubrey Bledsoe
  3. Jordan DiBiasi
  4. Bayley Feist
  5. Ashley Hatch
  6. Tori Huster
  7. Tegan McGrady
  8. Paige Nielsen
  9. Ashley Sanchez
  10. Sam Staab
  11. Andi Sullivan

There were not many surprises on Washington’s list, as the core of Richie Burke’s roster has been pretty clear for some time now. Keeping the defensive core together (Bledsoe, Nielsen, Staab, McGrady, and either Huster or Bailey) is critical to playing Burke’s style and is also unquestionably one of the team’s clear strengths. It also happens to be an area where, throughout the NWSL, the supply is far smaller than the demand.

Key midfielders and attackers like Andi Sullivan, Ashley Sanchez, and Jordan DiBiasi were always going to end up being protected, while Bayley Feist’s breakout 2020 surely would have drawn Louisville’s interest if she had been left available for selection.

The only projected starter on a fully healthy Spirit to go unprotected is Kumi Yokoyama, with the Spirit likely banking on her international status and similarity to players Louisville has already acquired being enough to keep them from selecting her. With Yuki Nagasato and Savannah McCaskill leaving the Chicago Red Stars for Racing via a recent trade, selecting Yokoyama would represent a huge bet on players who are very technical and crafty, but not exactly fast. It’s likely a roll of the dice from the Spirit that Louisville will look for a different profile of player when considering attacking options.

That means the Spirit have left the following players unprotected:

Goalkeepers: Devon Kerr, Katie Lund
Defenders: Jenna Hellstrom, Brooke Hendrix, Natalie Jacobs
Midfielders: Jaye Boissiere, Meggie Dougherty Howard
Forwards: Averie Collins, Katie McClure, Meghan McCool, Jessie Scarpa, Crystal Thomas, Kumi Yokoyama

Additionally, league rules require teams to protect or not protect the playing rights to players who aren’t under contract, which mostly applies to players playing abroad but can extend to players who have retired. As such, Lori Lindsey and Joanna Lohman are both on Washington’s unprotected list.

Washington and all other established teams get to protect up to 11 players. While teams with multiple USWNT allocated players can only name two such players to their total list, the Spirit have none, so the situation is more straightforward.

Initially Louisville was slated to have between 16-18 picks, but the trade that sent Nagasato and McCaskill from the Red Stars to Louisville also includes a provision that prevents the expansion side from selecting any further players from Rory Dames’ club.

That means that Racing can pick between 14 and 16 players. The discrepancy is part of a new rule instituted by the NWSL that allows Louisville to decline to take USWNT allocated players and be granted extra allocation money instead. If Louisville takes no allocated players, they’ll be given $150,000 in allocation money that cannot be traded; if they take just one allocated player, they’ll get half of that total. Any team that loses an allocated player to Racing will be excluded from the rest of the expansion draft.

The full list of protected and unprotected players can be found on the league’s site.