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  • Writer's pictureSavannah Miscik

NWSL Expansion Draft 2024: Who Should Each Team Protect?

The 2024 NWSL Expansion Draft will take place on December 15. Two teams entering the league, Bay FC and the Utah Royals, will have the ability to take one player each from every existing team. Current teams can protect nine players from the draft. Who should each team prioritize when deciding who to protect? Here are my top three protection picks for every club.


Angel City FC


Alyssa Thompson

At only 19 years old, Alyssa Thompson is an incredibly exciting player to watch. Thompson utilizes her energy and technique to blaze past defenders and score some top bin goals in the process. As with many players on this list, Angel City should protect Thompson because she has enormous potential. Her talent will only increase as she gets older. Angel City should want to be the ones to develop it.


Claire Emslie

In the midst of Angel City’s flash lies one of the most underrated forwards in the NWSL: Claire Emslie. She was a large part of the Angels’ late-season winning streak, contributing three goals and five assists in 2023. Angel City has to protect Emslie because she is the exact type of undervalued player that gets taken in an expansion draft. Her ability to wriggle her way into back lines and make pinpoint crosses could come in handy for either Bay FC or the Royals.


Jun Endo

Jun Endo’s impact on the NWSL is so immense that “getting Endo’d” has entered the NWSL vernacular. Her technique is truly something to behold. Ask any defender who’s been put on skates by Endo’s clever footwork (or, to put it more succinctly, “got Endo’d.”) She’s only 23 years old and her potential is sky high. Either team would sprint to get Endo if she’s left unprotected.


Chicago Red Stars


Julia Bianchi

On stats alone, Julia was one of the Red Stars’ best midfielders in 2023. She notched the most assists on the team with five and had an 81% pass completion rate. Julia’s ability as a defensive midfielder to connect the back and front lines is top-notch. Not to mention, she has a wicked Olimpico. Given Chicago’s woes in front of goal, Julia’s connecting play will be more necessary than ever next season.


Penelope Hocking

Drafted by the Red Stars in 2023, Hocking’s solid rookie season was one of the only bright spots in Chicago’s most recent campaign. For such a young player, she has great positional awareness and timing. Her connection with Casey Krueger is also key to the team’s attack in the absence of Mallory Swanson. Hocking has not reached her full potential yet - Chicago need to keep her and grow the next generation of Red Stars.


Arin Wright

Chicago is experiencing a massive period of change at the moment. With new ownership, a new general manager, and a new head coach, not much will carry over from the old days of the Red Stars. That is, except the group of OG players, Arin Wright being among them. Red Stars players have repeatedly expressed how grateful they are for Wright’s experience and leadership both on and off the field. Chicago needs to protect a player like Wright to keep the veteran leadership steady during the rapid change they’re experiencing.


Gotham FC


Jenna Nighswonger

Protecting reigning Rookie of the Year Jenna Nighswonger is a no-brainer for Gotham. Nighswonger’s incredibly precise crosses are a key piece to Gotham’s attack. Her defensive talents are also important to the side, making crucial tackles and timing her runs well. If Nighswonger is not protected, either Bay FC or Utah would be jumping at the chance to get her.


Midge Purce

The 2023 Championship MVP is having a renaissance at Gotham. Midge Purce connected phenomenally with the rest of the forward line and utilized her cleverness to play make better than most. Purce embodies Gotham’s attitude and play style - swag for days and intelligent tactics. Losing her would be a devastating blow for the reigning champions.


Midge Purce for Gotham FC in their NWSL semifinal against the Portland Thorns. Photo by Kallie Hansel-Tennes for WSX.

Yazmeen Ryan

A consistently solid player, Yazmeen Ryan had a breakout year with her new team. Like Purce, her soccer intelligence is through the roof. Combine that with her speed, and Ryan is an incredibly difficult player to stop. Any team would be lucky to have her. That’s why Ryan is worth protecting.


Houston Dash


Natalie Jacobs

Natalie Jacobs is one of the most underrated Dash pickups from the past two seasons. A versatile defender, Jacobs has a great mix of brain and brawn, cutting off attackers prematurely through tactics or coming up with a big tackle if necessary. She hasn’t reached her full potential yet, but if Bay FC or Utah were smart, they would pick her up before she does.


Diana Ordóñez

A Texas girl at heart, Diana Ordóñez represents the best of the Dash’s unprotected players. With speed and creativity abound, she’s clearly a rising star for Houston. It’s not a stretch to say that Ordóñez could become the face of the Dash if she stays with them and establishes her presence. Letting her go unprotected would be a massive mistake.


Diana Ordóñez for the Houston Dash in game against the Chicago Red Stars. Photo by Ely Garcia for WSX.

Michelle Alozie

While the Dash’s season was far from their high expectations, forward Michelle Alozie exceeded them. Her ability to weave through backlines is something Houston should look to build upon next season, especially when paired with Diana Ordóñez. Alozie was consistently one of the most electric players on the Dash last season, and either expansion team would be lucky to have her.


Kansas City Current


Cece Kizer

Cece Kizer was one of the bright spots in Kansas City’s lackluster 2023 season. She scored six goals, placing her in the top 10 for the Golden Boot race. Kizer’s strengths lie in her dribbling and her positional awareness. She’s often in the right place at the right time to score, or she dribbles there herself. The Current need to protect Kizer to keep their explosive offense trending in the right direction.


Debinha

Debinha’s 2023 speaks for itself. She was in the Golden Boot race (and led the Current) with nine goals on the season and finished first in assists. Debinha posted these numbers despite Kansas City finishing second to last. If Kansas City doesn’t protect Debinha after working so hard to get her last season, she deserves to go to a different club.


Michelle Cooper

Kansas City made big moves to get Michelle Cooper at the 2023 College Draft. A versatile player, Cooper was asked to make defensive plays almost as often as she advanced the ball. Unfortunately, the team’s defensive woes meant that Cooper did not have the breakout season many expected. That being said, Cooper had a solid start to her career, and Kansas City needs her to become the leader of their next generation of players.


North Carolina Courage


Kerolin

Kerolin is one of the best forwards in the NWSL. Crafty, highly technical, and fast, it’s almost impossible to stop her on a breakaway. Unfortunately for both Kerolin and the Courage, she suffered an ACL tear on October 15 in the team’s last regular season match. Despite her injury, the Courage would be foolish to leave her unprotected.


Casey Murphy

The United States’ presumptive heir to Alyssa Naeher, Murphy is a consistent goalkeeper. Expansion teams love consistent goalkeepers to add a steady (often veteran) presence to a new backline. Look no further than San Diego getting Kailen Sheridan or Angel City getting DiDi Haračić in their inaugural seasons to see this principle in action. Murphy would be a huge signing for either team if North Carolina leaves her unprotected.


Casey Murphy warms up prior to the North Carolina Courage's quarterfinal against Gotham FC. Photo by Aralynn Minnick for WSX.

Tyler Lussi

Tyler Lussi has been underrated for years. She finally had a breakout season this year with the Courage, scoring six goals and coming up clutch time and time again. Given Kerolin’s ACL injury, Lussi could become the most important goalscorer on the Courage. North Carolina has to protect her if they want that to become a reality.


OL Reign


Bethany Balcer

Bethany Balcer uses her head. Whether using it for headers (her preferred goalscoring method) or to create chances from seemingly out of nowhere, Balcer’s head is her most valuable asset. On the defensive side, Balcer consistently wins duels and makes important tackles. All around, she’s one of the most valuable OL Reign players available to the expansion teams. Therefore, she should be one of the first people Reign protects this draft.


Veronica Latsko

After being overlooked for years, Veronica Latsko finally had her breakout season in 2023. Her grit on both sides of the ball is her most defining trait. She’s one of an elite club of wingers who can score goals as easily as making a last-ditch tackle. Latsko’s versatility and tenacity make her an excellent candidate to be taken by an expansion team. If OL Reign want to have more seasons of peak Latsko, they need to protect her before it’s too late.


Sofia Huerta

If anything, outside-back Sofia Huerta is known more for her attacking contributions than her defensive ones. This isn’t a slight - she’s really that good in both, but her ability to deliver inch-perfect crosses is too important to ignore. Rarely are outside backs given as much free “Reign” as Huerta to advance forward. Rarely are they as talented as Sofia Huerta.


Orlando Pride- immune from draft


Portland Thorns


Sam Coffey

Sam Coffey’s presence in the Thorns’ midfield is massive. There’s a noticeable difference in Portland’s abilities to connect passes and work the ball up the field when she’s not on the pitch. With eight assists and 861 completed passes this season, the second-year player is among the best defensive midfielders in the NWSL. If Coffey is left unprotected, Portland has to re-evaluate their priorities.


Sam Coffey sends the ball upfield in the Portland Thorns' semifinal game against Gotham FC. Photo by Kallie Hansel-Tennes for WSX.

Hina Sugita

Sugita was arguably Portland’s most important player in 2023. She not only scored six goals but was the architect of many more for the Thorns this season. Her vision and playmaking abilities are second to none, and any team would be chomping at the bit to have her. Portland has to protect her, or she will get taken.


Sophia Smith

Despite missing almost two months’ worth of matches, Sophia Smith still won the Golden Boot for the 2023 season. This fact alone speaks to her phenomenal goal-scoring talent. In addition to being a goal scorer, Smith registered five assists, demonstrating her high soccer IQ and playmaking abilities. While Portland is full of great attacking talent, Smith is in a class all her own.


Racing Louisville


Ary Borges

After a breakout World Cup, 23-year-old Ary Borges proved to be a wonderful addition to the Racing squad. Her speed and technique complement the strengths of the forward line. Because Ary is so young, it’s safe to say that her potential is incredibly high. She would be the steal of the expansion draft if she isn’t protected. To keep Racing on the path toward the playoffs next season, they need Ary at her best.


Katie Lund

Racing goalkeeper Katie Lund is one of the best shot-stoppers in the NWSL, registering 88 saves and 6 clean sheets in 2023. She’s a fairly young ‘keeper with a massive ceiling for improvement. This is exactly the type of keeper an expansion team would try to take in an expansion draft. Racing has to protect Lund or risk letting more goals in next season.


Savannah DeMelo

Savannah DeMelo is arguably the face of Racing Louisville. Her tenacity and bravery perfectly encapsulate Racing at its best. Combine her with players like Ary, and Racing could have a winning formula next season. Given her rising star on the world stage, Racing would be asking for DeMelo to get taken if they don’t protect her.


San Diego Wave


Amirah Ali

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Amirah Ali is young. Only 24 years old, she certainly has the best years ahead of her. That’s exactly why San Diego needs to protect her. The moves made by both teams so far have focused on experienced players. It seems that the Expansion Draft could be a great place to pick up some promising younger talent. Ali’s technique is stellar. San Diego needs to protect Ali in order to harness that technique.


Danielle Colaprico

Danielle Colaprico is the Platonic ideal of a central midfielder. She wins duels, has a high pass accuracy, and has a penchant for serving accurate long balls. Her veteran presence helps ground the team. What more could an expansion team look for in a player to take? While Colaprico isn’t as flashy as the Wave’s forwards, San Diego has to protect her.


Jaedyn Shaw

Jaedyn Shaw is one of the most dynamic young attackers in the NWSL. She scores tap-ins, outside-of-the-box bangers, headers… the list goes on. If there’s even a fractional chance a goal can be scored from her position, Shaw will most definitely be shooting. Although she’s young, Shaw is the kind of player Bay FC and Utah could build around in the future.


Washington Spirit


Sam Staab

Despite the Spirit’s defensive troubles this year, stalwart Staab had a phenomenal season. She earned a nod for Defender of the Year and became an Iron Woman for the third time. The Spirit would be making a massive mistake to leave her unprotected, especially because Staab’s a California native. The Spirit defense is based around Staab, and they need her if they want to make the playoffs in 2024.


Tara McKeown

The young McKeown was one of the biggest surprises of the season for many. Preseason, she was a blossoming forward, set up to have a great year with the young Spirit attacking core. Then former Head Coach Mark Parsons announced she would be making the move to center back. Many doubted this decision, but McKeown proved to be a solid defender. In one of her first games in the role, she nearly shut down Alex Morgan completely. Any team should want a player as versatile as McKeown. She has massive potential on either end of the pitch, and if the Spirit are smart, they will protect her to ensure her potential is reached in DC.


Trinity Rodman

This choice is perhaps the least surprising in this entire list. Trinity Rodman is arguably the face of the Washington Spirit. Other teams’ star forwards should (and will) also be protected, but Rodman is the engine through which the Spirit get almost all of their goals. Without her, their identity changes radically. It’s unlikely that expansion teams would try to take Rodman if she’s unprotected, but stranger things have happened in expansion drafts. Washington needs to protect her just in case.


Trinity Rodman of the Washington Spirit goes to goal against Angel City FC. Photo by Aralynn Minnick for WSX.

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