(Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The first-ever free agency period for the NWSL kicks off Friday — but not without controversy.

Both the NWSL and NWSL Players Association released lists of pending free agents Thursday. Those lists did not match.

The NWSLPA’s list included 22 players not on the NWSL’s 26-player list. These players have team options remaining on their contracts.

In the NWSL’s view, each of those players is not eligible for free agency unless their team declines the option. In the NWSLPA’s view, those players should be considered free agents immediately according the language of the new collective bargaining agreement.

Both sides acknowledged Thursday that they are headed toward arbitration to settle the dispute. Once the dispute moves to arbitration, the arbitrator will have 30 days to issue a ruling, per the league’s CBA.

The section of the CBA that establishes the free agency period led to the current dispute. Section 13.5 states: “Commencing with the 2023 League Season, Free Agency is available for any player whose SPA is expiring and who has at least six (6) NWSL Service Years.”

The league contends that players with team options are not on expiring contracts “until and unless the option year(s) is not exercised by the club which will occur by no later than November 15, 2022.”

The NWSLPA, though, argues that these 22 players’ contracts are expiring on Dec. 31 and they should be included in free agency.

“In my first four months as commissioner, we have worked closely with the NWSLPA to resolve disagreements where possible and have had many instances where we have found solutions,” NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman said in a statement. “However, we have always known that will not always be the outcome, particularly in a first-ever collective bargaining agreement between parties, and that’s why labor agreements typically have neutral arbitrators to determine interpretation disputes. We look forward to the resolution of this open question in a respectful manner.”

Among the players involved in the dispute are OL Reign defender Lauren Barnes, Portland Thorns forward Christine Sinclair, Angel City FC forward Jasmyne Spencer and Gotham FC midfielder McCall Zerboni. All have played in the league since its inception in 2013.

“As someone who’s been in this league since day one, it is extremely disappointing that the league is trying to obstruct our right to free agency,” Spencer said. “Free agency was one of the most important issues that we fought for when negotiating the CBA. Players should have free autonomy over their own careers.”