Tonight: The NWSL Challenge Cup kicks off
The NWSL season begins with a rematch of last year's Challenge Cup title game.
After an action-packed 14 draft selections in the NWSL Expansion Draft, Racing Louisville FC is out of the starting gates with an actual roster. The final two selections made the most noise, when club president Brad Estes announced that the team was selecting the rights to U.S. national teamers Tobin Heath and then Christen Press.
The two forwards with extensive USWNT experience are currently playing for Manchester United through the 2021 season, which ends in May. Neither Heath or Press were protected by their NWSL clubs, the Portland Thorns and Utah Royals, in the draft, making their rights available for Louisville to acquire.
“We feel very good about tonight,” said Louisville coach Christy Holly on the Twitch broadcast. “There was a lot of decision making that went into it, a lot of homework, research, and conversations with coaches within the league, past players, and national team members so we felt we had a real good insight into what each player brought.”
Both Utah and Portland will gain $75,000 in allocation money because one of their allocated players was taken. While the future for Press and Heath is unknown, the decision could have vast consequences for both the upcoming trading period and the 2020 college draft. If Racing had not selected either, the club would have been given $150,000, which it could have used on the top pick of the draft. Catarina Macario of Stanford is the runaway favorite to be taken first overall, if she declares.
The Thorns left all three of their keepers unprotected, which left many fans speculating that one would surely be taken. Instead, because Louisville opted to take Heath from Portland, a U.S. allocated player, it could not take anyone else from the Thorns, leaving Racing to select Katie Lund and Michelle Betos as keepers.
Lund has been learning behind Aubrey Bledsoe with the Washington Spirit, while Betos has considerably more playing experience with seven seasons in the league, most recently with OL Reign, and is also a former Goalkeeper of the Year in the NWSL.
The first player off the board was defender Addisyn Merrick, who made eight appearances for North Carolina in 2020. In last year’s college draft, she was the 28th overall pick, but boosted her standing through her play this season.
Paul Riley on Addisyn Merrick:— Jonathan Tannenwald (@thegoalkeeper) November 13, 2020
"She will be a stalwart for Louisville and her infectious desire, ambitious belief in herself, and tremendous engine make picking her a no-brainer. Massive loss in Courage Country but we wish her all the best"
Louisville also stacked its defense with Julia Ashley, the sixth pick in the 2019 draft. After a near nine-month recovery from a back injury she suffered while playing with Adelaide United in Australia.
While Alanna Kennedy is currently playing on loan in Tottenham from the Orlando Pride, Louisville selected the versatile Australian center back. Houston Dash’s Erin Simon was also selected and is a player that Holly coached previously with Sky Blue. The final defender taken, Kaleigh Riehl from Sky Blue, is also on loan right now with Paris FC. Riehl holds the NCAA Division I record for minutes played by an outfield player during her four years at Penn State.
One of the surprises was Jennifer Cudjoe — not that she was chosen by Louisville, but that she was available at all. After making the team through an open tryout, Cudjoe played in nine games for Sky Blue with seven starts in the midfield. Now, she’s heading to Louisville.
North Carolina’s midfield was poached with the selection of Lauren Milliet, who showed off her quality in both the Challenge Cup and Fall Series. The most used sub of 2019, Cece Kizer, was taken by Louisville as well. Currently, she is on a loan to Kolbotn IL but had previously signed a two year deal with the Dash.
Louisville also added pieces before the draft even started. Chicago sent over Yuki Nagasato and Savannah McCaskill to Louisville in exchange for full protection. The Red Stars also had to give Louisville an international slot in 2021 and 2022 and the fifth overall selection in the 2021 college draft. This now seems to have been a steep price, given how many of its players a team like Portland was able to keep.
Both Nagasato in the midfield and McCaskill on the front line will add a lot to their lavender and midnight violet club. Nagasato is one of the premier setup players in the league and will have an impressive front line with which to work.
In addition to Press and Heath, Caitlin Foord’s rights were taken by Louisville. The Australian with World Cup experience is currently playing for Arsenal, but her speed and experience were too much to pass up, even if it is not a guarantee that she will ever play in Lynn Family Stadium. Foord joined Arsenal in January and signed a two and a half-year deal with Arsenal, where she has contributed four goals and five assists in six league games.
Racing Louisville selected Caitlin Foord’s NWSL playing rights, but don’t expect her to leave Arsenal any time soon. https://t.co/Np9cso1Qjt— The Socially Distanced Fuse (@TheShortFuse) November 13, 2020
Katie McClure, who made six appearances for Washington after being drafted 23rd overall, is an exciting forward. She will join her former Kansas teammate Merrick in Louisville.
Louisville also signed Cheyna Matthews, a forward who plays for the Jamaican national team, before the draft.
Let’s freaking go @RacingLouFC !!! Exciting things ahead!!!!— Cheyna Matthews (@Cheynalee_) November 13, 2020
On the podium during the broadcast, Leigh Nieves of the supporter group Lavender Legion spoke about how she was “excited to have players to root for.”
Holly was also happy with the players that were selected and the research that went into the process. Overall, the team was looking for players that were “hungry” and “high caliber” even if they were unproven in the league. Louisville also opted for both positional and experience balance, with “players that align with what we’re trying to do culturally.”
The draft only marks the beginning of the craziness, as the trade window officially opens Friday.
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