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Where every NWSL team stands heading into draft week

The Portland Thorns have a lot on the line this week. (Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The NWSL has not slowed down since crowning the Washington Spirit as champions in late November. In the past two weeks, there have been a flurry of trades and teams have submitted their protection lists as the league prepares for the expansion draft on Thursday and college draft on Saturday.

The expansion draft kicks off the events at 7 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network, the NWSL YouTube channel and Paramount+, where expansion clubs Angel City FC and San Diego Wave FC will get to select one player from each NWSL team and a total of one U.S. allocated player.

Four clubs have made deals with the new California teams to receive full immunity in the expansion draft, including the Chicago Red Stars, Kansas City Current, NJ/NY Gotham FC and the North Carolina Courage. Racing Louisville FC and Portland Thorns FC are protected from Angel City, and the Washington Spirit have received protection from San Diego. In addition, OL Reign and the Spirit each have partial roster protection from Angel City.

It’s hard enough to keep track of all the trades, lists and draft orders, let alone process the potential effects of each club’s decisions. Now is a good time to get caught up, so let’s discuss where each team stands heading into a week that will define the 2022 NWSL season.


San Diego Wave and Angel City FC

With the partial rosters they’ve formed through trades and signings, Angel City and San Diego are already posing threats in 2022. ACFC has pieced together a strong and versatile core of Sarah Gorden, Julie Ertz and Christen Press. Currently, they have the slight edge over San Diego, who did almost as well in signing Kailen Sheridan, Abby Dahlkemper, Tegan McGrady and Alex Morgan (if the deal with Orlando is finalized on Dec. 17, as The Athletic reported last week). That might change after San Diego takes advantage of their first picks in the first and third rounds of the college draft.

Racing Louisville

Since Racing Louisville traded Christen Press’ playing rights to Angel City for expansion protection, a natural first-round pick in the 2022 draft and $75,000 in allocation money, they’ve been setting themselves up for the future. They’re in the best position of any team in the college draft with the second, fourth and 16th overall picks. While it might take at least a year for the rookies adjust, Louisville could become a contender sooner than people think, especially with rising stars like Ebony Salmon and Cece Kizer. Kizer just completed a breakout season, in which she started all 22 games and led the team with five goals.

One development to watch this week is the status of Savannah McCaskill and Yuki Nagasato, players Racing left unprotected for the expansion draft. Both played key roles in Louisville’s attack this past season, with McCaskill tallying two goals and three assists in 22 starts and Nagasato contributing two goals and two assists in 18 starts. Worst case scenario, Louisville loses only one of them to San Diego since the club is fully protected from Angel City.

Washington Spirit

If anything, the 2021 NWSL champions are in position to be more dominant than they were this past season. They don’t have a pick in the college draft until No. 38, but their team is so young already that it hardly matters. The Spirit are a step ahead of most teams, since they’ve had their young players for a year already, won a championship and now get to build on that foundation with players like Trinity Rodman, who at 19 years old is still years younger than hopefuls in the college draft.

There’s also little stress heading into the expansion draft, where they’re fully protected from San Diego and their three U.S. allocated players (Emily Sonnett, Kelley O’Hara and Andi Sullivan) are protected from Angel City. Fullback Tegan McGrady has been Washington’s biggest loss after she was traded to the Wave earlier this month. Although Spirit interim coach Kris Ward preferred McGrady in the starting lineup, he often flipped between her and Julia Roddar, who is on the protected list and will enable Washington to keep a backline they’re familiar with.

OL Reign

With young and experienced players filling out positions at every level, OL Reign is one of the deepest and most well-rounded teams in the league. Even though they’ve left some big names unprotected in the expansion draft and they’re not selecting until No. 10 in the college draft, the Reign will be fine. Megan Rapinoe, for example, will be on the table for San Diego after the Reign protected Rose Lavelle with their U.S. allocation slot. Rapinoe and the rest of the Reign’s forwards are at least protected from Angel City, so they know they won’t lose more than one member of their league-leading offense that scored 35 goals in 2021. Other unprotected names to note are Tziarra King (protected from Angel City), Celia and starting defenders Lauren Barnes and Kristen McNabb.

‘Having an OK time’

North Carolina Courage

After trading Sam Mewis to Kansas City Current, North Carolina has a big hole to replace in the midfield. When the Courage were without Mewis for six weeks at the end of the season, while the U.S. women’s national team star was recovering from knee surgery, the center of the park fell apart. They also traded midfielders Cari Roccaro to Angel City and Angharad James to San Diego and picked up 2021 No. 3 pick Brianna Pinto from NJ/NY Gotham, so it looks like a midfield rebuild is in the works. Still, they would be smart to use their third overall pick on a midfielder on Saturday.

Chicago Red Stars

At first glance, the Red Stars’ decision to trade midfielder Julie Ertz and defender Sarah Gorden to Angel City FC is worrying. Gorden, known for speed and dribbling out of the back, has been a brick wall since cracking into Chicago’s starting XI as a rookie in 2016. Ertz sets the tone in the holding midfield by starting attacking plays. But the NWSL finalists played most of their season without Ertz, and while Gorden is a big loss, the Red Stars have depth on their back line.

Offense is an area Chicago is still building, so expect them to draft a midfielder or forward with the 11th overall pick in the college draft who can complement the skill sets of Kealia Watt and Mallory Pugh. Pugh is among four USWNT players who just re-signed with the Red Stars on multi-year contracts. That group includes Tierna Davidson, Casey Krueger and Alyssa Naeher, and they are all protected in the expansion draft.

Portland Thorns

The Thorns are so stacked with experience that any protected list was bound to leave off some high-level talent. On the Thorns’ unprotected list for Thursday’s expansion draft are defenders Becky Sauerbrunn and Meghan Klingenberg as well as world-leading goal scorer Christine Sinclair. Sauerbrunn and Sinclair should be safe considering retirement is on the horizon for both and Sinclair’s ties to Portland run deep.

Klingenberg, however, would be an intriguing option for San Diego (since the Thorns have received protection from Angel City through a trade). There’s also Angela Salem, another 33-year-old, if they value experience in the midfield more than defense. That said, the Thorns also reportedly have an agreement in place with San Diego that would protect their core players from selection.

NJ/NY Gotham FC

Defense wins championships, and an NWSL title is exactly what goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris and defender Ali Krieger said they’re after with their new team. Krieger’s aerial dominance and long-ball assists will add to a strong defense that already includes Imani Dorsey and NWSL Defender of the Year Caprice Dydasco. Gotham traded away some good players in Pinto and Sheridan, but Harris and Krieger more than make up for the losses.

Room for improvement

Orlando Pride

The Pride have dealt Krieger, Harris and Jodie Taylor, and now Alex Morgan is on her way out in a trade that San Diego officially announced on Monday. Orlando also has no full or partial roster protection in the expansion draft. All of this is OK because Orlando is in desperate need of a rebuild. Since joining the league in 2016, the Pride have made the playoffs just once in 2017. So far, they’ve acquired a 2022 first-round pick and a 2023 third-round pick from Gotham, and a conditional natural second- or third-round pick from San Diego. The Pride’s 2022 season will be murky, but based on the moves they’ve made and the addition of head coach Amanda Cromwell, they will be a new team in 2023.

Houston Dash

The Dash have been one of the quieter teams in the last couple of weeks, and now are one of just four teams that don’t have any full-roster protection in the expansion draft. Their protection list makes sense, but it will be interesting to see what happens with unprotected players Megan Oyster, Sophie Schmidt and up-and-coming midfielder Brianna Visallli. The biggest name to note on the unprotected list is Kristie Mewis, who seems the obvious pick for either Angel City or San Diego, unless the rumors that she’s planning to sign Tottenham Hotspur come true.

Kansas City Current 

Kansas City’s midfield is in a good place with Sam Mewis as the linchpin. Other than that, the Current haven’t done much to show they’re capable of improving upon their last-place regular season finish in 2021. Their highest pick in the college draft is 12th overall, and they haven’t made any further trades.

Jessa Braun is an editorial intern for Just Women’s Sports. She is also the Head of North American Content for the Women’s Sports Alliance. You can find her on Twitter @jessabraun.

Alyssa Naeher’s goalkeeper jersey sells out in less than three hours

uwnt goalie alyssa naeher wears jersey on the field with club team chicago red stars
USWNT star keeper Alyssa Naeher's new replica NWSL jersey was an instant success. (Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in the NWSL's 12-year history, fans can now buy their own goalkeeper jerseys. And while replica goalkeeper jerseys representing all 14 NWSL teams hit the market on Wednesday, some didn't stick around for long. 

Fans across women's soccer have long vocalized their discontent over the position's lack of availability on social media, often comparing the shortcoming to the widespread availability of men’s goalkeeper jerseys. And as the NWSL has grown, so has demand — and not just from those in the stands. 

"To have goalkeeper kits available for fans in the women’s game as they have been for so long in the men’s game is not only a long-awaited move in the right direction, it’s just good business," said Washington Spirit goalie Aubrey Kingsbury in an team press release. "I can’t wait to see fans representing me, Barnie [Barnhart], and Lyza in the stands at Audi!"

Business does, in fact, appear to be booming. Alyssa Naeher’s Chicago Red Stars kit sold out less than three hours after the league's announcement. Jerseys for other keepers like DiDi Haračić, Abby Smith, Michelle Betos, Katelyn Rowland, and Bella Bixby aren’t currently available via the Official NWSL Shop, though blank goalkeeper jerseys can be customized through some individual team sites. Jerseys start at $110 each.

"This should be the benchmark," said Spirit Chief Operations Officer Theresa McDonnell. "The expectation is that all players’ jerseys are available to fans. Keepers are inspiring leaders and mentors with their own unique fan base who want to represent them... I can’t wait to see them all over the city."

Simone Biles talks Tokyo Olympics fallout in new interview

gymnast simone biles on a balance beam
Biles' candid interview shed light on the gymnast's internal struggle. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Decorated gymnast Simone Biles took to the popular Call Her Daddy podcast this week to open up about her experience at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, revealing she thought she was going to be "banned from America" for her performance.

After Biles botched her vault routine due to a bout of the "twisties," she withdrew from the team final as well as the all-around final in order to focus on her mental health. She later reentered the competition to win bronze in the individual balance beam final.

In her interview with podcast host Alex Cooper, Biles admitted to feeling like she let the entire country down by failing her vault attempt.

"As soon as I landed I was like 'Oh, America hates me. The world is going to hate me. I can only see what they’re saying on Twitter right now,'" she recalled thinking. "I was like, ‘Holy s---, what are they gonna say about me?'"

"I thought I was going to be banned from America," she continued. "That’s what they tell you: Don’t come back if not gold. Gold or bust. Don’t come back."

Widely regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time, Biles has hinted at a desire to join her third Olympic team in Paris, though her participation won't be confirmed until after the gymnastics trials in late June. She holds over 30 medals from the Olympic Games and World Artistic Gymnastics Championships combined, and if qualified, would be a sure favorite heading into this summer’s games.

Caitlin Clark reportedly nearing $20 million+ Nike deal

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever poses for a portrait at Gainbridge Fieldhouse during her introductory press conference
WNBA-bound Caitlin Clark is said to be closing in on a monumental NIke deal. (Photo by Matt Kryger/NBAE via Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark is reportedly close to cementing a hefty endorsement deal with Nike.

The Athletic was the first to break the news Wednesday evening, commenting that the deal would be worth "eight figures" and include her own signature shoe. On Thursday afternoon, the publication tweeted that the deal would top $20 million, according to lead NBA Insider Shams Charania. Both Under Armour and Adidas are said to have also made sizable offers to the college phenom and expected future WNBA star.

The new agreement comes after Clark's previous Nike partnership ended with the conclusion of the college basketball season. She was one of five NCAA athletes to sign an NIL deal with the brand back in October, 2022. 

Considering Clark's overwhelming popularity and Nike's deep pockets, the signing's purported value doesn't exactly come as a shock. New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu’s deal with the brand is reportedly worth $24 million, while NBA rookie and No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama’s deal is rumored to weigh in at $100 million. And in 2003, LeBron James famously earned $90 million off his own Nike deal. 

Clark’s star power continues to skyrocket, with the NCAA championship averaging 18.9 million viewers and the 2024 WNBA Draft more than doubling its previous viewership record. Following the draft, Fanatics stated that Clark's Indiana Fever jersey — which sold out within an hour — was the top seller for any draft night pick in the company’s history, with droves of unlucky fans now being forced to wait until August to get their hands on some official No. 22 gear.

In Wednesday's Indiana Fever introductory press conference, the unfailingly cool, calm, and collected Clark said that turning pro hasn’t made a huge impact on how she’s conducting her deals.

"If I’m being completely honest, I feel like it doesn’t change a ton from how I lived my life over the course of the last year," she said. "Sponsorships stay the same. The people around me, agents and whatnot, have been able to help me and guide me through the course of the last year. I don’t know if I would be in this moment if it wasn’t for a lot of them."

Star slugger Jocelyn Alo joins Athletes Unlimited AUX league

softball star jocelyn alo rounds the bases at an oklahoma sooners game
Former Oklahoma star Jocelyn Alo has signed with Athletes Unlimited. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Former Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo has signed on with Athletes Unlimited and will compete in the AU Pro Softball AUX this June.

The NCAA record holder in career home runs (122), total bases (761), and slugging percentage (.987), Alo was originally drafted by the league in 2022 but opted instead to join the newly debuted Women’s Professional Fastpitch

Alo currently plays for independent pro softball team Oklahoma City Spark, with team owner Tina Floyd reportedly on board with her recent AUX signing. AUX games are scheduled for June 10-25, while the Spark's season will kick off June 19th. Alo will play for both. 

Among those joining Alo on the AUX roster are former James Madison ace pitcher Odicci Alexander and former Wichita State standout middle infielder Sydney McKinney.

According to Alo, the decision to play in the Athletes Unlimited league was fueled by her desire to propel women's sports forward as well as provide more exposure to a sport that's given her "so many opportunities."

"Not only to challenge myself more, but just for the growth of the game," Alo said, explaining her reasoning to The Oklahoman. "I genuinely believe that professional softball can be a career for girls."

Joining AUX is also one more step in her plan toward representing Team USA at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

"I’m constantly thinking about how can I do these little things right in these four years to prepare me for the biggest stage of softball," she told The Oklahoman. "I definitely want to play in the Olympics, for sure."

Alo further expressed enthusiasm in the hope that the rise of other women’s sports, like women’s basketball and the NWSL, will push softball’s professional viability even higher.

"We’re seeing the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) get their stuff going, I see the WNBA starting to get hot," she continued. "I feel like the softball community is like, 'All right, it’s our turn and it’s our turn to just demand more.'"

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