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San Diego signs 15-year-old forward amid NWSL youth wave

(Photo courtesy of San Diego Wave)

The San Diego Wave have added another name to the NWSL’s youth movement, as the club has signed the youngest player in league history.

At 15 years and 138 days, Melanie Barcenas inked a three-year contract with the Wave. She takes the title of youngest-ever NWSL player from Chloe Ricketts, who earlier this month signed her own three-year-deal the Washington Spirit at 15 years and 283 days old.

Barcenas’ deal runs through the 2025 season. The Claremont, Calif., native becomes the first youth homegrown player to be signed in NWSL history, and she has played for the elite San Diego Surf youth club as well as the U.S. youth women’s national team.

“We are very happy that Melanie and her family have decided to entrust her hometown club as the place for her to begin her professional career,” Wave coach Casey Stoney said in a news release. “The coaches at San Diego Surf have been instrumental in helping her develop as a person and as a player for her entire youth career. We’re excited to maximize her potential through the coming years.”

Barcenas joins the league through the NWSL’s new under-18 entry mechanism. Under the mechanism, the 5-foot-3 forward has a full roster spot, cannot be traded or waived before her 18th birthday without her and her parents’ consent and is ineligible for selection in expansion drafts.

“I’m very excited to sign my first professional contract with my hometown team, San Diego Wave,” Barcenas said in a news release. “It’s been a dream of mine to not just play in the NWSL but to have the opportunity to represent this city since the announcement of the Wave last year.

“I know I am young, but the team and coaching staff have been amazing, and I look forward to learning from them every day as I continue to develop.”

In signing with the Wave, Barcenas becomes just the latest teenager to join the NWSL ranks.

Jaedyn Shaw signed with San Diego last July at age 17, and Olivia Moultrie signed with the Portland Thorns in 2021 at age 15. While those players required exemptions to enter the league, the NWSL has added the new entry mechanism for youth players, through which Ricketts and Barcenas have joined the league.