The NWSL hosted its expansion draft on Dec. 15 to fill the rosters of the two newest teams in the league — Bay FC and Utah Royals FC. 

Bay FC selected five players in the draft, in contrast to the Royals’ two selections. Utah built out its roster earlier in the offseason through trades and free agency.

Bay FC’s five players selected in the expansion draft include NWSL veteran goaltender Katelyn Rowland. Rowland has collected some impressive hardware during her eight-year NWSL career, including four NWSL championships, three NWSL Shields and two Challenge Cups. 

The San Francisco area club also selected defender Alyssa Malonson from OL Reign, forward Tess Boade from the North Carolina Courage and forward Rachel Hill and midfielder Sierra Enge from the San Diego Wave. 

The Royals’ two picks in the expansion draft were forward Alyssa Bennett from OL Reign and forward Paige Monaghan from Racing Louisville. 

Bay FC added a veteran goaltender to its already defense-heavy roster, and both expansion squads added scoring depth. 

“I love playing football with the ball… we’re going  to be a technical team who understands when to go forward and being a threat when we can,” Bay head coach Albertin Montoya said on Attacking Third after the draft.

OL Reign, the Courage and the Wave all lost two players from the expansion. Bennett in particular had a successful season for the Seattle club in 2023, with two goals and two assists, and she will help first-year head coach and former player Amy Rodriguez achieve her vision for her team. 

“This is the team we’re forming and it’s one that’s going to rest upon humility, and hard work, and passion, and intensity, very similar to how I was as a player,” Rodriguez said on Attacking Third. “This is definitely the start of something great here in Utah and we can’t wait to bring the Royals back in a second iteration because I think we’re going to be bigger and better than before.”

The Utah Royals have their head coach.

The resurrected club, which will return to the NWSL as an expansion franchise in 2024, named Amy Rodriguez as head coach as the Royals embark on a new era.

Rodriguez is a two-time NWSL champion and former U.S. women’s national team star forward who won a World Cup and Olympic gold medal at the international level. She is also a former captain of the Royals.

“Returning to Utah is a dream I never knew I had and it is with the utmost humility that I step into this role as your Club’s head coach,” Rodriguez said. “My time with the Royals is among the greatest years of my professional career. The Utah community fully embraced my family and made this state feel like home for not just myself, but my husband and kids as well.

“We were devastated to leave and I left feeling like there was still unfinished business on the table. I cannot put into words just how excited I am to get to work and bring Royalty back to this community.”

The news was first reported Wednesday by ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle. In a phone interview, Rodriguez told Carlisle she had “butterflies” in her stomach the moment she heard the Royals organization on the phone.

It will be Rodriguez’s first jaunt as a head coach, and first as a coach to professional players. She has spent the last year as an assistant coach for the USC Trojans, her alma mater.

“Anytime you step into a role that is above you, there’s definitely way more responsibility that comes with it,” she told ESPN. “There’s an excitement [and] a potential to make something my own, and that gets me fired up.

“But I take it with a great amount of responsibility that I’m going to now step into, and I’m going to give it my very best. I think as a player, I always leaned on hard work, and I think similarly in this coaching role, I’ll do the exact same.”

It’s been two months since Amy Rodriguez was sent to North Carolina Courage from Kansas City. Now that she’s had time to settle in with her new team, the forward has a large role to play heading into the last six matches of the season.

Rodriguez was traded along with $60,000 allocation money in exchange for Kristen Hamilton, Hailie Mace and Katelyn Rowland on July 22 after seven and a half seasons with her former team. Fast forward to Saturday and the Courage will be stepping onto the pitch following a 12-day break, looking to crack their three-game goal drought as they take on NJ/NY Gotham FC.

North Carolina head coach Paul Riley wasn’t satisfied with the creativity and the ball movement of the offense coming into the break, but Rodriguez could become a game-changing factor.

“I do feel like I’m slowly getting my footing here,” Rodriguez said. “I was just saying outside to some of the girls that I really had to come in here and hit the ground running, and on a team like North Carolina, where technically we are so complex and there’s a lot of detail that goes into our game plan and our style of play, that has proven to be a little bit difficult for me, but I’ve really enjoyed it and I love this challenge.”

This season, the 2015 FIFA World Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist has started 16 of 18 matches for Kansas City and the Courage combined. With four goals — two with KC and two with North Carolina — she’s netted a total of 45 throughout her NWSL career.

Goals are what the Courage need, but Riley has other priorities to address first.

“People are waiting for super goal production, but I think the more important thing is we get some kind of chemistry between her, between her and Lynn [Williams], between her and Jess [McDonald], and I think that’s the most important part at this point,” he said.

This isn’t the first time Rodriguez and Riley have represented the same team. Riley coached Rodriguez 13 years ago when she was 21, straight out of University of Southern California and playing for the Philadelphia Independence of the Women’s Professional Soccer League.

“A-Rod is one of the top forwards I’ve coached in my 30-year coaching career,” Riley said in a statement following Rodriguez’s trade to North Carolina.

And it seems she’s only gotten better.

“I think she’s already five percent better than she was last week, five percent every week, and I think mid-October, you’ll see the best of her,” he said on Thursday.

According to Riley, Rodriguez is a more mature and intelligent player now, and that it took him five weeks to get used to her not still being the 21-year-old he once knew. Before, her playing style was more about pressuring the opponent’s last line, whereas now she’s better at taking advantage of space on and off the ball. Her fitness levels have also improved.

One aspect that’s taken more adjusting has been the Courage’s formation. Rodriguez has always played in a front three, but North Carolina has two forwards, sometimes with an attacking midfielder.

But it shouldn’t be a problem to get those wrinkles smoothed out by the time playoffs come around. Riley considers her sharper now than she was when she arrived on the team in July.

“I’m excited to see what the future brings for her and what the next month brings,” said Riley.

All eyes might be on the USWNT in Tokyo, but Kansas City and North Carolina are here to remind you there is still NWSL action to be had.

The two clubs announced a blockbuster trade this morning, with Kansas City sending Amy Rodriguez and $60,000 of allocation money to North Carolina in exchange for Kristen Hamilton, Hailie Mace and Katelyn Rowland.

The 2015 NWSL MVP, Rodriguez is an experienced forward, leading Kansas City as one of their top scorers with two of the club’s five goals this season. In her time with the Utah Royals she scored 15 goals in 47 matches and helped the former FC Kansas City win two championships. She can also do this:

In return, Kansas City will acquire significant depth in Hamilton, Mace and Rowland.

Hamilton has been a staple member of the Courage since 2014, when they were originally the Western New York Flash, helping to lead the club to their first ever NWSL championship in 2016. Since the club became the Courage, Hamilton has appeared in 67 matches, scoring 15 goals.

Mace and Rowland are also staple pieces that should bring additional depth to Kansas City. Mace has goal scoring abilities, including a brace against Racing Louisville FC in May, while Rowland has appeared in net 30 times for the Courage.

Both Hamilton and Rowland bring with them championship experience, having won two NWSL Championship titles, three NWSL Shields and a Women’s ICC Championship title.