Expansion draft protection is an unusual commodity and not something typically boasted about out loud, but that's what the Chicago Red Stars have acquired–at a substantial cost.
Chicago sent forwards Savannah McCaskill and Yuki Nagasato along with an international roster slot and the No. 5 overall pick in the 2021 NWSL draft to expansion club Racing Louisville FC for the promise that none of the Red Stars' other players will be subjected to Louisville's expansion draft process next month. For Chicago, which has a number of USWNT-calibers players in Julie Ertz, Tierna Davidson, Morgan Gautrat, Casey Short, Alyssa Naeher, Kealia Watt and Sarah Gorden and would not be able to protect all of them, that clearly represented a price worth paying.
For Louisville, it turned the mere threat of plucking a star player into substantial value. McCaskill and Nagasato are two fine players around whom manager Christy Holly can construct his attack and the first building blocks in a long roster-creating process.
“We are proud to have Savannah and Yuki join our club,” Holly said in a statement. “Both players bring a wealth of talent to our organization and will be influential on and off the field. We feel that they both possess a combination of hunger and experience that's instrumental as we lay the foundation to what we feel will be a very exciting and talented team for the 2021 NWSL season and beyond.”
Beyond the two forwards, Louisville now boasts the No. 1 and No. 5 picks in the NWSL draft in addition to the expansion process, whose full details have not yet been divulged. In the last expansion draft, for Orlando in 2015, teams that did not make the playoffs were allowed to protect 10 players, and teams that did could protect nine, with all teams able to protect up to two allocated U.S. women's national team players for the 10-round event. Given that there was no "regular" season or playoffs in a pandemic-impacted 2020, with the summer Challenge Cup and Fall Series taking their place, it remains to be seen what protection leeway clubs have and how many players will be selected. In Chicago's case, it paid for complete protection, meaning the other eight clubs are the ones that will be sweating over potentially losing some top talent.
“As a club, we feel [the expansion draft] will be a major step forward in the recruitment process," Holly said recently. "Over the last two months, we’ve taken a detailed approach to our analysis of rosters within the NWSL. With a clear understanding of the type of players our club would like to represent us and the city of Louisville, we are intrigued to learn which players will be available for us to select.”
Each team's protected list is due to the league on Nov. 4 and will be made public a day later. The expansion draft itself will be held on Nov. 12, with the new trade period opening a day later. The Chicago-Louisville deal was officially done in advance of Thursday's deadline, the league said.