Racing Louisville waited until the end to make its giant splash.
NWSL's new club in 2021 selected U.S. women's national team stars Tobin Heath and Christen Press to cap its 14-player expansion draft on Thursday. Both Heath and Press are currently playing for Manchester United in England's Women's Super League, but their NWSL rights, if and when they return to the league, belong to Louisville.
Teams around the league were permitted to protect 11 players, including up to two who are on U.S. Soccer's designated list of 23 allocated USWNT players (The full list of protected and unprotected players can be seen here). Teams could have lost up to two players, but if one of their USWNT allocated players were taken, then they would not be subjected to any more selections. Louisville, meanwhile, could only pick two allocated players, total.
If it took only one allocated player, then it would have received $75,000 in allocation money (which can be used to supplement salaries outside of the cap and to increase the likelihood of signing top international talent; it can also be used toward the No. 1 pick in this winter's NWSL draft), and if it didn't take any allocated players, then it would have received $150,000.
Conversely, any teams that had an allocated player taken received $75,000 in allocation money for their troubles.
Louisville passed up on the opportunity to bank that cash, instead selecting the two Women's World Cup winners. Utah Royals and the Portland Thorns, meanwhile, will get that $75,000 consolation.
Aside from Utah and Portland, the six other participating clubs each had two players selected. The Chicago Red Stars were exempt from the proceedings, having traded for expansion draft protection late last month. Louisville was able to squeeze forwards Savannah McCaskill and Yuki Nagasato, the No. 5 overall draft pick and an international roster slot out of the Red Stars in exchange for immunity. (Louisville also signed Jamaica international and former Washington Spirit forward Cheyna Matthews off waivers as its third player.)
“Racing Louisville is at the very start of its journey,” Louisville manager Christy Holly said in the build-up to the draft. “We need to identify players that align with our journey and have the same desires, ambition, hunger and energy as us to work through this project.”
Just because Louisville selected certain players (or their rights) doesn't mean they'll keep them. They could always be flipped for other assets, with NWSL's trade window re-opening on Friday.
In the meantime, here's how the expansion draft unfolded:
Louisville takes versatile North Carolina Courage defender Addisyn Merrick, who just completed her rookie season. After losing Crystal Dunn to Portland and Jaelene Daniels to retirement, it's another blow to North Carolina's fullback depth.
Louisville takes defender Julia Ashley from OL Reign. Ashley did not play in her first season in the league. This pick ensures that the allocated and unprotected Megan Rapinoe won't be selected, given that OL Reign would be exempt from losing any other players if one of its allocated players were picked.
Louisville takes midfielder Jennifer Cudjoe from Sky Blue FC, who enjoyed a breakout performance with the club in this year's competitions. This pick ensures the allocated Carli Lloyd won't be selected for the reasons listed above regarding Rapinoe.
Louisville takes forward CeCe Kizer from the Challenge Cup champion Houston Dash.
Louisville takes goalkeeper Katie Lund, the Washington Spirit's backup goalkeeper.
Louisville takes Orlando Pride's versatile, Australian defender/midfielder Alanna Kennedy, who is currently playing on loan at Tottenham.
Louisville takes Lauren Milliet, the North Carolina Courage midfielder who enjoyed a fine 2020. With two players selected, NCC is exempt from the rest of the draft.
Louisville takes Sky Blue and former U.S. youth defender Kaleigh Riehl, who is currently on loan with Paris FC. This pick removes the rest of Sky Blue's unprotected players from contention to be selected.
Louisville takes the playing rights to Orlando Pride and Australia veteran forward Caitlin Foord, who is currently playing with Arsenal. Should she return to NWSL, she would go to Louisville. Orlando players are now exempt from the rest of the draft.
Louisville takes Washington Spirit forward Katie McClure, which keeps the rest of the Spirit's unprotected players out of the draft.
Louisville takes Houston Dash defender Erin Simon, ensuring that no more Dash players will be selected.
Louisville takes OL Reign goalkeeper Michelle Betos, the 2015 NWSL goalkeeper of the year whose 2020 was beset by injuries. No more Reign players can be selected.
Louisville takes Portland Thorns and U.S. women's national team winger Tobin Heath. No more Portland players can be selected, with Heath an allocated U.S. player. Heath is currently at Manchester United, but her NWSL playing rights now belong to Louisville.
Louisville takes Utah Royals and U.S. women's national team winger Christen Press, ruling the rest of Utah's players out given her allocated status and ending the draft. Like Heath, Press is currently at Man United, and her playing rights in NWSL go to Louisville.