Surviving an NWSL expansion draft takes years of preparation and all the right pieces

The Red Stars will have to decide which two of its five allocated players — Julie Ertz, Alyssa Naeher, Tierna Davidson, Morgan Brian and Casey Short — to protect.

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Julie Ertz

Julie Ertz #8 of Chicago Red Stars dribbles downfield in the championship game of the NWSL Challenge Cup at Rio Tinto Stadium on July 26, 2020 in Sandy, Utah.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

It’s safe to assume the Red Stars are always preparing for expansion drafts.

Between accumulating first-round picks, acquiring assets to offer to an expansion team and navigating contracts, constructing a game plan for expansion is no simple task.

It’s like a 1,000-piece puzzle. The picture on the box depicts how things will turn out, but getting there means fitting all those tiny pieces together.

For a coach like Rory Dames, who has been committed to creating one of the most competitive environments in the NWSL and building a team whose success depends on depth and value for every player on the roster, expansion drafts are never easy.

“It’s really hard, to be honest,” Dames said. “We pride ourselves in having players on the Red Stars who want to be on the Red Stars.”

Dames said rules for the 2020 expansion draft, which will take place on Nov. 12, will be similar to the 2016 expansion draft when the Orlando Pride joined the league.

Those rules allowed playoff-qualifying teams to protect nine players and non-playoff teams 10. That postseason rule will not apply this year, and each team will have the same set of rules, Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler said.

The list of rules has not been released yet, but each team is expected to protect two of its allocated players.

The new franchise, Racing Louisville FC,can select only two players — or one unprotected allocated player — from a single team, Whisler said.

The Red Stars will have to decide which two of its five allocated players — Julie Ertz, Alyssa Naeher, Tierna Davidson, Morgan Brian and Casey Short — to protect. That list is due to the league by Nov. 4 and will be made public Nov. 5.

Despite their obvious desire to keep the team intact, Dames and Whisler fully support the NWSL’s growth. For that growth to happen, sacrifices have to be made.

“I think the world of Louisville,” Whisler said. “This is a place that’s going to be great to be. There are places I would not nudge [our players] towards, but this is a great setup. It’s a win-win for anyone who ends up there.”

Another significant difference between this expansion draft and past drafts is that players are settled in their markets more than they have been before.

Outside of Ertz and Davidson, all of the Red Stars’ allocated players have homes in Chicago, and the expansion draft threatens to disrupt that.

“[Louisville] has to do what’s best for them to build their team,” Dames said. “But if I were building an expansion team, I would want to find players who were bought into what my vision was. I would want to bring in players who wanted to be there.

“I think that’s the question that Louisville will have to answer. Do you want to have a player with a big name because you think you can build your franchise with them? But if their heart isn’t in it and they don’t actually want to be there, is that better for you or worse for you?”

Neither Dames nor Whisler shared who would be added to their protection list, but Whisler did say the goal is to protect their starting roster if possible.

When it comes to the names to add to that list, painful was the word Whisler used. The mutual investment made is felt deeply between this organization and its players.

Losing just one member of this roster will have a notable impact.

“I have not had a conversation with anybody on our team who would like to leave,” Dames said.

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