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More answers on NWSL roster shortages

Breakers coach Lisa Cole will only have a maximum of 19 healthy players the rest of the season. (Photo copyright Meg Linehan for www.womens.soccerly.com)

When the Boston Breakers traveled to Rochester, N.Y., last month to face the Western New York Flash, five substitute players rode the bus with the starting eleven.  Only two of them were physically able to take the field.

Colleen Boyd had been signed to a short-term contract with the team in advance of the trip, as starting goalkeeper Ashley Phillips was unavailable for the game. Boyd was never called upon as Cecilia Santiago closed out the match for the Breakers, only allowing Sam Kerr’s early goal.

Adriana Leon was the only other healthy player on the bench, and she saw six minutes of game time in the match.  Kate Howarth, Lisa-Marie Woods, and Kyah Simon made the long bus trip merely to watch their teammates play.  In Simon’s case, she even wore sneakers.

The Breakers are now permanently limited to 19 players due to Bianca D’Agostino’s injury. Even though she is expected to miss the season, Boston’s roster cannot climb back to 20 players this season. The Breakers had to waive Boyd after calling her up for the one match in order to preserve space on the roster.  Per the waiver process, that gave every other team in the league a chance to sign her.

What this boils down to for the entire league is that there’s no vertical movement between the primary roster of 18-20 players and any “reserve” players.  Reserve players merely exist to fill in spots for players away on national team duty, and if and when they are called up to replace an allocated player for a match, they will not have to be waived by the team at the conclusion of their service.

[MORE: Rules and tiebreakers |   Rules on disabled list compensation]

Meanwhile in Chicago, the Red Stars have also had their fair share of injuries, both major and minor.  On April 29th, the team announced Shannon Boxx, their lone remaining U.S. national team allocated player, would undergo minor knee surgery that would have a 4-6 week recovery time.

Perfect time to use the short-term disabled list, right?

If a player is put on the short-term disabled list for the 45 days, they must stay on the list for the minimum of 45 days.  If the player is ready to come back early, they must still wait out their time on the disabled list.

So if a player is expected to be out 4-6 weeks, teams will be reluctant to take advantage of the disabled list, unless they are guaranteed to get roster relief.  As a refresher, teams only get definitive roster relief when three players are on it at the same time.  The league has discretion to provide roster relief if two players are listed at the same time.

As for the decision to give no roster relief for the first injured player out for 45 days or more, NWSL communications director Patrick Donnelly said that it merely boiled down to the length of the NWSL season.  For instance, the Boston Breakers will play 22 regular season matches over 5 months, compared to the New England Revolution’s 34 matches across 8 months.

Donnelly compared NWSL roster rules to those of Major League Soccer.

“We tried to keep it as simple a process as possible regarding injuries, and that’s why we have the current policies.  If you try to apply some of these individual types of rules [from MLS] to a five month season, it becomes very difficult to manage them in a very tight timetable.”

Some of these roster rule decisions do have larger implications.  If a team is a bit beaten up, especially as the seasons goes on, the benches will be filled with injured players rather than called-up reserves.  The Breakers and the Red Stars are simply experiencing the pain earlier than others.

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