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The Lowdown: How the NWSL finalists were built

FC Kansas City and Seattle Reign FC will play in the NWSL Championship for the second straight season on Oct. 1. (Photo Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

FC Kansas City and Seattle Reign FC will play in the NWSL Championship for the second straight season on Oct. 1. (Photo Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

This will be the first of three Lowdown’s in between the semifinals and the NWSL Championship. That’s what happens when there is an 18-day gap between the final playoff games and the final. That is longer than the run-up to the Super Bowl, by the way. For this week we look at how each club was built. Note that 2013 free agents refer to the league’s initial roster building process during which each team was allowed to sign either four or five free agents.

Seattle Reign FC

2013 Allocations: Megan Rapinoe, Hope Solo

It took both some time to work their way into the club. Rapinoe played in France and Solo was injured when the league launched. The last two seasons, though, they have been invaluable contributors.

Postscript: The Reign’s other 2013 allocation, Amy Rodriguez, sat out the season to have a baby and was traded to Kansas City for Kristie Mewis, who was traded for Sydney Leroux, who was traded for the rights to Abby Wambach. Of that group only Leroux has ever suited up for the Reign. The Canadian allocations (Kaylyn Kyle and Emily Zurrer) and Mexican allocations (Teresa Noyola and Jenny Ruiz) are no longer with the club.

2013 Draft: Haley Kopmeyer

The 31st of 32 players taken, Kopmeyer was waived in 2013 after Solo returned from injury. But she stayed the course and earned valuable minutes as Solo’s backup in 2014 and pivotal ones this season when Solo was at the World Cup and then injured. With at least two goalkeepers leaving NWSL and at least one new team likely in 2016, Kopmeyer could compete for full-time starters’ minutes somewhere.

Postscript: The Reign’s 1st-round pick, Christine Nairn, was one of the club’s best players in a mostly forgettable 2013. She was sent to Washington that November for the discovery rights to Kim Little.

2013 Supplemental Draft: Lauren Barnes

The 10th overall pick has developed into quite a solid central defender after three seasons in Seattle. A bright spot on a very poor Reign team in 2013, Barnes is now a quiet, steady presence on one of the top defensive units in the league.

Postscript: First-round pick Nikki Krzysik (now Phillips) sat out 2013 to get married and the Reign shipped her rights to Kansas City, where she helped the Blues upset the Reign in the 2014 final. Liz Bogus was also in that draft and was also traded to Kansas City, where she was on the 2014 title team and will be in Portland with the Blues for this year’s final.

2013 Free Agent: Jessica Fishlock, Elli Reed

Laura Harvey scored big with her signings through the years, putting Seattle Reign FC back in the NWSL Championship for the second straight year. (Photo Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

Laura Harvey scored big with her signings through the years, putting Seattle Reign FC back in the NWSL Championship for the second straight year. (Photo Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

Fishlock has been the gem of the entire free-agent process, blossoming from a fearless ball-winner into one of the best two-way midfielders in the world.  Reed was a stalwart on the back line in 2014 and early 2015 before losing her starting spot to Rachel Corsie and becoming a utility player off the bench.

Postscript: Tiffany Cameron, Kate Deines, and Lindsay Taylor—the Reign’s other free-agent signings—are out of NWSL.

2014 Allocations: None

Postscript: Canada’s Carmelina Moscato and Mexico’s Arianna Romero are no longer with the team. Romero was actually grabbed in the expansion draft before ever reporting to the Reign. Stephanie Cox was allocated in 2014 but had joined the club via the discovery process in 2013.

2014 Draft: None

Postscript: First-round pick Amanda Frisbie sat out her entire rookie season through injury and was part of the Leroux-Wambach trade just prior to the season that also yielded the Reign Amber Brooks.

2015 Allocations: None

Postscript: No new players were allocated to the Reign and there were no Canadian or Mexican players allocated either.

2015 Draft: Havana Solaun

Attacking type out of Florida has been on the roster but missed the entire season due to a broken left ankle.

Postscript: The first-round pick was traded to Boston in the deal that brought Leroux to Seattle in late 2013. That pick was traded to the Red Stars on draft day and turned into Rookie of the Year, Danielle Colaprico.

Discovery Players: Rachel Corsie, Stephanie Cox, Michelle Cruz, Kendall Fletcher, Caroline Stanley, Katrina Veje, Beverly Yanez

Corsie and Fletcher worked an impressive switcheroo earlier this season when Corsie came in to play central defense and Fletcher pushed out to right back. Cox originally signed in the middle of 2013 after giving birth, was allocated in 2014, then signed to a standard contract after being removed from the allocation list in 2015. Yanez originally came on loan from Japan, where she was a top goal-scorer and is now a fully contracted Reign player. Stanley began 2015 as the amateur backup to Haley Kopmeyer, got into one match, and earned a full contract in August. Cruz, an undrafted rookie, played only 8 minutes.

Trades: Amber Brooks, Mariah Bullock, Kiersten Dallstream, Danielle Foxhoven, Kim Little, Merritt Mathias, Keelin Winters

Little joined NWSL via the discovery process but an oft-forgotten fact is that the Spirit had her rights in 2013 and traded them to the Reign for Christine Nairn. Winters arrived in the first trade in league history when she was allocated to the Red Stars and then traded to Seattle for a future allocation and 1st round pick that became Julie Johnston.

Mathias was on FC Kansas City the last two seasons, starting the 2014 final in her final game before being acquired for Kate Deines.

FC Kansas City

2013 Allocations: Nicole Barnhart, Lauren Holiday, Becky Sauerbrunn

The only team with all three original U.S. allocations still in tow, this trio makes up much of the backbone of one of the more consistent sides in the league.

Postscript: The Canadians, Desiree Scott and Lauren Sesselmann, contributed in 2013 but are now out of the league and in Houston respectively. Mexican allocation Renae Cuellar scored the first goal in league history but was later traded to Seattle for the rights to Nikki Phillips. She is now out of the league. The other Mexican, Marylin Diaz, never played in the league.

2013 Draft: Erika Tymrak

The second-round pick was a dynamo as a rookie, taking down Rookie of the Year honors and getting to the fringes of the national team picture. She also began a trend of FC Kansas City making major scores with their second-rounders.

Postscript: Kristie Mewis was considered a steal at No. 3 overall and was a big part of the 2013 success before being traded for Amy Rodriguez.

2013 Supplemental Draft: None

Postscript: Merritt Mathias was around long enough to win the 2014 championship but will be on the other side of the aisle in 2015, having been dealt to the Reign during the offseason. Bianca Henninger was a capable backup later traded to the Dash.

2013 Free Agent: Jen Buczkowski, Leigh Ann Robinson

Two of the stalwarts of the three-year run of playoff appearances. Buczkowski has started every match in club history at the unsung defensive midfield position. Robinson has been nearly as reliable while playing both outside back spots.

Postscript: The other two signings, Sinead Farrelly (Portland) and Melissa Henderson (Houston) are still in the league.

2014 Allocations: None

Postscript: Amy Rodriguez was allocated in 2014 but had been acquired via trade. Mexico also allocated Cecilia Santiago but she came up with a knee injury and stayed in Mexico.

2014 Draft: Mandy Laddish, Frances Silva

This draft was way more successful than meets the eye. For starters, Laddish and Silva have both proven to be very valuable depth players and Laddish has been mentioned as the understudy to the retiring Holiday. Secondly…

Postscript: First-round pick Kassey Kallman was packaged with second-round pick Morgan Marlborough to acquire Heather O’Reilly. Another second-round pick, Jenna Richmond, was a major reason the club was able to rebound from a slow start in 2014. Richmond sat out 2015 to get married but could return to the club in 2016.

2015 Allocations: None

O’Relly was allocated but has been acquired via the trade market.

2015 Draft: Kaysie Clark, Shea Groom, Meghan Lisenby, Katelyn Rowland

Both second-round picks, Groom was a Rookie of the Year candidate before missing a large chunk of the season with a broken foot, and Rowland is the heir apparent to Barnhart in goal. Clark and Lisenby (drafted as Meghan Streight) have been bit players.

Postscript: The Blues did not have a first-round pick, but they used it to acquire Amy LePeilbet.

Discovery Players/Free Agents: Yael Averbuch, Sarah Hagen, Caroline Kastor

Sarah Hagen has played an understated but important role with FC Kansas City. (Photo Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

Sarah Hagen has played an understated but important role with FC Kansas City. (Photo Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

It is remarkable that Hagen is the only true discovery player on the FC Kansas City roster. She was brought over during the 2014 season and scored twice in her first start for the team. Mostly used off the bench when the full roster is available, she has sometimes been utilized as a starter when the club uses two strikers. Averbuch became available when she was removed from allocation after spending 2014 in Washington. Kastor began the season as an amateur depth player and eventually earned a full contract.

Trades: Liz Bogus, Amy LePeilbet, Rebecca Moros, Heather O’Reilly, Amy Rodriguez

All five came in separate trades from different teams. O’Reilly and Rodriguez are allocated players but came to the Blues in trades. If they decide to go with a more defensive midfield, all five could start the NWSL Championship.


The Reign had a respectable showing for their NWSL semifinal. (Photo Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

The Reign had a respectable showing for their NWSL semifinal. (Photo Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

Last week’s NWSL attendance figures:

Chicago (Sunday): 3,031
Seattle (Sunday): 5,021

There was some hand-wringing over the number in Chicago, but truthfully it is not anything I am too concerned about. If you harken back to the early days of Major League Soccer, playoff games were often among the most difficult to market seeing as they were not part of season ticket packages or on original schedules and were often held at unusual times. On the whole, the Red Stars had a very good season at the gate and they are continuing to seek a better venue for long-term success.

[MORE: NWSL posts low TV ratings, attendance for semifinals]

The Reign topped their season average by nearly 20% with their fourth highest attended game of the season. Better than that they 5,021 were engaged in the match. Following another slow start the Reign rebounded with a solid finish at the gate.

Any predictions on attendance for the final?

Three expansion questions

A source told me this week that Orlando has already started scouting players in anticipation of joining NWSL as an expansion side next season. As I tweeted last week, the owners’ meetings in Portland in conjunction with the final will include an expansion vote. The Guardian reported that Orlando will be in as the 10th team next season. So here are five questions ahead of their expected arrival.

Where will the team play? Long-term the team will play the new stadium that is expected to be ready sometime in 2016. Capacity will be about 25,000 which is big, but we also thought Providence Park was big for the Thorns and they sold it out twice this season. That might be lofty for Orlando, but the Dash have normally confined themselves to the lower bowl at BBVA Compass Stadium without much complaint. As for where the new club will play while they wait for the permanent place to be finished is anybody’s best guess. The Citrus Bowl is huge, which means an NWSL crowd would get swallowed up but it could also open the door for doubleheaders and a free chance to expose Orlando City fans to the women. As far as other options in the Orlando area, I plead total ignorance on that front.

Is the Alex Morgan talk legitimate? Morgan is married to Servando Carrasco who was recently acquired by Orlando City SC. Because of that, speculation is already rampant that Morgan will play in Orlando. There are two reasons why that is very unlikely to be the case: First, the Thorns have no reason to want to part with Morgan and it will look very poor for the league to force their hand. Second, Orlando City is Carrasco’s fourth MLS team in the last three seasons—including the Houston Dynamo at the time the Dash were stocking their inaugural NWSL roster. He is hardly a linchpin player so the notion of putting him and Morgan in the same city is foolhardy and short-sighted.

If there is any logic to it, it is that Portland is the one NWSL city that does not appear to need individual star- power to attract fans. But barring a specific request from Alex Morgan I just don’t see this happening.

Will the allocation process change at all? If U.S. Soccer is serious about building NWSL into a sustainable league and using it as a means of building the national team pool then it should have no problem subsidizing 30 players each season. Things are too far along for an exact split but funding 30 players would continue to offset enough costs for the clubs while paying more than lip service to building the league.

There were 25 Americans allocated in 2015, at least three of whom are retiring and one other, Kristie Mewis, having already signed a standard contract for 2016. Nicole Barnhart is also expected to be removed from allocation and the status of Abby Wambach and Christie Rampone remain up in the air. That means it will take 10 or more new allocations to reach 30. That number may sound high, but paying a nominal league salary for players like Christine Nairn, Kealia Ohai, and Samantha Mewis does not have to be any sort of guarantee about playing for the national team.

There is also the matter of how Orlando will receive allocated players. For the 2014 expansion draft, teams were only allowed to protect two U.S. allocations. That allowed the Dash to snag Meghan Klingenberg from the Breakers. But the Dash were also handed Whitney Engen, who was new in NWSL in 2014. Currently there are very few American players not in the NWSL that would be worthy of allocation status, so unless the league wants to forcibly move someone to Orlando (see Alex Morgan point) the expansion club might be stuck using the expansion draft.

Two things appear certain, though: One is that barring an unforeseen roadblock, Orlando is coming to NWSL. The second is that beyond that, most of the details are mostly speculation.


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