Portland Thorns FC have an agreement in place to protect the core of their National Women’s Soccer League Shield-winning roster from San Diego Wave FC in next week’s expansion draft, sources tell The Equalizer. The most recent trade window closed last Friday and the next trade window does not open until Dec. 17, the day after the expansion draft, so a trade cannot be finalized before then.
There is, however, an agreement to terms which would see San Diego decline to select a Thorns player in Thursday’s expansion draft, sources said. In return, San Diego would receive defender Christen Westphal, as well as Amirah Ali — the Thorns’ 2021 third-round draft pick who who stayed for her final season at Rutgers and led the school to the College Cup semifinals — in a deal which still needs to be finalized. Portland would be due back expansion-draft protection and allocation money.
All of that is an effort from the Thorns to keep together the starting XI and young, up-and-coming players on their roster. Since there is no official trade in place yet, the Thorns still had to submit a list of protected players to the NWSL by Friday’s noon ET deadline. That list of unprotected players includes some cornerstones of the franchise like Christine Sinclair, Becky Sauerbrunn and Meghan Klingenberg, but people familiar with the Thorns’ thinking say the club is confident that none of those major players are in jeopardy of being lost to San Diego, based on the agreement.
The Thorns were facing the prospect of losing a significant player to the expansion draft, as they did in last year’s expansion draft when they were unable to protect the rights to Tobin Heath from Racing Louisville FC. This year’s rules stipulate that only one U.S. federation player (based on 2021 status) per team can be protected, and the Thorns have two: Sophia Smith and Becky Sauerbrunn (Crystal Dunn and Lindsey Horan signed standard NWSL contracts ahead of the 2021 season). Without a deal for protection from San Diego — one which, again, is not yet official and could in theory change — they faced the prospect of losing one of those internationals.
Prior to that 2020 expansion draft for Racing Louisville’s entry into the league, handshake deals in expansion drafts were common. Last year, the Chicago Red Stars made a trade for explicit protection in the draft, and that opened Pandora’s box this year. Over half the picks which were slated to be made in Thursday’s expansion draft are now protected and off the board. The active trade market is seen as beneficial to all parties as a way to circumvent the dated expansion-draft mechanism.
San Diego also reportedly has a deal agreed to with the Orlando Pride to acquire veteran United States forward Alex Morgan. Similarly, that transaction cannot be executed until the trade window re-opens at 9 a.m. ET on Dec. 17.
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