NWSL team’s have 20 roster spots that they need to fill each year before the start of the season. The league gives them many tools to find the players that will best fit those slots. Below is an overview of the mechanisms used by the league:
College Draft: This is just like the typical college draft in other leagues. The selection order is the reverse of the NWSL standings. Drafted players aren’t automatically on a team’s roster; they must make a decision on the player within 15 days after a player reports to preseason camp.
Discovery: Similar to MLS, Discovery allows teams to claim players that are not currently under contract with another NWSL team. The number of players permitted on a team’s discovery list varies throughout the year. If a player is on one team’s discovery list and another team puts in a claim, the first team has 14 days to offer a contract before the team loses her rights.
Federation Subsidized Players: National team players from the U.S. and Canada have their contracts subsidized by their respective federations, meaning that the individual clubs don’t have to pay the players’ salaries – their national federations do. The federations, not the clubs, create the list of subsidized players on an annual basis.
This is one of the biggest assets to NWSL teams. It gives them an opportunity to acquire big-name international stars and helps alleviate some of the financial burden on teams in a young, growing league.
Another benefit of these federation allocations is the fact that those players don’t count for international roster spots (more below).
Distribution: NWSL teams can select unattached Federation players – U.S or Canadian national team players without a club or who are no longer subsidized – through the Distribution process. The selection order is the reverse of the previous season’s standings, so last place has first dibs. However, spots on the Distribution Ranking Order can be traded, but must be a straight swap between the two clubs.
International Roster Spots: Teams are allotted four roster spots for foreign players, meaning any player not holding U.S. citizenship or green card. Players filling these roster spots would be acquired using the methods above, however Federation subsidized players don’t count towards international spots, which is another reason those are such important assets.
These spots are also tradable assets, so teams can accumulate more than four.