This past Thursday the NWSL held its third ever expansion draft, with the league’s newest club Racing Louisville FC making fourteen selections to help build out the starting core of their inaugural roster. One of those selections was Sky Blue midfielder Jennifer Cudjoe, who had recently signed a new contract.
Per league rules, Sky Blue was required to submit a list of eleven players who would be “protected” from being drafted, with the rest of the roster fair game to be selected. This required a tremendous amount of difficult calls for the Harrison outfit, who once again had to pick and choose from a roster they had only recently revamped with strong results.
As expected, the club chose to protect several of its most high profile players- such as the dynamic young duo of Midge Purce and Mallory Pugh. Head Coach Freya Coombe and General Manager Alyse LaHue also protected team stalwarts such as captain Sarah Woldmoe and veteran midfielder McCall Zerboni. Another interesting feature on the protected player list were two of the clubs three goalkeepers- with both Canadian international Kailen Sheridan as well as her rookie understudy Mandy McGlynn making the cut.
Several notable moves came on the “unprotected” portion of the roster. The aforementioned Cudjoe, widely considered one of the league’s biggest breakout stars this year after earning her spot via an open tryout in June, was left available for selection by the Louisville side. In addition, New Jersey native and USWNT legend Carli Lloyd was also left unprotected, with the club perhaps looking to tempt Louisville into taking a big name star who, though she keeps proving any and all doubters wrong, looks to be at the very tail end of her illustrious career.
Unsurprisingly, Louisville indeed snapped up Cudjoe with their third pick, making her the first midfielder off the board. Though relatively unproven, the Ghana international is young and has an incredibly diverse skillset in the center of the park, making her an excellent player to build your roster around. She’s shown to be capable of succeeding in both beating players off the dribble and shutting down the opposition all over the pitch, a quality that I’m sure will delight her new coach Christy Holly.
The Kentucky side also took defender Kaleigh Riehl from Sky Blue’s unprotected list, in what looks to be more of a long term move with the center back on loan to Paris FC until at least 2021. Riehl never made an appearance for Sky Blue, but the former Penn State Nittany Lion was highly rated heading into last year’s college draft, a touting backed up by SBFC selecting her with the 11th pick. Riehl will be a part of a rather youthful Louisville defensive core, which also includes another 2020 rookie in Addisyn Merrick, former Sky Blue defender Erin Simon, and Simon’s fellow New Jersey native Julia Ashley.
Outside of spoiling the night of many Sky Blue fans, the general strategy pursued by Racing Louisville in the later parts of the draft was a smart and safe one. They picked a building block to win games immediately with picks such as veteran goalkeeper Michelle Betos but also potential difference makers for down the line, as they acquired the rights to Tobin Heath and Christen Press, two USWNT stars who recently left for English giants Manchester United.