The National Women’s Soccer League will hold their ninth annual draft on Wednesday. The ongoing pandemic has forced the league and prospective players to take a look at the unknowns in front of them, and the event will take place virtually instead of in person.
Here’s how you can watch the draft and what to know:
- Date: Wednesday, Jan. 13
- Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
- Live stream: Twitch
What is the NWSL draft?
Once referred to as the NWSL college draft, the league rebranded as the NWSL draft for 2021 as more players sought out professional avenues to leave college and turn professional earlier. Previously, players were selected after completing collegiate terms, while in recent years rule shifts have paved the way for younger players in the middle of their college playing years to go pro. Tierna Davidson (19′), Sophia Smith (20′), and Ashley Sanchez (20′) are all recent players who have forgone their college eligibly to take the jump to go pro.
NWSL teams participate in four rounds during the draft process, with each team getting a number of timeouts to utilize as well. The introduction of Racing Louisville FC as the newest expansion team will round out the leagues teams to 10, with all clubs participating and Louisville holding the number one pick overall.
What is different about this year’s draft?
Both professional and collegiate seasons were heavily impacted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In an effort to try and conduct the draft in a way that would give players maximum flexibility, the league sought out a waiver with the NCAA that would allow student-athletes who registered for the draft to decide if they will report to their NWSL club before or after the spring collegiate season.
The NCAA ultimately approved the waiver, though not until registration for the draft had already begun, allowing DI student-athletes to register for the draft, go through the process and still have until January 22, 2021 to decide if they plan to report to the team that drafted them on February 1 to begin preseason, or if they plan to play collegiately in the spring season and then report to NWSL.
But because the waiver approval process took so long, and because there were so many unresolved questions around adjusted seasons both collegiately and professionally, the number of players declaring themselves eligible for the draft decreased, leading to another change. In an attempt to broaden the player pool of selection, the league approved another rule adjustment to the draft. The draft registration requirement was eliminated, essentially expanding the eligible player pool.
With the pandemic delaying the NCAA soccer season for spring 2021, the league waived the requirement for certain college athletes to register for the draft and play in the league. All Division I players with three years of intercollegiate soccer eligibility prior to the 2020-2021 academic year are now available for draft selection. Should a player be selected by a club, the team will hold the player rights for a period of time determined by the league.
They are all bold choices that are meant to give teams more options for player selections this year, but ultimately ones made out of necessity as opposed to a slower more considered process. But, despite the newness, teams will be quite familiar with the concept of drafting players who ultimately decide not to play for them. There have been numerous players in past drafts who have declared for the draft, but chose not to report to the club that selected them, choosing instead to play overseas.
It’s still possible league might put out a list of players who specifically declared for the draft despite the new rule adjustment giving teams a more concrete picture of which eligible players in the draft do, in fact, actively want to get drafted. The chaotic nature of this years draft means that there will be some players who do not desire to be selected at all, with their playing rights held as an asset for the foreseeable future, while others will be one step closer to achieving a personal dream of playing professional soccer.
The excitement around this particular year is different, compared to years prior, and if the draft is successful, the energy initially generated through the uncertainty of changing the rules on the fly could pave the way for future draft adjustments next year.