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Rules and restrictions define NWSL “Free Agency”

Jan 26, 2013, 10:57 AM EDT

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“Free agency” is a generous description of what the National Women’s Soccer Leagues has undertaken. Starting Friday, teams were free to sign players not already allocated or drafted onto the league’s eight teams. But there’s a cap on how many players each team can sign, and those players would aren’t inked in the open market will go into a supplemental draft. There’s also assumed to be a cap on how much each “free” agent’ can make.

Regardless, the process opened up yesterday and will last until Jan. 31. Western New York, who received one fewer player in allocation, will be allowed to sign five free agents while each other team’s limited to four. The rest of the 20-woman rosters will be filled by a supplemental draft composed of players not already on NWSL rosters.

“When you are starting a league, you have to be creative and resourceful in determining the best way to stock the rosters and after discussions with all the clubs we think we’ve come up with a process that is equitable and logical,” NWSL Executive Director Cheryl Bailey said in a Friday statement. “The first part of this process will be this signing period for teams to add four, or in the case of Western New York five, additional players to the allocated players and the players taken in the college draft.”

Multiple people within the league claim most clubs had already reached verbal agreements with players well before Friday’s all clear. Former North Carolina midfielder Allie Long’s expected to go to Portland. Midfielder Sinead Farrelly will end up in Kansas City. Defensive midfielder Leslie Osborne will move to Chicago, while it’s expected former U.S. National Team defender Cat Whitehill will stay in Boston.

Equalizer Soccer has a list of other prominent free agents, the most intriguing of which may be Casey Loyd (nee Nogueira). The wife of FC Dallas defender Zach Loyd is the most talented player available in free agency and could provide a creative spark to teams who weren’t able to acquire one in allocation or the college draft. The 23-year-old former Tar Heel had been linked to the emerging North Carolina enclave in Portland, but the rumored signing of former UNC teammate Nikki Washington casts doubts on that link. Loyd staying closer to Dallas with FC Kansas City also seems unlikely, with the team said to have identified their four free agents.

With only a paucity of signings leaked over the last two weeks to distract news-hungry fans, focus has been on the “Additional Signing Period” rules; or rather, why there are rules at all. Fans have asked why a league that already has a salary cap seeks to limit individual salaries as well as the number of players clubs can sign in the open period. Restricting that open period to one week also serves to forced decisions and push players onto rosters.

The logic seems to rest in limiting the ability of a few teams to use their draw to stack squads, creating a greater competitive imbalance. At least, that explains the four (or in the case of Western New York, five) player cap.

The individual player wage cap, thought to be around $24,000, is more difficult to explain. The most plausible theory sees the cap as in line with national team players’ salaries, the restriction designed to prevent free agents from taking advantage of a scarcity better players didn’t enjoy. The move also has the obvious advantage of preventing wage escalation.

Regardless, the rules have left hardcore fans asked why the stringent restrictions with so little obvious justification.

As Bailey alludes, at the onset of a new league, there are a number of factors to consider when creating the first squads. For a sport that’s seen two professional leagues fold in the last 10 years, it’s understandable the federation’s taken a conservative approach. But for the hungry if small women’s professional soccer fan base, the unexpected regulations still lack explanation.

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