Rules and restrictions define NWSL “Free Agency”

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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.

Report: Man City could use Gabriel Jesus to get Rodri

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At the root of this report is a question to which we don’t know the answer: How highly does Pep Guardiola rate Gabriel Jesus?

A report from Spanish outlet AS says Guardiola could use his young striker to lure Atletico Madrid into a swap deal, landing Manchester City their stirring defensive midfielder Rodri.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

Rodri is a nearly year older than 22-year-old Jesus, and is more instrumental to his current club. One of Atletico Madrid’s top talents, his $78 million release clause is an obvious route for City.

If Guardiola doesn’t see Jesus as a huge part of the club’s future, however, the manager may be able to go nearly like-for-like money-wise.

Jesus scored nearly every other game for City in all competitions, nabbing 21 goals in 47 matches, and has 13 goals in 27 caps for Brazil. Those are good numbers, especially with still-electric Sergio Aguero turning 31 this summer.

At his relatively tender age, Jesus has appeared 100 times for Man City and his 45 goals are made more impressive by less than 5600 total minutes in those matches.

Giving up on him to complete his midfield is a tough one. We think it’s more likely Guardiola pays the release clause… unless the manager simply doesn’t rate the player.

Players to watch at the U-20 World Cup

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The U-20 World Cup begins this week in Poland, and there are a bevy of future stars to watch, as well as several who will make their names during the tournament.

We’ll focus on the former. While England’s failure to qualify somewhat limits the Premier League starlets on show, there are still plenty from the English top flight.


Tim Weah, United States (PSG) — After a loan at Celtic and time with the full USMNT, how much can he dominate back in his age group?

Alban Lafont, France (Fiorentina) — At age 20, he’s already the starter between the sticks for his Serie A mainstays.

Diego Lainez, Mexico (Real Betis) — Eighteen with 12 league appearances for Real Betis, Lainez is a massive part of El Tri‘s future and carries four caps to his name.

Ruben Vinagre, Portugal (Wolves) — Wolves were promoted, and Vinagre actually made eight more appearances (17) than he made in the Championship.

Ezequiel Barco, Argentina (Atlanta United) — His sophomore season for the Five Stripes has been better than his debut campaign, though that’s not saying a ton given the hype.

Evan N’Dicka, France (Eintracht Frankfurt) — Plenty of playing time in the Bundesliga at the age of 19 for this towering center back.

Paxton Pomykal, United States (FC Dallas) — Looking good in MLS. How much should that translate on this stage?

Andriy Lunin, Ukraine (Real Madrid) — Won’t be wearing the white of Madrid in meaningful action any time soon, but made four appearances on loan for Leganes as a 20-year-old.

Sebastian Soto, United States (Hannover 96) — Not the American-born Bundesliga starlet we expected had we created this list months ago, but Soto has made his Bundesliga debut, so there’s a lot to like while Josh Sargent works with the full USMNT.

Dan Zagadou, France (Borussia Dortmund) — The left- and center back has 25 first team appearances for BVB at 19.

Diogo Dalot, Portugal (Manchester United) — Red Devils supporters know about this fella, who was purchased under the watch of Jose Mourinho last summer.

Mickael Cuisance, France (Borussia Monchengladbach) — Took a step back after his blockbuster ‘Gladbach breakthrough in 2017-18, but will be a key piece for the favorites.

Moussa Sylla, France (Monaco) — The winger is already a factor for AS Monaco, even if they struggled this season.

Bonus: Erling Håland, Denmark (Red Bull Salzburg); Ronald Araujo, Uruguay (Barcelona); Tom Dele-Bashiru, Nigeira (Manchester City).

De Ligt reportedly chooses Barcelona; Klopp set at CB

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Liverpool, Manchester United, and pretty much everyone but Barcelona looks set to miss out on Matthijs de Ligt.

De Ligt, 19, has paired with Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk while in the Netherlands national team set-up, but reportedly is opting to join Ajax teammate Frenkie de Jong at Barcelona.

[ MORE: Brighton hires new boss ]

In the case of Liverpool, Sky Sports says that Reds boss Jurgen Klopp thinks he doesn’t need another center back.

Injuries hit Liverpool’s center backs this season outside of Van Dijk. Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren were rated highly and combined for just over 2500 minutes, while young Joe Gomez suffered a long-term injury midway through the season.

If all are healthy, Liverpool has decent depth. Yet even Gomez doesn’t have the upside to shake a stick at De Ligt if the 19-year-old was truly interested in coming to Anfield.

I mean, “Are you interested in this 19-year-old captain of a Champions League semifinalist? He’s interested in coming there” usually doesn’t yield a firm, “No.”

As for Barcelona, it will reinforce its back line a year after allowing 36 goals. That’s pretty decent, but the Blaugranas‘ third-highest total of the last decade.

Mkhitaryan assured of safety by Azerbaijan ambassador

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The Europa League Final in Azerbaijan has not been getting a lot of positive press due to fans unwillingness to travel for the event and Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s fears of stepping foot in the country.

That’s because Mkhitaryan is the captain of Armenia’s national team, and that nation’s long dispute with Azerbaijan.

[ MORE: Brighton hires new boss ]

Arsenal, of course, plays Chelsea in the May 29 final, and Mkhitaryan already missed an earlier UEL match against Azerbaijan powers Qarabag. He’s played plenty for the Gunners this season apart from a broken foot, and his absence would not be welcome news for this London Derby of a European Final.

Azerbaijan’s UK ambassador Tahir Taghizadeh has guaranteed safety for Mkhitaryan, and said he’d be happy to personally offer assurances to the Armenian. On the other hand, this doesn’t sound like the most positive messaging, via Sky Sports:

“My message to Mkhitaryan would be: you’re a footballer, you want to play football? Go to Baku you are safe there, if you want to play the issue then that’s a different story. What I can guarantee is that the Azerbaijan government will do everything what needs to be done and provide safety and security for every fan, player and staff member coming to this game.”

By using the phrase “play the issue,” it does launch the discussion firmly into political waters. One thing’s for sure: The issue may be debatable, but whether a player feels safe deserves to be his call and his call alone.