Thursday night was always going to be a night to remember. The Kansas City Current entered the 2023 NWSL Draft with seven picks (after sending an eighth away earlier in the week). That many picks can shape a roster for years to come, especially with several in the first two rounds.
But no one would expect the bombshell that ended up being dropped.
To start the draft off, Kansas City traded up to the number two overall pick. A move not uncommon for this team after they traded up to the fourth overall pick in their inaugural season in 2021 to select fullback Kiki Pickett. That move cost $175,000 in allocation money.
However, tonight was a stunner. Because the cost wasn’t allocation money, but instead was United States Women’s National Team forward Lynn Williams. The trade with NJ/NY Gotham was Williams for the second overall pick, straight up. The Current went on to pick Duke forward Michelle Cooper who has accolades for days. And early reviews of the trade are positive.
2 - KC - Michelle Cooper - F (CF) - Duke— Chris Henderson (@chris_awk) January 12, 2023
VALUE - A+
FIT - A+
Great move for KC. I think Cooper could have a higher ceiling than Williams, especially off injury. Should be pushing for starter minutes right away in position of need.
That doesn’t mean we can’t still be a little shocked. At this point, it’s impossible to know if it’s a good or bad trade and only time will tell. Lynn Williams is one of the most successful players in NWSL history and Cooper has big shoes to fill. But she’s young (leaving college after her sophomore season) and a prolific goal scorer. She’s also not coming off an injury and will be much cheaper than Williams against the (increasing) salary cap.
Instead, let’s take a look at how we got here and the value of these high draft picks.
Timeline and Significance of Moves
The draft matters greatly in the NWSL. Look at the first overall pick and basically everyone in league history has become a National Team player. There are draft picks involved all over the moves that led us to where we are today. Let’s start with how Lynn Williams came to KC.
Williams only joined the Current ahead of the 2022 season and was injured in literally the first game she ever played, during the preseason Challenge Cup. She never suited up again during the regular season (or playoffs) and has only recently regained fitness as she earned a USWNT call-up for January camp.
She arrived just last January (almost a year to the day) via a trade with the North Carolina Courage. Kansas City sent $200,000 in allocation money, GK Katelyn Rowland and a 2023 first round pick to NCC for Williams and their natural second and fourth round picks.
That first round pick ended up being the 11th overall pick since KC made the NWSL Finals. The Courage selected Haley Hopkins 11th, who is teammates with KC’s 10th overall pick, Alexa Spaanstra, at the University of Virginia. KC selected goalkeeper Jordan Silkowitz at 18 (round two) and midfielder Rylan Childers from Kansas University at 42 (round four).
In the short-term, KC didn’t get much for their money for Williams, but if any of those picks hit (or the Cooper pick), it’ll look better.
Trade Values of High Draft Picks
We mentioned KC sending $175,000 for the 4th overall pick two drafts ago, but there are numerous other trades involving high draft picks. Let’s take a look at a few.
Just earlier this week, Angel City FC gave up $450,000, the fifth overall pick and a 2024 second round pick to acquire the first overall pick. Whoa! They grabbed high schooler and National Team call up, Alyssa Thompson. It’ll be interesting to watch the careers of Thompson and Cooper to see who made better deals, but there is no doubt Cooper was had for way fewer assets.
In fact, the very pick that was traded from Gotham to KC, had been traded from the Orlando Pride to Gotham as a part of that four-team trade that landed ACFC at the top of the draft. Gotham sent $350,000 in allocation money to Orlando for that pick. Considering KC sent just over half that much allocation money, a GK (who is now out of contract) and a late first round pick for Williams and then Williams was basically flipped for the equivalent of $350,000 AM, that feels like good value. Especially when she’s coming off a year-long injury and her value may have actually increased by that math.
Also, in the 2023 draft, NJ/NY Gotham traded back up towards the top for the 4th overall pick with Racing Louisville. They gave up $150,000 in allocation money, an international roster spot and the rights to forward Paige Monaghan (who herself was the 10th overall pick in 2019).
Going back one more draft to 2022, there are several other high-profile trades. The second overall pick moved from Angel City to Racing Louisville, along with $75,000 in allocation money, for Cristen Press. Angel City also agreed not to draft any Louisville players in the expansion draft. Racing Louisville ended up picking Jaelin Howell, who already has several senior USWNT appearances.
KC were also involved in a big trade for the 3rd pick in that draft. They sent 2021 4th overall pick Kiki Pickett and the 3rd pick to North Carolina for Sam Mewis. That may turn out to be a terrible trade as Mewis also missed all of 2022 and coach Matt Potter has been vague in his responses on her progress towards playing in 2023. I’m not optimistic we see her anytime soon.
One Last Aside
All this talk of allocation money is a new thing in the NWSL. In the last few seasons, as US Soccer uncoupled itself from the NWSL in terms of paying the salaries of USWNT players, the league has repeatedly increased the salary cap and allocation money specifically.
NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman said that the salary cap has raised 25% to $1.375 million and allocation money to $600,000 #NWSL— Thad (@TheBackpost) January 12, 2023
Because of that, the market for allocation money is a moving target and the increased availability of it could be causing inflation of its value. Something to keep an eye on as the league grows increasingly transparent. Now if only we could find out salaries!
For now, as we said before, it’s too early to tell if this trade will work out for Kansas City, Gotham, both or neither. But in terms of pure value of picks and players, it seems Kansas City got a very good return on the Lynn Williams trade. If Michelle Cooper turns into a star, it’ll look even better, and Gotham may be afraid to trade with KC after they already got such a great return on the Victoria Pickett trade last season.
How are you feeling about the trade? How are you coping with Williams being gone before she got started? Let’s commiserate in the comments.
Update 3:38 PM: Lynn seems surprised by the trade as well.