Doing a Deal in Women’s Football: USA


In our next installment of ‚How to Complete a Football Transfer Anywhere in the World,‘ we turn our attention to the world of women’s football in the United States of America, with a particular focus on the marquee National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Although conducting transfers in women’s football may appear somewhat similar to the processes in men’s football, the NWSL’s distinctive registration rules, salary caps, and league regulations can present agents with a unique set of challenges.

In this blog, we will guide you through the intricate process of player deals within the National Women’s Soccer League, shedding light on its distinctive regulations.

The Main Differences

One of the most unique features of any major American sports league is its “draft system,” and the NWSL is no different, with its own “NWSL Draft”. The NWSL Draft is an annual event that takes place before the start of the season in which NWSL teams select college players and eligible individuals to join their teams. The draft order is determined by the league’s standings, and it plays a pivotal role in player allocation and team-building within the league.

The distinctive feature of the NWSL Draft is its significant emphasis on player development and the cultivation of domestic talent. Given the absence of youth academies within the clubs, the NWSL Draft provides talented college players with an opportunity to transition into professional soccer. Instead of exclusively focusing on established players or facing the inherent financial risks of developing youth academies, this draft format supports a continuous cycle of talent development, ensuring a consistent influx of promising athletes into the league’s ranks.

Another hallmark of the NWSL is its unique player trade system. The player trades primarily involve the exchange of player rights, draft picks, and various assets, setting it apart from the

typical transfer practices seen in other leagues. These trades are subject to league approval and must conform to Salary Cap and Roster requirements. The assets traded can include players, rights, future draft choices, allocation money, and international roster spots. This provides an intriguing prospect for agents, as they would need to understand the player trade mechanism as well as the league’s financial and roster regulations in depth. Successful negotiation strategies should align with a team’s current roster needs and future aspirations, ensuring the best possible outcomes for their clients.

Below is an example to understand the player trade system better;

Let’s consider two NWSL clubs, Team A and Team B. Team A has a talented midfielder named Ashley, but they are looking to strengthen their defense. On the other hand, Team B is in need of a creative midfielder like Ashley.

Step 1: Trade Proposal

Team A reaches out to Team B to discuss a potential trade involving Ashley. They express their interest in acquiring a defender from Team B.

Step 2: Negotiations

Team A and Team B engage in negotiations to determine the terms of the trade. They consider various elements such as player rights, draft picks, and other assets to be exchanged.

– Team A offers Ashley to Team B.
– Team B offers one of their talented defenders, Emma, in return.
– Additionally, Team A agrees to include their second-round draft pick in the next NWSL Draftas part of the trade.
– Team B also receives an allocation of $50,000 in Allocation Money.

Step 3: Trade Agreement

Both teams agree to the terms of the trade and execute an official Trade Agreement Form (Exhibit E) as required by the NWSL.

Step 4: League Approval

The trade is submitted to the NWSL for approval. The league reviews the trade to ensure that it complies with Salary Cap and Roster requirements and that all elements of the trade are accurately disclosed.

Step 5: League Approval and Finalization

Once the NWSL approves the trade, it becomes binding on both teams. Ashley officially moves to Team B, and Emma joins Team A. The trade is now finalized.

It’s important to highlight that, unlike the transfer dynamics in top European leagues, players in the NWSL have minimal control over their trades. To address this, many Standard Player Agreements now incorporate a „No Trade“ clause, aimed at providing players with a degree of stability and control in their careers.

In this hypothetical scenario, both teams benefit from the trade, addressing their specific needs on the roster. The trade involves the exchange of players, draft picks, and Allocation Money, all subject to league approval and compliance with NWSL regulations.

Trade Structure and Registration Rules

Trades that include a Player or Rights may take place during the off-season or during the dates mentioned by FIFA in their Worldwide registration periods calendar. For the 2023 year, the FIFA Registration window dates were as follows:


Registration Window Start Date

Registration Window Close Close Date

First Registration Window



Second Registration Window



Worldwide registration periods calendar(2023-24) Source: FIFA (2023)

The following is the schedule for the NWSL Trade Windows for the 2023 NWSL Season;



January 4, 2023

Transaction Moratorium Ends; Trade Window Reopens for Re-signings and Option Extensions for 2024 Season Contracts

February 3, 2023

First Transfer Window Opens; Trade Window Remains Open

April 27, 2023

First Transfer Window Closes; Trade Window Closes

June 28, 2023

Second Transfer Window Opens; Trade Window Reopens

July 25, 2023

Second Transfer Window Closes; Trade Window Closes

November 13, 2023

Trade Window Opens

December 4, 2023

Trade Window Closes

December 15, 2023

Trade Window Opens

December 22, 2023

Transaction Moratorium Begins

2023 NWSL Season Competition Calendar Source: NWSL(2023)

There are various methods to bring players into NWSL teams, to simplify the understanding here’s a table that has a brief explanation of each way a player can be part of an NWSL team.




Free Agency

6+ NWSL Service Years (2023), 5+ NWSL Service Years (2024)

Experienced players can negotiate new SPAs (standard player agreements) with chosen teams after the Roster Freeze date, regardless of their current team’s rights.

Restricted Free Agency

3+ NWSL Service Years (2024)

Players can select a team to negotiate a new SPA; the current team has 7 days to match any offer received.

NWSL Entry Draft

Drafted Players

Players register for the Entry Draft; selected players‘ rights can be offered an SPA, traded, or waived by the drafting team.

NWSL Expansion Draft

Protected/Unprotected Players

Occurs during league expansion; teams protect and lose players based on rules; no partial immunity.

Discovery Process

Players on Discovery List

Teams add players to their Discovery List; 30 days to sign a SPA; competing teams may request the player with time limits for negotiations.


Players subject to trade agreements

Players can be traded between teams during specific trade windows; potential for no-trade clauses in SPA.

Waiver Wire

Available players on Waiver Wire

Teams add players from Waiver Wire; if unclaimed within 24 hours, players may be acquired through free agency or the Discovery Process.

Source: 2023 NWSL Competition Manual

Each team roster can be composed of two types of players, Senior Roster Players and Supplemental Roster Players. Senior roster players are eligible for any compensation, including bonuses, as allowed by NWSL policies. The salaries of Senior Roster Players count against the Salary Cap. Supplemental Roster Players are domestic players who sign a Semi-Guaranteed Standard Player Agreement for the League Minimum Salary. They are only eligible for the League-provided Post-Season and Award Bonuses. Salaries of Supplemental Roster Players do not count against the Salary Cap.

As of the 2023 NWSL Competition Rules, each team has 5 roster slots for International players, these international players must occupy the Senior Roster Player slot. Teams can increase or decrease the number of international player slots they have through trades amongst other NWSL teams, however, the maximum period these slots can be traded is for the current season plus three additional seasons. It is important for agents to be proactive on the number of international slots each team is occupying, as it is often the case these numbers fluctuate and can dictate the arrival of foreign talents into the league.

An exclusive concept within the NWSL is the ‚Discovery Player.‘ This distinctive system enables teams to identify and secure player rights for individuals who meet specific criteria. Each NWSL team has the opportunity to maintain a list of up to seven discovery players at any given time. These discovery players encompass both domestic and international talents who are currently outside of the NWSL ecosystem, have not participated in previous or upcoming drafts, and are not under contract with any team within the league.

Visa Eligibility

Foreign players interested in playing in the NWSL can qualify for a P-1 visa as internationally recognized athletes. To be eligible, they must demonstrate a high level of skill and recognition beyond the norm, with achievements renowned in multiple countries. The NWSL should host competitions requiring the participation of such athletes. Additionally, the league shall cover any reasonable costs relating to a player who might need a Visa to be eligible to play in the league. Whereas costs related to a Player’s Green Card will be paid by the team, these costs shall not count toward the team’s salary cap.

Financial and Payment Details

Operating as a single-entity league, the NWSL is responsible for contractual matters of players on behalf of the teams and is also responsible for establishing a salary cap that each team has to adhere to. It is the responsibility of the league to oversee the financial matters between the clubs and the players. Here’s a table of the financial details established by the league for the 2023 NWSL Season:

2023 NWSL Salary Cap Information


Team Salary Cap


Allocation Deposit


Minimum Salary


Maximum Salary Budget Charge


Minimum Salary Buydown Amount


Source: National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Players‘ Association CBA

As per the 2023 NWSL Competition regulations, the salary cap charges for players are determined by adding players‘ base salary to performance bonuses, roster bonuses, agent fees, or team-related expenses. While travel expenses, parental and dependent care expenses (up to the IRS maximum), housing, automobile, and relocation expenses shall now count towards the salary cap.

Allocation Money serves as a valuable tool for NWSL teams to strategically manage their salary cap. It allows teams to do several things, including reducing a player’s salary cap charge(1), especially for players earning above the league’s maximum salary. This helps teams balance their budgets while retaining key players. Additionally, Allocation Money can be used to pay transfer or loan fees when acquiring players from outside the NWSL(2), and facilitating player trades between teams within the NWSL(3). In essence, Allocation Money provides teams with financial flexibility within the confines of the salary cap, enabling them to make roster adjustments and improve their competitive position.

Since February 1, 2022, The NWSL has recognized the NWSLPA( NWSL Player Association) as the exclusive representative for negotiating employment terms and conditions for all current and potential professional soccer players under specific categories: (a) those previously employed by NWSL seeking reemployment and training opportunities, (b) players selected in the

NWSL Draft each year, and (c) players who registered for the Entry Draft but were not drafted and seek employment and training opportunities.

Both parties agree that these individuals and the NWSL Teams can negotiate and agree upon Standard Player Agreements (SPAs) individually, following the terms of this Agreement. Together these parties have agreed upon a Collective Bargaining Agreement(CBA).

As provided by the CBA, the league’s minimum salaries are as follows:


Minimum Salary











Source: National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Players‘ Association CBA

Players receive various benefits based on their contract type, extending beyond their salaries. Typically, these benefits encompass medical, dental, and life insurance, as well as long-term disability coverage. Players also adhere to local worker compensation laws dictated by each club. Furthermore, each player enjoys housing and automobile services, alongside access to a supported 401K plan provided by the league.

According to Section 9.8 of the CBA, if a player becomes pregnant, they shall receive 100% of their agreed-upon base salary in their SPA. This arrangement offers more advantageous conditions for female players, safeguarding their interests throughout their pregnancy. Additionally, Section 9.11 of the CBA stipulates that players are entitled to full base salary coverage for the initial 8 weeks of their parental leave.

Here are some performance-based bonuses the NWSL gives out for its league and cup competition. Each amount is the minimum performance bonus given to each eligible player, this amount may be funded in whole or partly by sponsors:



NWSL Shield


NWSL Champion


NWSL Runner-Up


NWSL Semi-Finalist


NWSL Quarterfinalist


Challenge Cup Champion


Challenge Cup Runner-Up


Source: National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Players‘ Association CBA

Additionally, these are the following performance bonuses due to selected players. Each amount is the minimum bonus which can be funded in whole or partly by sponsors.



Best 11 Award


Rookie of the Year


Most Valuable Player


Golden Boot


Defender of the Year


Goalkeeper of the Year


All-Star Bonus


Source: National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Players‘ Association CBA


In conclusion, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) offers a unique landscape in women’s football, marked by its distinctive rules and player transaction processes. Understanding the intricacies of player deals, trade systems, and roster regulations is essential for agents, players, and enthusiasts looking to engage with the league.

Beyond these complexities, the NWSL is a dynamic and growing force within women’s football, providing exciting opportunities for talent development and professional advancement. It serves as a stage where athletes can thrive and contribute to the continued growth of the women’s game. Whether you’re an aspiring player, coach, or agent, the NWSL represents a promising avenue to be part of this ever-evolving sporting community.

To learn more about the National Women’s Soccer League, please check out the following links:

NWSL 2023 Rules and Policies NWSL-NWSLPA CBA

Dr Erkut Sogut & Rucheek Kuppachi

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