NWSL Roster Rules in Normal Human English


Reading the NWSL roster rules sometimes feels like it requires a law degree, a dictionary, and a strong drink.

The 7,248 words that make the roster rules up can seem daunting. Like they were not meant to be understood. But I am here to make it all make sense.

I present (most of the important parts of) the NWSL Roster Rules in Normal Human English.

Team Salary Cap Regulations

Team Salary Cap

Each team gets $315,000 to spend on building their team. They can’t pay any player more than $41,700 or less than $15,000 for their talents.

If a team has less than 18 players on their roster, the league will fill the missing spots with the weight of non-USWNT or CanWNT players to get to 18 to calculate the team salary capThis sometimes happens for teams with a lot of Federation Players, since as the team doesn’t pay for them. Players brought on because of roster relief and goalkeeping replacement must fit under the cap too.

Important Numbers

  • Team Salary Cap: $315,000.
  • Minimum Salary: $15,000.
  • Maximum Salary: $41,700.

Roster Limits

Every team has 18 to 20 players under contract. The only exception is when injuries and goalkeeping replacements are added to the roster. 

We’ll get there later.

League Classifications

The league makes this way harder than it needs to be. But here goes.


Someone who is either under contract with a team or who has their rights controlled by a team. (E.G. Jess Fishlock)


They don’t play in the NWSL but they are eligible to. (E.G. Crystal Dunn)

Federation Player

A player that has USWNT or CanWNT pay their bills. (E.G. Becky Sauerbrunn or Christine Sinclair)

Unattached Federation Individual

There are two ways to be an Unattached Federation Individual:

  1. If a player is not currently on an NWSL roster, but the USWNT or CanWNT has stated that she will be a Federation Player (Allocated was the old term) if she joins the league.
  2. If the NWSL grants permission, a team may waive their rights up to a Federation Player, who then becomes an Unattached Federation Individual.

The best example of this status is Rose Lavelle before the 2017 NWSL draft. Boston, and everyone else, knew she’d be a Federation Player, but until she was on a roster she was an Unattached Federation Individual. 

Domestic Players

A U.S. citizen, a permanent resident (Green Card holder), or someone who has been granted refugee or asylum status. Basically, this means ‘not an international player.’ (E.G. Kelley O’Hara)

International Players

Someone who is not a US Citizen, who does not have a Green Card and who isn’t a Canadian Federation Player.

According to the league, each team has slots for four international players, but those slots have been traded around, so the actual available space is quite different.  It sometimes seems like it takes a Masters to figure out who actually has what. (E.G. Francisca Ordega)

Amateur Players

A serf whose labor is used by NWSL without receiving the benefits and wages of full Players. They can’t be paid. Really. Each team gets up to 10. 

Some teams treat their serfs better than others.

Still bullshit.


Boston Breakers, Houston Dash, Chicago Red Stars, FC Kansas City, North Carolina Courage, Orlando Pride, Portland Thorns FC, Seattle Reign FC, Sky Blue FC and Washington Spirit.

Yes, this is listed out. For real. No, I’m not kidding.

Expansion Team

Houston and Orlando basically. Maybe others in the future.


The USWNT and CanWNT.

For some reason, Mexico is still listed as a Federation even though only one Mexican player is in the league right now and that player isn’t a Federation player (i.e., Mexico does not pay her salary). It’s a long story.


There are a lot of ways to get into the NWSL. Let’s look at the ones you need to really know.

Player Distribution Process

Remember the thing Washington traded Krieger to get? That let them end up with Pugh? Yeah, that’s this.

It’s effectively a priority list for access to Federation Players that enter the league. Like with the draft, if you were bad the year before you’re high on the list. Good and you are low.

It can be traded.

Once you use it, you drop to last in the order.

College Draft

It’s the draft.

There are four rounds of ten picks each. Picks can be traded for other picks, for players, for international player spots, for a ham sandwich and a pack of gum.

The teams get 15 days once a draftee reports to camp to decide if they want to extend a contract or not.


They played for one team and now they play for another.

Okay, it’s more complex than that but that’s basically it. Trades. You know what these are.

Loans and Transfers

They played in another league and now they are in the NWSL.

There are rules of when they can come and go into the league. And it’s complicated and you don’t need to worry about it too much. But that’s why Carli Lloyd couldn’t just start playing for the Dash right away when her stint in London was done.

Amateur Call-up

If a Federation Player is away with their national team then an NWSL team can call up an amateur player.

There is paperwork the clubs have to submit to the league. They can pay for “necessary expenses as approved by the League” but may not “provide any compensation to the Amateur Player.” What this means is that they might get a per diem for expenses related to playing on the road, but they don’t earn a paycheck for their play.

Again, bullshit.

Goalkeeper Exception

Sometimes a goalkeeper gets hurt. You have to have two on the roster at all times. So when one of your goalkeepers are down you can pick up another. Teams have to keep under the salary cap while doing it.

Disabled List

There are really two kinds of injuries in the NWSL. Short-term and season ending.

Short‐Term Injury – 45 Day DL

The team’s staff thinks they will be out 45 days or more but not the full season.

You can put them on the week to week DL but doing that means that they still take up a roster spot. If you move them to the 45 day DL you can bring in a player to replace them until their D45 is up.

If they are better in less than 45 days? Tough. They have to sit out the full 45 days.

Season‐Ending Injury

Pretty much what it says on the box. Out for the year.

See: half of the league, because what are healthy ACLs this season?


How do teams get rid of players they don’t want? Glad you asked.


Teams can waive players pretty much at any point during the year before the Roster Freeze Date. A date at which the rosters are given the Anna treatment from Frozen. 

This year that date is Tuesday, August 29, 2017. 

Waiver Wire

Once a player is waived, they can be picked up by other teams. Teams submit paperwork if they want the player. In cases where more than one team wants to take a waived player, the team with the worse record gets them.

Contract Expiration

Once a contract runs out, a player might choose not to re-sign. If they do, the club retains their rights until the next off-season. This is to prevent a player from leaving one team just because they got a better offer somewhere else. Yeah. Crazy. I know.


Player Registration

If you are not registered with U.S. Soccer then no NWSL for you.

Player Tryouts

So there are a lot of rules about trying out players. They mostly come down to the following:

  • Make sure their paperwork is in
  • They can’t be a current NWSL player on another team
  • You have 15 days to decide once preseason starts
  • When in doubt ask the league.


So quick preseason rules:

  • The league decides when your preseason starts, and you will burn in a fire if they catch you practicing with a player before that date. That means no working out with coaches, trainers, or anyone else in the team’s management. Yes, really. This does not mean that players cannot decide to work out or train together, only that it cannot be mandated, scheduled, arranged, overseen, etc., by someone in the coaching or management groups.
  • If a player is in preseason with one team, no other team can put the moves on them until the first team lets them go.
  • 15 days into preseason the coach has to decide on the non-contracted players and draftees.
  • They better be on the roster if they are playing in any scrimmages or exhibition games or it’s back to the fire for you.
  • The first roster submitted is 32. Then 25. And then the final 20 person roster comes out just before opening weekend.

Off-Season Training

Don’t do it. The league will bust your ass if you do.

These aren’t all the rules in all the detail. To try and cover everything would have left me writing for a week straight. But these are a lot of the rules that fans will need most of the time. I skipped over some things that don’t come up often, sure, but when they come up usually they deserve their own pieces to explain why it’s good or bad the rule was there.

As the end of the day understanding the rules, even the ones we don’t like, helps us understand the league a little better.

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