Bay FC: The NWSL expansion team making an instant splash with their squad building

Neel Shelat uses TransferLab to look at how an expansion team goes about building its squad

The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) finds itself in a unique position right now. It is unquestionably among the best women’s soccer leagues in the world, not just because of its status as the top division in the most successful nation historically, but also due to the quality of its players, coaches, and clubs. At the same time, it is still a growing league. Two new teams joined the party in 2022, two more will join in 2024, and a further two spots remain open as the league is targeting a 16-team table by 2026.

Of course, unlike most parts of the world, the football pyramid in the United States of America does not feature any promotion or relegation, so these additions come in the form of expansion clubs. In most cases, these are clubs formed from scratch who are immediately flung into what is an incredibly tough league.

The formation of an NWSL expansion side must be one of the most unique tasks in football, with various sets of challenges ranging from logistical and financial ones to sporting ones. The latter category is what we will be focusing on in this piece, and the squad-building angle to be specific.

Bringing together a full roster of players in just one window is difficult enough, but NWSL expansion clubs also have to reckon with the league’s rules which include international player limits, salary caps and various other budget caps. Through four different channels – the expansion draft, transfers/trades, free agency signings and the draft – Bay FC now have assembled a squad of 23 players as they gear up for their debut season.

Using TransferLab’s state-of-the-art benchmarking model as well as its intuitive player profile interface, we can easily assess Bay FC’s recruitment.

Expansion Draft

The expansion draft is a much-debated procedure, with many calling into question the lack of autonomy players are afforded, but it remains an important avenue for new NWSL teams to build a base of experienced senior professionals in their nascent squad. The 2024 expansion draft was held last December, meaning these players were among Bay FC’s very first signings.

Alyssa Malonson

Bay FC had the first pick in the expansion draft, and they went for OL Reign full back Alyssa Malonson.

The 24-year-old defender is capable of playing on either side of defence but certainly favours the left by virtue of being left-footed. After impressing at the NCAA level, she was snapped up by the North Carolina Courage in the 2021 draft. She was acquired by the Reign before making her senior debut but barely featured for them either. She only saw consistent senior action on loan in Denmark with FC Nordsjælland, for whom she was very impressive.

Our model gives her a Goal Difference Added (GDA) rating of 0.16, which should translate quite well to the NWSL. As these percentile bars show, her on-ball quality which includes things like progressive passing, pass accuracy, carrying and crossing places her among the upper echelons of NWSL full backs, while she can also be a very solid tackler and 1v1 defender.

All things considered, Malonson appears a very shrewd pick. Her talents have not really been given the opportunity to shine in the NWSL, but from what she has shown elsewhere, she could instantly establish herself as one of the better left-backs in the division. At just 24 years old, she has a long career ahead of her too, so she could well improve further.

Tess Boade

Bay FC’s second pick in the expansion draft was forward Tess Boade, who played for the North Carolina Courage last year.

The 25-year-old profiles as the definition of an all-round striker, as she excels at almost everything except for aerial duels. Link-up play and chance creation are her standout attributes, but her goal-scoring record is not befitting a pure striker.

One of Boade’s biggest strengths is her versatility as she can operate almost anywhere across the front line, so that is what Bay FC might want from her above all else. As we will go on to explore, they have subsequently signed some incredible goal-getters, so the 25-year-old forward’s main responsibility will likely be to supply those players. For that role, she seems a great fit. No player is signed in isolation, but one of the most intriguing aspects of expansion club squad building is working out how the pieces all fit together, and Boade’s acquisition is a good example of that.

Rachel Hill

Rachel Hill’s move to Bay FC was among those that led to the aforementioned criticism of the expansion draft, as she had only joined the San Diego Wave as a free agent ahead of last season.

On the pitch, the 28-year-old is an incredibly versatile player who can play almost anywhere on either flank, though she prefers the right side. Last season, the Wave predominantly used her as a right winger but gave her a lot of defensive responsibilities. So, she was among the league’s best wide players in terms of high regains as well as counterpressing recoveries.

Our model believes she can be a very good winger in such a role or shine as an attacking right back, so Bay FC will have a decision to make based on the rest of the squad as well as the style of play and tactics they want to implement.

Katelyn Rowland

Finally, Bay FC picked a goalkeeper in the shape of Katelyn Rowland.

She served as a backup goalkeeper for the North Carolina Courage last season but has the quality to compete for a starting spot for her new club according to TransferLab’s ratings. She profiles as a ball-playing goalkeeper who excels at short passing play, but her shot-stopping could use some work.

Free Agents

Besides the expansion draft, free agency is the other avenue for new NWSL teams to add senior experience to their squad without having to worry about transfer fees. Bay FC made five such signings, all of whom were in the defensive department. We’ve excluded Emmie Allen, former first-choice goalkeeper of a North Carolina Tar Heels side that did well in the NCAA Division 1, from our analysis because she’s been brought in as the third choice GK.

Jordan Brewster

Bay FC announced Jordan Brewster’s signing after their pre-season and just a few days before the start of the NWSL season, but she could prove to be a real difference-maker in this team.

Without her, our model indicated a need for another strong centre back in the squad, and Brewster is just that. The 24-year-old defender made the unconventional decision of directly moving abroad after her collegiate career, and that has worked a treat for her.

She spent 2023 in Sweden with Kristianstad, for whom she was a fairly regular starter at the heart of a good defence under the hugely experienced head coach Elisabet Gunnarsdottir. She showed excellent defensive qualities both 1v1 and in duels, as well as great progressive passing.

Our model believes Brewster has the quality to become an instant starter in this Bay FC squad. Considering the late nature of her signing, though, she might take some time to fully make herself at home, but could well become a key player at PayPal Park in the long run.

Caprice Dydasco

Caprice Dydasco was Bay FC’s second-ever signing, as the club announced her arrival as early as last November. She spent the last two seasons with the Houston Dash, for whom she stood out as a defensive full-back.

Besides offering very good defensive quality through tackling and interceptions, she was also an excellent progressor of the ball through short and especially long passing. Although she has crossed the age of 30, our model believes the 2021 NWSL defender of the year can continue to operate at a very high level for a few more years.

All signs seem to suggest that Dydasco could prove to be a stalwart in Bay FC’s defence for a good while.

Kiki Pickett

Bay FC continued their defensive reinforcement with the signing of Kiki Pickett, who also profiles best as a defensive full back.

As someone who likes to play on the left side, she will have a tough gig trying to displace Alyssa Malonson from the starting line-up but could offer a different sort of option to her head coach. While the number one expansion draft pick excels on the ball as we previously discussed, Pickett shows more promise as an out-and-out defender by some metrics.

On the whole, though, our model clearly indicates that Malonson should be Bay FC’s clear first-choice left-back, so Pickett appears to be a solid back-up option for now.

Kayla Sharples

Bay FC also added real grit to their defence with a free agency signing in the shape of centre back Kayla Sharples.

The 26-year-old defender had spent all of her time in the NWSL with the Chicago Red Stars, for whom she did a fantastic job as a dominant centre back. Her ball-playing might not be the greatest, but she has consistently been right up there with the best of her positional peers in the NWSL when it comes to defending 1v1, tackling and aerial duels.

Bay FC’s squad-building approach seemed to involve setting up a solid defensive base first and foremost, so Sharples was a great signing from that perspective.


Despite the existence of various mechanisms such as drafts, at the end of the day, an expansion team has to dip deep into the transfer market to set up a strong squad. Bay FC have been very busy in this respect from start to finish, signing players across the board and recently smashing the world record transfer fee.

Joelle Anderson

One of Bay FC’s first trades involved the Houston Dash receiving expansion protection in exchange for Joelle Anderson as well as $25,000 in allocation money.

The 25-year-old seems a great signing for Bay FC’s midfield as she can do a great job in various attack-minded roles but profiles best as a box-to-box midfielder. Her tackling and 1v1 defending are solid, but she really comes into her own with the ball at her feet. Anderson can offer a multifaceted attacking threat through progressive passing, dribbling, some chance creation and significantly dangerous shooting from open play.

Our model believes Anderson has the quality to compete for a starting spot in the Bay FC midfield, so this should be a move that works out well for both the player and the club.

Dorian Bailey

Bay FC struck a somewhat similar deal with the Washington Spirit as well, bringing in Dorian Bailey in exchange for expansion protection.

She has spent all of her senior career so far in the capital, predominantly operating as a right back for the Spirit. The 27-year-old defender has shown very impressive all-round quality going both ways. As a defender, she particularly excels in the air and also reads the game very well to make a good deal of interceptions. Going forward, she is a good progressor of the ball through short passing and offers a significant creative threat too.

Taking into account all of her qualities, our model suggests that Bailey could also do a great job as a defensive or box-to-box midfielder, so she should offer a lot of options to head coach Albertin Montoya.

Jen Beattie

One of Bay FC’s most noteworthy international transfers was that of Arsenal defender Jen Beattie.

Interestingly, our model does not rate Beattie too highly at a tier 1 benchmark. At 32 years old, she is approaching the twilight of her career so cannot be expected to get much better either as the age curve depicts.

Having given her just two starts in the WSL this season, it is easy to see why Arsenal were willing to let such an experienced campaigner move on. Bay FC have signed the Scottish international to a deal until 2025 with an option to extend for a subsequent year, so they seem to believe she still has something to offer on the pitch besides her indisputable leadership qualities.

Scarlett Camberos

A move that raised a lot of eyebrows across the NWSL was Scarlett Camberos leaving Angel City FC in exchange for expansion protection as well as $50,000 in allocation money.

The reason behind that is quite straightforward: Camberos was one of the most exciting wingers in the league last season immediately after joining in April. The two simplest expectations of a winger are dribbling and creating chances, and no one in the NWSL has come close to the Mexican international across the last two years.

Camberos can do much more than that, though, as her incredible radar chart depicts:

The Mexican international’s astronomical numbers are very easy to read – they all suggest she is already among the very best wingers in the NWSL and can remain so for many years to come. She has to be considered among the best intra-league signings this window.

Deyna Castellanos

Bay FC made a second signing from a major English club, bringing in Deyna Castellanos from Manchester City.

The Florida State University graduate never played senior football in the United States of America as she moved straight to Europe, where she quickly established herself as a rising star. After impressing with Atlético Madrid, she was signed by Manchester City in the summer of 2022.

The Venezuelan international did not see a lot of game time in the WSL this season, so she was open to a transfer this window. Bay FC pounced on the opportunity to sign a well-rounded midfielder of a very high calibre with standout on-ball qualities.

Castellanos will undoubtedly be an integral figure in Bay FC’s midfield this season, and at just 24 years old, she could have a lot to give in the future too.

Racheal Kundananji

The biggest signing not just for Bay FC, not just in the NWSL but all around the world in this window has to be Racheal Kundananji’s move to San Francisco for a world record transfer fee of $860,000.

The Zambian international does not need a lot of analysing because her record of 33 goals and 5 assists in 36.5 90s in the Spanish Liga F across the last two seasons speaks for itself.

The 23-year-old forward likes to play off the left or centrally, and clearly can pose an attacking threat in every way imaginable. Her presence alone can make any team’s attack a formidable force. In addition, her huge fee is a real statement of intent from Bay FC, and the club’s leadership will be hoping the Zambian settles well and becomes a real franchise player.

Alex Loera

Bay FC’s very first signing was that of midfielder Alex Loera, who was signed from the Kansas City Current for $175,000 in allocation money as well as expansion draft protection.

Her work in the last two NWSL seasons has thoroughly impressed our model, earning a very high overall score of 92 in the all-round defensive midfielder profile. She is an excellent forward passer of the ball and puts in the hard yards defensively to make important tackles and interceptions.

Loera should easily lock down a starting spot at the base of Bay FC’s midfield, so she was unquestionably a great first signing.

Melissa Lowder

Bay FC’s second signing in goal saw them bring in Melissa Lowder from Iceland.

Like Rowland, she profiles as a ball-playing goalkeeper who can play out well but do an even better job of sweeping. However, our model does not rate her shot-stopping too highly either.

The 27-year-old keeper was signed on a one-year contract with an option to extend for another, so she was likely brought in as an experienced short-term back-up option. Unfortunately, she has been ruled out with a season-ending injury for 2024, and therefore will not count towards Bay FC’s roster limit.

Princess Marfo

At the other end of the pitch, Bay FC signed young winger Princess Marfo from FC Nordsjælland.

The Right To Dream academy graduate took Denmark by storm in the last two years, consistently receiving the ball in dangerous positions and carrying it to even more threatening areas. Her work was quite literally off the chart in that respect, as this plot attempts to show:

Our model believes she has the potential to cause a lot of problems to NWSL defenders too, though her end product has room to improve both in terms of passing and creating chances. But with stats in the top 10% for forward passes received, and the top 1% for dribbles, she will get into dangerous areas and carry with consistency.

And, at just 20 years old, Princess has a lot of time to work on her end product, so the world very much is at her feet as she heads to the NWSL.

Emily Menges

Back in defence, Bay FC’s strongest centre back signing appears to be Emily Menges from the Portland Thorns.

The 31-year-old defender has a great deal of NWSL experience under her belt having spent almost a decade at Providence Park, where she has grown into one of the league’s most consistent and reliable players. She can be a great progressor of the ball on the left side and offer great defensive security thanks to her strength in the air.

Menges is another one of Bay FC’s veteran defensive signings, so they seem to have put together a very solid back line.

Asisat Oshoala

Another one of Bay FC’s international signings that attracted a lot of interest from around the world was Asisat Oshoala’s move from Barcelona.

The Nigerian international had been falling out of favour in Catalonia of late, but her overall record of 92 goals in 108 appearances for them is quite remarkable. She certainly still seems to have all the qualities needed to establish herself as the best line-leading striker in the NWSL.

Between her, Kundananji and Princess, Bay FC have assembled a formidable strike force. Add to that the likes of Camberos and Boade, and you get what already looks like one of the league’s best attacks on paper.

Lysianne Proulx

Bay FC have very much taken an international approach to their squad building, as they have gone as far as Australia to bring players in. From the A-League, they signed Canadian goalkeeper Lysianne Proulx.

The 24-year-old shot-stopper seems most likely to be the first-choice between the sticks. She too profiles as a ball-playing goalkeeper, but our model considers her saves quality as much more passable than Rowland and Lowder’s.

Proulx is an excellent sweeper and can be a pretty secure passer on the ball too, so she seems the most well-rounded of Bay FC’s goalkeeper options.


The NWSL draft offers all clubs the opportunity to sign some of the best collegiate players in the USA. Obviously, it is not an avenue to add a lot of experience to a squad, but rather a chance to add very exciting young talent that can make a bigger impact in the future.

Savy King

Bay FC’s first draft pick was central defender Savy King, who is just 19 years old.

Even at such a young age, she was a key part of a North Carolina Tar Heels side that reached the quarter-finals of the NCAA Division I. Her aerial and 1v1 defending success rate was quite incredible, while she also showed secure passing on the ball.

Of course, the jump from college soccer to one of the best leagues in the world is a pretty significant one so King cannot be expected to slot in as an immediate starter for Bay FC, but she could do a job as a back-up option for now and certainly has the potential to feature much more frequently in the future.

Maya Doms

Attacking midfielder Maya Doms was Bay FC’s second draft pick.

In pre-season, she was the one who scored the club’s first-ever goal in a friendly match. Our model believes the 22-year-old could do already a job in the NWSL, as her level of output both by way of expected assists and especially expected goals should translate decently.

A crafty number 10 like Doms would be a fantastic supporter to the star-studded front line that Bay FC have assembled, so the 22-year-old could immediately play a significant role in the NWSL.

Jamie Shepherd

At the other end of midfield, Jamie Shepherd became Bay FC’s third pick in the draft.

The BYU Cougars graduate showed excellent deep playmaking qualities for the Big 12 conference runners-up. She is a secure passer who is happy to keep things simple and play short but is also always on the lookout for diagonal switches.

Shepherd also is someone who could offer a decent back-up option in the short term and grow to compete for a regular starting spot.

Caroline Conti

Bay FC’s approach to the draft clearly seemed to involve a good deal of midfield strengthening, so they also picked Caroline Conti.

She too is a more attack-minded midfielder whose chance creation stands out and can also pose a good goal-threat, but she might also be able to play a more box-to-box role in our model’s opinion.

Conti should prove to be another good depth option in Bay FC’s midfield this season, so they can be said to have enjoyed a successful draft.


Of course, it is all on paper right now, but Bay FC’s squad building appears to be nothing short of fantastic. For one, they have struck a perfect balance of players positionally as they have three goalkeepers and two options in every outfield position in a 4-3-3 formation (with an extra centre back) once you add Kundananji and Oshoala to the below depth chart:

More importantly, though, they seem to have aligned their recruitment with a clear picture in mind in terms of the playing style they want to implement. All their signings – right from their ball-playing goalkeeper and centre backs to the threatening dribblers on thge wings – seem to indicate that they will be adopting a heavily possession-based approach. The unique prospect of building a team from scratch affords the opportunity of putting a squad together comprising of the exact profiles a specific approach would require, and Bay FC seem to have made the most of it.

Equally importantly, they have signed top-class players all over the pitch. Their attack, in particular, looks incredibly formidable on paper with established game-changers such as Oshoala and Kundananji joined by very exciting young talents like Camberos and Marfo, so they could easily be among the top scorers in their debut NWSL season.

Bay FC’s first-choice midfield and defensive lines look pretty strong too, but one might question their back-ups in the heart of the pitch. Both in central defence and midfield, they will have to rely on recent NCAA graduates in case any of their senior starters are ruled out. Perhaps it might have been more prudent to sign one or two more seasoned professionals in these positions, but the quality of their draft picks is not bad at all as we saw above.

The biggest question mark arguably is the goalkeeper position. Proulx is a decent shot-stopper and should be the first choice thanks to her well-roundedness, but the backup options behind her are not rated well at all by our model when it comes to their most basic responsibility – making saves.

On the whole, though, Bay FC’s recruitment appears excellent. No expansion side has ever won the NWSL Championship in their debut season, but Bay FC look likelier than anyone has ever done before to break that record.

Header image copyright IMAGO / USA Today Network

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