However, on Thursday, the league announced that it will allow Shaw into the NWSL through a discovery process involving all 12 teams. Ranked by how they finished last season, the teams will be able to claim their rights next Thursday. (The NWSL won’t say whether 2022 expansion clubs Angel City and San Diego are top or bottom of the list.)
If Shaw doesn’t fall to Washington, which won the championship last season and isn’t higher than No. 10 on the discoveries list, the Spirit would try to make a trade.
“Obviously we think he’s talented, and we’d like to see something work,” Spirit trainer Kris Ward said during his weekly media session. “But it’s not always that simple.”
Last week, Shaw was part of the US Under-20 team that won the Sud Ladies Cup in Aubagne, France. In a three-game contest, she scored in the last two games. Shaw is expected to make the roster for August’s FIFA U-20 World Cup in Costa Rica.
“You have someone who wants to play and there is a process that has to be [completed] before that can happen,” Ward said of Shaw’s future in the NWSL. “Fortunately now, we are at the end of that line and we are only solving the final hurdle.”
Had the NWSL not made an exception for Shaw, he would have had to wait until the draft in January, two months after his 18th birthday. midfielder Olivia Moultrie did it last year.
Moultrie won and the league made her available through the discovery process. Seattle-based OL Reign drafted Moultrie and later traded his rights to the Portland Thorns, with whom he had trained for two years. Portland gave up a third-round draft pick.
“Any team looking to participate in the discovery process [for Shaw] would need to demonstrate a plan for how they would comply with child protection rules until Shaw turns 18,” the NWSL said.
Commissioner Jessica Berman said in a statement: “This is a special circumstance that I believe requires us to show flexibility in how we execute our policies and, as a practical matter, is part of our ongoing review of our age restriction policy.” .
The NWSL said the age restriction policy will remain in place “as the league continues to review and revise its policies and procedures. … [Any] future requests will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.”
Although the league’s decision to make Shaw available in the discovery process could prevent him from joining the Spirit, Ward said he doesn’t think “they were difficult or obtuse in any way.”
“It’s their understanding that the landscape is changing and changing,” he said.
She added that, with more professional opportunities around the world available to young players than ever before, access to the league beyond the draft is “something that will need to be addressed.”
In Shaw’s case, Ward said, “I don’t think the league put any obstacles in the way of finding a process, but they wanted to make sure it was thought through and that it was fair.”
The NWSL, which launched in 2013, does not have a self-developed system like MLS. In the men’s league, teams develop teenagers in their youth academies and own exclusive signing rights. There is also no age limit to sign an MLS contract.
The Spirit has employed two teenagers: Mallory Pugh, then 19, who was acquired through the ranking order in 2017, and Trinity Rodman, then 18, in the 2021 draft.