NWSL expansion teams Bay FC, Utah Royals make first signings

National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) expansion teams Bay FC and Utah Royals both made their first player signings on Wednesday, ahead of making their debuts in the league next year.

Defensive midfielder Alex Loera become the first player for northern California's Bay FC after being acquired in a trade with the Kansas City Current in exchange for $175,000 in allocation money and protection from Bay FC in the 2024 expansion draft.

Utah Royals, meanwhile, acquired former BYU midfielder Mikayla Cluff and the No. 26 pick in the 2024 NWSL Draft from the Orlando Pride in exchange for $90,000 in allocation money and expansion protection.

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Loera was captain of Santa Clara when they won an NCAA championship in 2020. She was picked by the Current in 2021 but deferred for her extra year of eligibility at Santa Clara.

"As soon as I heard that Bay FC could be a potential team in the league I was so excited. I was like, `Yeah, I'm going to end up back here at some point,'" Loera said on a conference call Wednesday.

In her rookie season with the Current last year, she scored the fastest goal in the league's playoff history when she found the net in the fourth minute of a semifinal match against OL Reign.

"At 24 years old, I think Alex is widely regarded as probably one of the best midfielders in the league, probably one of the best and most technically gifted ball playing midfielders in the league as well," Bay FC general manager Lucy Rushton said.

Utah native Cluff, the No. 14 pick in the 2021 NWSL draft, made 51 league appearances, including four goals and one assist, for Orlando.

She now returns home to join the Royals, which is returning to the league in 2024 after a previous incarnation of the team competed in the NWSL from 2018 to 2020.

"We're so excited to welcome Mikayla back to Utah," said Royals head coach Amy Rodriguez. "A player who has had so much success in the state at both the collegiate and high school level and has now shown to be an excellent NWSL player.

"She offers versatility in the midfield, which is so valuable in an expansion year. When evaluating players, we also put a big emphasis on their character and Mikayla is a great first step in building the culture we want in our locker room. We know how much she is loved in this state, and we can't wait for our fans to cheer her on in Utah again."

Added Cluff: "While I've enjoyed my time in Orlando over the last two seasons, I'm extremely excited to return to play in my hometown and bring back this Club for the state and for the fans."

The addition of Bay FC and the Utah Royals next season will bring the league to 14 teams for the 2024 season. The expansion draft will be held on Dec. 15.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.