2016 NWSL College Draft: Team by Team Analysis, Part 1

The fourth edition of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) College Draft has come and gone. The day’s events featured a soundtrack from the Spirit Squadron members in attendance, the introduction of new allocation rules just minutes before the draft started, a few trades, and, of course, plenty of timeouts. Now 40 players have a chance to earn their spots on rosters and maybe make an impact in their first seasons of professional soccer. Here’s part one of a team-by-team look at what went down on draft day.

Boston Breakers

Round 1, Pick 3

Christen Westphal
Florida
Defender
Career: 4G, 17A

The Pick
The Breakers traded their minutes-old allocation spot to the Portland Thorns FC for this pick, seemingly eager to grab the Gator defender or perhaps part of the ever unfurling Mallory Pugh saga. Regardless, the Breakers have added a new defender to the mix. Westphal isn’t the prototypical center back, as she likes to get forward into the attack. Ending her career with 17 assists to her name, the defender is also an efficient taker of set pieces. When it comes to 1v1 defending, Westphal has never really shown herself to be a shutdown defender and has on occasion struggled against the cream of the crop in the SEC, and there were certainly better pure defenders available in this draft class. She says she’s open for a move to the midfield, and that’s certainly something that could be in the cards in the future with her skill set.

The Value
With Whitney Engen’s status for the season relatively unknown with an impending Olympic roster to be released, stocking up on another center back just makes good sense. I’m not sold on trading up to grab Westphal, but I’m unsure if she would have been there as a second-round pick. What adds value to Westphal, despite some questions about her pure defending ability, is that she could feature at center back, outside back, or even make the previously mentioned move into midfield. Overall, I think there were stronger defenders available to the Breakers, but Westphal’s versatility makes sense for a team heading into a year of change.

Round 2, Pick 17

Brittany Ratcliffe
Virginia
Midfielder
Career: 26G, 16A

The Pick
Ratcliffe is an absolute speedster who could be a fantastic option off the bench for the Breakers if she doesn’t find herself earning a starting position. The winger beat defenders on the regular for the Hoos, and should be able to bring that to the next level with her pure speed. She’s not technically gifted, but still good with the ball at her feet. The midfielder was the definition of a super sub her sophomore year, and could certainly fill that role here again at the pro level. She brings a lot of energy to the game and seems to have a motor that goes forever. Not exactly a pure finisher but can hammer home the chances she’s given.

The Value
Just like with their first pick, the Breakers grabbed a player with skill set that can adjust and slot in at positions they end up needing to fill. Ratcliffe primarily played on the wing during her years at Virginia, but she could certainly slot in at forward or even outside back if necessary. Again, with Stephanie McCaffrey’s status for the season up in the air until that Olympic roster is released, Ratcliffe could be a great option to fill in for her on the wing. Other options were mostly off the board at this point, and those left just weren’t as versatile or speedy. Considering the potential reach the Breakers made at three, this is a solid pick that makes sense.

Round 3, Pick 27

Abby Smith
Texas
Goalkeeper
Career: 30 shutouts

The Pick
Smith has been a mainstay at the U-20 and U-23 levels for the United States, and was even called into the full senior team camp at one point. The excitement surrounding Smith cannot be understated, as people have been resoundingly singing her praises for the past three years. Her kicking game is absolutely ridiculous, and she has three career goals to her name. Which, for a keeper, is absolutely ridiculous. In today’s day and age, an assist from a keeper is celebrated let alone three individual goals. As far as keeping goes, she’s an excellent reaction shot stopper but can’t always be counted on to make the right decision when the ball’s in the air. Smith has never shown a strong command of her penalty box. In short, lots of raw athletic ability and certainly some talent there, but she’s still has work to do.

The Value
Depending on what camp you’re a part of, you either thought Abby Smith was the best keeper in this class or Lindsey Luke was the best keeper in this class. Regardless, the higher percentage probably had Smith being the first keeper coming off the board. With Eckerstrom already gone, and this being the Breakers last pick of the draft, why not take a chance on an athletic player with a lot, and I mean A LOT of hype. With Libby Stout coming in as the assumed starter for the Breakers, this puts Smith in a good position. Had she had to start immediately for any team I’m not sure that would have gone well. As it is, Smith gets to compete with Jami Kranich for the backup spot, which I think will help her growth quite a bit. It’s not a homerun pick for the Breakers but its one that could pay massive dividends in the future.

Chicago Red Stars

Round 2, Pick 19

Katie Naughton
Notre Dame
Defender
Career: 11G, 2A

The Pick
The Red Stars didn’t get into the action until late in the second round, and as a result several of the top picks were already off of the board. There’s no doubt Naughton is an excellent defender. A tall player, she’s great on balls in the air and can be a threat offensively on set pieces. She reads the game well and positions herself well as a result. Her positioning can’t be understated, and that’s because Naughton has a lack of pace to deal with athletes at the college level, let alone the professional level. That was on display at the U-20 World Cup, where Naughton was, for lack of a better phrase, lit up by opposing offenses. If she can stay ahead of the game and anticipate plays, Naughton should be a solid starter for years to come.

The Value
Once again, the Olympics may have come into play with this pick, as starting center back Julie Johnston will in all likelihood be heading to Rio for a portion of this season and last year’s back line anchor Abby Erceg is now with the Flash. Naughton isn’t going to slot in anywhere but center back, she just doesn’t have the versatility or the pace, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It definitely fills a need and Naughton should be more than serviceable in the position. Chicago-area ties may have also been a factor as Naughton is from the area. For as late as the Red Stars got into the mix, this is a solid value pick that could work out quite well.

Round 3, Pick 22

Sarah Gorden
DePaul
Defender
Career: 1G, 2A

The Pick
Gorden’s a stout defender that played center back throughout her career but will be moving positions due to her short stature. She’s also not the most physical of defenders, relying more on her ability to read the game. Her athleticism is apparent, having also been a part of the DePaul track team for a couple years during her college career so fitness shouldn’t be a problem. Gorden isn’t a superstar but just a strong, solid, and reliable pure defender that plays the game well and there’s not much else to be said here.

The Value
Again, it’s clear the Red Stars have a need at the center back position. However, I’m not entirely sold on this pick. Considering that Erica Skroski was still on the board, I’m not sure why you take Gorden when she will, without a doubt, be switching to outside back. Gorden would have more than likely been available later in the draft, and that’s why I question this pick. Don’t get me wrong, Gorden is a strong defender who should contribute at the professional level, but I think this may have been a reach. That being said, it was another local pick for Dames and Co. and that may have played a factor.

Round 4, Pick 32

Courtney Raetzman
Kentucky
Midfielder
Career: 16G, 10A

The Pick
While the stats don’t jump off the page, Courtney Raetzman can be a midfield maestro of sorts. I know, I know, numbers don’t lie. But she spent most of the year on an injury-ravaged Wildcats team putting the ball on a platter for some rather inconsistent forwards. The midfielder can make passes that break the game open with her vision if given a chance, and can also finish a goal or two of her own. Despite her stature, she’s a physical player that isn’t afraid to battle for the 50-50 balls in the midfield. She’s also has a great technical skill set that can get her out of a tight spot and is a joy to watch in the open field.

The Value
In the fourth round it’s almost anything goes as far as players. Not many fourth-round selections have stuck around in the NWSL, so it’s as good a round as any to take a flier on a player with some question marks. The only question mark on Raetzman is her height, but, as displayed with the Gorden pick in the previous round, that doesn’t seem to matter much to the Red Stars. What does seem to matter is that she’s a Chicago native, and joining her former teammate Arin Gilliland certainly can’t hurt considering how great the outside back has turned out for the Red Stars. I think maybe Nicole Waters would have been a smarter pick here — more on her later — but certainly don’t have an issue with Chicago giving Raetzman a look.

Round 4, Pick 33

Jannelle Flaws
Illinois
Forward
Career: 54G, 14A

The Pick
Flaws is by no means the speedy forward you play over the top for the breakaway — she just doesn’t have the pace. But when you look at her goal total, it’s clear Flaws has a nose for the goal and is a finisher. With that lack of speed comes a need for a serious ability to read the game. If you can’t blow past the defenders, it helps to be thinking about four steps ahead of them, which is exactly what Flaws can do. Her shot is extremely powerful, and she can rocket them into the back of the net with the best of them. Flaws isn’t a play maker, and isn’t really going to beat anyone off the dribble, but she knows how to score goals.

The Value
As I mentioned earlier, the fourth round is a great time to take a chance on a player that comes with a few red flags. Flaws has seen a dip in productivity and efficiency over the past year, and is also dealing with plantar fasciitis. When you add in her history of injuries, there is certainly room for some doubt for the once prolific goal scorer. But, Flaws is still a fantastic finisher and she’s suited up for the Red Stars Reserves team before, so Dames knows exactly what he’s getting. With almost all of the big guns off of the board at this point, and those left had their own set of issues, this is a pretty low-risk pick for the Red Stars. If we see the resurgence of a Flaws that scored 23 goals in one season, it’s a steal.

Round 4, Pick 35

Adrienne Jordan
Northern Colorado
Defender
Career: 2G, 5A

The Pick
Jordan is an outside back, but unlike most, she’s all defender and really no offensive bonus to speak for or add. She’s not very fast, and as a result, if she gets too far forward she would get caught out of position and leave her team pretty vulnerable. Fortunately, she reads the game rather well and can usually avoid getting out of position and leaving her teammates stranded. Jordan heavily relies on anticipation and jumping into passing lanes to steal the ball and shut down offensive attacks.

The Value
Not totally sold on this one. Yes, I’ve been sitting here touting the free-for-all-anything-goes that is the fourth round but I just think there were better options available than Jordan at this point. This is when Chicago just began to grab every forward and defender available, so I’m not really sure what the end game is with the selection of Jordan, especially considering the next pick. Perhaps she comes into camp and sticks as a viable outside back option for a day the bench is short, perhaps she doesn’t make the cut. Regardless, Northern Colorado has officially had their very first women’s soccer player drafted.

Round 4, Pick 36

Candace Johnson
Missouri
Defender
Career: 6G, 2A

The Pick
Strong, tall, big-time defender. Depending on some parties, Johnson was the best defender in the SEC this season, despite whomever the hardware was given to at the end of the season. She’s a great pure center back that is speedy enough and can hustle strong forwards off of the ball. Like Naughton, she’s pretty tall and does well winning balls in the air as a result. She reads the game well and is extremely durable, featuring for all four years at Mizzou and being the main anchor of the back line. Johnson reads the game well, stays calm in almost any situation, and is a fantastic leader.

The Value
Getting Johnson with almost the last pick of the draft is a steal. I think she easily could have gone late second round or even early in the third round. The idea of pairing her up with Naughton is great, even if pacey forwards would more than likely have a field day. If you were to put her in the starting lineup she won’t come out of it for a long time as she rarely gets injured and has excellent fitness levels. I think she could be a consistent piece on the Red Stars back line that will no doubt be an excellent depth player when Julie Johnston comes back from Rio, assuming Naughton has the number two job on lock.

Round 4, Pick 39

Ashleigh Ellenwood
Arkansas
Forward
Career: 30G, 23A

The Pick
Ellenwood is a big, strong forward who actually has surprising pace for her size. She can absolutely finish a rocket shot and has shown up big-time and in the clutch for the Razorbacks over the past four years. Ellenwood knows how to find her own shot, and is also a threat on corners and set pieces. She is a center forward that can hold up play and let it build around her and can also set up her teammates quite well, having set the single season record for assists while at Arkansas. The bulk of Ellenwood’s assists have come from her long throw in, Megan Campbell lite if you will. She really can do it all, but fitness may be a question mark.

The Value
Questions here lie in her recovery from knee surgery. Ellenwood tore her ACL partway through her senior season, and who knows what her timetable is. But once again, Dames knows exactly what he’s getting, as Ellenwood has suited up in the Red Stars amateur ranks before. Should she fully recover from her knee injury, things could get crowded up top for the Red Stars, but I think she’s a great player to bring in for competition. It’s a late pick but it’s a pretty solid pick. Could be a great future piece.

FC Kansas City

Round 2, Pick 16

Katie Bowen
North Carolina
Defender/Midfielder
Career: 3G, 16A

The Pick
Bowen is a great player who can play a few positions, either on the back line or in the midfield. She has tons of experience at the international level, having already played in two World Cups. As a result, she’s generally a fairly calm player on the field and developed into a great leader for the Tar Heels. Bowen brings good energy to the game and her work rate is as high as any, with a high fitness level and a motor that keeps going. She reads the game pretty well, and knows how to make the final pass.

The Value
The Blues don’t have many immediate needs, so really the draft is a chance for them to take chances on players they think will fit their system, and if they don’t work out, then so be it. That being said, the search to replace Lauren Holiday is officially on. Bowen could feature at the center mid position and certainly has the vision to contribute as an attacking mid, but she isn’t the same kind of finisher. Defense could be where she ends up, and she may end up being a replacement for Amy LePeilbet. Regardless of where she ends up, the Blues grabbed a talented, versatile, and experienced player who has a high chance of filling a need and making an impact right away.

Round 2, Pick 18

Brianne Reed
Rutgers
Defender
Career: 3G, 5A

The Pick
One of the anchors and leaders on a rock solid back line that made history for the Scarlet Knights this season. On the shorter size as far as center backs go but makes up for it in her physicality. An excellent tackler that isn’t afraid to go in to win the ball, and is strong enough to body most forwards off of the ball no matter their stature. She is great on the 1v1 and reads the game well. Reed can be a threat offensively in the box on set pieces, but can also contribute with long flip throws into the box. She’s not technically gifted but makes smart decisions on the ball and doesn’t turn it over.

The Value
I think they absolutely knocked this pick out of the park. I was pretty shocked Reed was still on the board at this point and wasn’t taken off the board in the first round. With newly appointed captain Becky Sauerbrunn heading to Rio for part of the season, Reed should be able to step in and be a consistent starter for the Blues. She may have to shift to outside back due to her height but I think she can hang at the next level based on her pure athleticism and physical style of play.

Round 3, Pick 28

Alexa Newfield
North Carolina
Forward
Career: 38G, 17A

The Pick
Newfield is three things: technically sound, incredibly intelligent, and a serious finisher in front of the net. The fact she lead the team in scoring with 11 goals while being extremely limited in her minutes due to knee issues speaks volumes about those three traits. When she gets time on the field she takes advantage of it, playing not just four steps in front of the opposing team but also five to six steps ahead. She can bomb in a goal from distance or beat an opposing player off the dribble with her technical skill. She has a nose for the goal and understands the game completely.

The Value
When it’s late in the third round and it’s your final pick of the round, and an extremely talented player has fallen in the rankings a bit due to injury issues, and you’re a team that isn’t desperately rebuilding, you take that player. Kansas City fits all of the above parameters and as a result, the Blues got a fabulous player for basically no cost. I’m a bit surprised they didn’t just take Summer Green instead, but Newfield does make sense at this point and with this team, and I think she can be a bit more versatile by suiting up in the midfield or at forward. As I mentioned, she takes advantage of all the time she gets on the field, so even if she is solely a sub for Kansas City, I think she can blossom here.

Round 4, Pick 38

Alex Arlitt
LSU
Defender/Midfielder
Career: 9G, 7A

The Pick
Arlitt was a relative beacon of consistency with an up and down Tigers team, in which she started all four years. Where did she start? Well that depends on the day or the year, but it was essentially pretty much anywhere and everywhere on the field. Legitimately, Arlitt can suit up at center back, either outside back position, and center mid, whether that be in a more attacking or defensive role, it’s really your choice. She has some good technical skills but nothing that will make you do a double take. In reality, her skill lies in her determination and hard work. She put a lot into her defensive role this season and as a result was a nagging defensive thorn in the side of the SEC’s forwards.

The Value
I really didn’t see Arlitt coming off the board in this draft, but with a team like Kansas City, you can’t help but sit there and chuckle because it’s such a Kansas City move to pick her up with their late fourth-round pick. A player that doesn’t really have much shine, but puts in the work and is versatile enough to play pretty much anywhere the team needs her to fill in when they have to deal with injuries or the Olympics later in the season. I’m not sure there were any more players who could provide real value to the Blues, or perhaps even break into the team, this late in the draft, so grabbing an extremely versatile player who could come in handy in terms of depth is by no means a bad move.

Houston Dash

Round 1, Pick 5

Cari Roccaro
Notre Dame
Defender
Career: 13G, 4A

The Pick
Roccaro is a leader who will do almost anything for her team, which is a great trait to build a team around for the future. It helps that she’s also a talented defender who reads the game extremely well. Roccaro isn’t the strongest or the fastest but she doesn’t let that affect her game, or let opponents beat her very often for that matter. She’s a player who always seems calm and has her wits about her and won’t be overwhelmed by too much out on the field. She’s a player you can rely on to show up game in and game out and put in a solid defensive performance.

The Value
Roccaro was a projected top three draft pick, no question. And at one point it was thought she would be the first pick instead of Emily Sonnett. Then it came out she would be missing four to six months due to surgery and thus her stock dropped, although not much. I don’t think the Dash thought they had a chance at drafting Roccaro, so when she fell into their lap at five they couldn’t not take her and I agree with that move wholeheartedly. She can suit up at center back or center mid, which is always important in a weak draft class. Assuming she recovers fully, I think this is a smart move.

Round 1, Pick 6

Rachel Daly
St. John’s
Forward
Career: 50G, 11A

The Pick
An absolute workhorse on the front lines for the Red Storm in her four years there, and she has the numbers to back up that hard-working productivity. She’s an aggressive player who isn’t afraid to go at any defense out there, nearly averaging a goal a game during her college career. Mind you, she took a lot of shots to get to that point, so her efficiency isn’t stunning but she’s an absolute gamer. Daly can also defend, having played outside back at the club level for a bit, so in a pinch, she can fill that role as well.

The Value
I’m not entirely sure why, but Makenzy Doniak was just not coming off the board for these coaches in the first round. Daly is an excellent forward who has an opportunity to excel at this level, but I just don’t get why you don’t take one of the best pure finishers we’ve seen at the collegiate level. Maybe it comes down to fit, or who a coach thinks will gel with the team or system the best and perhaps for Randy Waldrum that player is Daly. I don’t think it’s a reach, but I also don’t think they might not be better off with Doniak. Plus, Doniak doesn’t take the international slot that Daly does. It’s all speculation for now, but you have to wonder what that choice came down to for the coaches. That being said, Daly can move to outside back, so maybe the added ability in defense put her over the top.

Round 1, Pick 8

Janine Beckie
Texas Tech
Forward
Career: 57G, 16A

The Pick
It was a banner year for the Red Raiders and at the center of it all was Beckie leading the way. She;s the kind of player who can elevate all the players around her and make them play at their highest level. Beckie is a solid finisher, even though sometimes she can take way too many shots to find that goal. She can get lost in games, but you can’t deny she will work hard for the full 90 minutes and chase down balls that can seem unreachable. She has some pace to her game, and has grown by leaps and bounds in how she reads the game and sets up teammates thanks to her international experience. Not the strongest or the most physical player, but that can come with time… and perhaps some weight training.

The Value
Last pick of the night for the Dash and it was a great one. Houston got a smart, tough finisher who can immediately make an impact with Kealia Ohai up top and replace the now gone Jessica McDonald and then some. The back-to-back Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year can bring a lot to this Dash team, even in terms of just competition. She has a pretty high ceiling, and pretty high expectations for that matter, and I think she has the determination to live up to them. She’s a great fit in Waldrum’s camp and this is a great spot for her to land. Nice draft day for the Dash.

Portland Thorns FC

Round 1, Pick 1

Emily Sonnett
Virginia
Defender
Career: 11G, 9A

The Pick
It’s pretty easy to wax poetic about Sonnett, or make the comparison to fellow Cavalier center back Becky Sauerbrunn. She’s just a great player who silently makes her mark on pretty much every game she features in. Sonnett is calm with a head on her shoulders filled with lots of soccer smarts. She reads the game incredibly well and can maintain possession with simple passes. Oh, and she doesn’t turn the ball over. Mobility is adequate; she’s not a speed racer by any means but she has the closing speed to keep up with players, probably because she reads the game so well and already knows where they’re going. She can even contribute offensively — she does a great job of being in the right place at the right time on set pieces.

The Value
First overall picks generally have the value of gold. It usually goes to a team that is in desperate need of a breakout player immediately. Teams generally need that player to come in and get valuable minutes while learning the professional ins and outs on the job. Hopefully on top of all that, they contribute some meaningful stats to the team and maybe contend for a rookie of the year award. That being said, Portland didn’t really need a breakout player to come into the fold. Considering all their offseason wheeling and dealing, the Thorns have amassed quite the squad. Sonnett is just the cherry on top of it all, kind of an added bonus they get to have. She’ll more than likely start and be a more than adequate piece on their squad.

Round 3, Pick 21

McKenzie Berryhill
Arizona State
Defender
Career: 6G, 4A

The Pick
Berryhill is a strong center back. She holds her own physically against almost any player, can win the 50-50 balls or battle for balls in the air, and body an offensive player off the ball. She’s a pretty solid defender but she doesn’t read the game at an above average level and she isn’t the speediest of the bunch. That being said, she’s aggressive, hard-working, and demands your attention on the field. She can step up and be a vocal leader over the course of a game, and she certainly isn’t going to back down when she goes against a better opponent. Overall, she’s a tough player that can bring an edge to her game and on occasion, contribute offensively.

The Value
The Thorns had only two picks in this draft and spent them both on defenders. Considering all the attacking options they supposedly have coming in this season via trades and rights, shoring up the defense through the draft is certainly a viable strategy. At this point, Erica Skroski was still on the board, and I think that might have been the safer pick for the Thorns. Certainly Berryhill has her upside, but after starring for an Arizona State team that just didn’t live up to expectations or the hype surrounding it this season, I’m a bit on the wary side.

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