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 the second part of a team-by-team look at what went down on draft day.
Round 1, Pick 10
Career: 14G, 16A
A speedy, scrappy player who brings a lot of energy to the table and is versatile enough to play almost any position on the back line. She will almost assuredly spend her time at outside back for the Pride and should bring an edge to the first edition of the Pride’s back four during the upcoming season. I’m not sure she’s ready skill-wise to be an everyday starter day in and day out at the professional level, but part of being an expansion team is making your players learn on the job for most of that first season. Witteman will approach the challenge with dogged determination and probably succeed more than fail.
This wasn’t just any first-round pick, this was the first ever draft pick in the history of the Orlando Pride franchise. The outcome? They didn’t exactly blow it out of the water but they didn’t screw it up either, and isn’t that what the draft is really all about? The Pride have a need at outside back and Witteman can fill it. The thought process was as simple as that for the Pride, and why should it be any more complicated? When you only have three picks in the draft, and none of them are particularly early, sometimes you’ve gotta take the player you want while they’re still available. Pride could have probably traded down, but it doesn’t make much of a difference at this point.
Round 2, Pick 15
Burkenroad has an absolutely inspiring off-the-field story that you should definitely find the time to read, but let’s focus on her potential on the field here. Primarily a winger but is positively towering and may be moving to a different spot. Fair amount of pace — I mean, she does play winger for a reason, right? — and good on-the-ball technical skills. The main attribute to really focus on is her vision on the field. She does a great job reading the game and finding her teammates and putting them in a good position to score or at least setting up the early stages of the attack. Burkenroad should bring a good amount of energy to the game.
Late second round was probably fair for Burkenroad, so early second round isn’t a terrible crime to commit. There were probably some better winger options with a bit more pace (lookin’ at you Ratcliffe), but she’s by no means a wasted pick. Attacking midfielder is a position the Pride needs, and while Burkenroad didn’t exactly fit that mold in college, she could make a move to the middle of the field, partly due to her aforementioned vision and playmaking abilities. It might be trying to fit a square peg into a circular hole but I think it’s definitely worth giving the midfielder a shot at no real cost or risk to your team.
Round 4, Pick 31
Career: 10G, 5A
A solid box-to-box midfielder who can contribute defensively when it comes to stopping the attack and offensively by setting up teammates or trying her own shot from range. She really had a fine senior season to close out her college career; she’s, as they say, hot right now. A durable player with great fitness, Weatherholt should be able to provide some stability in what could be a midfield carousel in Orlando’s first season. She’s not exactly technically gifted but knows what to do when she’s got the ball at her feet and has great field vision.
There were flashier picks to be made here, even in the fourth round, but once again the ugly beast of “need” reared its head for the Pride. Attacking midfielder is definitely a space the Pride needs to fill, and while Weatherholt isn’t an attacking dynamo she can certainly be a serviceable piece in a midfield puzzle. She will be able to get forward into the attack but can also contribute defensively. More of a true center mid than an attacking one, but she should make a contribution on this squad if only in depth and could pair nicely with Becky Edwards. A nice pick to round out the draft day for the Pride as they try to bring things together for their first season on the field.
Seattle Reign FC
Round 1, Pick 4
Career: 9G, 31A
As you can see, Pickett has an absolutely absurd amount of assists for an outside back. That’s because of her killer left foot that had coaches going absolutely gaga for this player. Whether she is serving it into the box from the run of play or lining herself up over a free kick, she can provide excellent service into the box. She was originally a winger and then converted to outside back and made the switch almost seamlessly, turning herself into a dependable outside back for a Florida State team that has dominated the NCAA world for the past four seasons she was there. She’s also a smart player that hustles hard to make the tough play.
The Reign are always a bit of a wild card when it comes to the draft. They don’t really rely on it to fill out their roster, and when their roster is already as stacked as it is, I’m not sure you really need to knock every single pick out of the park. Head coach Laura Harvey seems perfectly content to pick players she likes whether they really fit into the squad logically. That being said, Pickett can no doubt fill the void left by the recently retired Stephanie Cox and add an offensive spark to an already pretty strong back four for the Reign. Plus, she can also shift up to winger if necessary considering Megan Rapinoe will probably miss time recovering from an ACL injury, the Olympics, or perhaps both.
Round 3, Pick 25
An extremely athletic player with excellent fitness levels. As a result, Nielsen can really slot in anywhere on the field and did so throughout her college career. Starting as a forward, Nielsen showed a great finishing touch and an explosive offensive ability. She could make the highlight reel play and finish the easy shot when needed. Nielsen was needed to switch to defender her senior year and did so with aplomb, leading a rather green North Carolina back line to a respectable record.
Heading into the draft, Nielsen was listed as a defender, midfielder, or forward. All of the above are true. Nielsen is an extremely versatile player who really can play and excel at most positions on the pitch. For a Reign team that has no real pressing emergency need and is just picking up interesting pieces to see if they stick anywhere, that’s exactly the kind of player you want for your team. When players leave for the Olympics this season, Nielsen will be available to plug in pretty much anywhere there is a need and that can be a huge advantage to have on your bench.
Round 3, Pick 30
Career: 25G, 23A
Is it too much to say the woman, the myth, the legend here? Green has had such an up-and-down career with the Tar Heels. Man, when she is on, there is almost nothing that can stop her out on the field. Her finishing ability is almost lethal and she does an amazing time positioning herself in front of the goal and putting herself in positions to score. Aside from her offensive prowess, she can also set up her teammates with scoring opportunities. She reads the game very well and has great vision. If only you could erase her history of injuries, especially this season’s ACL tear, and she would have soared to the top of this draft.
I can’t overstate how much of a steal this pick is for the Reign. I would call it the steal of the entire draft if not for their final pick of the night. At the same time, this is the ultimate high risk, high reward pick. But when you consider how strong of a team Seattle is on paper, and that this pick was the end of the third round, then you essentially eliminate all of the risk. Assuming Green is able to overcome injury and capture her form of old, then she’s going to be an amazing addition to the offense for the Reign for seasons to come. That, or a really excellent trade piece, because ya know, Laura Harvey.
Round 4, Pick 40
You name the goalkeeping skill and chances are Luke probably does it at an above-average level. An absolutely amazing shot stopper who isn’t afraid to come off of her line and make herself a commanding presence in the box. This is all elevated to another level by her pure athleticism that gives her the ability to make the incredible flying save from time to time. She is an excellent decision-maker who reads the game incredibly well, and if she sometimes makes a mistake, her athleticism is enough to help her correct it. Luke does struggle in one area however, and it’s that her kicking game is subpar. But I’m sure with Hope Solo and crew in Seattle, that problem won’t be persisting for much longer.
The value here is immense and borderline unfair. When the keepers were flying off of the board, I was absolutely flabbergasted that Luke was not among them. As mentioned above, she’s a pretty complete prospect who brings all the intangibles plus some to the game. On top of all of this, the Reign didn’t even really need a backup keeper, considering that Hayley Kopmeyer has been a more than capable fill-in for Hope Solo when she is away on international duty. It’ll be a great competitive environment for Luke to grow in, and she could be a scary prospect in the years to come.
Sky Blue FC
Round 1, Pick 2
Career: 23G, 28A
What hasn’t already been said about Raquel Rodriguez? What an incredible year for this player. A World Cup appearance, an NCAA championship, and now she’s the second overall draft pick in the NWSL. There’s hardly anyone more deserving. An incredibly hard-worker, Rodriguez has turned into a really complete player on the field. She reads the game well, sets up her teammates for easy scoring opportunities, and, of course, can call her own number when needed. She fights in the scrum of the midfield but also makes the game look beautiful with her technical ability. Rodriguez is a player who really fights for a full 90 but has the athletic ability and skill to make it look effortless while doing it.
Christy Holly has got one heck of a young and up-and-coming midfield to work with heading into his first season as head coach. Along with Rodriguez, who most likely will spearhead the midfield, there’s also the whip-smart Sarah Killion. Sitting with the second pick Sky Blue certainly had its pick of the litter with all the talent still on the board. I’m not entirely sure midfield was the way to go for this team, considering it just traded its biggest scoring threat in Nadia Nadim, but it would have been incredibly hard to pass up the one and only Rodriguez when she’s there for the taking. Perhaps she can play in a more advanced role in an attempt to generate more goals for this team?
Round 2, Pick 13
Career: 48G, 26A
A productive and efficient player for all four years of her college career, Galton is the first draft pick out of Hofstra, and is a worthy one at that. The three-time Colonial player of the year found the back of the net often and did so at an incredibly efficient clip. She doesn’t miss many of the chances she gets, and does well to create opportunities for herself. She can also find the assist to her teammate when the chance isn’t there for herself, and she’s a hard-working player who puts herself in the position to score. The Brit is a natural left-footer, a prized trait in the soccer world.
Without question one of the best mid-major players on the board, and perhaps one of the best players available at this point. Unfortunately for Sky Blue, Makenzy Doniak and Cali Farquharson, both dynamite forwards who could have potentially filled the void left by Nadim, were drafted before Sky Blue could grab one of them. Needing scoring, Galton is a worthy pick to potentially fill that void. But if Sky Blue’s midfield is feeding assist-ready passes up to a forward corps that just can’t consistently find the back of the net, it could end up being an incredibly frustrating season in New Jersey for everyone.
Round 3, Pick 23
Career: 5G, 4A
Skroski was a linchpin player on one of the most dominant back lines in the nation this past year. In a historic year for the Scarlet Knights, one of the biggest reasons for their success was a dominating defense, and right at the center of it all was Skroski. She’s a great decision-maker out of the back who doesn’t turn the ball over and can keep possession going if needed. She can also contribute offensively as she’s known to make slashing runs and forays out of the back and into the attack. Named the 2015 Big Ten Defender of the Year for a reason, Skroski can shut down offensive attacks with the best of them and reads the game pretty well.
Probably one of the better defenders left on the board at this point. Still really does nothing to help with those scoring woes, but hey, Captain America has to retire at some point, right? So why not bring in a solid, young center back who can learn from one of the best in the business. Also, if Rampone ends up heading to Rio, Sky Blue has a serviceable replacement raring to go. Plus, the current list of defenders isn’t exactly a brick wall, so certainly Skroski will come in and compete for a starting spot with the squad right away.
Round 3, Pick 29
William & Mary
Career: 29 shutouts
Casey is coming off a season in which she was named the CAA’s Defensive Player of the Year and to the NSCAA All-American first team. What a way to end your career, which in the case of Casey was a spectacular one. While William & Mary never reached great heights during her time there, she was still an excellent player between the pipes for the Tribe. Great size for a keeper and is good enough athletically to make the big-time save. Her leg isn’t the strongest and her kicking game struggles because of it, but that’s not the biggest reason to dock her points. Casey is a goalkeeper who would be a more than excellent backup or spot starter.
Really, after Smith and Eckerstrom go off the board if you don’t take Luke I’m raising my eyebrows a bit. To be fair, this is absolutely the goalkeeper you want to take next if you aren’t taking Luke. With Aubrey Bledsoe gone, the backup keeper position is wide open at Sky Blue, and I think Casey will come in and be an excellent back up if not compete for some starting minutes with Brittany Cameron. The keeper competition in New Jersey is going to be a fun one to watch as the preseason rolls on because either keeper really has a strong chance of coming out on top. This is a nice pick to end Sky Blue’s draft night, even if it still hasn’t solved its scoring problems for the upcoming season.
Round 1, Pick 7
“Cheyna’s gonna score a goal on you” sang out the ever-present Spirit Squadron, who certainly seemed pleased with the recent addition to their team. Honestly, a front line with the speed of Crystal Dunn and Cheyna Williams is enough to make a defense at least a little terrified just thinking about it. She can blaze past defenders with her speed, and is also pretty proficient off of the dribble as well. While her efficiency numbers aren’t inspiring, and her numbers this past season didn’t strike fear into the hearts of defenses, Williams has been at least a consistent contributor to her team. She is also a consistent contributor when it comes to crunch time, having come up clutch on more than one occasion for a Florida State team filled with plenty of stars.
Grabbing Williams wasn’t exactly necessary for the Spirit, but it adds a serious edge to the team’s offensive explosiveness. The speed going forward will be an absolute joy to watch in the coming season. While I’m a bit surprised the Spirit took her with Makenzy Doniak was still on the board, Williams is still a first-round worthy pick that absolutely fills a need for the Spirit. Washington came out of the gates swinging, looking to grab a big-time competitor and they did just that. Overall, a pretty solid pick to start things off for new head coach Jim Gabarra in his return to Washington.
Round 2, Pick 12
Career: 44G, 14A
Hamstring injuries have limited the striker for the past two seasons, and significantly so this past season, but she’s still a workhorse scorer who lead her team in points and goals all four years she was a Sun Devil. Farquharson’s a great technical player who can fake out defenders with the best of them and makes shifty runs past the defense with her ability to read the game. She puts herself in good positions to score and isn’t afraid to rifle in a powerful shot. Farquharson can be a fantastic finisher but isn’t automatic on every chance.
Well, the Spirit wanted forwards apparently so they went out and grabbed two of the leaders in this draft class. It was unfortunate Doniak was taken with the pick before, or else I think she’d be suiting up for Washington. Regardless, Farquharson is still a good option to have for this team. Should she make it past her recurring hamstring problems, Farquharson can be a consistent contributor for this team. At the very least, she can come in and be troublesome for defenses at the end of games. It’s a bit of a risk to take a player with injury risks this early on, but who knows if she would have been on the board for the Spirit with their next pick. They took her when they could and I don’t think it’s a bad move.
Round 2, Pick 20
Career: 13G, 24A
I don’t have a ton of information to give besides the generals on Murphy because she wasn’t on the preliminary list of players who declared. I was pretty flabbergasted when her name was called, wondering to myself if she had even declared. Such is the draft. Murphy is an attacking midfielder who played a role in helping Texas Tech earn its first Big 12 Conference championship this past season. Murphy is a durable player who appeared in almost every single game of her Red Raiders career, working her way into the starting lineup consistently her senior season. She shown an ability to grow into a contributor over time.
I don’t really understand this pick. Sure, Murphy can be valuable offensively but why take her when teammate Caity Heap, who was one on the preliminary list, is sitting right there for the taking. Heap is also an attacking midfielder, and she posted better numbers than Murphy over the course of the season. Heap has a lot of potential and can bring more speed to the game than Murphy. This one just seems a little bit wacky to me to be honest. Plus, a trio of more athletic and offensive firecrackers from North Carolina were available!
Round 4, Pick 34
Career: 23 shutouts
Schiffel doesn’t benefit from being in the same class as the cream-of-the-crop goalkeeping talent that made all of the headlines in this draft. However, she is still one of the top 10 keepers available, and definitely an under-the-radar pick who has some talent despite San Francisco’s less than stellar records over the past four years, with the exception being this past season. Schiffel has pretty solid size and wingspan for a keeper, and she puts that to use making some pretty athletic saves from time to time. Not the strongest player coming off her line or commanding her area, but with some work, she could definitely be a viable option in the NWSL.
The fourth round is a good time to take players you think have potential but aren’t entirely sold on in their current state. Schiffel certainly has potential. That can’t be questioned. But sorry, when Lindsey Luke is STILL sitting on the board, how on Earth are you not chomping at the bit to grab her for your team!? This one left me dumbfounded. Sure, you’ve done your homework and were really hoping at this point in the fourth round you could grab this player you’ve had your eyes on as a sleeper. However, when an extremely talented player like Luke falls into your lap, surely you have to take her. Apparently, that memo wasn’t circulate at the draft. I think Schiffel is good, but better was available.
Round 4, Pick 37
Career: 1G, 3A
Another pick for the Spirit who wasn’t on the preliminary draft list. It’s clear the league likes to keep us on our toes, isn’t it? Wilson is a decently tall center back who was part of the back line in this season’s incredible run to the College Cup final. Can win balls in the air but isn’t necessarily a threat on set pieces or really an offensive contributor. She has some physicality to her game but doesn’t really step up to put an end to offensive forays by the opposing squad. Wilson is a defender with a decent track record and was a two-year starter with no injury issues.
The pick makes sense due to Wilson’s ties to the area. She’s from DC and has played for the Washington Spirit Reserves team. At this point, most of the solid defenders had been taken off the board, but if the Spirit wanted to go off-script, I do wish somehow Kala Faulkner had ended up in the NWSL. That’s perhaps a story for a different time. Point is, Wilson fills somewhat of a need, or at least gives them some depth on that back line, is someone the organization is familiar with, and brings a nice skill set to the table. You could do worse with a fourth-round pick.
Western New York Flash
Round 1, Pick 9
Career: 9G, 14A
The stats definitely don’t scream at you with Hahn but she’s been consistent on a Florida State team that’s made the College Cup each year she was getting significant minutes for the squad. If nothing, her experience with top competition should have her somewhat seasoned to deal with the midfields that will be coming her way on the professional level. Hahn is a level-headed player who is almost always cool on her feet and can deliver a consistent performance in the clutch. Her size is questionable but she can battle in the middle of the park in a deep-lying role. Hahn has a rocket of a shot and great field vision to set up her teammates with a range of passing that can cover almost any spot on the field. Overall, a consistent, quality player.
A safe pick that the Flash probably could have grabbed with their second-round picks. While Makenzy Doniak miraculously fell to them somehow, she would’ve been a good pick here. Defensively, there were some really great options still available, which is an area the Flash could stand to improve in — Bowen, Naughton, or Reed could have helped stabilize the back four or at least provided some competition in the area. However, if you make that pick maybe you don’t get Doniak because you’ve got to then take Hahn in that spot. The luck of the draw seemed on the Flash’s side for the Doniak sweepstakes, but I still think Hahn was taken a bit too high.
Round 2, Pick 11
Career: 64G, 36A
It’s hard not to sit back and just let the stats do the talking. Doniak is an incredible pure finisher who absolutely punishes the ball, and as a result, she is the all-time leader in career goals at Virginia. Not like it’s a school that’s steeped in soccer history or anything, right? When she gets the ball and has a scoring opportunity, she rarely makes a mistake; usually, the ball is flying into the corner of the net out of the keeper’s reach and the ref is blowing his whistle for a goal. She can be a cold-blooded attacker that just punishes back lines when she’s at her best. Plus, she can also set up her teammates. Her career assists total is certainly nothing to roll your eyes at, it’s downright impressive. Doniak reads the game very well and can work her way past defenders.
I’m still in a bit of shock at just how far Doniak fell. My best guess is it relates to the injury struggles that she dealt with in her senior season, but I’m not sure how you can discount her body of work due to just one nagging injury that didn’t seem to be that detrimental when all was said and done at the end of the year. Regardless, the Flash got an absolute gem to fall to the perfect spot. Now, they have an actually legit finisher on the team (sorry, Michelle Heyman, but Doniak is no doubt going to be looked to as the leader of that attack), and if she isn’t then something is wrong upstate. One of the steals of the draft for sure, although if the player does a free fall due to injury concerns way past where they were expected to be taken is it really a steal? Not sure it really matters though, because the Flash got a big-time player.
Round 2, Pick 14
Career: 36G, 29A
Just a solid contributor you can count on to put in a pretty solid performance game in and game out. Not the speediest but has the talent to beat players off of the dribble, and when she does, Weber can usually provide some excellent service into the box afterward. She was highly productive during her time in Happy Valley and was a big part of the Nittany Lions’ championship run even if the stats don’t say so. She’s a player who really understands the game and does well to create her own shot while setting up her teammates as well. Most of the time, she knows exactly where the ball needs to go.
No denying it: if Weber is on the board at this point, you should probably take a look at making her a part of your team. The Western New York midfield corps has a lot of bodies at this point, but as a team that tends to make a lot of trades in the offseason, who knows who will actually be there come opening day. I think a lot of moving and shaking has yet to happen in Flash-land, so it’s often hard to really judge the draft picks the team will be working with going into the season. Regardless, similar to the Doniak pick to a degree, if Weber is on the board when it’s your team’s turn again, you probably take a chance on drafting her.
Round 3, Pick 24
Not too much to report on here, as Liedle isn’t out there making players look like fools or dropping people with crunching slide tackles. Liedle has just been a consistent starter for the Cardinal and has logged quite a lot of minutes over her years there. No injury issues and fitness is never a question, she’s very durable and doesn’t miss games. She uses both feet well, so slotting her into either side of the defense shouldn’t be too much of a problem, and she plays with an edge to her defense. Not overly physical but will absolutely hustle and battle for the ball. A solid player that you can count on, and she may be able to make some improvements on her offensive game with time at the next level.
As I said earlier, the Flash could use some new defensive bodies to add into the mix, and Liedle is a great option to bring into the fold. She’s not the flashiest, pun non-intended, but she’s been nothing but consistent at the collegiate level and that could be just what the Flash are looking for right now. Some thought she would be off the board a bit sooner as one of the only legit outside backs in this draft class, and I am a bit shocked she fell this far. Overall, it’s another case of a player falling just right for the Flash. This pick is a great pickup and a good grab at this position in the draft.
Round 3, Pick 26
Career: 24 shutouts
Eckerstrom was a leader and an organizer for a really young Penn State back line this past season that ended up being one of the best in the NCAA. She’s an excellent decision-maker and really understands the game well. You’ll she her do well to come out and get crosses, and she isn’t afraid to come off her line and to stop the 1v1 breakaway. Eckerstrom is athletic enough to make the big-time or spectacular saves, and is a good shot stopper with the potential to be a great shot stopper with the proper training. Her leg isn’t out-of-this-world strong but her kicking game is more than adequate and her footwork is pretty good as well. Overall, she really has an opportunity to thrive and become a next-level keeper.
I wasn’t sure if Eckerstrom was going to be the first keeper off of the board, but I think if you’re going to take a keeper at this point, she’s a pretty smart pick who has a really low-risk factor for your team. With Chantel Jones retiring, the Flash definitely needed to bring in a player to compete with Sabrina D’Angelo for the starting job. As I said before, Abby Smith isn’t ready for a starting job, but I think Eckerstrom is a little closer to that possibility right now. Overall, a good pick to end on for a pretty smart draft by the Flash. A lot of young talent to build with on this team, but can they get it to all gel together?