With the third season of the National Women’s Soccer League fast approaching, Our Game Magazine‘s NWSL correspondent JJ Duke previews the 2015 NWSL College Draft. This year’s college draft class is filled with several high quality players, many of whom could be thrown into the action straightaway as all teams will be missing their national team players with the 2015 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro coming up. Though preseason is still months away, the season starts now.
The preview is in two parts: player rankings by position and a breakdown of each team’s needs heading into the draft, called the Big Board.
The Big Board section has the top 15 players in each field position and the top six goalkeepers, as well as a brief overview of each position. A total of 143 players declared for the draft. The Team by Team Needs section includes the team’s draft order, a recap of each team’s previous draft picks, and how teams might fill holes in their rosters through the draft.
(Editor’s Note: This article has been modified since the original release to reflect recently announced trades & signings)
2015 NWSL College Draft Big Board
Sofia Huerta (Santa Clara)
Chioma Ubogagu (Stanford)
Lynn Williams (Pepperdine)
Kelley Monogue (Texas A&M)
Rachel Tejada (Illinois State)
Stephanie McCaffrey (Boston College)
Kelsey Haycook (La Salle)
Stephanie Verdoia (Seattle University)
Tatiana Coleman (Central Florida)
Cloe Lacasse (Iowa)
Cara Walls (Wisconsin)
Jamia Fields (Florida State)
Jaclyn Softli (Washington)
Bianca Brinson (Texas A&M)
Kate Schwindel (West Virginia)
Plenty of solid collegiate goal scorers feature in this group but if the past two drafts have proven anything, it’s that successful goal scorers in the college game don’t always transition well to the professional game. The top projected forwards from the past two draft classes have so far been injured on-and-off in their NWSL careers or haven’t made much of an impact on the score sheet.
In term of production, the best forward from the 2013 class was Jen Hoy, who scored 3 goals in 9 games (while missing half of the season finishing up her degree at Princeton, so her numbers might have been higher had she played a full season). From the 2014 draft, Jazmine Reeves scored 7 goals in 17 games but has now retired from soccer. Both players were drafted in the later rounds. So expect the forwards drafted in this year’s class to be used more for depth than anything. This group of forwards has a lot of size and the potential to play as a target striker/playmaker up top, something teams may look for in the later rounds.
Morgan Brian (Virginia)
Sam Mewis (UCLA)
Sarah Killion (UCLA)
Shea Groom (Texas A&M)
Danielle Colaprico (Virginia)
Daphne Corboz (Georgetown)
Havana Solaun (Florida)
Lo’eau LaBonta (Stanford)
Kaysie Clark (Missouri)
Jessie Ayers (Colorado College)
Mary Luba (Marquette)
Annie Speese (Florida)
Allie Bailey (Texas A&M)
Kate Bennett (Washington)
Katie Yensen (Virginia Tech)
It wouldn’t be a surprise if we see five or six of the top midfielders selected in the first round. It’s all but confirmed that Morgan Brian will be the overall number one selection for Houston. And a few former LA Blues players will likely hear their names called by the Western New York Flash, which hold four draft picks in the first round.
This group did take a little bit of a hit when Florida State’s Dagný Brynjarsdóttir elected to sign a contract to play in Germany for the upcoming season but it’s the deepest of the four positions on the board. There are several flexible players who could play centrally or out wide. There are also a few players who didn’t make the top 15 but could be drafted, such as Riley Houle of UConn, Samantha Harder from Denver, and Brooke Elby of North Carolina.
Abby Dahlkemper (UCLA)
Arin Gilliland (Kentucky)
Kristin Grubka (Florida State)
Jaelene Hinkle (Texas Tech)
Whitney Church (Penn State)
Meghan Streight (Texas A&M)
Taylor Leach (South Carolina)
Caprice Dydasco (UCLA)
Tessa Andujar (Florida)
Melanie Pickert (Iowa)
Caroline Van Slambrouck (Kansas)
Jade Seabrook (Navy)
Carleigh Williams (Central Florida)
Kendall Romine (Stanford)
Tori Cooper (Colorado)
The defender class was hit before the turn of the calendar year when three defenders in my original top 15 elected to sign contracts overseas or didn’t put their names in for the draft: North Carolina’s Satara Murray signed with Liverpool in the FA WSL, Florida State’s Megan Campbell is exploring options in Europe, and UCLA’s Ally Courtnall didn’t declare for the draft. Still, it’s a pretty deep and I wouldn’t be overly surprised to see the majority of these players drafted.
One concern for teams in need of coverage in center back is that the group is made up of primarily outside backs. Then again, there’s always the chance that teams will try and convert a bigger and stronger outside back into a temporary center back when national team players are in camp.
Sabrina D’Angelo (South Carolina)
Katelyn Rowland (UCLA)
Jordan Day (Texas A&M)
Taylor Burke (Florida)
McKenzie Sauerwein (Missouri)
Caroline Stanley (USC)
Like each of the three field positions, the goalkeeper class is top heavy in a year in which young goalkeepers will be a premium. As things stand right now, it looks like only Sky Blue FC and Western New York will have a shot at having their top choice goalkeepers available for selection for the whole season. Teams will have the get creative in filling their goalkeeper needs when national team players are called into camp and it could be solved with a mixture of signing veteran American net minders from overseas and players out of the college draft.
In the 2013 draft, four goalkeepers were selected while only two were picked in 2014 (Kelsey Wys was the first one selected at the end of the second round). The top two goalkeepers in this class, Sabrina D’Angelo and Katelyn Rowland, could be drafted somewhere in the middle of the second round to early third round, depending on team needs. And they all have legitimate cases to compete for minutes in their rookie seasons, too.
However, this year there is a chance we may see at least three goalkeepers taken and perhaps more drafted as well (with the potential for the non-draftees to attend and make training camp rosters via open tryouts). Don’t be shocked if in the waning picks of the draft, a few more goalkeepers hear their names announced.
Boston has had two solid years in terms of drafting players with professional potential and thus a return on investment. Year one was a little rough with top pick Casey Short getting injured before training camp and ultimately missing the entire season. Both Mariah Nogueira (now with Seattle Reign FC) and Jo Dragotta saw a lot of minutes in 2013, and Maddy Evans has been a been a key player off the bench the past two seasons. In 2014, Nkem Ezurike, Jazmine Reeves, and Mollie Pathman (the last two were third-round picks) were mainstays for the Breakers last year.
What Boston Needs
Boston has depth but not necessarily a standout player at any position outside of Alyssa Naeher in net. The best bet for the Breakers is to take the highest-ranked defender available with its first pick, ideally someone who can play in the center with Cat Whitehill and has the flexibility to move out wide when needed. With seven picks to work with, it might not be a bad idea to trade a few away for a higher-round pick or an established goal scorer, preferably one who isn’t in the national team picture for her country and can work with the young core the Breakers have up front.
The Red Stars have probably done the best in the league when it comes to getting a return on investment from their college draft picks. Chicago’s 2013 draft picks (Zakiya Bywaters, Rachel Quon, Taylor Vancil, and Jen Hoy) have all made solid contributions (Quon was a constant starter in both seasons). In 2014, Chicago landed Julie Johnston and Vanessa DiBernardo with the third and fourth overall picks, both of whom appeared and started almost every match they were available for.
What Chicago Needs
With possibly seven players missing time because of the World Cup, the Red Stars will need to make the most of their first-round picks. And with Lori Chalupny back into the U.S. National Team fold, getting a rock in the central midfield is crucial. The problem is there isn’t a guarantee a deep-lying midfielder like Sam Mewis (UCLA) will be on the board when Chicago’s first pick rolls around.
Do the Red Stars try and convert someone to a holding midfield role or do they worry about that later and add a creative midfielder like Shea Groom (Texas A&M) or Danielle Colaprico (Virginia)? I wouldn’t be overly surprised if Chicago uses one of its third-round picks on a goalkeeper. Taylor Vancil is a solid goalkeeper to take over when Karina LeBlanc is unavailable but Chicago will need to add a reliable number two that can step in when needed.
FC Kansas City
2014 Record: Second Place, 12-7-5, 41 points; Champions
2013 Record: Second Place, 11-6-5, 38 points; lost in playoff semifinal
2015 Draft Picks
Round 2: 12th, 16th, and 17th
Round 3: 19th and 26th
Round 4: 35th
The Blues have received production from their higher-round draft picks but not so much from their later-round picks. In 2013, Kansas City landed Kristie Mewis (now with Boston) still on the board at the third overall pick and got a steal in Erika Tymrak in the second round.
Last year, FCKC drafted Kassey Kallman (now with Boston) in the first round, and Morgan Marlborough (also now with Boston) and Jenna Richmond in the second round. All three made solid contributions to the squad in its championship run. But production then drops off when it comes to the Blues picking in the later rounds. Nia Williams was a fourth-round pick in 2013 and saw limited minutes when national team players were unavailable. Frances Silva was used often as a sub last year but is on the lower end of the forward depth chart while Mandy Laddish played just 15 minutes in two matches.
What Kansas City Needs
Defenders. Kansas City’s current roster lists four natural defenders. Oh, and trying to fill the void left by Lauren Holiday while she’s away on national team duty, which is no easy task. I can see them also taking a forward late but that almost seems to be a trend for the Blues. With three picks in the second round, Kansas City could be looking at the best available midfielder with the 12th overall pick — potentially, players likes Havana Solaun (Florida) or Kaysie Clark (Missouri), and then pull the trigger on a few defenders.
2014 Record: Ninth Place, 5-16-3, 18 points
2015 Draft Picks
Round 1: 1st
Round 2: 13th
Round 4: 31st
Top pick Kealia Ohai scored 4 goals in 23 matches and the Dash got a steal in the fourth round in Jordan Jackson. Jackson appeared in 20 matches in the midfield and gained valuable minutes and experience in her young professional career. Second-round picks Rafaelle Souza and Marissa Diggs made fair contributions.
What Houston Needs
Scoring and defense. While it sounds simple to say, the Dash are in desperate need of both. They scored a league-low 23 goals last season and gave up 44 goals, which was second-worst in league rankings. During this offseason, Dash Head Coach Randy Waldrum has already bolstered the midfield, acquiring Carli Lloyd, Rosana, Rachael Axon (last with Kolbotn IL in the Toppserien), and Ashley Nick (from Sky Blue FC). With the number one pick, it’s almost certain the Dash will draft Morgan Brian (Virginia). After that, the Dash will look for the best defender on the board still available (potentially Jaelene Hinkle of Texas Tech or Kristin Grubka of Florida State) and then take a forward with their last pick.
Portland Thorns FC
2014 Record: Third Place, 10-8-6, 36 points; lost in playoff semifinal
2013 Record: Third Place, 11-6-5, 38 points; Champions
2015 Draft Picks
None (Editors Note: Since the release of this article, the Thorns announced a trade, sending the 25th & 34th overall pick to Sky Blue FC in exchange for Defender Kendall Johnson)
It’s been hit or miss for Portland in the college draft. Under Cindy Parlow Cone in 2013, the Thorns drafted Kat Williamson, who went on to have a major impact on the field in her rookie season. Cone drafted Amber Brooks in an effort to lure the then Bayern Munich midfielder back to the United States but Brooks didn’t return to Portland until the 2014 season. Under Paul Riley last year, who had just two draft picks, he landed Emily Menges as the 25th overall pick and the former Georgetown defender ended up featuring in all but one match and starting in all but two. Riley also used the draft to trade for more experienced players who fit in his system.
What Portland Needs
During a question-and-answer session on the Thorns’ Facebook page, team owner Merritt Paulson said the team had traded away its two picks in this year’s draft. So whatever the needs are that Portland needs to fill, they will be filling them with more experienced players as a opposed to players from this years draft class. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Thorns decide to try and stir up a few trades on Draft day for future draft picks in exchange for more established players.
Seattle Reign FC
2014 Record: First Place, 16-2-6, 54 points; league runner-up
2013 Record: Seventh Place, 5-14-3, 18 points
2015 Draft Picks
Round 2: 15th
Round 4: 36th
Head Coach Laura Harvey landed Christine Nairn in the first round in 2013. Nairn was a key contributor for the Reign before being traded to the Washington Spirit before last season. Haley Kopmeyer was drafted in the fourth round in 2013 and is a reliable back-up but hasn’t seen a lot of game action, and Seattle’s top pick in 2014, Amanda Frisbie, missed the entire season due to injuries.
What Seattle Needs
When you take stock of NWSL rosters and take out the players who might be lost for a good portion of the season on national team duty, the Reign might still have the strongest roster on paper. Seattle will still need to fill some holes in terms of depth, especially if forwards Beverly Goebel (Editors Note: Goebel has re-signed to a deal with Seattle for the 2015 season since the release of this post) and Nahomi Kawasumi don’t return for 2015. If a forward like Chioma Ubogagu (Stanford) or local product Stephanie Verdoia (Seattle University) is still available at the 15th pick, it would be an ideal move to draft either one and then see if a goalkeeper is left in the fourth round to back up Kopmeyer.
Sky Blue FC
2014 Record: Sixth Place, 9-8-7, 34 points
2013 Record: Fourth Place, 10-6-6, 38 points; lost in playoff semifinal
2015 Draft Picks
Round 1: 2nd
Round 2: 10th
Round 3: 22nd, 25th
Round 4: 28th, 34th
(Editors Note: Since the release of this article, Sky Blue has acquired Portland’s 25th & 34th overall selections in exchange for Defender Kendall Johnson)
It’s been Jekyll & Hyde for Sky Blue in previous drafts. In 2013, Head Coach Jim Gabarra fared better when he drafted reliable defenders Lindsi Cutshall and Kendall Johnson. Both have been key players for the past two seasons. But Sky Blue had a rough go of it during the 2014 draft as top pick Maya Hayes scored just 1 goal in 23 games, and the rest of its picks were either injured for the season (Hayley Haagsma) or didn’t report to camp (Michelle Pao and Elizabeth Eddy). This year, Sky Blue has a pair of Top 10 draft picks so the pressure is on the New Jersey squad to duplicate it’s the success it found in the 2013 draft.
What Sky Blue Needs
Sky Blue has question marks all over the field heading into the season for a few reasons. The club hasn’t announced re-signings so as of now, we don’t know what its roster will look like for 2015. Like most clubs, Sky Blue could be missing eight or nine players due to the World Cup. With high draft picks in each round, Sky Blue should focus on adding depth to all its lines. All signs are pointing to selecting Sarah Killion from UCLA at the second overall pick and she could slot in very nicely next to Katy Freels. Several local products are around that Sky Blue should keep an eye on: Danielle Colaprico (Virginia) from Freehold, N.J.; Daphne Corboz (Georgetown) from Greenbrook, N.J.; and Kelsey Haycook (La Salle) from Point Pleasant, N.J. to name a few.
2014 Record: Fourth Place, 10-9-5, 35 points; lost in playoff semifinal
2013 Record: Eighth Place, 3-14-5, 14 points
2015 Draft Picks
Round 4: 30th
In 2013, the Spirit drafted with the mindset of attack, attack, attack. It didn’t quite work out for the club. Under new Head Coach Mark Parsons, the Spirit drafted Crystal Dunn w, the expected number one overall pick, but lost out in the later rounds after Virginia products Molly Menchel and Shasta Fisher didn’t report to camp. Injuries have plagued 2013 draftee Caroline Miller, and forward Tiffany Weimer (also the Editor in Chief of OGM), acquired via a trade during the 2014 draft, was out for the season due to an ACL injury, but both are set to return in 2015.
What Washington Needs
Washington’s sole pick of the draft comes in the fourth round so it’s a Take the Best Available Player Scenario for Parsons. The Spirit will need to look at either a defender or a goalkeeper in the draft as the Spirit will most likely be without Ali Krieger, Crystal Dunn, and Ari Romero in defense, and Ashlyn Harris in goal for the World Cup. After trading Chantel Jones to the Western New York Flash for Kelsey Wys, it will be up to Wys to solidify herself as the starter when Harris is with the U.S. National Team.
Western New York Flash
2014 Record: Seventh Place, 8-12-4, 28 points
2013 Record: First Place, 10-4-8, 38 points; league runner-up
2015 Draft Picks
Round 1: 3rd, 4th, 6th, and 7th
Round 2: 18th
Round 3: 21st
Previous drafts for the Flash have been erratic but that will change with Charlie Naimo as the club’s Technical Advisor for 2015. Of the five players the Flash drafted last year — Kelsey Wys, Courtney Verloo, Cloee Colohan, and Annie Steinlage — only Wys made any impact on the field in 2014 (Verloo played one minute in one match and the others didn’t report to camp). Adrianna Franch was the squad’s top pick in 2013 and with her play in goal, nearly won the Flash the 2013 NWSL Championship as a rookie. Franch missed all of 2014 with an ACL injury.
With Naimo on board for the season, it won’t be a surprise if several former LA Blues players head to Rochester for preseason. With the current midfield situation looking sparse for Western New York, we could see two or three midfielders drafted in the first round and then a defender as well. In later rounds, we could see the Flash going for depth at the forward position as Jasmyne Spencer and Abby Wambach are currently the only forwards listed on the Flash roster.