For the fourth consecutive year, I’ve put together a list of players to keep an eye on during the 2016 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) College Draft, which will take place at the Baltimore Convention Center on Friday, January 15th at 10am ET.
It’s that time of year again when much of the soccer world descends on the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Convention, held this year in Baltimore, Maryland. As it has since the league’s inception, the NWSL will hold its College Draft during the Convention, giving 40 graduating seniors the opportunity to realize their dreams of playing professional soccer.
Each franchise takes a different approach to the draft. Some teams rely heavily on building their rosters around draft picks while others use the draft to package together trades for more experienced players. This is the most recent order of the draft so far with the Portland Thorns FC holding the first pick.
How teams handle the draft will be interesting; for the second straight year, an international competition will be held in the middle of the NWSL season, with the Rio Olympics running from August 3-19. And teams expecting to lose players to international duty will look to bolster their rosters.
Without further ado, here is this year’s Big Board.
Editor’s note – * denotes an international player not from Canada or Mexico. ^ denotes a player from Canada or Mexico.
Janine Beckie^, Texas Tech
Makenzy Doniak, Virginia
Rachel Daly*, St. John’s
Cheyna Williams, Florida State
Jannelle Flaws, Illinois
Cali Farquharson, Arizona State
Brittany Ratcliffe, Virginia
Leah Galton*, Hofstra
Mallory Weber, Penn State
Elise Krieghoff, Cal Poly
Ashleigh Ellenwood, Arkansas
Summer Green, North Carolina
Elise Wyatt^, DePaul
Kailey Utley, West Virginia
Taylor Smith, UCLA
Jenna Fisher, Boston University
Lots of proven goal scorers in this group and there is a strong feeling that a few forwards will be taken off the board early. Janine Beckie was the most consistent striker of the class as she wrapped up her collegiate career with 57 goals and 16 assists and just missed out on being named to the Canadian World Cup roster. Beckie’s name name on the list might mean she won’t be allocated by the Canadian Soccer Association. However, she was born in the United States, and won’t take up a team’s international spot, which is a plus for her case.
While Makenzy Doniak’s goal-scoring rate dropped this year (down to 14 from 20 in each of the past two years), she has shown growth in her ability to be a distributor. She picked up 11 assists in each of the past two years at Virginia and her all-around game will give her an advantage over other forwards.
The sleeper of the group goes to the other forward who hails from Harrogate, England, Leah Galton. She was a second team All-American this year along with being the CAA Player of the Year for three straight years and finished her career at Hofstra with 48 goals scored and 26 assists. The team that takes a shot at the former England U-19 International won’t be disappointed with Galton.
Raquel Rodriguez*, Penn State
Liana Salazar*, Kansas
Carson Pickett, Florida State
Nicole Waters^, Dayton
Sarah Zadrazil*, East Tennessee State
Michaela Hahn, Florida State
Courtney Raetzman, Kentucky
Sophia Maccagnone, Butler
Alexa Newfield, North Carolina
Dani Weatherholt, Santa Clara
Sarah Schweiss, Colorado College
Kinley McNicoll^, Wisconsin
Natalia Gomez Junco^, LSU
Hayley Katkowski, Rutgers
This year’s midfield group is international-heavy and is headlined by the captain of the College Cup Champions, Raquel Rodriguez. “Rocky” Rodriguez had a stellar season for Penn State this year with six goals and six assists and capped it off by winning the MAC Hermann Trophy. But what she also brings to the table is a world-class touch and ability to open up the field with her passing ability. People who watched the College Cup saw the Costa Rican World Cup member pick apart defenses with her precision passing and ability to dictate the pace of the game. She will certainly be in the mix for one of the top-five picks overall.
Another interesting prospect is the 2011 World Cup veteran in Liana Salazar, who scored 20 goals over the previous two years at Kansas. Salazar has pace, goal-scoring ability, and World Cup experience, so teams may use one of their international slots to draft her.
One name you’ll definitely want to keep an eye on in the later rounds is Dayton’s Nicole Waters. The two-time Atlantic-10 Midfielder of the Year is coming off of a season in which she collected 17 assists in addition to scoring six goals. She holds Dayton’s school records for career assists (54) and assists in a single season (18), and has shown the ability to be a box-to-box midfielder with good defending ability. Teams may take a flyer (no pun intended) on her in the later rounds if available.
Emily Sonnett, Virginia
Christen Westphal, Florida
Erica Skroski, Rutgers
Georgia Kearney-Perry*, St. John’s
Cari Roccaro, Notre Dame
Samantha Witteman, California
Brianne Reed, Rutgers
Katie Naughton, Notre Dame
Katie Bowen*, North Carolina
Laura Liedle, Stanford
Adrienne Jordan, Northern Colorado
Sarah Gorden, DePaul
Paige Nielsen, North Carolina
Expect this year’s draft to be very defender-heavy as this may be the most talented group of graduating defenders we’ve seen in some time. Six defenders from the three 2015 All-American teams have declared themselves eligible for the NWSL Draft. That group includes first teamers Emily Sonnett and Christen Westphal, second teamers Georgia Kearney-Perry and Erica Skroski, as well as third teamers Cari Roccaro and Samantha Witteman. It was nearly impossible to rank those seven defenders because they all bring something special to the table.
Sonnett has broken through into the U.S. Women’s National Team and Roccaro was a two-time member of U.S. U-20 World Cup teams. Skroski was part of a Rutgers back line that produced 19 clean sheets in 2015 while Westphal helped Florida get back to the top of the SEC. And both Kearney-Perry and Witteman have been the best defenders in the Big East and PAC-12, respectively, for the past two years and both could be a first-round picks.
Past that group, you have a former 2015 New Zealand Womnen’s National Team World Cup member in Bowen, former USWNT U-20 internationals in Katie Naughton and Laura Liedle, and another key part of Rutgers’s 2015 back line in Brianne Reed. Originally, this list also included Florida’s Claire Falknor, but according to the school’s website, she recently signed for Bayern Munich and will be flying to Germany to join her new team. Even without her, that’s 10 quality defenders and it won’t be surprising if all of those players were off the board before the end of the second round.
Caroline Casey, William & Mary
Abby Smith, Texas
Britt Eckerstrom, Penn State
Jackie Kerestine, North Texas
Andi Tostanoski, Santa Clara
After five goalkeepers were taken in the inaugural NWSL College Draft in 2013, each of the last two drafts has seen only two keepers selected and none as high as a late second rounder. But this year that might change, with the addition of a new franchise combined with trades, releases, retirements, and the possibility of losing goalkeepers during the Olympics.
The list begins with Caroline Casey, who started every match of her career at William & Mary and was named as a first team All-American. She is coming off of a season in which she picked up 11 clean sheets and had a goals against average of 0.88.
Other potential selections could include Abby Smith, who has been involved with the USWNT at the youth level. Also, it wouldn’t come as a complete surprise if the Washington Spirit, which lists one goalkeeper on its roster at the moment, select Britt Eckerstrom, who spent her youth days playing for the Washington Freedom and lives in the same town as the Maryland SoccerPlex, where the Spirit train and play their home games.