The 2020 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) College Draft was held on January 16, 2020, in Baltimore, and as expected, Stanford’s Sophia Smith was selected No. 1 overall by the Portland Thorns FC.
Draft Order Shenanigans
Per the usual, a couple of trades went down before the draft began, including a swap between the Chicago Red Stars and Sky Blue FC that saw Sky Blue’s Nos. 2 and 3 overall picks go to Chicago in exchange for the Nos. 4 and 5 overall picks and allocation money.
Chicago then sent the No. 2 pick to Portland Thorns in exchange for the Nos. 15 and 16 picks and allocation money.
Still with me? Chicago then acquired Rachel Hill from the Orlando Pride along with the No. 19 overall pick in the draft, a first-round selection in the 2021 NWSL College Draft, and allocation money. Orlando received the Nos. 3 and 26 overall picks in the draft.
Deep breath. Not done yet. The Washington Spirit took Sky Blue’s 4th, 13th, and 17th picks in the draft and a first-round draft pick in the 2021 draft for a Player to Be Named Later.
That Player to Be Named Later would turn out to be Mallory Pugh.
Okay, so later in the draft Portland sends its 34th overall pick to the Reign FC for a Player to Be Named Later.
So the draft order ended up like this:
01. Portland Thorns FC
02. Portland Thorns FC
03. Orlando Pride
04. Washington Spirit
05. Sky Blue FC
06. North Carolina Courage
07. Orlando Pride
08. Utah Royals FC
09. Reign FC
10. Orlando Pride
11. Sky Blue FC
12. Utah Royals FC
13. Washington Spirit
14. Orlando Pride
15. Chicago Red Stars
16. Chicago Red Stars
17. Washington Spirit
18. Houston Dash
19. Chicago Red Stars
20. Sky Blue FC
21. Orlando Pride
22. Houston Dash
23. Washington Spirit
24. Chicago Red Stars
25. Portland Thorns FC
26. Orlando Pride
27. North Carolina Courage
28. North Carolina Courage
29. Sky Blue FC
30. Orlando Pride
31. Utah Royals FC
32. Washington Spirit
33. Reign FC
34. Reign FC
35. Chicago Red Stars
36. North Carolina Courage
I’m not even sure if that’s right but we move on.
I have to remind myself that the NWSL is an iceberg — we see only a little bit so when a team makes its draft selections and makes trades there are usually reasons for them (player going elsewhere, player won’t play for them, player doesn’t fit a need, player fits a future need, player will be packaged for a future trade, expansion proofing, and so on). And sometimes there aren’t any reasons, the team is just dumb.
Caveat: All teams have to content with national team absences due to the Tokyo Olympics that start in July and end in early August.
Portland Thorns FC
Who they got:
- (#1) Sophia Smith / Stanford / Forward
- (#2) Morgan Weaver / Washington State / Forward
- (#25) Meaghan Nally / Georgetown / Defender
Prior to the draft, the Thorns traded away defender Emily Sonnett and Midge Purce and saw midfielder Andressinha return to Brazil in search of more playing time. The Thorns acquired midfielder Raquel Rodriguez from Sky Blue in the Purce trade that should help in central midfield and with Smith they get an exceptional No. 9 to pair with Tobin Heath and if the rumors are true, France’s Kadidiatou Diani, which would be very, very nice. With France out of this year’s Olympics, Diani and Smith would have time to develop chemistry. Should the Diani Deal fall through, Washington State’s Morgan Weaver would get her chance.
With Sonnett gone, Portland’s in need of a center back and more depth in defense. Georgetown’s Meaghan Nally can play anywhere along the back line but don’t expect head coach Mark Parsons to be done adding to his defense.
Who they got:
- (#3) Taylor Kornieck / Colorado / Defender, Midfielder
- (#7) Courtney Peterson / Virginia / Defender, Midfielder
- (#10) Konya Plummer / Central Florida / Defender
- (#14) Phoebe McClernon / Virginia / Defender
- (#21) Cheyenne Shorts / Denver / Defender
- (#26) Abi Kim / Cal / Forward
- (#30) Chelsee Washington / Bowling Green State / Midfielder
Can we be honest about the Pride? The team is still recovering from disastrous moves made in 2016 and their hands are tied when it comes to certain players. Perhaps the front office underestimated the league or weren’t as committed to the women’s side. Signs of late have pointed to attempts to make corrections, including acquiring Emily Sonnett and the rights to Caitlin Foord. Foord, though, is expected to sign in Europe and that leaves the Pride still in need of a better midfield — so they went and drafted defenders and at a heavy price, including a first-round pick in next year’s draft that expects to a pretty good one.
Taylor Kornieck is a tall defender/midfielder but her passing may be an issue, especially with the speed of play in the NWSL. Virginia’s Courtney Petersen will fit in at left back in head coach Marc Skinner’s system nicely, as will Central Florida’s Konay Plummer, who is also the captain of Jamaica’s Women’s National Team, adding some leadership. Petersen’s fellow Cavalier Phoebe McClernon adds depth at both center back and right back and is coming off a strong senior season at Virginia. Cheyenne Shorts is a natural center back but McClernon is projected higher right now so it’s puzzling why Skinner didn’t look to bolster the midfield with this pick. Forward Abi Kim faces a tough task cracking the projected attacking line of Alex Morgan (when she returns), Sydney Leroux, and Claire Emslie so I expect Kim to find herself somewhere along the defensive line.
Orlando appears to have bolstered the back line but is still weak in midfield, a long-standing issue with the team, and may have paid a too heavy price in giving up picks in next year’s draft with expansion looming. Pulling back and looking at the draft as a whole, Orlando picked up good players but the overall fit is off. Skinner isn’t done, though, but will he be able to strengthen the midfield?
Who they got:
- (#4) Ashley Sanchez / UCLA / Midfielder, Forward
- (#13) Natalie Jacobs / USC / Defender, Midfielder, Forward
- (#17) Averie Collins / Washington State / Midfielder
- (#23) Katie McClure / Kansas / Forward
- (#32) Kaiya McCullough / UCLA / Defender
The Spirit are continuing the overhaul started after cleaning house in 2016 and also during this past offseason, and have built a young but talented squad through the draft. You get the feeling Washington is one piece away from being a title contender again, especially at right back, where stalwart Tori Huster did a heckuva job there last season but it’s not her natural position.
Head coach Richie Burke isn’t afraid to roll the dice and he did so at the draft by sending forward Mallory Pugh to Sky Blue in exchange for the No. 4 overall pick. Pugh hasn’t been a bust — she’s a one-of-a-kind talent — but she could use a change of scenery to jump start a career that has stalled — not peaked, mind you — lately. UCLA’s Ashley Sanchez will be expected to fill the void on the front line left by Pugh, and it’s going to be a tall order, but combined with Ashley Hatch and Japanese forward Kumi Yokoyama, and backed up by a midfield of Jordan DiBiasi, Rose Lavelle, and Andi Sullivan should make her task easier. Honestly, sounds like a pretty good and young attacking corps for the Spirit that could set them up for long-term success if they can weather the upcoming expansion storm.
The Spirit still lack a right back and backup goalkeeper, though. UCLA’s Kaiya McCullough is a solid center back but not a right back and it’s hard to see her displacing the starting center back duo of Paige Nielsen and Sam Staab.
Washington is asking a lot of Sanchez but Burke has shown he isn’t afraid to give younger players chances to show what they can do.
Sky Blue FC
Who they got:
- (#5) Evelyne Viens / South Florida / Forward
- (#11) Kaleigh Riehl / Penn State / Defender
- (#20) Amanda McGlynn / Virginia Tech / Goalkeeper
- (#29) Chantelle Swaby / Rutgers / Defender, Midfielder
Remember when no one wanted to play for Sky Blue? What a difference a year and a general manager who cares makes. New head coach Freya Coombe still has her work cut out for her with her defense but she put together a really good draft and picked up Mallory Pugh in the process and added Midge Purce and McCall Zerboni in the offseason. Zerboni, the consummate pro, could be the unifying force on and off the field to give Sky Blue that extra little punch it needs.
South Florida’s Evelyne Viens is a scorer, flat-out, and indicates Coombe may be looking to pair Viens with Pugh and keep Imani Dorsey and/or Midge Purce in defense (ugh!). Sky Blue needs defense and they got it and a steal at No. 10 with Penn States’ Kaleigh Riehl. Riehl could pair with either Estelle Johnson or Mandy Freeman, who is expected to return after tearing her ACL last season. The second steal Sky Blue made was snagging Amanda McGlynn at No. 20. They needed a strong backup to Kailen Sheridan and they got it.
North Carolina Courage
Who they got:
- (#6) Alleandra Watt / Texas A&M / Forward
- (#27) Sinclaire Miramontez / Nebraska / Defender
- (#28) Addisyn Merrick / Kansas / Defender
- (#36) Brianne Folds / Auburn / Midfielder
The perennial league winners said goodby to midfield engine McCall Zerboni in the offseason and acquired versatile Hailie Mace, who returns from Europe. Mace will be excellent cover for Abby Dahlkemper, who is likely going to the Olympics and probably gone during next year’s expansion in Sacramento (Dahlkemper is from northern California). Carolina is stacked so it’s just adding players that will provide competition and if they earn a starting spot, more power to them.
Goodness, when we talk about “fit” and when drafting for it goes well, see what head coach Paul Riley did with the No. 6 pick in Texas A&M’s Ally Watt. Watt is another speedster who can develop behind original speedsters Lynn Williams and Jessica McDonald.
Sinclaire Miramontez, Addisyn Merrick, and Brianne Folds are all solid picks but unfortunately are going to a team that has first-rate starters who will be difficult to displace. They all should, if they stay, have the opportunity to develop without pressure. Developing these players is a win-win for the Courage: with expansion looming North Carolina is stacking up on trading assets while the players are gaining valuable experience.
Utah Royals FC
Who they got:
- (#8) Tziarra King / North Carolina State / Midfielder, Forward
- (#12) Kate Del Fava / Illinois State / Defender, Midfielder, Forward
- (#31) Cyera Hintzen / Texas / Forward
Hmm. what do the Royals need? A coach. Other than that, the second-year team will need some depth in attack after sending Katie Stengel to Houston and Makenzy Doniak to Chicago in the offseason in exchange for draft picks. The No. 8 pick, Tziarra King, will help in the attack but will most likely play a complementary role to Christen Press.
Kate Del Fava is a solid midfielder who can score and break up plays when needed but might still have been available with the No. 31 pick so value is a question here for the club, as in who else was still available at No. 12?
Utah has some work to do before the season starts but weren’t hurt by the draft. Priority here is getting the head coaching vacancy filled.
Who they got:
- (#9) Kelcie Hedge / Santa Clara / Midfielder
- (#33) Samantha Hiatt / Stanford / Defender, Midfielder
- (#34) Meg Brandt / Nebraska / Midfielder
So much is up in the air for the Reign with their French adoptive parents coming into the league. Former Olympique Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain manager Farid Benstiti is rumored to be the next head coach of the club and should it play out, might be giving credence to some of the concerns involved with bringing foreign ownership into the league. Namely, not reading the temperature of the league for one, especially after reports have come light about the coaching staff at PSG’s expectations for fitness and appearance.
But this is about the draft and what the Reign need and whether they got it. Short answer: maybe. The team didn’t have a lot to work with in terms of picks but midfielder Kelcie Hedge will help a midfield in need of some energy. Stanford’s Sam Hiatt is a solid defender, mainly a center back, but the Reign could use some cover at right back.
Chicago Red Stars
Who they got:
- (#15) Julia Bingham / USC / Defender
- (#16) Camryn Biegalski / Wisconsin / Defender
- (#19) Zoe Morse / Virginia / Defender, Midfielder
- (#24) Ella Stevens / Duke / Midfielder, Forward
- (#35) Aerial Chavarin / Yale / Defender, Midfielder, Forward
Some play checkers while other play chess. Sums up head coach Rory Dames and how he works the college draft: playing the long game.
The big hole to fill for the Red Stars is the loss of Sam Kerr, er, or as much as it’s possible to replace a player like Kerr. The Red Stars added Kealia Ohai in the offseason who could use a fresh start as she looks to regain her 2016 form. As part of the trade to get Ohai, Chicago sent center back Katie Naughton to Houston so depth is needed in defense as well as a strong midfielder to fill in if Julie Ertz stays in the back line with Tierna Davidson. USC’s Julia Bingham was still available at No. 15 and the defender will fit in nicely with Dames’ squad, as will right back Camryn Biegalski. That needed depth at center back was helped by the Red Stars’ pick at No. 19, Zoe Morse. Morse anchored Virginia’s back line last season and has the potential to develop in Chicago.
Duke midfielder Ella Stevens might be the sleeper steal at No. 24, and Yale’s Aerial Chavarin might turn out to be the d-mid Chicago needs if Ertz slides back into defense.
Solid picks and trades all-around for Chicago that fill depth needs now and sets the club up for future success in the 2021 draft.
Who they got:
- (#18) Bridgette Andrzejewski / North Carolina / Forward
- (#22) Chloe Castaneda / UCLA / Midfielder, Forward
Houston had limited choices with only two selections in the draft but its needs are fairly simple, a defensive midfielder. And they chose… two forwards. North Carolina’s Bridgette Andrzejewski had a solid senior season and could be depth behind Katie Stengel, who was acquired in a trade from Utah earlier in the year, and UCLA’s Chloe Castaneda had an up and down senior season. The Dash need an out-and-out scorer and neither player is one.
So who won, who lost? Come on, man, it’s a little early to tell, plus, we’re all winners. Pick up your participation trophy on your way out.
The Draft List
Below are the results from the draft. Social media links are for public accounts only.