Who scored in NWSL draft?
The National Women's Soccer League moved one step closer to the start of its second season with Friday's college draft. Highlighted by the core of the United States team that beat Germany to win the 2011 under-20 Women's World Cup, and featuring plenty of talent beyond those familiar names, the draft class of 2014 should provide plenty of answers. But let's start with some questions.
Why is Crystal Dunn a game-changer in Washington?
The No. 1 overall pick is a label that ultimately has as much to do with the other players in a draft class as the player who must shoulder it throughout a career. Franchise players, on the other hand, are born solely of their own skill. Washington made Dunn the No. 1 pick this year, and walked away with a potential franchise player.
In the past 16 months, Dunn won the under-20 Women's World Cup, an NCAA championship, the Hermann Trophy as college soccer's best player, and eight caps (including six starts) for the senior national team. She was the ACC defender of the year in two of her first three seasons at North Carolina. The only reason she didn't make it three in four seasons is that she was the conference's offensive player of the year as a senior. Her place for the United States is as an outside back with the speed to blaze down the wings, but for a Spirit team that scored 16 goals in 2013, a total at least doubled by six of the eight teams that competed, the ball needs to be at her feet as an attacking midfielder.
How much does the college draft matter?
The starting lineups in last season's semifinals featured seven players selected in the first NWSL college draft. An eighth starter, Portland's Meleana Shim (and she is Portland's again after a trade Friday ended her very brief stay with Houston and landed the expansion team both Nikki Washington and a second-round pick used on defender Marissa Diggs), completed her college career the previous fall but slipped through four rounds undrafted.
Selected by FC Kansas City in the second round exactly one year ago, Erika Tymrak finished the league's first season as one of the most productive midfielders and exciting attacking talents on the field and closed out the calendar year with multiple caps for the United States and a place in the discussion for the 2015 Women's World Cup.
And at least on paper, that wasn't supposed to be one of the deeper classes of college seniors in recent years.
So, yes, even with roster spots at a premium in a league with only nine teams (although the addition of that ninth team in Houston adds a few jobs to the mix), the college draft matters.
What was the most surprising first-round move?
Conventional wisdom went largely unscathed. Houston needed attacking talent and got character and charisma to boot with Kealia Ohai as the No. 2 pick. Kansas City needed a central defender to potentially replace Canadian international Lauren Sesselmann and took the best one on the board with Kassey Kallman at No. 5. Sky Blue took Maya Hayes at No. 6, getting a player who finished her career at Penn State as the NCAA's leading active scorer and whose speed makes her good short-term insurance to cover Australian Lisa De Vanna's international commitments.
If there was a surprise, perhaps it was Seattle Reign FC taking Amanda Frisbie at No. 7, if only because it meant a chic pre-draft sleeper pick instead came off the board quickly, right where her versatility as a forward-turned-defender merited.
Who might come back to haunt teams?
Remember the name Tesa McKibben, even if, like Shim a year ago, nobody at the draft remembered it. It's a big jump from Saint Francis University of the Northeast Conference to the NWSL, but McKibben is a creative player who is composed on the ball (sound familiar yet?) and a strong finisher. She finished her career second among active players in goals and second in assists. That's difficult to do regardless of the level of competition. She could be a valuable poacher off the bench. She could also be considerably more than that.
In terms of those who were drafted, Boston landed a potential steal when it took Jazmine Reeves with the No. 21 pick. A late bloomer at Virginia Tech, at least in terms of finding a place among the game's elite, she was brilliant for the Hokies this season and looked as dangerous as any player on the field in the College Cup.
Which team helped itself the most?
Chicago had two picks in the first round, so it had a head start on helping itself. When you think about adding Julie Johnston and Vanessa DiBernardo to a roster that should also welcome back defender Amy Lepeilbet and last year's No. 1 overall pick, Zakiya Bywaters, from knee injuries and eventually add Christen Press, it takes some effort not to be optimistic.
But with five of the first 20 picks, Kansas City made volume work brilliantly. In addition to Kallman, Jenna Richmond (No. 16) or Kansas City native Mandy Laddish (No. 20) could partner with Jen Buczkowski in the defensive midfield, as Richmond did so well with Sarah Killion at UCLA and Laddish did at Notre Dame, to at least partly ease the sting of losing Desiree Scott to England. And along with high-profile arrival Amy Rodriguez, Kansas City natives Morgan Marlborough (No. 12) and Frances Silva (No. 19) add promising finishers to play with Tymrak and Lauren Holiday.
The Kansas City area has long supplied colleges across the country with a lot of talent. Its pro team is now the beneficiary.