NWSL Draft: 5 Things You Need To Know
In a league in which championship potential is determined as much by allocations from the national federations of Canada, Mexico and the United States and the global talent market as by the most recent stars emerging from American college soccer, the National Women's Soccer League draft is just one small piece of the offseason puzzle.
But as FC Kansas City demonstrated when it won a title with rookies Kassey Kallman and Jenna Richmond in the starting lineup, as well as former second-round steal Erika Tymrak, it can be a valuable piece.
With a class this year that included an obvious franchise cornerstone and the kind of depth that makes it all the more important not to pick the wrong person, Friday's draft will help shape the season ahead. Here are five notes to take away from the selections.
1. Delayed gratification in Houston
The Dash were competitive more often than not in their first season, but with 23 goals in 24 games, they also displayed the attacking depth one might expect of an expansion team -- as in, there wasn't any. So the idea of pairing overall No. 1 pick Morgan Brian in the midfield with veteran international Carli Lloyd, acquired in the offseason from Western New York after one of her most productive professional seasons, should rightly inspire visions of more commanding play in the Lone Star State -- and many more goals. It just may have to wait until 2016 to take shape.
With Lloyd obviously part of the World Cup picture for United States coach Jill Ellis and Brian seemingly a good bet to join her on the final roster, the Dash will be lucky to have them on the field together for half of the league's abbreviated 20-game season, factoring in training camps and any rest and recuperation necessary before or after the World Cup. The franchise player has arrived, but consider this season a preview of coming attractions.
2. Youth movement in Western New York
It won't sell as many tickets as allocated star power, of which little beyond that attached to Abby Wambach remains in Western New York these days, but at least from afar, it is going to be fascinating to see how the Flash integrate 44 percent of the first round into the fold. With four first-round picks, acquired over time at the expense of familiar NWSL names like Sarah Huffman, Samantha Kerr and Angela Salem, the Flash used the third and fourth picks of the first round on former college players of the year in UCLA teammates Abby Dahlkemper and Sam Mewis, respectively, and then added two of the most impressive athletes in the draft with the sixth and seventh picks in Pepperdine forward Lynn Williams and Texas Tech defender Jaelene Hinkle. All four have experience in the national team system.
Given the depth of talent available and a season that may generally have a more developmental feel and level of play across the league because of World Cup commitments, the youth movement is a gamble that makes some sense. It's a big jump from even good college soccer to the talent-condensed NWSL, and some teams like Portland, which has used just one first-round pick in three seasons, may prefer other methods of asset acquisition. But as Chicago showed a season ago in getting 40 starts and more than 3,600 minutes from first-round picks Vanessa DiBernardo and Julie Johnston, the draft can pay immediate dividends. It will need to if the Flash are to be competitive.
3. Quietest Bruin gets her due
It really was an embarrassment of riches at UCLA this past season. The Bruins produced three of the top four picks in the draft and four of the top 13, as well as the first goalkeeper to come off the board. But it was both a bold move and a deserved reward when Sky Blue FC took former Bruins midfielder Sarah Killion with the No. 2 pick. Killion, who if not entirely overlooked, was at times overshadowed by those picks around her.
One half of a brilliant pair of holding midfielders on the national championship team two years ago, Killion produced nine goals and 12 assists as a senior and showed off a finishing touch to go with playmaking, defending and organizational abilities. With Killion and Kristin Grubka, the first pick of the second round and a big, athletic defender from Florida State, Sky Blue strengthened their spine. Now if the team can just secure the services of Danish loanee and playoff-push catalyst Nadia Nadim again this summer . . .
4. Red Stars go back to the well
As mentioned previously, Chicago has made good use of the draft, not only with DiBernardo and Johnston in the first round a season ago but Rachel Quon and Jen Hoy in the 2013 second and fourth rounds, respectively. Nor is there reason to give up on 2013 overall No. 1 pick Zakiya Bywaters. Those were five of the nine field players who logged at least 1,000 minutes for the Red Stars in 2014. So little wonder the club would try its luck again. By trading the fifth pick it originally used on Boston College forward Stephanie McCaffrey to the Boston Breakers for the final pick of the first round and the second pick of the second round, the Red Stars ended up with three of the top 11 picks. They still got a potential goal scorer in Santa Clara All-American and Mexican international Sofia Huerta, a bargain early in the second round, but also added Virginia All-American Danielle Colaprico with the additional first-round pick.
All of that on top of Kentucky defender Arin Gilliland, whom Chicago took one pick before Colaprico at No. 8. Just the second SEC player selected in the first round of the draft in either the NWSL or Women's Professional Soccer, the league that preceded it, Gilliland could provide a sublime bookend to Quon on the back line.
A recent addition to the U.S. training camp roster, McCaffrey is reunited in Boston with close friend and former college teammate Kristie Mewis, both hometown products. McCaffrey paid a steep price for immaturity at the end of her sophomore year, incurring public embarrassment and a suspension for an NCAA tournament game, which her team lost, after a series of tasteless tweets. McCaffrey, a team captain as a senior who earned academic honors, had 18 goals and 16 assists combined in her final two seasons.
5. Now or never ...
All right, maybe more like two years than never, but even without Florida State All-American, Hermann Trophy runner-up and recent Bayern Munich signee Dagny Brynjarsdottir (and what a disappointment we don't get to watch the Icelandic star on this side of the Atlantic Ocean any longer), this draft class appears to hold more depth and elite talent than that which NWSL teams will evaluate a year from now. It's not a like-for-like comparison, but this season's list of first- and second-team NSCAA All-Americans included just two juniors: Virginia forward Makenzy Doniak and Texas Tech forward (and Canadian youth international) Janine Beckie. Six juniors made those teams the previous season.
There is talent in next January's draft class, with Rutgers defender Brianne Reed, Virginia defender Emily Sonnett and Florida defender Christen Westphal among those who could complement Doniak, Beckie and rising seniors with international ties like Katie Bowen, Rachel Daly, Hannah Wilkinson and Raquel Rodriguez.