Tierna Davidson goes No. 1 to Chicago Red Stars in NWSL draft

The Chicago Red Stars claimed one of the bigger prizes available in the seven-year history of the NWSL college draft, thanks to Stanford junior All-American and U.S. national team defender Tierna Davidson's late announcement that she would forgo her remaining college eligibility.

That drama overshadowed an opportunity for Sky Blue FC and the Washington Spirit, the league's two worst teams a season ago, to rebuild with a combined eight of the top 11 picks.

A playoff team a season ago, losing to the eventual champion North Carolina Courage, Chicago held the No. 1 pick as a result of a trade last year with the expansion Utah Royals involving U.S. international Christen Press.

That the Red Stars would have an opportunity to add Davidson, who may start for the U.S. in the World Cup, wasn't official until less than 24 hours before the draft.

Eligible college players were able to submit their names for inclusion in the draft until 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, and Davidson's name appeared only on the final list released after the deadline.

Currently training with the U.S. national team in Portugal, Davidson, 20, tweeted a message Thursday morning about her decision to leave Stanford.

"The support from faculty, coaches, classmates and teammates throughout this chapter in my life," Davidson said in the video message, "has enabled me to confidently make the decision to take the next step in my life and soccer career by entering the 2019 NWSL draft."

Davidson appeared in just three games for Stanford this past season. She suffered a fractured ankle in September against North Carolina and didn't play again, although Cardinal coach Paul Ratcliffe said she was cleared to play in some capacity in the College Cup in December.

Davidson established herself as a rising star well before this past college season. She first trained with the U.S. national team in 2017 and started 12 games in 2018 as a center back before the injury sustained with Stanford. At the time of her injury, she led the U.S. in minutes played. She also played outside back and midfield for college and youth national teams.

Davidson now joins Morgan Brian, Danielle Colaprico, Julie Ertz, Alyssa Naeher and Casey Short with the Red Stars. All five veterans are currently training with the U.S. in Portugal.

New Jersey-based Sky Blue FC selected UCLA standout Hailie Mace with the second overall pick in the NWSL draft. Expected to go No. 1 before Davidson entered the draft, Mace was on the U.S. roster for World Cup qualifying this past fall and is versatile enough to play both defender or forward. That marked the start of a run of picks for Sky Blue, which finished last in 2018, and Washington, which finished next to last. Those two teams won a combined three games.

Washington selected Davidson's Stanford teammate Jordan DiBiasi with the third pick, and added Clemson defender Sam Staab at No. 4, Stanford defender Tegan McGrady at No. 7 and North Carolina midfielder Dorian Bailey at No. 8.

New Jersey selected North Carolina defender Julia Ashley with its other first-round pick -- the sixth overall selection -- and took Butler forward Paige Monaghan and Baylor midfielder Julie James with the first two picks of the second round, 10th and 11th overall, respectively.

The Courage held the draft's two remaining first-round picks. The defending champions selected USC forward Leah Pruitt fifth and Pepperdine defender Hailey Harbison ninth.

This marked the third time in which a team held four picks in the first round. The first such instance was 2015, when Western New York selected Abby Dahlkemper, Jaelene Hinkle, Samantha Mewis and Lynn Williams. All subsequently spent at least some time with the U.S. national team and helped the NWSL franchise, which relocated to North Carolina, emerge as the best in the league.

Boston also had four first-round picks in the 2017 draft, but the franchise dissolved a year later.

The NWSL on Thursday also announced increases to both roster size and financial compensation for players. Rosters may now include a maximum of 22 players, with a minimum of 20 players required. The maximum salary increased to $46,200, an increase of $2,200 from the most recent season. The minimum salary increased from $15,750 to $16,538.