Angel City FC selected 18-year-old forward Alyssa Thompson as the first overall pick on Thursday in the 2023 NWSL draft.
Thompson, a senior at Harvard-Westlake in Los Angeles, becomes the first high schooler to be drafted in the No. 1 spot in NWSL history.
"It's honestly really surreal," Thompson told ESPN. "I'm honored I get to be mentioned with the other first picks like Naomi Girma, Sophia Smith, Andi Sullivan. All of them are amazing players and for me to be another name on that list is so cool to me.
"I would've never thought, even a year ago, that I would be the first high schooler to hold that spot."
After Thompson's selection, NY/NJ Gotham FC traded away the No. 2 pick to the Kansas City Current in exchange for USWNT player Lynn Williams, and the Current used that pick on Duke forward Michelle Cooper. The Orlando Pride selected Florida State defender Emily Madril at No. 3 and Gotham FC used the No. 4 pick to take her teammate Jenna Nighswonger, a central midfielder.
Angel City ultimately acquired the pick used on Thompson in a three-team trade last week with the Portland Thorns and NY/NJ Gotham FC, trading the club's 2023 first-round pick (No. 5), their 2024 second-round top pick and allocation money to acquire midfielder Yazmeen Ryan from the Thorns.
Angel City then sent Ryan and an additional $250,000 in allocation money to Gotham FC for the first overall pick, finalizing the deal. The Thorns used the No. 5 pick acquired from Angel City on Alabama midfielder Reyna Reyes, the 2022 SEC defensive player of the year.
"It's an incredible statement that we're making in bringing Alyssa into Angel City as our No. 1 pick, and also what we did to get the No. 1 pick. Because we didn't have that," Angel City general manager Angela Hucles Mangano told ESPN.
"We wanted to look both short-term and long-term in our strategy ... so the ability to bring in a player like Alyssa enables us to do all of that."
Thompson, who won the Gatorade national girls soccer player of the year in 2021, made her national team debut in September at the age of 17. At the 83-minute mark during a friendly against England, Thompson subbed in for Megan Rapinoe and earned her first international cap.
Last June, Thompson and her younger sister Gisele made history as the first high-school athletes to sign name, image and likeness contracts with Nike.
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Hucles Mangano added: "She's a player who can impact the now, who can elevate our environment, bring us closer to those goals of winning a championship a lot sooner than a long term-strategy.
"And she has years ahead of her; she's a player that can continue to develop. She is our phenom, generational player that can come into Angel City. ... For us, it was a no-brainer."
Thompson, who verbally committed to play at Stanford next year, said her decision to play professionally was difficult. Just days before the NWSL draft registration deadline last week, and after much deliberation with her family, Thompson said she decided to go pro. She had been communicating with Angel City for the past couple of months.
"It was the hardest decision I've ever had to make," Thompson said. "But ultimately, I think it came down to what is going to be best in the moment right now."
Thompson told ESPN that her decision hinged largely on the ability to pursue a higher education while playing professionally, something that Angel City made a point of emphasis since their initial talks.
"From the beginning it's always been something that if I'm going to go pro, I'm still going to get an education," Thompson said. "I want to continue to get better, and since there's opportunity to still go to college, why wouldn't I do it?"
According to Thompson's parents, the decision to go pro became more streamlined once there was a tentative pathway to playing professionally while pursuing a degree. Thompson's father, Mario, added that they are still working through the plan and where Thompson will attend classes next year, but the steps to making that a reality are in motion.
Once the NWSL season kicks off on March 25, Thompson will take online classes to finish her senior year of high school and attend classes in-person at Harvard-Westlake when her schedule allows.
When it comes to supporting not only the rest of her senior year but also her higher education, Angel City said that despite only being in their second year, they want to set the standard in making sure the club is supporting its players on and off the field.
"We definitely are very intentional and want to be that club and that environment that, no matter who you are, no matter what stage you are in in your career, you have the opportunity to develop," Hucles Mangano said.
"That could be someone at the end of their career; that could be someone who's coming out of high school. But you still have that opportunity to develop. And I think that's on the field and off the field."
She added, "Understanding where [the Thompson family] is coming from was something that was very easy for us to say this is something that Angel City wants to do for you, Alyssa. But also all of our players."
Last September, Thompson, a Los Angeles native, attended her first Angel City game as a fan. Watching Angel City take on Racing Louisville at their home stadium, Banc of California Stadium, Thompson sat in the stands with her family and friends and got to enjoy the full Angel City experience.
"I was shocked because I've never been to a game like that, especially for women's soccer. The fans were so loud and there's an entire fan section," Thompson said. "I got to see everything up close, and it was awesome to watch."
It was also, according to Thompson, one of the first moments that she considered what it would feel like to play for her home team.
"Watching them, I was just like, 'Wow, it would be cool to play here.'" Thompson said. "And now knowing that I get to play there in front of my family, friends and fans, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."
Despite not making the NWSL playoffs last season, Angel City played in front of four sellouts and averaged 19,105 fans for its 11 home games.
With the possible return this spring of Christen Press, who tore an ACL last season, and an all-star roster including one of Thompson's idols, Sydney Leroux, Angel City told ESPN they expect Thompson to adjust quickly to the professional environment and compete right away for starting time.
"The expectation that I have is that she's going to come in and compete," Hucles Mangano said. "She's going to start to help raise the bar for everyone else with her competitive nature. And that's exactly what we want to create and what we want to have in terms of our culture because that is what we need to create and to become that championship type of team."
On the field, Thompson said she's confident in her ability to go one-on-one, thanks to the countless hours practicing with her younger sister and youth national team defender Gisele Thompson.
"I hope that I can be a goal scorer for them, that I can continue to get better and continue to grow as a player," said Thompson, who compares her game to France's Kylian Mbappe.
"I think with my speed that I could be able to beat defenders on the wing anywhere in the front line, run behind the back line as well, taking on defenders, shooting a lot, so I could create scoring chances, assisting a lot of my teammates and being able to, if I lose the ball, defend and get back so we could be on the attack."
Thompson, who remains a hopeful for the 2023 U.S. women's national team World Cup team in New Zealand and Australia, says she knows the pressure that comes with being a No. 1 pick. But, she added, she feels "ready for this moment."
"I've put in a lot of hard work for this, and I just have to remind myself that I can do this and I'm ready for this," Thompson said. "Pressure makes diamonds, so I just hope that I will thrive."