The Portland Thorns acquired the No. 1 pick in next week's National Women's Soccer League college entry draft from the Orlando Pride, sparking new intrigue in what had been viewed as a potentially lackluster event.
The Thorns sent the Pride defender Emily Sonnett, who was the No. 1 overall pick in 2016 and a World Cup winner with the United States last summer, as well as the rights to Australian international Caitlin Foord and their own first- and second-round picks in the upcoming draft.
It was also a trade between the same teams that handed the No. 1 pick to Portland in 2016, in that case as part of a deal involving Alex Morgan going to Orlando. That was the only other instance in which the Thorns, playoff participants in six of the league's seven seasons, picked first. They traded out of the first round entirely in four of the past six drafts.
This year's draft had been thought to lack a marquee player, with several top prospects either already passing or expected to pass on the process. Stanford's two-time reigning Hermann Trophy winner Catarina Macario is not expected to bypass her final season of college eligibility to enter the draft. Florida State senior Deyna Castellanos signed recently with Atletico Madrid, while UCLA senior and Canadian World Cup and Olympic veteran Jessie Fleming is also expected to sign in Europe. Fleming was not on the initial list of draft entrants released by the NWSL, although players have until 4 p.m. ET on Jan. 15 to declare for the following day's selections.
If not any of those stars, speculation as to potential No. 1 picks has centered on underclassmen declaring early, specifically UCLA junior Ashley Sanchez and Stanford sophomore Sophia Smith. Both have extensive experience with U.S. youth national teams.
Smith, 19, was the only player with remaining college eligibility among 28 invitees to the ongoing senior national team January training camp in Florida, the first such training camp for new U.S. women's coach Vlatko Andonovski.
Smith totaled 17 goals and nine assists in 21 games for the Cardinal as a sophomore.
The Equalizer reported Wednesday that Smith intends to enter the draft. A Stanford spokesperson declined comment to espnW on the report.
The trade was the second major move of the week for the Pride, who announced Tuesday that NWSL president Amanda Duffy will leave that position to take over as Orlando's executive vice president beginning on Feb. 15. Despite a roster that includes the star power of Marta and Morgan, the Pride finished last a season ago with just four wins in 24 games.
The espnW college player of the year in 2015, Virginia product Sonnett was an Olympic alternate in 2016 and a reserve on last year's World Cup winning side. She has played both center-back and outside back at all levels, although Pride coach Marc Skinner described her as having the "potential to become one of the best center-backs in the world" in comments after the trade was announced. She joins U.S. teammate and fellow defender Ali Krieger in Orlando.
Still only 25, Foord is nonetheless an experienced player for both club and country. She originally signed with Sky Blue FC in the NWSL's first season and joined Portland in 2018. Versatile enough to play almost anywhere on the field, she was also the Asian Women's Footballer of the Year in 2016.
The draft picks acquired -- Nos. 7 and 14 overall -- mean the Pride now have four of the first 19 picks in next week's draft.
The Thorns weren't done trading players currently in camp with the national team. Later Wednesday, Portland sent versatile Margaret Purce and a first-round pick in the 2021 draft to Sky Blue FC in exchange for midfielder Raquel Rodriguez.
The No. 2 overall pick in the same draft that produced Sonnett, Rodriguez was named NWSL Rookie of the Year that season. The Costa Rica international, who won the Hermann Trophy as a senior at Penn State, had three goals and three assists in 22 starts for Sky Blue in 2019.
Purce, 24, earned her first cap for the United States this past November, capitalizing on a breakout season with the Thorns. She scored eight goals in the NWSL season and emerged as a consistent presence as a No. 9, after training throughout the offseason to play on the wing. She is currently in camp with the U.S., where her most likely fit is as an outside back.