The sixth NWSL College Draft will commence on Thursday with the ten league teams going through the annual exercise of selecting talented prospects rising from the collegiate ranks. The Draft also gives the fans their first notion into what direction their favorite club will be heading for the upcoming season.
But in addition to the drama of which 40 players will hear their names called, there always seems to be a couple of sub-plots that develop throughout the day. And sometimes, those things could very well alter the landscape of what is to come for the league. So lets take a look at a couple of common themes that may pop up on Draft Day as well as some players that you may or may not know who could make a big impact this season.
“The League Has Requested a Time Out”
Yes. That dreaded phrase has been uttered far too often during the past couple of years. When that happens, it almost always means that there is a trade that is brewing and the league has to come in and sort out the logistics. While there is a clock on team timeouts during the Draft (which hopefully the league keeps it at just one timeout per team), a league timeout can take as long as it pleases before announcing the final result (Side Note: which means for the folks attending the Draft, that might be enough time for you to run across to the Reading Terminal Market, pick up lunch, sprint back and not miss anything). But what could be different this year is that as opposed to teams trading picks, we could see current players being swapped for picks. Excluding 2013 when teams only had allocated players before the Draft, we have only seen six trades that involved players, and none came last year. But this year, with a few teams in the need for veteran players to fill holes, could Draft Day end up becoming a Trading Floor?
A Bombshell Announcement.
Yeah, lets face it. The NWSL hasn’t made a big announcement in awhile and it’s ripe time to answer one of the laundry list of questions that needs solving. For example…is anyone going to become the next NWSL Commissioner? It’s nearly been a year since Jeff Plush stepped down and while the league’s Managing Director of Operations Amanda Duffy has been the public face for the league, the NWSL has been without a proverbial captain for it’s ship. That could be one thing. Another could be a creation of a new rule. Two years ago, we learned about the Unattached Subsidized Individual Rankings aka “The Mallory Pugh rule” on Draft Day where teams will be ranked in order of previous year’s finish and if there is a US-subsidized player that isn’t with the league yet, they would get first crack at said player. Could we be in store for something like that? And there’s still the whole open discussions on expansion (Remember that whole talk of Barcelona investing in a team? What about Canada as well), expanding rosters past the minimum 18 players/maximum 20, updates on improving the very inconsistent Go90 streaming package from last year, etc. This year, nothing so far on any fronts of any note. So with all the major players descending on Philadelphia for the Draft, it’s only right that something should be announced. Or at least we hear some proper updates.
Who Are the Potential Buyers and Sellers
Speaking of those six previous Draft Day trades that have involved players, all of them have involved the Portland Thorns. That includes the infamous moment in 2015 when there was a near half hour delay on the 13th overall pick as it was traded twice and then the Thorns, who had no picks that day, swooped in to get Jodie Taylor from Washington after all the dust settled. Will Mark Parsons be on the trading block again this year? It would be a little surprising as he has the eighth and ninth overall picks and nothing more. But you never know. However, here are two teams that may become buyers and two otherss that could become sellers on Thursday.
Utah Royals: It is well known that back in her days with Seattle, there was a website created to acknowledge the times when Laura Harvey made a trade (yes, that site still exists today). Now, after pulling off the most magnificent transaction of all by trading herself to Utah, the Master of Wheeling and Dealing should be back at it on Thursday. We do not know much about the Royals roster right now as while it was stated that the remnants of the FC Kansas City roster were transferred over to Utah, only a handful of players have “committed” to the team so far. And with only two Draft picks available, why not try and either swap future picks to add more current picks or try to get a veteran player or two out of the day. With a lot of questions around the roster, it’s better to have something answered as opposed to leaving the day with only more question marks.
Houston: This one would come as a little bit of a shocker here as the Dash have six draft picks to use. They traded their number three overall pick to the Spirit, who in return gave the Dash their number six pick, as well as Canadian international, Lindsay Agnew.
Four of their six selections come after the 23rd overall pick. This would be one for new Head Coach Vera Pauw to package a few late round picks and try to move up in the Draft. Bringing in Lisa Cole on board as an assistant coach was a power-move for a day like this because Cole, who was the Boston Breakers first NWSL Head Coach, is well versed in the college game and could land a couple diamonds in the rough. And with their defending unit being a bit of an issue last season combined the depth of rising senior defenders being limited, having perhaps an extra second round draft pick could become vital for the Dash.
Chicago: Rory Dames has built his Chicago Red Stars team through the Draft. He has a long history of working in the Club and Youth soccer ranks and of the ten coaches in the NWSL, he probably knows the system better than anyone else. Which is why he plays to his strengths and sticks to the Draft system. But he virtually has no holes to fill coming into 2018. Sure, the Red Stars lose Morgan Brian. But she was there for all of a couple weeks and that stop wasn’t much more than a placeholder before she moved to Lyon. Additionally, the team could see the return of one of their picks from last year, Michele Vasconcelos, who was a very talented product out of BYU but missed last season due to pregnancy. Which, if that happens, the Red Stars would have 20 players already on the roster, which is the league max. So with seven picks in the Draft this year, it is almost expected that Dames has to trade away a few away for picks next year, a year where he will need to have some depth due to a number of players expected to miss league action with the World Cup.
Sky Blue: Out of all the teams so far in the offseason, Sky Blue have been one of, if not the most, active teams in terms of personnel movement. First, they bring in a new coach in Diane Reddy. Then, they acquire Thaisa from the Brazilian National Team. Then they trade Kelley O’Hara and Taylor Lytle, along with the 25th pick in this year’s draft, for Christina Gibbons, Shea Groom and the fourth overall pick. And finally, just last week the team received Katie Johnson and Rebekah Stott from Seattle and gave away the rights to Caitlin Foord, who was last seen with Sky Blue in 2015 but was never likely to return to the team after her stint in Japan. With Sky Blue looking for more veteran players to balance their very young current roster, could they package a couple of their picks to bring in another steady hand, especially one in defense to help shore up one of the leakiest back lines in the league? Absolutely.
Impact Players You Should Get to Know (if you don’t know them already)
Savannah McCaskill. Rebecca Quinn. Michaela Abam. Everybody knows these names. They are the ones that will most likely be headlining the first few picks of the draft. But as it was talked about in the Women’s Soccer Zone NWSL Preview show, this will be the year where coaches have to do their homework. While there may not be as many notable names like in years past, there are a lot of quality players who could come in and make an impact on the league. Let’s take a look at some players who fit that bill:
– Brianna Visali- Pepperdine.
The Waves have been stringing together a number of strong seasons in a row now, including making the NCAA Tournament in five of the last seven years and back-to-back WCC titles. And with it, there have been really good players that have come out of the program as well, most notably US National Team forward Lynn Williams. This year, Brianna Visali put together one of the finest seasons in program history and picked up 2nd Team All-American Honors to go with her conference Player of the Year accolade. She finished top-15 in the nation in goals (14) and points and warranted a call to a US U-23 camp late last year. She can give teams versatility in a number of positions on the field and is someone that is hard to get off the field, starting 81 of her 83 games during her career (both are now program records).
– Megan Buckingham- North Carolina.
While the Tar Heels saw their what was to be a triumphant march to the College Cup cut short in the Round of 16, it certainly feels like Anson Dorrance’s team is back on the preface of being one of the title challengers after a quiet last few seasons. However, they will be sorely missing one of their consistent performers from this past seasons’ run as Megan Buckingham graduates after an excellent career in Chapel Hill. She is one of those players who can adapt well to the pace of any game and will find a way to make an impact. The Tar Heels have always been known for a high pressing, high energy game that can help future professionals translate well over into the NWSL and for the fact that Buckingham went the full 90 in nine of the final ten matches, something that is very un-UNC like as they like to sub players frequently to keep fresh legs on the field, that shows Buckingham is ready for the NWSL. She, like Visali, can play a number of positions as well which will make her a good commodity on Draft Day.
– Chloe Williams- Eastern Washington.
You hardly hear much out of the Big Sky Conference in terms of Women’s Soccer and even less about Eastern Washington. Before the 2014 season, the Eagles only had one winning season in their 16-year history of the program. Chloe Williams stepped onto campus at that point and changed everything the program would ever know. With the Spokane, Washington striker leading the way, EWU qualified for the Big Sky tournament each of the last four years, something they only did five times in the previous 16 years, win back-to-back Big Sky Tournament Championships, a tournament the team never had won a game in until 2016, and take USC head on in the NCAA Tournament the last two years, both times losing by one-goal. Williams herself set program standards by setting conference records in career goals (44), becoming the first three-time Offensive Player of the Year and getting a USA U-23 camp invite last summer. Any team would be happy to draft an out-and-out striker and there isn’t many forwards coming off a better career in this years’ draft class than Williams.
– Carlin Hudson- Yale.
For the first time last year, two players from the Ivy League were drafted. This could be a consistent thing going forward for the next few years as the stock in the league continues to rise, highlighted by Princeton getting to the NCAA Quarterfinal round and having four of the Ancient Eight schools sitting inside the Top-100 in the RPI. Expect Princeton’s dynamic midfielder Vanessa Gregoire to be selected at some point but also keep an eye out for Carlin Hudson, who excelled at center back for Yale. The Berkeley, CA native missed her Sophomore season after suffering an injury in the first game of the season (unlike all other conferences, players in the Ivy League cannot take a redshirt season in any sport) but in her three seasons on the field, she garnered all-conference accolades, including a First Team nod this year. She helped steady the back line to 11 victories, the most for Yale in a decade, along with eight clean sheets and has great vision in the back line. She can snuff out potential counter attacks with the best of them and can be deadly off set pieces, both winning them and serving them.
– Brittany Basinger- Penn State.
If a team is looking for an outside back with tons of international experience and a College Cup title under her belt, look no further than Brittany Basinger. The Virginia native started all 27 matches in Penn State’s run to the College Cup in 2015 and is a key piece to a backline that has posted 37 clean sheets in the past three years. She featured for the United States in both the 2012 Under-17 Women’s World Cup and the 2014 U-20 Women’s World Cup and brings both great athleticism and technical ability to the table. In a year where the defender position isn’t loaded, it wouldn’t be surprising that Basinger becomes a top-three outside back taken in the draft.