On Thursday, the College Draft for the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) kicks off in Los Angeles, marking what just might be the most unpredictable, exciting and rumor-filled draft in the league’s five-year history. While there are no Emily Sonnett’s or Morgan Brian’s this year to make the pickings easy, there are loads of experienced players with youth national team tenures and remarkable collegiate careers.
What you won’t see in L.A.: This year’s MAC Hermann Trophy winner and West Virginia defender Kadeisha Buchanan, who would of been a quick first pick, is out of the draw after announcing on Monday that she had signed to Olympique Lyonnais. Her teammate Ashley Lawrence would have also gone first round, but she’s also taking her talent to Europe to play for Paris Saint-Germain.
Just to heat things up even more, North Carolina FC owner Stephen Malik announced earlier this week that the franchise had bought the 2016 NWSL championship team, Western New York Flash, and would move the team, now known as the North Carolina Courage, to his state. The Courage also inherits the Flash’s draft picks, which are the second and seventh picks in the first round. While Flash player contracts remain the same under the Courage, there is no official statement on whether Flash head coach Paul Riley will have his same position in North Carolina or if new leadership will be chosen.
[More from Excelle Sports: North Carolina just got a women’s soccer team, so why is no one in the league talking about HB2?]
— NWSL (@NWSL) January 10, 2017
Add these facts to the fact that more professional players—most notably, Alex Morgan and Crystal Dunn— keep heading overseas to play continues and no one really knows who will go in the first round, let alone the second, third or fourth. But editors at Excelle Sports have still managed to cull from everything we know after covering NCAA and NWSL soccer every day for the past year to make our predictions about who might go where during the first round.
01. Rose Lavelle to Boston Breakers
Very few would contest that “Sweet Baby Rose” won’t go as the first draft pick. Lavelle is one of the most gifted midfielders to come out of the U.S. youth national system, finishing her senior season at Wisconsin with six goals and four assists. The Badger was the program’s first three-time All-American and was named Big Ten Midfielder of the Year for the second straight year in 2015 to 2016. The Cincinnati, Ohio native was also recently named to the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) training camp roster that runs from Jan. 12—23. The Breakers, with the high and mighty first pick, need something—and they need something bad. Lavelle would be hard for them to pass up.
[More from Excelle Sports: Have the Boston Breakers been unlucky?]
02. Christina Gibbons to North Carolina Courage
Gibbons will join Lavelle at the USWNT training camp—and with good reason. The two-time All American out of Duke finished her career with 10 goals and 19 assists. The defender/midfielder would be a smart choice for the North Carolina Courage if they want to bring in a big crowd for their inaugural campaign, as she is already a local star in the state. Of course, it also helps that she’s an immediate impact player.
03. Morgan Andrews to Boston Breakers
It’s almost inevitable that the Breakers will pick up University of South California’s Andrews. The New Hampshire native has practiced with the club in the past and also fits the trend of “local” players joining the Boston team with her involvement with the Stars of MA as a club player. Andrews was a key component to USC, even after transferring for her junior year, and led the Trojans to a 3-1 victory over West Virginia for the 2016 national championship title this past season. Her college campaign also ended with All-American honors, along with 10 goals and five assists. She’d be a great addition to what many hope will be a new and improved Breakers.
[More from Excelle Sports: ‘I feel like Cinderella:’ USC’s Morgan Andrews on her fairytale ending to college soccer career]
04. Jane Campbell to Sky Blue FC
Sky Blue FC needs a keeper badly, and they would be silly to pass up on the best goalkeeper of the 2016 class. Stanford’s Campbell has been on national team radar for quite some time and was recently called up with fellow collegiate standouts Gibbons and Lavelle for the January training camp. The goalie also earned All-American honors after leading Stanford to its second consecutive Pac-12 title.
More from Excelle Sports: USWNT’s Jill Ellis names 29-player roster for 2017 training camp]
05. Kayla Mills to FC Kansas City
FC Kansas City could use a versatile player who would be a major asset both offensively and defensively—and USC’s Mills is certainly this. The 2015 Pac-12 Defender of the Year was a crucial asset to the team’s success this season, helping them grab 15 shutouts. The California native has national team experience, too, having played with the Under-23’s U-20’s and U-17’s.
06. Ashley Hatch to Seattle Reign FC
Hatch is one of the best goal scorers in the 2016 class. The BYU senior tallied 19 goals and six assists during her senior campaign, with an amazing 47 goals over her four years. Honored as an All-American by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA), the forward was also recently selected to the U.S. Under-23 training camp. Hatch is prospect for the senior USWNT team, too, after earning her first cap in a friendly against Switzerland this past October.
07. Savannah Jordan to North Carolina Courage
Jordan may be a risky first-round pick given the rumors swirling about a possible move overseas. But, if the four-time All-American does decide to stay put, the North Carolina Courage would be incredibly lucky to grab the forward, who totaled 81 goals during her career as a Florida Gator. If the new club is feeling courageous and chooses Jordan, it would gain the only other player in Florida history other than besides Abby Wambach to earn four consecutive All-SEC first team honors.
08. Maddie Bauer to Boston Breakers
After parting ways with Whitney Engen in 2016, the club needs a skillful central defender like Bauer, who would be a smart third pick. The All-American has started as a center back for Stanford since her freshman year when she made her Cardinal debut in the team’s season opener. She clinched All-America honors as a senior in addition to NSCAA All-Pacific Region first team and All-Pac-12 first team.
[More from Excelle Sports: Experts say Stanford is ‘team to beat’ in NCAA tournament]
09. Stephanie Ribeiro to Boston Breakers
Ribeiro before Hill? While it’s probably not what most would pick, the Breakers would be silly to pass up on the gifted forward who has only gotten immensely better during her four years at UConn. This past year, Ribeiro finished her senior season with 21 goals and 14 assists, picking up All-America honors for the second consecutive season. Ribeiro helped the Huskies to its second American Atlantic Conference (AAC) Championship and earned AAC Offensive Player of the Year. In 2015, the Rhode Island native was sidelined due to injury but still showed an incredible comeback, earning All-America Third-Team honors and named the AAC Mifielder of the Year.
10. Rachel Hill to Sky Blue FC
Hill joins Riberio as the only other Husky to earn All-American honors this past season. In fact, Hill is one of the most decorated players to come out of UConn. She was named AAC Midfielder of the Year most this past season and reached the 100-point milestone as only a junior. During her senior year, Hill scored 16 goals to tie her career best and added six assists. The Rollinsford, N.H. native was named AAC Offensive Player of the Year in both 2014 and 2015 before losing the title to her dynamic offensive teammate, Ribeiro, this year.
Other players likely to go early:
McKenzie Meehan—Boston College
Nickolette Driesse—Penn State
[More from Excelle Sports: NWSL: Commissioner Jeff Plush weighs in on state of the league, expansion, CBA negotiations]