LOS ANGELES—There weren’t any truly big surprises or big trades, but at the National Women’s Soccer League 2017 College Draft on Thursday afternoon in LA, 40 players will get a chance to continue their soccer careers. After the Boston Breakers kicked things off with four picks in the first round, all ten clubs in the league got a chance to get a roster refresh for the fifth season.
If there was one big winner on Thursday’s draft, FC Kansas City will get a big boost from their acquisitions to turn around the team’s fortunes after an underperforming 2016.
Here are the top 10 things you need to know from the 2017 NWSL College Draft.
01. A big first round for the Boston Breakers
Boston Breakers head coach Matt Beard went into the draft knowing his targets, and by the time Harvard forward Midge Purce made her way to the media room, Beard was all smiles. Here’s how his first round looked: Wisconsin midfielder Lavelle at No. 1, University of Southern California midfielder Morgan Andrews at No. 3, Cal’s Ifeoma Onumonu at No. 8 and Purce at No. 9.
It’s arguably the best draft class yet for the Breakers in the NWSL, though it’s not without questions. With reports from Backline Soccer that Whitney Engen wouldn’t be returning to the Breakers, a lack of a defender in those four first-round picks is certainly surprising.
That said, there is a common thread for the four players Beard picked, and certainly a common refrain in post-pick media availability: the team will be be playing Beard’s preferred style of soccer. Technicality and combo play might truly be the new norm in Boston.
02. Ashley Hatch going to North Carolina Courage at No. 2
In the media room, Ashley Hatch admitted she had no idea where she was heading when she walked into the ballroom at the JW Marriott, where the draft was held on Thursday. Her coaches had talked to a few teams, but there wasn’t any phone call saying, ‘We’re taking you with our first-round pick,’ from one of the ten head coaches.
— NC Courage (@TheNCCourage) January 12, 2017
General consensus from the pundits heading into the draft was that the Courage would look to Duke’s Christina Gibbons for their first pick of the draft, especially while they still held the No. 7 pick in the first round. And they went for another surprise with that second pick, locking in on UCLA’s Darian Jenkins—who was walking around the draft in a walking boot, thanks to a broken fibula suffered back in October.
03. Sky Blue and FC Kansas City’s sneaky good draft classes
Sky Blue FC head coach Christy Holly and FC Kansas City head coach Vlatko Andonovski both had their eyes on USC’s Kayla Mills, but thanks to the draft order, Holly got to her first with the No. 4 pick. But both coaches made very smart, solid pickups for their team, with Holly adding Mills’ USC teammate Miranda Freeman at No. 10, then waiting for the third round and the No. 23 pick to add Canadian/Clemson keeper Kailen Sheridan.
While Andonovski might have missed out on Mills, he didn’t have to settle much at No. 6 with Duke’s Christina Gibbons after she fell a few spots. Second round pickups were fellow Duke player Toni Payne and then UConn’s Stephanie Ribiero (highly rated by Excelle’s own Celia Balf). Andonocki might have gotten the steal at the draft when Virginia’s Alexis Shaffer was still available in the third round, and by No. 25, she was on her way to Kansas City for the preseason. It’s obviously still too early to tell, but all indications are that FC Kansas City might have walked out with the best draft class into the 2017 season.
— FC Kansas City (@FCKansasCity) January 12, 2017
04. Keepers go late
Stanford’s Jane Campbell is heading to Houston after head coach Randy Waldrum picked her up with his first pick of the 2017 Draft at No. 15. Sky Blue’s Holly had his eyes on Kailen Sheridan for a while, and he also knew that he could wait until a later round to acquire her.
— Houston Dash (@HoustonDash) January 12, 2017
There’s always more competition for the big scorers or technical midfielders, but Campbell was one of the bigger names to come through a NWSL Draft in the goalkeeping pool. The last time this happened was in 2013, and AD Franch was the No. 6 pick overall in the 2013 NWSL Draft thanks to the Western New York Flash.
05. Commissioner Jeff Plush stopped in for the press
While there will be plenty more from Excelle Sports on the full breadth of NWSL Commissioner Jeff Plush’s comments during his media availability, Plush had plenty of solid news on the league front, including teasing a fairly major television deal in the works. He was more reserved on how the ongoing collective bargaining agreement negotiations between U.S. Soccer and the U.S. women’s national team could impact the league or pre-season camps.
There’s going to be a lot to dissect from everything Plush said, from the league’s approach to the North Carolina Courage and HB2 to expansion to moving toward a more process-oriented league.
06. This photo of Laura Harvey and Mark Parsons
Seattle Reign FC head coach/GM Laura Harvey and Portland Thorns head coach Mark Parsons are already the coach BFFs of the league, but they took it to a new level with this photo from the media room before all ten head coaches of the league assembled for their group pic.
07. Look at the diversity
Take a look at the lead image on this story, and you’ll see a pretty diverse group of women. The University of Southern California got a lot of credit for their squad composition, and it’s a trend that is really starting to carry over into the professional league.
Also a plus of this #NWSLDraft thus far: a significant number of young WOC getting drafted in the 1st round.
— Dana (@MyRiteMind) January 12, 2017
08. Too many time-outs
The first and second rounds moved pretty briskly, but by the time the third round rolled around, the pace slowed considerably. There were a respectable number of trades during the action and some maneuvering—though no truly blockbuster deals—but by the time the fourth round got started, the ballroom had emptied out considerably. The quicker the picks go, the more entertaining it is. The NWSL isn’t in a place yet where they can really manage to sustain interest from a casual audience to invest into a four-hour-plus draft.
09. The pure joy of the young women being drafted
It took another time-out to get to the Orlando Pride’s No. 32 pick, but when Plush called out Penn State midfielder Nickolette Driesse’s name, it didn’t mater that it was roughly four hours after the draft kicked off. There were some screams, some hugs and a happy soccer player headed up to the stage and knowing she’s got a chance to make a NWSL team’s final roster.
(And if Driesse wants a model to follow, she’ll get one in new Pride teammate and Excelle Athlete Ambassador Maddy Evans, drafted late by the Boston Breakers in the 2013 draft, who made enough of an impression to get scooped up by Orlando head coach Tom Sermanni in the expansion draft.)
Speaking with the draft picks in the media room, watching them rove the ballroom in packs shaking hands or giving hugs to their college teammates, what happens in the room on draft day is special.
10. What’s next?
Sounds like the NWSL schedule for the 2017 season will drop around the standard time of mid-February, but the move to North Carolina did throw a bit of a wrench into the actual scheduling. Thanks to Major League Soccer dropping their schedule on Thursday, it also helps the NWSL front office work around those dates as well.
[More from Excelle Sports: 2017 NWSL Draft results]
The league is still somewhat at the mercy of CBA negotiations for the U.S. national team players, but did say that team allocations would be dropping soon.
Jeff Plush also confirmed that in the 2017 season, teams will once again play 24 games.