As Commissioner Jeff Plush kicked off the fifth annual National Women’s Soccer League player draft just past noon on Thursday afternoon in the expansive ballroom of the JW Marriott in Los Angeles it was impossible not to reflect back on the first NWSL draft held in Indianapolis in 2013.
For that inaugural event, the league tweeted the selections from one small room crowded with club and league officials while the press sat huddled nearby in a similarly cramped space awaiting word of each of the clubs selections.
The rooms have gradually grown bigger and this year in L.A. NWSL presented itself as a league confident in its place in the American sporting firmament.
The question is, of course, is the league’s confidence warranted?
I spoke to Orlando Pride coach Tom Sermanni immediately prior to the draft and the former U.S. WNT manager was, as always, forthright in his responses.
As Orlando enters its second year it will move into the stadium that it will share with MLS side Orlando SC. After finishing second in the league in attendance The Pride will likely see an increase as fans flock to the new venue, but all is not well.
Why? Because Orlando’s marquee player, U.S. WNT star Alex Morgan will miss the early part of the Pride season as she plays out a six-month loan with French powerhouse Lyon.
Sermanni admits “it was difficult” to lose Morgan, even temporarily. Morgan’s move signaled a mini-exodus when her fellow U.S. WNT striker Crystal Dunn signed on with Chelsea’s women’s team. And Sermanni said it is “a big blow that Buchanan (Kadeisha) and Ashley Lawrence have gone overseas.” Sermanni was lamenting the loss to NWSL of the two 21-year-old Canadian National Team players Kadeisha Buchanan, to PSG, and her West Virginia Universty teammate Lawrence, to Lyon, two players who would have gone very high on Thursday.
Sermanni doesn’t believe that the defections reflect badly on NWSL, rather that these moves “highlight the competition we have in the women’s game worldwide.”
Asked about the young Canadian duo Commissioner Plush noted that “players earn the right to make decisions and do what’s best for themselves.” Plush admitted that the league “would be thrilled to have Ashley and Kadeisha in this league” but the commish was quick to add, “I also know that there are a lot of great players that joined this league today” and Plush continued with a hint of defiance, “I have a lot of confidence that we are still the best league in the world.”
Plush was addressing a relative swarm of reporters when he was asked, inevitably to speak about North Carolina, the new home of the 2016 NWSL Champion Western New York Flash.
The Flash are, of course, now the Carolina Cougars, having been purchased by North American Soccer League team North Carolina FC.
NWSL has positioned itself as a progressive league and it has troubled some supporters to see the Flash relocate to the state that is home to HB2, commonly referred to as the “bathroom bill” considered by civil rights groups and LGBTQ advocates to be the most anti-LGBT bill in the country.
Plush was asked what concrete steps the league would take in regard to the bill and the while the commissioner called himself open to ideas, he summarized the league’s position in this way. “We are a league of inclusiveness, and diversity, and opportunity, and equality, and that means operating when it isn’t easy to operate.” “We are not naive about this” Plush underlined “but I have 100% confidence in the North Carolina ownership group, 100% confidence in the governor, with the community in North Carolina, and we’ll get after it.”
So, what about the draft? Unlike last year’s trade-filled first round this year’s opening round proceeded in an orderly fashion, although it was dominated by the Boston Breakers, who owned four of the 10 first round picks.
Rose Lavelle is a skilled midfielder out of Wisconsin who was part of the squad for the U.S. WNT Victory Tour after the 2015 World Cup, so her selection at the number one spot was hardly a shocker. Coming off of an epically bad last place season Boston had needs all over the field. In 20 games The Breakers finished last in goals scored with 14, last in goals conceded with an unsightly 47, which made for a staggering -33 goal difference.
It was no small task but Breakers President of Soccer Operations Lee Billiard and Coach Matt Beard dove straight in. Lavelle will be joined in the midfield by Morgan Andrews, the third overall selection and a pair of forwards taken at eight and nine. First Boston took UC Berkeley attacker Ifeoma Onumonu, one of six first-round picks to attend California colleges, with three coming from USC, before taking local product Margaret Purce, out of Harvard, making her the highest selection in NWSL history from an Ivy league school.
– Round 1 –
No. 1 – Rose Lavelle – Wisconsin (Boston Breakers)
No. 2 – Ashley Hatch – BYU (North Carolina Courage)
No. 3 – Morgan Andrews – USC (Boston Breakers)
No. 4 – Kayla Mills – USC (Sky Blue FC)
No. 5 – Christina Gibbons – Duke (FC Kansas City)
No. 6 – Maddie Bauer – Stanford (Seattle Reign FC)
No. 7 – Darian Jenkins – UCLA (North Carolina Courage)
No. 8 – Ifeoma Onumonu – CAL (Boston Breakers)
No. 9 – Margaret Purce – Harvard (Boston Breakers)
No. 10 – Miranda Freeman – USC (Sky Blue FC)
— Round 2 —
No. 11 – Michele Vasconcelos – BYU (Chicago Red Stars)*
No. 12 – Morgan Proffitt – Marquette (Chicago Red Stars)
No. 13 – Toni Payne – Duke (FC Kansas City)
No. 14 – Rachel Hill – UCONN (Portland Thorns FC)
No. 15 – Jane Campbell – Stanford (Houston Dash)
No. 16 – Katie Johnson – USC (Seattle Reign FC)#
No. 17 – Stephanie Ribeiro – UCONN (FC Kansas City)
No. 18 – Savannah Jordan – Florida (Portland Thorns FC)&
No. 19 – Lindsay Agnew – Ohio State (Washington Spirit)
No. 20 – Claire Wagner – Clemson (North Carolina Courage)&
— Round 3 —
No. 21 – Tyler Lussi – Princeton (Portland Thorns FC)@
No. 22 – Danica Evans – Colorado (Orlando Pride)
No. 23 – Kailen Sheridan – Clemson (Sky Blue FC)
No. 24 – Madison Tiernan – Rutgers (Sky Blue FC)
No. 25 – Alexis Shaffer – Virginia (FC Kansas City)
No. 26 – Arielle Ship – CAL (Seattle Reign FC)
No. 27 – Jaycie Johnson – Nebraska (North Carolina Courage)&
No. 28 – Nichelle Prince – Ohio State (Houston Dash)**
No. 29 – Meggie Dougherty-Howard – Florida (Washington Spirit)
No. 30 – Catrina Atanda – Clemson (Sky Blue FC)
— Round 4 —
No. 31 – Sammy Jo Prudhomme – USC (Boston Breakers)
No. 32 – Nickolette Driesse – Penn State (Orlando Pride)
No. 33 – Erin Smith – Rutgers (Houston Dash)
No. 34 – McKenzie Meehan – Boston College (Sky Blue FC)
No. 35 – Rashida Beal – Minnesota (FC Kansas City)
No. 36 – Cameron Castleberry – North Carolina (Washington Spirit)
No. 37 – Kristen McNabb – Virginia (Seattle Reign FC)
No. 38 – Hayley Dowd – Boston College (Boston Breakers)
No. 39 – Lauren Kaskie – UCLA (Chicago Red Stars)
No. 40 – Caroline Flynn – Nebraska (Portland Thorns FC)
Draft Day trades:
* = Chicago Red Stars acquired the No. 11 overall selection from the Boston Breakers in exchange for the Red Stars’ Rd. 2 pick in the 2018 NWSL College Draft and a 2018 international roster spot.
# = Seattle Reign FC acquired the No. 16 overall selection from Chicago Red Stars in exchange for Seattle’s Rd. 1 pick in the 2018 NWSL College Draft.
& = Portland Thorns FC traded up to acquire the No. 18 overall selection from the North Carolina Courage, who picked up the No. 20 and No. 27 picks in exchange.
@ = Portland Thorns FC acquired the No. 21 overall selection from the Chicago Red Stars, sending their Rd. 2 and Rd. 3 picks in the 2018 NWSL Draft to the Red Stars.
** = Houston Dash acquired the No. 28 overall selection from the Chicago Red Stars in exchange for a Rd. 2 pick in the 2018 Draft.