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Roundtable: NWSL College Draft

For Stumptown Footy’s second roundtable discussion, we chose a Thorns-related topic: the 2018 NWSL college draft. We used a slightly different format than we did for the MLS expansion draft roundtable; let us know which one you liked better in the comments.

Let’s start this off by zooming out from the draft a little. In general, are there any pieces we think the Thorns should look to pick up before the season starts? Should they try to make a like-for-like replacement of Henry and Nadim, and pick up a proven striker and a defensive midfielder? Should they shore up the bench a little on the defensive side? Other thoughts?

John Lawes: I think the single biggest need is a replacement at the back of midfield for Henry. The “nice to have” need is some depth at CB/FB. I don’t think that there’s really any need to pick up a striker. Sam Kerr wants to come play here? Super, sign her. But I think there’s already a ton of good attacking talent here. The DM, though...that’s a must-have. Sadly, the one player in this season’s draft that might be able to slot in and play there—Quinn—is too good to be on the board by #8.

Richard Hamje: To my view, everything hinges on Allie Long. Is she determined to stay in Portland and up her game? If so, does Parsons buy it? If this is the case, then Long is the replacement for Henry, and Lussi/Jordan/Sykes/Raso for Nadim. The Thorns then don’t need anyone drafted to be a regular starter in 2018 and thus can draft for general quality at any position. If Long is wantaway, or Parsons isn’t confident in her, then we have a different problem—we need a quality starting CDM right now. This means a trade, not a draft pick. So again, the draft does not solve our problem and we can draft for general quality at any position.

Tyler Nguyen: At the risk of sounding completely wacky, I don’t think that the Thorns play all that well with a pure striker in their current incarnation. Nadia was good there, but she was even better for the team on the wing, and with Sinclair playing as a false nine, why even bother trying to stick someone up front when we can get extra players elsewhere on the pitch? There are also so many young wingers waiting for their chance to get a run of games—frankly, I think it upsets the balance of the team too much to chuck a striker in unless we can get world-class talent.

This draft should be one to shore up the defensive bench and create competition. We got lucky that Meghan Cox just walked into camp last year, but having someone like her start games at left back is less than ideal.

Richard: Different opponents and game situations require different tactics. I would want PTFC to always have the option of a single striker with the threat of long balls over the top, or a hold-up target for breakaways. However, this doesn’t mean we necessarily need to draft a #9—we already have Jordan who, on paper, can play that role. Parsons knows what she can do and surely she has a head start over almost anyone we could draft.

Forget about reality for a moment and pretend the Thorns could select any two players from this pool. Who might fit those criteria?

John: Rebecca Quinn. She’ll be gone by #8, but if by some freak chance she isn’t I’d grab her in a heartbeat. I’d like to see us try to grab Indigo Gibson out of Cal if she’s still there. Duke’s Schuyler DuBree or Penn State’s Elizabeth Wenger would be other defenders I’d take a flier on if they’re available. Other players I’d consider would be MacKenzie Cerda CB/FB) or Clare Winter (DM) from UCLA.

Richard: Obviously Andi Sullivan. I like Gabby Seiler from Florida, and we might just have a chance for her. Top Drawer likes centerback Vanessa Gilles from Cincinnati—interestingly, a Canadian national yet to be called up. Perhaps if Parsons and Menges got her shaped up to professional grade and, with Sincy as a teammate, she could end up subsidized by our friends up north. This would be a worthy project with a potentially large payoff.

John: Whoever doesn’t grab Quinn is likely to take either Gibson or Seiler, and I like Gibson a little better. But I agree that if Gibson is gone, Seiler would be a great pick.

Tyler: Seiler is a really interesting player: she’s a midfielder who has been playing this season at center back for Florida and she looks both capable defensively and comfortable on the ball. She’d be an ideal backup for several different positions, which is important with such a small squad size cap. Also, fun fact, she played on the same youth team as Savannah Jordan and moved colleges to play with her at Florida, so I imagine she’d welcome a swap to Portland regardless of draft order. Plus, she’s not a franchise-quality player out of the gates like Sullivan or Quinn, so she won’t go for all our pocket change. That said, I’m somewhat surprised at the level of hype she’s gotten in the past few weeks, so she could well be out of reach.

Portland has just two picks in the draft, the fewest of any team except Seattle. However, thanks to the Rachel Hill trade, both are in the first round—the eighth and ninth overall picks. Let’s do a quick mock first round. Who do we think is gone by the time Portland’s turn rolls around?

John: Sullivan, obviously. Quinn. Savannah McCaskill, Rachel Corboz, Gabby Seiler. At that point things get iffy. It’s a thin draft; a lot of the best players in the NCAA this January are still sophomores and juniors. Probably Casey Murphy out of Rutgers if Washington has finally given up on Labbé. Imani Dorsey? Depends on how confident the Spirit or the Royals or Sky Blue are that she won’t suck down a ton of chances; her efficiency numbers jumped up last season (2016 10 shots/goal, 2017 3 shots/goal) but there’s no solid proof that she can stay that good. She hasn’t been terrifically consistent in college.

Bluntly, I don’t think “first round” means much in this draft. “Top five picks” do, but after that I think it’s gonna be on the various FOs to do some deep digging and get the dope on who may have some hidden talents and nick them. Luckily I think we have a coach that can and will do that. His work to date has been good.

Richard: After Sullivan and Quinn go 1-2, or 1-3, it’s pretty much all a crapshoot. As to who’s left when it’s our turn, we will already be scraping the bottom of a very shallow barrel. But remember that time we got the best centerback in the league at the 25th spot? It’s possible that either or both of Seiler and Gilles could be still available come our turn. Midfielder Brianna Visalli of Pepperdine is also interesting.

John: I should back up Richard in having confidence in Parsons. He’s made some good picks already in Hill and Lussi. Jordan looks like she might work out, too, so what looked dumb last January isn’t looking that way now. He was well-prepared last year.

That said, I’m not sure that the Menges pick is a good example. Riley had worked with her in Long Island, so he had an insight that nobody else had in that 2014 draft. So far as I know, Parsons doesn’t have a similar connection with anyone in this season’s field.

Tyler: The most interesting picks that can swing the draft for us are 4 through 7. Picks 4 and 5 are probably going to be traded: Sky Blue simply don’t have needs that can be solved through any draft, much less this one. Washington at 6 is a weird one: if they can get a starting quality central defender available immediately, they will, or else they’ll be shopping it around. I imagine that’s Indigo Gibson, or maybe Schuyler DeBree. Chicago has the luxury of picking whoever’s best and available at 7.

If one of Seiler or Cerda isn’t available by 8, I think we’ll have been unlucky. If both those names go, I think someone like Michaela Abam—a technical but somewhat inefficient forward at West Virginia who’s played at center back and midfield—would be a great player for the Thorns to pick up as a long term project. She’s got a lot of upside, and they wouldn’t need her to start immediately.

Are there international players who could improve the team? Will anyone want to join the year before a world cup?

John: Caroline Seger. She’s basically the saffransbullar version of Amandine Henry. Problem being that she plays for Olympique Lyon who can afford to pay her what she’s worth. Ain’t gonna happen unless Henry bends her ear on how awesome Stumptown coffee is or something.

Richard: Does Crystal Dunn count? On a serious note, at the 2015 World Cup, I was impressed with Ines Nrehy of Côte d’Ivoire. She played her club football in Russia at the time, but moved to Turkey on a short-term contract in the spring of 2017 where she scored 10 goals in 13 appearances. The Turkish and Russian women’s sides are notorious for not paying well, and sometimes not paying at all. Maybe Portland would look good to her. She is only 24, yet very experienced.

Tyler: It seems extremely unlikely to me that any player in a top European league will leave an established setup the year before a world cup, especially a European player. Australian players, on the other hand, might be looking for a chance to prove themselves at a high level of competition, and for whatever reason just haven’t made a splash in the big leagues of Europe.

Ellie Carpenter, very talented Australian national team right back, is too young to start the season in the NWSL but could potentially join after April, once the Asian Cup finishes. Hannah Brewer is another highly talented fullback who can play on the right or the left who has yet to get called up for her country but looks an absolute terror in the W-League. The real perfect fit for the Thorns, though, would be Newcastle Jets captain Emily Van Egmond: word on the street is that she is looking for an NWSL club for the first time since getting dropped by the Chicago Red Stars in 2014 as a 20-year old. The Australian national team have stepped up a level since then and she’s a major part of that as the deepest midfielder.

Let’s get silly. What’s the wildest thing Parsons could do with his two picks?

John: Package them in a deal with Orlando to bring Alex Morgan back to Portland.

Actually, it’s hard to come up with something that’s not “wild” in the sense of “well, this is kinda going outside the box”. This draft is so sketchy and the PTFC picks are so far down in the first round that almost anything Parsons can come up with is going to be outside the box, including just using them.

I think we’re either going to see some bizarre black swan that leaves someone as good as Sullivan on the table at #8, or we’re going to end up drafting someone who sends us scrambling to Top Drawer Soccer and Wikipedia, desperate to figure out “who the heck IS she..?” It’s just that kind of draft class.

Richard: I’m with John here. Maybe we could package both picks with Long to facilitate a trade if there’s to be one. Or trade one for an international slot. Or use one to get Washington’s rights to Dunn, if Parsons thinks she might return for 2018.

Tyler: The wackiest thing to do would be to try and put together a package for either Rebecca Quinn or Andi Sullivan or trade up for another big name. Whoever picks them will be asking for an arm and a leg not just now but probably well down the line. This is a draft where both Parsons and the fans really have to keep their sense of perspective—the Thorns are a very good team, and we can afford to make picks for later with an eye toward development. If they get a few solid backups who get to mesh with the squad and get minutes, the team will be in very good stead for when everybody takes off for the World Cup in 2019.

John: My thought, Tyler, is that this draft is so lean that even packaging both picks we’d have to give up somebody at least decent, and by that I mean not “2017 Allie Long” decent (unless the team was desperate for cap relief) but more like “Kat Reynolds decent.” And as you point out, this team is damn good looking standing pat. I wouldn’t be all atwitter to make a trade like that.

Richard: On January 19th, our two draft picks will have zero value. We need to use them for something. I’m with Tyler that we’re not likely to hit a home run but fortunately we don’t even need a base hit. John, I didn’t even know you were on Twitter ;-)

John: I am, Richard, but my Twitter is like Kim Jong Un’s nukes; unused but kept in reserve to apply political pressure.