It’s that time of year again: the time when the most talented unpaid soccer players in what shouldn’t be our nation’s primary player development system gather together in the hopes of getting paid a very small amount as nominal professionals. That's right folks, it's the NWSL draft!
This year the Thorns have their natural second-round pick (17th overall) and their natural fourth-round pick (35th overall) and that is it. The club traded their 2019 third-round pick to the Chicago Red Stars during last year’s draft for a third-round pick that would become Bella Geist, and they traded their 2019 first-round pick to the Washington Spirit midway through the season for an international spot—as well as the ever-popular "future considerations"—to keep all their visa players rostered.
The fact that the Thorns were willing to make that trade mid-season, before they knew which draft pick they would be receiving, is reflective of an institutional attitude to the draft that predates Mark Parsons's tenure: they don't see it as a great place to pick up value and never really have. Because Providence Park is such an attractive place to play, the Thorns generally don’t have to rely on the college system. Top talent often simply walks into open tryouts, like Mana Shim and Celeste Boureille did.
That's not to say the Thorns haven't had success in the draft: Emily Sonnett was a big impact right away as a number one in 2016, and Emily Menges famously went from being a late third-round pick to one of the best center backs in the league. Sandra Yu and Bella Geist, two of last year’s picks, haven’t played any competitive minutes, but the staff rates both of them highly (Gabby Seiler, Portland’s other 2018 draftee, has yet to report to the club).
This year, however, is a bit different. It's a World Cup year, and big players for the club will be seeing significant time away with their national teams. Menges notably saw more time being drafted in a World Cup season, and the space is there for players to prove themselves.
The Bella Geist trade exemplifies the club's current approach to the draft: if they have a specific player in mind, they're confident of making a trade to get a pick on the fly, especially in the late part of the draft. Geist, a keeper at Oregon State, had been scouted personally by the club, and yet the pick so blindsided the media on the day that the broadcast team didn't even have a photo of her on hand.
Of course, the actual draft isn’t the only action slated for the week. The NWSL draft, which coincides with the MLS SuperDraft and the United Soccer Coaches Convention, is a place where all the teams' staff are milling about in the same room for a few days, and trades have already started. With rumors flying about players suggesting that they won't report to certain clubs should they be drafted by them, draft day will almost certainly throw some curveballs, and we'll be recapping them afterwards.