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Meet the Draftees: Natalie Beckman

With the 48th pick of the 2022 NWSL Draft, the Thorns drafted winger Natalie Beckman, who put up incredible numbers for the University of Denver.

University of Denver Athletics

The Portland Thorns selected Natalie Beckman from the University of Denver with the club’s third pick of the 2022 NWSL Draft and the 48th overall pick. Beckman was born in Aurora, Colorado and played for the Colorado Storm club team.

At the University of Denver, Beckman played 83 career matches and started 81. The forward registered 89 points across four seasons courtesy of 21 goals and a program-record 47 assists.

During her freshman season, Beckman appeared in all 21 of the Crimson and Gold’s matches and started 20. She scored two goals and provided a team-high nine assists. Beckman ranked 38th in the country and second in the Summit League in assists per game (0.43). She finished 21st in the country and 1st in the Summit League in total assists.

The University of Denver forward again started 20 matches and appeared in 21 in her sophomore season. Beckman amassed four goals and a team-high six assists.

Beckman’s junior season was slated for fall 2020 but was delayed to spring 2021. The Crimson and Gold winger was dominant throughout her third collegiate season and was named the Summit League Offensive Player of the Year. Beckman led the team in points (34), goals (10), assists (14) and game-winners (4).

The University of Denver forward ranked 12th in the country in assists per game (0.67), 10th in game-winners (4), 34th in points per game (1.62), 1st in assists (14), 16th in goals (10) and 2nd in points (34).

Heading into her final season, Beckman was named to the MAC Hermann Trophy Watchlist and No. 44 player in the country in Top Drawer Soccer’s preseason list. Beckman registered at least one point in 16 of the team’s 21 matches. She scored five goals and set a single-season school record for assists with 18. Beckman finished second in the country in both assists per game (0.86) and assists (18).

Off the field, Beckman is similarly impressive and has made service a priority throughout her college career. She ran a club that works with Lasey Elementary School children, volunteered at local youth club practices, prepared food for homeless shelters in Denver and tutored students in low-level Spanish.

It was difficult to track down replays of Denver’s matches but I was able to watch the Crimson and Gold’s two NCAA Tournament matches from the 2021 spring season in which Beckman was named the Summit League Offensive Player of the Year. The sample size is very small but I was impressed with Beckman in the tournament matches against Loyola Chicago and No. 2 North Carolina. Against Loyola, the Pioneers went down within the first minute but mounted a comeback and scored three straight goals to win Denver’s first NCAA Tournament victory since 2012.

The right-footed forward patrolled the left wing for the majority of both matches. It seems as though she prefers to stay close to the touchline but she can also create danger when cutting inside and she even occupied a central position behind the striker at times.

Beckman is explosive and has the quickness to beat a player with one or two movements. She is fearless in taking on one or more defenders and has exquisite close control which allows her to dribble through defenses. Beckman doesn’t need much time or space to put in good crosses which helps to explain her ridiculous assist totals. She uses her skills to create a sliver of space and is then able to provide enticing service with either her left or right foot.

The Thorns draftee showed a lot of maturity in her decision-making. She likes to drive at defenses but she has the awareness to turn on a dime and recycle and maintain possession if it isn’t on. This maturity is not conservatism, however. Beckman is still able to use her skills to slice a defense open much like she did on the Pioneer’s go-ahead goal against Loyola. Beckman ran onto a through pass down the left flank, cut past one defender and poked it to her teammate, whose deflected shot found the head of another Pioneer, who made it 2-1.

Beckman was even more impressive against No. 2 North Carolina. She orchestrated the Denver attack and the Pioneers looked like the more likely to score at times throughout the match. She also showed her defensive commitment and ability against the Tar Heels. North Carolina had the majority of the ball and the Crimson and Gold were forced to defend for most of the match.

Beckman dropped to help defend the wide areas, flew into measured tackles and pressed well when called upon. She put in an extremely professional performance against one of the top teams in the country which demonstrated how impactful she can be on both sides of the ball.

Beckman has a lot of potential and was drafted by a team that has a track record of nurturing young players and turning them into consistent contributors on one of the best teams in the league. Beckman is also versatile which was something Thorns coach Rhian Wilkinson was quick to point out. Beckman is pacey, a good defender and can provide excellent service from wide areas which may allow her to thrive in a fullback role.

The former Pioneer forward will likely get time at both forward and outside back positions as she develops because the Thorns lack depth there after the expansion draft trades that saw Simone Charley, Tyler Lussi, Amirah Ali and Christen Westphal leave the club.

Beckman is a promising prospect that seems to fit the mold of a player that can succeed at Portland Thorns FC on and off the pitch. It is impossible to predict how players will make the jump from college to the NWSL but to get a player with this kind of potential with the 48th pick of the draft seems like a win.