2023 NWSL Draft Preview
Tomorrow marks the first NWSL draft for Mike Norris as head coach of the Portland Thorns.
What is Norris hoping the team gets out of the draft? During the introductory press conference, he said:
I think in terms of the draft, I think it’s about adding to the roster. We’ve obviously got incredible talent. We’ve got great depth, which I think is a blessing. I think also a bit of freshness and just bringing the right people in with the skill sets in character, just to add to this group, to challenge and push is really what we’re after.
Heading into her second NWSL draft as the Thorns general manager is Karina Leblanc.
In the 2022 Draft, Wilkinson and Leblanc selected Sydny Nasello, Gabby Provenzano, and Natalie Beckman. Both Provenzano and Beckman got on the field and are looking to increase their roles this year. The team did not do a proper social media vetting process on Nasello and as a result she was not offered a contract.
With more than 250 players registered, this is one of the deepest drafts—possibly ever. Leblanc and Norris have a chance to add more talent to a team that is trying to defend its crown. Do not be surprised if many undrafted players make NWSL rosters and contribute this season.
It’s no news that we’re also in World Cup year, and that means that a lot of key players will be gone for some months. Also, we have no news about Hannah Betfort, Shelby Hogan, Tegan McGrady, and Meaghan Nally’s new contracts, although the club has said they’re in negotiations with them. The same applies to Michelle Vasconcelos, who’s a free agent. But even with the addition of the mentioned players, the Thorns’ roster looks pretty thin when you take the players that will be—most likely—included in their national teams for the World Cup.
Current Thorns roster
GK: Bella Bixby, Shelby Hogan* (2)
Defenders: Kelli Hubly, Meghan Klingenberg, Natalia Kuikka, Emily Menges, Becky Sauerbrunn, Natalie Beckman*, Teghan McGrady*, Meaghan Nally* (8)
Midfielders: Sam Coffey, Hina Sugita, Rocky Rodríguez, Olivia Moultrie, Taylor Porter, Gabby Provenzano, Crystal Dunn (7) Horan
Forwards: Morgan Weaver, Sophia Smith, Janine Beckie, Christine Sinclair, Hannah Betfort*, Michelle Vasconcelos* (6)
Anticipated World Cup roster without new signings
GK: Bella Bixby, Shelby Hogan* (2)
DF: Kelli Hubly, Meghan Klingenberg, Natalia Kuikka, Emily Menges, Natalie Beckman*, Tegan McGrady*, Meaghan Nally* (7)
MF: Olivia Moultrie, Taylor Porter, Gabby Provenzano (3)
FW: Morgan Weaver, Hannah Betfort*, Michelle Vasconcelos (3)
2023 NWSL Mock Draft (Phuoc)
1. Angel FC: Alyssa Thompson, F, Total Futbol Academy
If you’re going to spend $450,000 in allocation money, that player has to be transcendent. Alyssa Thompson is absolutely that and more. She has dazzling speed and bright future for country and club. She is going to be the face of the franchise for the next decade. Can any backline stop Christen Press, Sydney Leroux, and Thompson? The midfield for Angel FC is still the weak link of the team and will have trouble getting their attackers the ball in good spots. If they can address that, this team looks to be headed to the playoffs this year and contending for championships in 2-3 years.
At 17 years and 334 days old, Alyssa Thompson is the 70th teenager all-time to earn a cap for the USWNT and the youngest player to debut for the USA since January of 2016 when Mallory Pugh made her debut at 17 years and 269 days of age. pic.twitter.com/COnb5BKkkb— U.S. Women's National Soccer Team (@USWNT) October 7, 2022
2. NJ/NY Gotham FC: Michelle Cooper, F, Duke
In almost any other year, Cooper would be the #1 draft pick. She is the 2022 MAC Hermann Trophy winner. General Manager Yael Averbuch and Gotham FC are looking at a quick rebuild of their team with the recent trade for Yazmeen Ryan and now with the selection of Michelle Cooper. They could feature one of the most devastating frontline trios in Margaret “Midge” Purce, Yazmeen Ryan, and Cooper.
Meet the 2022 MAC Hermann Trophy winner— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) January 7, 2023
What NWSL team should draft Michelle Cooper ?
3. Orlando Pride: Jenna Nighswonger, M, FSU
Orlando has needs all over the roster and, when that happens, you need the BPA (Best Player Available) approach. Nighswonger is one of the top names on all team draft boards. This is not a difficult decision, run up to the podium, and let Jenna Nighswonger run the show.
Biggest name of the last draft list update is Jenna Nighswonger, who should be a Top 3-5 pick.— Chris Henderson (@chris_awk) January 10, 2023
If Racing keeps the number four pick, there is no question they will be targeting Emily Madril. Not only is Racing in dire need of center back depth, Madril actually has a history of playing - or at least practicing - with Racing. She was a standout on their W League team this summer and then stayed for months after to practice with the first team. There’s also the obvious history of playing with Racing midfielder Jaelin Howell at FSU working in her favor. Whether Madril lasts long enough for Racing to pick her has yet to be seen, but Racing will certainly be hoping she does.
5. Portland Thorns FC: Reyna Reyes, LB, Alabama
Reyes was named 2022 SEC defender of the year and is one of the best left backs in recent memory. She is already on the Mexican National team and looks to solidify their left side for the next decade. With Klingenberg and McGrady’s status uncertain after this season, Portland could land an all-star caliber player to take over at left back. Reyna Reyes has the ability to defend, score goals, and create chances. A complete player and a building block for Portland would be amazing value at this spot.
If you’re not sold, check out her highlight video.
6. North Carolina Courage: Clara Robbins, M, FSU
7. Chicago Red Stars: Sophie Jones, M, Duke
8. Houston Dash: Alexa Spaanstra, F, Virginia
9. North Carolina Courage: Tori Hansen, D/M, North Carolina
10. Kansas City Current: Penelope Hocking, F, Penn State
11. North Carolina Courage: Nicole Douglas, F, Arizona State
12. Portland Thorns FC: Izzy D’Aquila, F, Santa Clara
Izzy D’Aquila could go as high as #3 in the draft to Orlando Pride. If she has dropped to this pick, Karina Leblanc needs to have the pick ready to go. She is the best pure goal-scorer in this draft. After scoring a franchise record amount of goals last year under Wilkinson, Norris will have even more firepower to work with.
Portland Thorns FC additional picks
24. Carlee Giammona: M, Pepperdine
36. Madelyn Desiano: D, UCLA
48. Zoe Hasenauer: M, Oregon
Portland’s midfield and attack will be depleted during the World Cup, and Giammona, Desiano, and Hasenauer will all contribute and have tons of long-term upside to grow with the club.
If Portland selects a player at all five picks, that would be a surprise. Expect Karina Leblanc to make moves to acquire an established player, future assets, or allocation money.
2023 NWSL Mock Draft (Melina)
5. Portland Thorns FC: Summer Yates, M/F, Washington
Yates played for the Huskies at the University of Washington. She can play as a midfield and a forward. Do you want goals? Summer can score with either foot. Not only that, she’s also a creator, has great game vision, knows how to use her body to fool the opponent and can hold her own when she’s surrounded by multiple defenders. Being part of the USWNT U23s in 2022, she got a taste of what it like to play against a professional team, when she faced the Thorns, Chicago Red Stars, and OL Reign at the 2022 Thorns Preseason Tournament.
12. Portland Thorns FC: Alexa Spaanstra, F, Virginia
When watching her play, her style reminded me a lot of Morgan Weaver’s. She’s fast, and not afraid to start an attack in the middle of the field and carry the ball all the way. She seems to never tire out. Spaanstra likes to occupy as much space as possible in the field, can score golazos but also assist with precise crosses, and is good on 1v1. Spaanstra is player who helps to recover balls and helps with the build-up of the play once she does.
24. Portland Thorns FC: Sydney Collins, D, Cal
When watching her play, she reminded me of a combination of Menges and Nally. She can play as a center back, outside back, and outside mid. She can tackle like Menges, but also projects herself to the attack when she finds the space. She reads the game pretty well, which is very helpful to anticipate the opponent and clearing balls. Similar to Yates, she already knows what it’s like to play against professional teams since she was part of the USWNT U23 that played in the invitational tournament held in Portland last March.
Oh, want a bonus? The Berkeley alumni is a Beaverton native and played in the Thorns academy as a youth player. She also has dual citizenship, being part Canadian... and you know how having maple syrup running through your veins gives you an advantage in Portland, right?
36. Portland Thorns FC: Glo Hinojosa, GK, UCI
While in World Cup year and with Covid still around, it will be important for the Thorns to add one more keeper to the roster. Here enters Glo. She’s an interesting prospect that could surely benefit from Nadine Angerer’s coaching to be pro ready while Bella Bixby—and hopefully Shelby Hogan—guard Portland’s goal. Last year, Hinojosa and UC Irvine became the Big West champions with Hinojosa named MVP. She’s also listed on the player watch list for United Soccer Coaches.
48. Portland Thorns FC: Sophia Braun, M, Gonzaga
The Beaverton native can play as a defender and a midfielder. She’s an interesting prospect since she has international experience, having played with Argentina’s national team, helping them qualify for the 2023 World Cup while playing in Copa America with the senior and U20 Argentina teams. The Gonzaga alumni also played at the Thorns Academy.
*Disclaimer: Having picked my five picks, I gotta say this was very hard to do. There are so many talented players that deserve an opportunity. Izzy D’Aquila is a goal-scoring machine that any club will be lucky to have. Talani Barnett is such a great tackler, she knows exactly when to go to challenge the attacker and when not, which shows how well she reads the game. I was also really impressed with goalkeeper Kendal Stovall, who last season stablished the record of saves in the state of Nevada—no one in that state has more saves than her. Having said that, I wish all the players who put their names in the draft the best and I hope they remember that there are a lot of other ways to get into professional soccer if they don’t get picked tomorrow.
What are your NWSL Draft predictions?
Do you expect them to select a player with each draft pick? Will they trade up? Will they trade out completely? Let us know your predictions in the comments.