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NWSL College Draft Preview: The Top Selections

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Emily Sonnett is the consensus top draft pick, but after that the Thorns could go many ways.

Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Thorns own the top two selections in this Friday's NWSL College Draft, as well as the#21 overall pick.  The draft will begin at 7:00am, and selections will be announced via social media and streamed here.

The Thorns could become the first team to draft the #1 and #2 overall picks in the NWSL's short history.  In 2014, the Chicago Red Starts drafted defender Julie Johnston and midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo #3 and #4 overall, with both players making an immediate impact for club, and in the case of Johnston, for country as well.

As with the 2013 and 2014 editions of the draft, when Crystal Dunn and Morgan Brian were drafted with the top pick overall, this edition has a consensus top pick as well, with Emily Sonnett appearing to be a lock to join the Thorns with their top pick.

Beyond the top pick, the Thorns could go many different ways.  New Thorns head coach Mark Parsons told Jamie Goldberg of The Oregonian that the Thorns are looking at four possible players for this pick', but also that he believes "....improving the back line in quality and depth is key."

For the purposes of this preview, we will give a look at the the players the Thorns are likely looking, as well as linking to the previews from The Equalizer, Top Drawer Soccer, and All White Kit.

#1: Emily Sonnett (Virginia)

College Stats: 2012-2015 - 97 Appearances (89 Starts) - 11 Goals - 9 Assists - 31 Points - 8,141 Minutes

A four year starter and senior captain at the University of Virginia, Sonnett, finished her award-winning collegiate career as a finalist for the 2015 MAC Hermann Trophy, ACC Defensive Player of the Year, a 2013 and 2015 All-ACC selection, a 2015 NSCAA First Team All-American, and espnW's 2015 Soccer Player of the Year.  A vocal leader on the backline, Sonnett is regarded as one of the few "pro-ready" prospects in this draft.  In addition to her collegiate accolades, Sonnett recently earned her first 4 caps with the United States Women's National Team, making her first appearance on October 25, 2015, a start against Brazil.

The Equalizer: Emily Sonnett
TDS: Emily Sonnett
All White Kit: Emily Sonnett

#2: A Look at the Prospects

The only position that the Thorns have solidified to this point is goalkeeper, where they added Adriana Franch in December.  The Thorns have once again seen significant movement from last season's squad, with the trade of Alex Morgan, the acquisition of Meghan Klingenberg, and the retirements of Nadine Angerer and Rachel Van Hollebeke being the most prominent moves so far, as well as adding new head coach Mark Parsons.  The defensive side of the ball appears to be the most solidified at this point, with Klingenberg and Sonnett joining a unit that will likely revert to a more traditional four-back under Parsons.

Forward and Midfield is where the Thorns have seen the most movement, with Ayo, Morgan, and Lianne Sanderson all gone from the top line, while Kaylyn Kyle, Sinead Farrelly, and McCall Zerboni all left via trades, with the latter two playing significant minutes throughout last season.   They have acquired American international midflelder/forward Lindsey Horan and Icelandic international Dagny Brynjarsdottir, who appeared for both Bayern Munich and UMF Selfoss of the Icelandic second division, where she scored 14 goals in 30 appearances between the two clubs, and based on quotes at the time of her acquisition, the Thorns see her a utility midfielder.  With the acquisitions of Amandine Henry is still unofficial, the Thorns still need help in defensive midfield, with Allie Long being the only player having appeared at the position currently on the roster with any regularity, and even if or when Henry is acquired, the position has little to no depth at this point.

Offensive Prospects

Makenzy Doniak (Virginia)

College Stats: 2012-2015 - 96 Appearances (86 Starts) - 64 Goals - 36 Assists - 164 Points - 6301 Minutes

A four-year starter with the University of Virginia who lead the Cavaliers in scoring for the past three seasons, Doniak ended her collegiate career as their all-time leading goalscorer in the competitive ACC, winning the conference title in the 2013 and 2015 season, while collecting individual accolades throughout her career, capping her senior year as the ACC Offensive Player of the Year, an All-ACC First Team selection, an NSCAA All-American, and was a two-time Hermann Trophy Semifinalist in 2013 and 2014.  A deeper look at Doniak's stats paints a picture of a very efficient goalscorer who put half her shots on goal (318 shots, 159 on goal), scoring on 40.2% of her shots on goal (64 goals/159 shots on goal), including 18 game-winning goals.

The Equalizer: #2 Overall
TDS: #3 Overall
All White Kit:
#2 Overall

Raquel Rodriguez (Penn State)

College Stats: 2012-2015 - 93 Appearance (90 Starts) - 23 Goals - 28 Assists - 74 Points - 6829 Minutes

The winner of the 2015 Hermann Trophy and captain of the 2015 NCAA Champion Penn State University side, Rodriguez not only made a name for herself collegiately, but also in the World Cup, where she scored Costa Rica's first goal in the Group Stage and started all three of their matches and has made 40 international appearances, scoring 25 goals.  A creative midfielder capable of playing all over the midfield, Rodriguez' technical ability earned her rave reviews, as did her ability to score big goals, including the game-winner in the College Cup.  Rodriguez has likely already drawn international interest after her play in 2015, and would occupy once of the Thorns international slots if drafted.

The Equalizer: #3 Overall
TDS: #2 Overall
All White Kit:
#4 Overall

Defensive Prospects

Cari Roccaro (Notre Dame)

College Stats: 2012-2015 - 75 Appearances (75 Starts) - 13 Goals - 4 Assists - 30 Points - N/A Minutes

A versatile defender, Cari Roccaro would fill multiple needs for the Thorns, especially in the middle of the pitch at  defensive midfielder or central defense, though she has played throughout the midfield and backline before settling into central defense as a senior.  A player with strong positional awareness that fits well into the "destroyer" role, Roccaro would easily solidify the spine of the Thorns defense in either position.  Appearing in two U-20 World Cups for the United States, Roccaro won Gold in Japan in 2012 and captained the 2014 squad that made the knockout round in Canada.

The Equalizer: #4 Overall
TDS: #4 Overall
All White Kit:
#3 Overall

Katie Bowen (North Carolina)

College Stats: 2012-2015 - 65 Appearances (57 Starts) - 2 Goals - 15 Assists - 19 Points - 5474 Minutes

Another versatile defender that could appear in either defensive midfielder or along the back line, Bowen is a New Zealand international that has made 30 appearances for the Football Ferns, including the 2011 and 2015 editions World Cup, and was an alternate for the 2012 London Olympics.  A high energy, high workrate defender, Bowen isn't a flashy player, but she gets the job done where ever she is put on the pitch.  A drawback to the Thorns is that she will likely miss time for the Rio Olympics in July and August, and would also an occupy international slot.

The Equalizer: #5 Overall
TDS: #5 Overall
All White Kit:
#5 Overall

Stumptown Take

The Thorns will be looking for an immediate contributor with their second pick, and the player who stands out most to me is Makenzy Doniak.  Her goal-scoring numbers throughout her college career paint the picture of a lethal striker in the box, an area the Thorns significantly lacked last season, especially when players were missing during the World Cup.  While the Rio Games will not take players for the length of time, the Thorns stand to lose all of their top line attacking players, save for Jodie Taylor.  When you add in the fact that Parsons spent the last several years coaching in nearby Maryland, Doniak is a player the Thorns should have very highly rated on their big board.

It also appears that the Thorns have likely traded down from their #2 Overall selection, per this tweet from Merritt Paulson:

Thorns Draft Tweet

Given that Paulson says it will still be a high 1st Round pick, the defensive prospects appear to come into play if we go off the mock drafts and big boards.  Sky Blue, Seattle, and Houston (x2) all fall into the "high 1st Round" selections at this point, and it will be interesting to see what those teams would be willing to part with to get the player they desire.