With both the expansion draft and the NWSL draft wrapped up, clubs are starting to prepare for opening day. It was a night of surprise trades, lots of allocation money, and, regardless of personal opinions on drafts, 56 players had their dreams recognized. With the draft airing on ION TV, the NWSL also used the night to showcase their new partnership, which will air a doubleheader every Saturday. All in all, it was a night that displayed a shining future for the league.
It might be out there to say that the Washington Spirit won the draft, especially when it took trading two established players in Sam Staab and Ashley Sanchez to move up on the draft board. However, strictly speaking, the talent drafted makes the trades a little more understandable. Croix Bethune, drafted third overall, excels at driving play from her central midfield role. Unafraid to drive at opposing players, the game often runs through her and her vision.
The Spirit then added Hal Hershfelt, an attacking player who can provide another creative option up top or drop into the midfield to and provide link up play. On their own, Bethune and Hershfelt are impact players capable of commanding a midfield and dragging a team to a win. Together, if the chemistry comes together, the Spirit will have another degree of lethal on their roster.
Not satisfied with adding an attacking element, the Spirit also drafted Kate Wiesner and Makenna Morris in the first round. Wiesner, a left-footed outside back, allows Washington to have options of where to play new free-agent signing Casey Krueger. Morris, a versatile defender out of Clemson, gives the backline depth and flexibility, allowing for game by game changes based on the opponent. The Spirit drafted for need and depth (admittedly creating the need through trades) focusing on crafting a team of lethal options.
Arguably, though, lots of teams won the draft, because players were drafted to fit a specific playing identity or to fulfill a need. Listening along to the broadcast team, one of the words heard most often was that a player was versatile and could slot in to any number of positions. Instead of simply drafting the best talent available, clubs drafted the best options for their specific needs.
For example, the Houston Dash drafted Avery Patterson and Kiki Van Zanten in the second round. Both players are creative and able to drive an attack, solutions to the scoring woes that plagued the Dash all season. Patterson and Van Zanten also diversify an attack that includes Maria Sánchez and Diana Ordóñez, creating different variations of playmaking and attacking threats. Both players have a nose for goal and Van Zanten has experience playing for the Jamaican National team. The Dash had a very specific need and used their second-round picks to fill it, giving the team two creative options up top.
Another team drafting for added depth with a specific vision was the Orlando Pride, who had a sneaky successful season last year, just missing the playoffs on a tiebreaker. Having signed a number of Brazilians this year, the team has indicated wanting to retain possession more. The Pride selected Ally Lemos in the first round, whose skillset focuses on retaining the ball especially in moments where a team is trying to close out a game. In the second round the Pride added Cori Dyke, a defensive midfielder also known for retaining the ball. The fourth round would see the selection of forward Alex Kerr, before concluding the draft with another midfielder, Talia Gabarra. Clearly, the Pride had an agenda.
The Utah Royals deployed the same draft strategy of drafting for new, but did so around building an identity rather than drafting for specific positional needs. With the first overall pick in the draft, the Royals selected Ally Sentnor from the University of North Carolina. Sentnor can score, but she also matches the gritty, attacking identity that the Royals are looking to build. With her ability to play different positions around the pitch, Sentnor provides the Royals with flexibility and dynamism.
The Royals second pick would be a goal-scorer too: Brecken Mozingo from BYU. The pick helped cement an attack minded club identity, but also made sense with the local connection.
And if the first round was about drafting attacking talent, the second was about building up the defense. Lauren Flynn, a ball playing center back known for her distribution abilities, was joined by Olivia Smith-Griffitts, a right back who played for BYU. Both players have a solid defensive skill set, but can contribute in unexpected ways to the offense, lending an unpredictable element to the team Utah is building. Emma Jackaniec, the Royals last pick of the second round, best illustrates this commitment to breaking lines, as the Wisconsin forward is at her best making runs behind the defense.
Even Chicago, with the recent exodus of players from the club, made a statement about their midfield at the draft. Selecting Leilanni Nesbeth in the first round, a midfielder known for playing deep with attacking instincts and the kind of relentless energy Chicago needs, the Red Stars signaled not to count them out just yet. With the first pick of the second round, the club added Jameese Joseph, an attacking player, to bolster the front line. The picks don’t magically replace all the talent that has signed elsewhere, but it does signal just how tough it will be to play the Red Stars.
Win, lose, or win the draft, but lose in terms of trades, each NWSL team built positively towards the 2024 season and signaled to their fans what each club is hoping the future looks like. With a deep draft class, it’s a guarantee that at least a few of the names called will be immediate impact makers for their new club. The future is bright, drafted, and ready to make history on the field.