The 2020 NWSL Draft is officially behind us, and given how hectic this offseason has been, it only seems fitting that the draft was equally dramatic. A last-minute flurry of trades radically re-ordered the first five picks just as the selections were getting underway. Many of the deals involved allocation money, immediately raising questions about the new rule. The biggest story of the day, however, was Mallory Pugh being traded from Washington to Sky Blue in a deal that could have a long-term impact on both franchises.
Below, we run through all the biggest NWSL headlines from draft day and beyond:
Portland snags the top two picks, sparking debate: Portland had already traded Emily Sonnett to Orlando ahead of the draft for the No. 1 pick, with which they were widely expected to select Stanford’s Sophia Smith. They did just that, and then shocked the league by trading $70,000 of allocation money and two later picks to the Chicago Red Stars for the No. 2 pick, which they subsequently used on Washington State’s Morgan Weaver. Weaver was a one-woman wrecking crew during Washington State’s magical run to last year’s College Cup, where Smith herself scored a hat trick in the semifinal. Portland now has two young offensive stars to anchor its apparent rebuild.
The trade between Portland and Chicago was one of many on draft day to involve allocation money, which was only introduced this past November. Intended to help teams pay certain players above the salary cap, the new spending mechanism is now already under fire, as coaches (including North Carolina’s Paul Riley) have said it will set a new precedent allowing teams to essentially buy first round draft picks. Expect this to be a hotly-debated issue moving forward.
Sky Blue trades for Mallory Pugh: In a deal no one saw coming, the 21-year-old USWNT forward was traded from Washington to Sky Blue for the 4th, 13th, and 17th overall picks in this year’s draft, as well as a first round pick in next year’s draft. Pugh skipped college to join the Spirit three years ago, but hasn’t quite lived up to, let alone surpassed, the hype that comes with being a teenage wunderkind, and just last week she was left off the USWNT’s Olympic roster. Still, she’s only 21, making this trade a potential franchise-changer for Sky Blue if Pugh can get back on track. A year ago Sky Blue couldn’t even convince their two draft picks to sign with the club. Now they have an A-list name to headline their roster as they move into Red Bull Arena next season, completing a stunning one-year turnaround.
Washington Spirit trade up for Ashley Sanchez: Sanchez, like Sophia Smith, left school early to enter the NWSL draft. Unlike Smith, it wasn’t obvious from the outset where Sanchez would go, and few could have predicted Washington, a franchise that initially had no first-round picks. That changed when they traded Mallory Pugh to Sky Blue, giving the Spirit the opportunity to immediately draft her potential replacement in Sanchez, another dribble-heavy offensive talent who starred for the USWNT at the youth level before being called into the senior team as a teenager. With the additions of Sanchez and Averie Collins (Washington’s second-round pick) to a squad that already includes Rose Lavalle, Jordan DiBiasi, Tegan McGrady, and Andi Sullivan — all of whom are under 25 — it’s clear the Spirit now have a young core to build around.
Chicago Red Stars rake in players, money, and future picks: After falling in last season’s championship game and watching Sam Kerr decamp to Chelsea, the Red Stars managed to turn four first round picks in this years draft into Rachel Hill, a reported $85,000 in allocation money, five picks in this draft, and a first round pick in next year’s draft. The Red Stars now have four first round picks in next year’s draft, and while neither Hill nor any of the five players selected this year may turn out to be franchise stars, they’re all valuable assets that can be bundled in a variety of ways moving forward as Chicago looks to rebuild on the fly.
Reign FC announce new, controversial head coach: Former OL and PSG head coach Farid Benstiti has officially been named the new head coach of Reign FC. Benstiti won four league titles and three cups during his time in France and has a long track record of developing world-class players. He’s also the coach who told Lindsey Horan she wouldn’t be allowed off the bench until she lost weight. Horan went on to make an entire commercial based on the slight, and though she’s since said that Benstiti’s tough love made her a better player, there’s no doubt this hire — the first to be made by new ownership group OL Groupe — could come under serious fire if Benstiti isn’t able to establish good relationships out of the gates.
Below is every pick from the 2020 draft:
Portland — Sophia Smith, Stanford
Portland — Morgan Weaver, Washington State
Orlando — Taylor Kornieck, Colorado
Washington — Ashley Sanchez, UCLA
Sky Blue — Evelyne Viens, USF
North Carolina — Alleandra Watt, Texas A&M
Orlando — Courtney Peterson, Virginia
Utah — Tziarra King, North Carolina State University
Reign FC — Kelcie Hedge, Santa Clara
Orlando — Konya Plummer, UCF
Sky Blue — Kaleigh Riehl, Penn State
Utah — Kate Del Fava, Illinois State
Washington — Natalie Jacobs, USC
Orlando — Phoebe McClernon, UVA
Chicago — Julia Bingham, USC
Chicago — Camryn Biegalski, UW
Washington — Averie Collins, Washington State
Houston — Bridgette Andrzejewski, UNC
Chicago — Zoe Morse, UVA
Sky Blue — Amanda McGlynn, Virginia Tech
Orlando — Cheyenne Shorts, Denver
Houston — Chloe Castaneda, UCLA
Washington — Katie McClure, Kansas
Chicago — Ella Stevens, Duke
Portland — Meaghan Nally, Georgeton
Orlando — Abi Kim, Cal
North Carolina — Sinclaire Miramontez, Nebraska
North Carolina — Addisyn Merrick, Kansas
Sky Blue — Chantelle Swaby, Rutgers
Orlando — Chelsee Washington, Bowling Green
Utah — Cyera Hintzen, Texas
Washington — Kaiya McCullough, UCLA
Reign FC — Sam Hiatt, Stanford
Reign FC — Meg Brandt, Nebraska
Chicago — Aerial Chavarin, Yale
North Carolina — Brianne Folds, Auburn