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2020 NWSL Draft Recap

BOYDS, MD – APRIL 13: Washington Spirit forward Mallory Pugh (11) dribbles the ball and looks for a teammate during the National Womens Soccer League (NWSL) game between Sky Blue FC and Washington Spirit April 13, 2019 at Maureen Hendricks Field at Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds, MD. (Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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.

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TONY QUINN/ISI PHOTOS

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:

Round 1:

  1. Portland — Sophia Smith, Stanford

  2. Portland — Morgan Weaver, Washington State

  3. Orlando — Taylor Kornieck, Colorado

  4. Washington — Ashley Sanchez, UCLA

  5. Sky Blue — Evelyne Viens, USF

  6. North Carolina — Alleandra Watt, Texas A&M

  7. Orlando — Courtney Peterson, Virginia

  8. Utah — Tziarra King, North Carolina State University

  9. Reign FC — Kelcie Hedge, Santa Clara

Round 2:

  1. Orlando — Konya Plummer, UCF

  2. Sky Blue — Kaleigh Riehl, Penn State

  3. Utah — Kate Del Fava, Illinois State

  4. Washington — Natalie Jacobs, USC

  5. Orlando — Phoebe McClernon, UVA

  6. Chicago — Julia Bingham, USC

  7. Chicago — Camryn Biegalski, UW

  8. Washington — Averie Collins, Washington State

  9. Houston — Bridgette Andrzejewski, UNC

Round 3:

  1. Chicago — Zoe Morse, UVA

  2. Sky Blue — Amanda McGlynn, Virginia Tech

  3. Orlando — Cheyenne Shorts, Denver

  4. Houston — Chloe Castaneda, UCLA

  5. Washington — Katie McClure, Kansas

  6. Chicago — Ella Stevens, Duke

  7. Portland — Meaghan Nally, Georgeton

  8. Orlando — Abi Kim, Cal

  9. North Carolina — Sinclaire Miramontez, Nebraska

Round 4:

  1. North Carolina — Addisyn Merrick, Kansas

  2. Sky Blue — Chantelle Swaby, Rutgers

  3. Orlando — Chelsee Washington, Bowling Green

  4. Utah — Cyera Hintzen, Texas

  5. Washington — Kaiya McCullough, UCLA

  6. Reign FC — Sam Hiatt, Stanford

  7. Reign FC — Meg Brandt, Nebraska

  8. Chicago — Aerial Chavarin, Yale

  9. North Carolina — Brianne Folds, Auburn

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

Other former players contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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