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NWSL 2022 College Draft: Handing out grades for all 12 teams

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No. 2 pick Jaelin Howell is the type of midfielder Racing Louisville can build a contender around. (John Todd/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

The full impact of the 2022 NWSL Draft won’t be known until a year or two from now. That doesn’t mean we can’t make some snap judgments.

Looking at the performances of all 12 teams in Saturday’s college draft, each of them made a good pick or two, at least from this pundit’s perspective. Some opted to move draft picks to stock up on allocation money or bring in more established talent. When handing out grades, those moves were considered in addition to the picks themselves.

Below is our report card for every team coming out of the NWSL draft.

Angel City FC: B+

The newcomers traded the No. 2 overall pick for the rights to Christen Press, and then added Simone Charley and Tyler Lussi in a deal that included the first pick in the second round. It’s hard to argue that adding a full U.S. women’s national team player and a pair of attackers with draft resources is a bad move. Second overall pick Jaelin Howell, however, could have been a solid building-block for the midfield.

Signings elsewhere will need to hit in order for Angel City to be competitive, since they’ll likely lean on their three draft picks as depth players. The club did go with a pair of players from Power 5 schools in Illinois midfielder Hope Breslin and Duke midfielder Lily Nabet. Their selection of Miri Taylor in the fourth round could have had more to do with securing her rights, since she could very well sign with a club back home in England next year.

Chicago Red Stars: C+

After trading out of the first round, the Red Stars didn’t pick until making back-to-back late selections in the second round. Ava Cook (Michigan State) and Sammi Fisher (Notre Dame) each have plenty of intrigue yet much to prove. In some ways, the third-round additions could have more upside, between Purdue star forward Sarah Griffith and Arkansas midfielder Kayla McKeon. Second-to-last pick Jayda Hylton-Pelaia provides much-needed depth at outside back.

Houston Dash: C+

The Dash didn’t do all that much in this draft, trading out of it for some more established NWSL players before picking South Carolina forward Ryan Gareis at No. 44 as their one selection. On the surface, that’s not a bad move given the arguable lack of depth on this year’s board. It’s hard to be too critical about veering toward more experience rather than rolling the dice on rookies. But, as the Washington Sprit showed in 2021, there is value in the draft that the Dash could have been overlooking.

Kansas City Current: B-

Kansas City dipped into the Pac-12 for the first two picks. Washington State forward Elyse Bennett has the physical qualities to be a hit in NWSL, but she needs to become a consistent finisher in order to be an everyday starter. Oregon midfielder Chardonnay Curran has U.S. youth national team experience and could help bolster Kansas City’s spine. The last two picks, Jenna Winebrenner and Izzy Rodriguez, will contribute to the Current’s back line depth and could be sneaky good additions when all is said and done.

NY/NJ Gotham FC: A-

Gotham was a part of the movement down the draft order, with the club not picking until late in the second round. Still, all three of their picks either fit positional needs or showed smart scouting. Kelly Ann Livingstone joins from Georgetown, a program with a strong reputation of sending players on to the draft, and the center back can compete for minutes right away. Hensley Hancuff is an intriguing goalkeeping prospect out of Clemson, while Michigan midfielder Raleigh Loughman had a very strong fall season.

North Carolina Courage: B+

With three first-round picks on Saturday, the Courage aimed to rebuild through the draft. Pairing up on ACC talent in Emily Gray at No. 3 and Diana Ordoñez at No. 6 isn’t a bad way to start. Both make plenty of sense for North Carolina and could get significant playing time this season. The selection of Kaitlin Fregulia at the end of the first round could be viewed as a reach. With so many center backs in the draft, it’s hard to argue with it too much, though the team could have addressed another position at No. 12. Haleigh Stackpole is an energetic forward out of Ole Miss who gives the Courage more attacking depth, and the team took the fourth goalkeeper of the day, Purdue’s Marisa Bova, with a fourth-round selection.

OL Reign: C

A relatively solid haul from the Reign started with perhaps the biggest surprise of the draft when the club took St. John’s forward Zsani Kajan at No. 8. That’s not to detract from Kajan’s quality, but rather to question whether she may have been available later. ACC additions came back to back in the second round, with OL Reign taking experienced UNC goalkeeper Claudia Dickey at No. 20 and Ryanne Brown, a savvy forward from Wake Forest. The Marley Canales pick in the fourth round has the most intrigue; her quiet midfield engine and skill on the ball could work well for the Reign if the system is set up effectively around her. The Reign did go West Coast in the third round, selecting Santa Clara midfielder/forward Kaile Halvorsen and Washington midfielder Olivia Van der Jagt.

Orlando Pride: A

Another team in rebuild mode, Orlando had three first-round picks and did pretty well with them. Mia Fishel’s connection with Amanda Cromwell is well-documented and gives the team a young talent to build around on the front line. Duke defender Caitlin Cosme has the experience of playing in the competitive ACC, while Santa Clara forward and national champion Julie Doyle should hit the ground running right away. Third-round pick Jada Talley is another sleeper coming out of the Pac-12.

Portland Thorns: B+

From the positions they were picking in, the Thorns did well. Sydny Nasello’s on-field performance at South Florida suggests she can be an effective NWSL attacker on the flanks. Gabby Provenzano comes from a Rutgers program that has a track record of developing central defenders. And don’t be surprised if fourth-round pick Natalie Beckman makes the team and works into the lineup at outside back.

Racing Louisville: A

It was a good day for Louisville from top to bottom. Along with Howell at No. 2, fourth overall pick Savannah DeMelo has plenty of potential in the midfield and No. 16 pick Charmé Morgan is a bit of a sleeper who can boost the team’s back line depth. Racing Louisville also got the goalkeeper it needed in Wisconsin’s Jordyn Bloomer after waiving 2021 starter Michelle Betos in the weeks leading up to the draft. Wake Forest forward Jenna Menta and Georgetown defender Sydney Cummings are both experienced players coming from quality programs.

San Diego Wave: B+

Taking Naomi Girma over Howell with the No. 1 pick is a decision that could certainly pay off if the center back stays healthy and can develop into a cornerstone of the team’s back line. That’s no sure thing, however, and there’s the argument that the Wave could have taken Grand Canyon’s Marleen Schimmer later in the draft instead of with the ninth overall pick. Then, of course, she could end up signing with a club back in Germany. Later picks Sydney Pulver (Washington State), Belle Briede (Stanford) and Kayla Bruster (Georgia) add depth to San Diego’s spine.

Washington Spirit: B

Entering the draft, the Spirit weren’t on the board until pick No. 38. That changed when the defending champions traded into the second round on three separate occasions. Assessing the moves without knowing the full value of allocation money is difficult, but the picks themselves should provide the Spirit with depth.

Tinaya Alexander and Madison Elwell are both forwards from the SEC who can boost the team’s front line, though minutes for that pair will be difficult to come by on a deep team. Lucy Shepherd was clinical for Hofstra in the final third and gives Washington another scoring option if she doesn’t go back home to England. Audrey Harding (UNC Wilmington) and Jordan Thompson (Gonzaga) rounded out the Spirit’s picks and made sense for the team at each spot. The Spirit’s track record in the draft is hard to argue with, but this time they’ll have to back up their strategy with second-round talent instead of first.

Travis Clark is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports, covering college soccer and the NWSL Draft. He is also the Director of Content at Top Drawer Soccer. Follow him on Twitter @travismclark.