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NWSL 2023 mock draft: Projecting every first-round pick

Florida State's Emily Madril is forgoing the rest of her NCAA eligibility. (Erin Chang/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

NWSL Draft day is nearly upon us, and all the players available to be selected have submitted their names.

A few picks appear to be set in stone, but more twists and turns that will shape the 2023 draft class may be awaiting us on Thursday night. Here’s a look at some of the top talent available, and how I think the first round of the draft could shake out.

No. 1: Angel City FC

Alyssa Thompson, F, Harvard-Westlake Prep

This pick is all but finalized, with multiple reports linking Thompson to Angel City after the Los Angeles club traded for the No. 1 pick last week. The 18-year-old officially registered for the draft the day after the trade, opting to go pro rather than attend Stanford. Thompson has huge upside, including the potential to become a USWNT mainstay for the next 15 years. With Angel City, she’ll be able to develop near home under the mentorship of players like Christen Press, Sydney Leroux and Simone Charley.

No. 2: Gotham FC

Michelle Cooper, F, Duke

Gotham needs goals: Enter Michelle Cooper. Cooper would likely be the No. 1 pick without Thompson’s surprise entry into professional soccer, and for good reason. The rising sophomore’s conversion rate in college was scorching, and she has intangibles in spades as the former captain of the USWNT U-20 squad. Inserting Cooper alongside Midge Purce and Ifeoma Onumonu could radically change Gotham’s fortunes in 2023.

No. 3: Orlando Pride

Jenna Nighswonger, M, Florida State

The Pride could go in many different directions with this pick, but they’ll be tempted to pick up Nighswonger, who has the ability to reshape the way the team moves the ball and connects with the attack. More than anything, Orlando’s progress in 2023 could hinge on shoring up the defense. If I were the Pride, I’d take a hard look at Emily Madril or Reyna Reyes, but I think Nighswonger will be too enticing to pass up.

No. 4: Racing Louisville

Emily Madril, D, Florida State

What Louisville should consider with this pick is an offer to change places with Orlando in front of them to ensure they grab Madril, who has Louisville youth connections. But if the Pride are assured in their decision to go for a playmaker, Madril to Louisville makes sense for both sides. The defender fills a major team need and is already familiar with the organization.

NWSL prospect Penelope Hocking played for the U-23 USWNT this past year. (Amanda Loman/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

No. 5: Portland Thorns

Penelope Hocking, F, Penn State

The Thorns should go with an attacker at No. 5, no matter what. There’s a tempting toss-up between Hocking, Alexa Spaanstra and Izzy D’Aquila, though each player has slightly different playing profiles. D’Aquila has had one of the hotter seasons going into the draft, but Hocking is a known product at the U.S. youth levels and was a standout in two different college systems, first at USC and then at Penn State.

No. 6: North Carolina Courage

Alexa Spaanstra, F, Virginia

The Courage currently have three picks in the first round, which gives them some flexibility with their selections. North Carolina will have to figure out how to make up for the loss of Debinha’s output, and they may target a forward right away. Spaanstra is a versatile winger who could work well with Kerolin and former UVA teammate Diana Ordoñez.

No. 7: Chicago Red Stars

Sophie Jones, M, Duke

If Jones makes it to No. 7, Chicago fans will be one of the happiest groups coming out of the first round. Jones has the ability to set the tempo of a game, is a strong player off the ball and is coming off one of her best seasons as a senior. The Red Stars need to shore up their spine as much as they need to add playmakers, and Jones has the potential to be another great defensive midfielder in Chicago.

Reyna Reyes has earned four caps with the Mexican women's national team. (John Blackie/USA TODAY Sports)

No. 8: Houston Dash

Reyna Reyes, D, Alabama

Reyes making it to No. 8 would be a gift to Houston. In this case, the Dash should be quick to select the best player available. It’s unclear exactly how new manager Sam Laity wants to progress the ball, but Reyes is an elite left back who can also play in the midfield and would bring versatility to the Dash that is difficult to defend.

No. 9: North Carolina Courage

Clara Robbins, M, Florida State

Robbins is a game-changer, and even though she’s only now making the jump to the pros, she’s got plenty of experience: The redshirt senior played 110 games in college, the second most in women’s college soccer history. The Courage are currently in the midst of a midfield rejuvenation project, and Robbins could be the perfect fit for their new system.

No. 10: Kansas City Current

Jyllissa Harris, D, South Carolina

With Kristen Edmonds off to Gotham FC, the Current need center-back depth, and Harris is one of the top prospects at the position. South Carolina conceded only 15 goals in 2022 with Harris as the cornerstone, and in an aggressive wingback system, the Current can use a defender with a calm head under pressure.

No. 11: North Carolina Courage

Messiah Bright, F, TCU

North Carolina could use this space for a defender, but with Kaleigh Kurtz’s contract extension and Abby Erceg’s retirement from international play, the Courage also have room to go all-in on attacking talent. Bright is a TCU standout with a consistent track record, having averaged a goal every other game throughout her college career.

No. 12: Portland Thorns

Summer Yates, M, Washington

For their second pick in the first round, the Thorns could stay relatively close to home. Summer Yates was a standout midfielder at the University of Washington, leading the team in goals and assists in 2022. As a hybrid attacking midfielder/forward, she could provide a spark when Portland’s internationals are away during the World Cup period.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.