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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.

USWNT to face Costa Rica in final Olympic send-off

uswnt sophia smith and tierna davidson celebrate at shebeilves cup 2024
The USWNT will play their final pre-Olympic friendly against Costa Rica on July 16th. (Photo by Greg Bartram/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

U.S. Soccer announced Tuesday that the USWNT will play their last home game on July 16th in the lead-up to the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.

The 2024 Send-Off Match against Costa Rica will take place at Washington, DC’s Audi Field — home to both the Washington Spirit and DC United — at 7:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, July 16th. The friendly rounds out a four-game Olympic run-up campaign under incoming head coach Emma Hayes’ side, with the last two set to feature the finalized 2024 U.S. Olympic Women’s Soccer Team roster.

Hayes will appear on the USWNT sideline for the first time this June, helming the team as they embark on a two-game series against Korea Republic hosted by Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado on June 1st followed by Allianz Stadium in St. Paul, Minnesota on June 4th. 

The team is then scheduled to meet a talented Mexico squad on July 13th at Gotham FC’s Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, where the Olympic-bound lineup will attempt to rewrite February’s shocking 2-0 loss to El Tri Femenil in the group stages of this year’s Concacaf W Gold Cup. And while clear roster favorites have emerged from both of this year’s Gold Cup and SheBelives Cup rosters, a spate of recent and recurring injuries means making it to the Olympics is still largely anyone’s game.

Broadcast and streaming channels for the USWNT's final July 16th friendly at Audi Field include TNT, truTV, Universo, Max, and Peacock.

Caitlin Clark’s WNBA start to serve as 2024 Olympic tryout

Clark of the Indiana Fever poses for a photo with Lin Dunn and Christie Sides during her introductory press conference on April 17, 2024
The talented Fever rookie is still in the running for a ticket to this summer's Paris Olympics. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The USA Basketball Women's National Team is still considering Caitlin Clark for a spot on the Paris Olympics squad, says selection committee chair Jennifer Rizzotti. 

On Monday, Rizzotti told the AP that the committee will be evaluating the college phenom’s Olympic prospects by keeping a close eye on her first few weeks of WNBA play with Indiana.

The move is somewhat unconventional. While Clark was invited to participate in the 14-player national team training camp held earlier this month — the last camp before Team USA’s roster drops — she was unable to attend due to it coinciding with Iowa’s trip to the NCAA Women’s Final Four.

Judging by the immense talent spread throughout the league in what might be their most hyped season to date, competition for a piece of the Olympic pie could be fiercer than ever before.

"You always want to introduce new players into the pool whether it's for now or the future," said Rizzotti. "We stick to our principles of talent, obviously, positional fit, loyalty and experience. It's got to be a combination of an entire body of work. It's still not going to be fair to some people."

Of course, Clark isn’t the first rookie the committee has made exceptions for. Coming off an exceptional college season that saw her averaging 19.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 4 assists per game for UConn, Breanna Stewart was tapped to represent the U.S. at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil less than two weeks after being drafted No. 1 overall by the Seattle Storm. Eight years prior, fellow No. 1 pick Candace Parker punched her ticket to the 2008 Games in Beijing just two weeks after making her first appearance for the L.A. Sparks.

In the lead-up to Paris’ Opening Ceremony on July 26th, USA Basketball Women’s National Team is scheduled to play a pair of exhibition games. They'll first go up against the WNBA's finest at the July 20th WNBA All-Star Game in Phoenix before facing Germany in London on July 23rd.

While an official roster announcement date hasn’t yet been issued, players won’t find out if they’ve made this year’s Olympic cut until at least June 1st.

WNBA teams make history with 2024 season ticket sell-outs

Arike Ogunbowale on the wnba court for the dallas wings
The Dallas Wings are now the third team to sell out their entire season ticket allotment in WNBA history. (Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)

For the first time in history, three different WNBA teams have completely sold out of season ticket plans well before the league's May 14th kick-off.

Call it the Caitlin Clark effect, attribute it to this year’s tenacious rookie class, or look to the skyrocketing visibility of veteran players across the board. But no matter the cause, facts are facts: Tickets to the 2024 WNBA season are selling like never before. 

On Monday, the Dallas Wings became the third team to sell out of season ticket memberships in the league’s 27-year history. The announcement from Arlington came shortly after the Atlanta Dream issued their own season ticket sell-out statement, also on Monday, and almost seven weeks after the back-to-back WNBA Champion Las Vegas Aces made headlines by becoming the first-ever WNBA team to sell out their season ticket allotment.   

According to the Wings, season ticket memberships will fill nearly 40% of the 6,251 seats inside their home arena, College Park Center. The club also said that their overall ticket revenue has ballooned to the tune of 220% this year, spanning not just season tickets but also a 1,200% increase in single ticket sales. There’s currently a waitlist to become a Dallas season ticket holder, a status that comes with extra incentives like playoff presale access and discounts on additional single-game tickets. 

In Atlanta, season tickets aren't the only thing flying off the shelves. The Dream also announced that they broke their own record for single-game ticket sales during a recent limited presale campaign. Sunday was reportedly their most lucrative day, with five different games totally selling out Gateway Center Arena. Individual tickets for all upcoming matchups will hit the market this Thursday at 8 a.m., while a waitlist for season ticket memberships will open up next Tuesday at 10 a.m.

"Excitement around women's sports, particularly basketball, is at an all-time high and nowhere is that felt more than here in Atlanta," Dream president and COO Morgan Shaw Parker said in the team’s statement. "We’ve continued a record-setting growth trajectory over the past three years under new ownership — both on and off the court — and 2024 is shaping up to be our best season yet."

As of Tuesday, season ticket sales revenue for Caitlin Clark’s hotly anticipated Indiana Fever debut haven’t yet been announced by the club. But if these numbers are any indication — not to mention the explosive demand for Fever away games felt by teams around the country — it won’t be long before we see some scale-tipping figures coming out of Indianapolis.

Nelly Korda ties LPGA record with fifth-straight tournament win

Nelly Korda of the United States celebrates with the trophy after winning The Chevron Championship
Nelly Korda poses with her trophy after acing her fifth-straight tour title at The Chevron Championship on Sunday. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

25-year-old American pro golfer Nelly Korda secured her spot in LPGA history on Sunday, notching her fifth-straight title at this weekend's Chevron Championship in The Woodlands, Texas.

Ranked No. 1 in the world by Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, Korda joins Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sörenstam (2005) as just the third LPGA player to rack up five consecutive tour wins. She is also the third No. 1-ranked player to capture The Chevron Championship victory since the rankings debuted in 2006, accompanied by Lorena Ochoa and Lydia Ko.

The Florida native shot three-under 69 in Sunday's final, besting Sweden's Maja Stark despite Stark's valiant come-from-behind attempt in the 18th. Korda finished with a four-day total of 13-under 275, celebrating her two-stroke win by cannonballing into Poppie's Pond, much to the crowd's delight. She left The Club at Carlton Woods with $1.2 million from an overall purse of $7.9 million.

It wasn't long ago that the two-time major champion's current winning streak seemed unimaginable. After maintaining her No. 1 position for 29 weeks, Korda underwent surgery to remove a blood clot from her left arm in 2022. She returned to the course not long after, but failed to win a single tournament in 2023 before seeing a surge in form during the first four months of 2024. As of today, she hasn't lost a tournament since January.

Korda will attempt a record sixth-straight win at next week's JM Eagle LA Championship at Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles, where she'll vie for a cut of the $3.75 million purse.

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