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NWSL 2022 College Draft: Grading every pick of the first round

Naomi Girma was a bit of a surprise pick for San Diego at No. 1 during Saturday’s NWSL Draft. (John Todd/ISI Photos/Getty Images).

The first round of the NWSL College Draft can serve as a tipping point in the league. Look no further than the Washington Spirit, who relied on two top-10 picks in the 2021 draft to win the NWSL title this past season. On the flip side, as we saw in the weeks leading up to this year’s draft, teams can use first-round picks as leverage to build out their rosters with more experienced talent.

The success of the first 12 players selected in the NWSL draft on Saturday won’t be realized until next year and beyond. That doesn’t mean we can’t give our immediate evaluations of the picks and how they fit with their new teams.

Below, we hand out grades for each of the 12 picks in the first round of the 2022 NWSL Draft.

1. San Diego Wave FC

Naomi Girma, D/M, Stanford – B+

The center back is a quality prospect who brings plenty of experience to the expansion team, between winning a national championship at Stanford and being named the 2020 U.S. Soccer Young Female Player of the Year. It will be interesting to see if San Diego tries Girma as a defensive midfielder since building out the spine was certainly a team need heading into the draft. It’s safe to assume the Wave will look to stock their midfield in other ways. Still, going with Girma over Howell with the No. 1 pick was a bit of a surprise.

2. Racing Louisville FC

Jaelin Howell, M, Florida State – A

From both a team fit and player quality perspective, once Howell fell to Racing Louisville here, selecting her was a no-brainer. Howell adds steel to the second-year club’s midfield and can be a high-impact player if her development continues in a positive direction.

3. North Carolina Courage

Emily Gray, M, Virginia Tech – A

Outside of the top two, how teams drafted was always going to be a bit of a mystery. The Courage are going through a bit of a rebuild and have two top picks to try to kick-start the next era. Gray thrived on a solid Virginia Tech team and can hit the ground running in North Carolina.

4. Racing Louisville FC

Savannah DeMelo, M, USC – B

The attacking midfielder played all over the field in her final season, moving between forward, the wing and the No. 10 role. There’s little doubt about the soccer quality DeMelo brings from a passing and finishing perspective. The question is how she will fit into a league that often emphasizes the physical side of the game. If she can make the necessary adjustments to the NWSL’s speed of play and figure out ways to beat faster defenders, DeMelo should at least get minutes for Louisville this year as she continues to develop.

5. Orlando Pride

Mia Fishel, F, UCLA – A+

Fishel and former UCLA head coach Amanda Cromwell get a reunion in Central Florida. Fishel has arguably the highest upside in the draft pool, leaving school early to start her professional career. The familiarity between the two should help Fishel make a smooth transition to the next level. She’s a young player the Pride can build around as they launch a rebuild in 2022.

6. North Carolina Courage

Diana Ordoñez, F, Virginia – B+

Pairing Gray and Ordoñez within the first six picks is tidy work from the Courage. Ordoñez needs teammates around her to maximize her potential, as she’s more effective getting on the end of chances in the penalty area rather than creating them for herself. She’ll have that in the form of Lynn Williams out wide and Gray pulling the strings a bit deeper, among others.

7. Kansas City Current

Elyse Bennett, F, Washington State – B-

There’s no doubt that athletic forwards have a successful track record of making the jump from college to the NWSL. Bennett has that in spades, and if she can continue to improve her efficiency and be more consistent in front of goal, the rest should fall into place for Kansas City.

8. OL Reign

Zsani Kajan, F, St. John’s – C

International players have plenty to offer in the NWSL, though evaluating them in the context of the draft is always difficult. Kajan’s goal-scoring record in the Big East speaks for itself: The Hungarian scored 17 goals in 23 games during her final season this fall. It was all but certain she would get drafted on Saturday, but it feels like the Reign reached a little bit to draft her here. Of course, Rachel Daly, an English standout who also played at St. John’s, has proven her worth in the NWSL, and Kajan has the potential to follow in her footsteps.

9. San Diego Wave FC

Marleen Schimmer, M/F, Grand Canyon – B-

Before Schimmer was outclassing opponents in the Western Athletic Conference, the German attacker played two seasons at Arizona State. That past experience likely played a role in San Diego scooping her up here, though there’s always the risk that she elects to turn pro back home. Schimmer is a wide attacker who can also play through the middle, and her ability to show she’s worth an international roster spot will determine the success of this pick.

10. Orlando Pride

Caitlin Cosme, D, Duke – B

The Pride traded up to this spot to grab Cosme, a 5-foot-5 central defender with plenty of promise in the back. Still, her size is a concern and the context of the move is an interesting one: While other players also came over in the package deal, Orlando traded away Phoebe McClernon, another center back who played well at times. Of course, there is a new regime in charge in Orlando, and adding a first-round talent is a positive development for a rebuilding club.

11. Orlando Pride

Julie Doyle, F, Santa Clara – A

One of a handful of players on the list who didn’t play college soccer in the fall, Doyle showed plenty of potential in the spring season when she won a national title with Santa Clara. A wide attacker who can combine well through the middle or take defenders on out on the flanks, Doyle adds to Orlando’s depth as another young player with upside. If anything, the time she spent training in England could mean she’s more prepared to contribute right away.

12. North Carolina Courage

Kaitlin Fregulia, D, Long Beach State – B-

Fregulia ended her decorated career at Long Beach State as a two-time Big West Defensive Player of the Year, and she has the size, quality and ability to make an impact as a center back. It was still a curious pick for the Courage since they could have gone in a number of other directions that might have made more sense from a team-building perspective, such as taking South Florida forward Sydny Nasello. The Courage, however, can give Fregulia the time to develop and not press her into minutes right away, which could help ease her transition into the NWSL.

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.

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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