The five biggest surprises of the 2022 NWSL College Draft

UCLA forward Mia Fishel fell to fifth in Saturday's college draft. (Andy Bao/Getty Images)

The 2022 NWSL College Draft had plenty of surprises, including the selection of Naomi Girma over Jaelin Howell at No. 1 overall

To see a list of every pick in the draft, click here. Meanwhile, here’s Just Women’s Sports five biggest surprises from an eventful college draft.

1. San Diego picks Girma, still needs midfielders

After selecting no midfielders in the expansion draft, many thought that San Diego would opt to go with Jaelin Howell to help bolster the midfield. Instead, they went with Naomi Girma, two-time Pac-12 Defender of the Year. While Girma will nonetheless add value to San Diego’s defense, which will also feature Abby Dahlkemper, the pick leaves the Wave still looking to fill out their midfield.

San Diego could use Girma as a defensive midfielder, where she has been used before. She even scored eight goals during her career at Stanford, including the rocket below.

In the second round, San Diego did select Sydney Pulver out of Washington State to fill one of the midfield spots, but the team could use a few more to round out the roster.

2. Mia Fishel falls to Orlando

The Orlando Pride may have gotten the steal of the draft with UCLA’s Mia Fishel falling all the way to fifth. Fishel will fill some holes for Orlando, who dealt Alex Morgan to San Diego FC following the expansion draft. In 59 games, she scored 32 goals and added 14 assists to etch her name into the Bruins’ top 10 all-time goal scorers in just three seasons.

With the ability to step in at striker, she could provide some needed help for Sydney Leroux, who has carried much of the Pride’s scoring burden over the past few seasons. She will also be reuniting with her college head coach Amanda Cromwell, who was recently named head coach of the Orlando Pride. Look for Fishel to continue to thrive under Cromwell and potentially become one of the Pride’s leading scorers in her rookie year.

3. Sydny Nasello falls to the second round

This one was a big surprise, as Just Women’s Sports had projected Nasello as going fifth to the Orlando Pride. A wide attacker who can play along the flank, Nasello could have provided any team with some depth across the forward line. While the selection of Fishel to Orlando made sense, that Nasello fell out of the first round came as a relative shocker — and could be a huge boon for the Thorns, who picked her at 13th. 

The forward should fit in well in Portland, with the ability to further develop her game alongside Christine Sinclair and Sophia Smith. 

4. Louisville goes young after trading for McDonald

With six of last year’s expansion draft players up for selection in this year’s expansion draft, Louisville appears to be looking to start over. That sentiment didn’t change with Saturday’s college draft, as they selected Savannah DeMelo and Jaelin Howell to help bolster an attack that will now be led by Jessica McDonald. The club first traded away Savannah McCaskill to Angel City FC in exchange for the No. 6 pick in the draft, which they used on DeMelo. 

The club finished the 2021 season at the bottom of the league, just one spot ahead of Kansas City, after going 5-7-12. While Kansas City has added some veteran depth in Sam Mewis, Louisville appears to be going young, hoping to build around breakout star Ebony Salmon. The 33-year-old McDonald may seem like a curious pick up given the youth movement, but the two-time NWSL champion and World Cup winner should provide a steady veteran presence. 

5. Small schools make a splash

Multiple NWSL teams elected to pick up small-school superstars later on in the first round. At eighth, OL Reign selected Zsanett Kajan from St. John’s University. At ninth, San Diego selected Marleen Schimmer out of Grand Canyon. Then, at 12th, Kaitlin Fregulia out of Long Beach State was selected by North Carolina. 

It’s always fun to see how sleeper picks do in the league. One to keep an eye on would be Kajan. While at St. John’s, Kajan was an offensive powerhouse, scoring 16 goals in 18 games during the 2021 season. She’ll get to learn under some of the league’s best in Megan Rapinoe, Bethany Balcer and Tziarra King. The same can be said for Fregulia, who will get to play alongside Abby Erceg and Carson Pickett, while Schimmer will get to develop alongside Alex Morgan in San Diego.