NWSL 2022 mock college draft: Projecting every first-round pick

(Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

With the Division I NCAA Tournament done and dusted — capped by Florida State winning a third national championship — focus in women’s soccer shifts to the 2022 NWSL Draft.

There is plenty of uncertainty hovering over the college draft, set to take place in 10 days. For starters, players granted an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA have the chance to return, potentially depleting the talent pool of available players. Along with that, several college stars who just finished the season (think Mikayla Colohan, for example) were selected in the 2021 NWSL Draft, and those teams still hold their rights.

With those factors in mind, putting together a mock draft has an even greater degree of difficulty. Here’s a look at how things may shake out in the first round on Dec. 18 as NWSL rosters continue to come together and players decide whether or not to return to school.

1. San Diego Wave FC

Jaelin Howell, M, Florida State

At the end of an impressive collegiate career at Florida State, Howell’s reputation and quality give her the edge as the top candidate for the expansion side. She’s a defensive midfielder who can connect play, throw herself into challenges and compete for minutes right away. Adding a two-time national champion is a great opportunity for the first-year NWSL team.

2. Racing Louisville FC

Naomi Girma, D, Stanford

Another decorated youth international with the United States, Girma bounced back from a serious knee injury to excel as a center back for Stanford. She’s a ball-playing defender who will need to adjust to the demands of slowing down higher-level attackers in the NWSL. Her background with U.S. youth squads is sure to help — not to mention, her role in winning a national championship with Stanford in 2019 — and Louisville will take as many NWSL-ready players as they can get for their second season.

3. North Carolina Courage

Penelope Hocking, F, Southern California

The California native piled on the goals in her decorated four-year career at USC. In 72 games, she’s managed 54 goals and 22 assists. That record is not necessarily a guarantee of success in the NWSL, but the 5-foot-5 striker has the skills and ability to slot in as an option right away for new head coach Sean Nahas.

4. Racing Louisville FC

Emily Madril, CB, Florida State

Emerging as one of Florida State’s key players over the past couple of seasons, Madril is a ball-playing central defender who excelled this fall, in particular. Her versatility and skill with the ball add to her value in the draft since she has the potential to play as a holding midfielder, too. One of the nation’s best center backs in the fall 2021 season, Madril would give Louisville needed depth.

UCLA's Mia Fishel should be a coveted prospect on draft day. (Katharine Lotze/Getty Images)

5. Orlando Pride

Mia Fishel, F, UCLA

A junior who’s declared early for the draft, Fishel finished a strong career at UCLA with back-to-back All-American honors from United Soccer Coaches. In 59 games, she scored 32 goals and added 14 assists. The longtime U.S. youth international could be set for a reunion with Amanda Cromwell, who was named head coach of the Pride on Tuesday after nine seasons at UCLA. One underlying factor is that Fishel is a native of San Diego, so one of the new California teams could make a push for her on draft day.

6. Houston Dash

Diana Ordoñez, F, Virginia

Another player who left school early, Ordoñez recently finished her third season at Virginia with 45 goals in 62 games. On the surface, her goal-scoring record is matched by few during her time at school. She’s a classic penalty-box striker who needs teams to get her the ball in the box to score. The Dash have had success with drafting UVA products in the past, and Ordoñez brings the added connection of being a Texas native.

7. North Carolina Courage

Alia Martin, CB, Michigan

The depth pool at center back is going to be more certain once all the declared players are sorted after next Monday’s deadline. Regardless, Martin looks to be one of the top prospects for the spot. She played almost every minute of the season for the Wolverines and was a key part of their run to the Elite Eight. A handful of Michigan seniors could get picked in the draft, including Sarah Stratigakis and Nicki Hernandez, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Martin goes off the board first with the pick the Courage received as part of the Sam Mewis trade.

8. Orlando Pride

Sydney Cummings, CB, Georgetown

Projecting Cummings as a first-round pick might be a reach, but she is talented, tough and a decorated central defender. After playing three seasons (2017-19) at Brown, she took her grad year at Georgetown this fall and was named Big East Defensive Player of the Year. She reads the game well defensively, is sound with the ball at her feet and could be a good building block for Cromwell. The Pride added this pick as part of the deal that sent Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger to Gotham FC.

9. San Diego Wave FC

Sydny Nasello, F, South Florida

The expansion team can go in any number of directions here. Nasello has officially declared for the draft and has the talent to be a late first-round or early second-round pick, depending on who declares and how the draft unfolds. She’s a tricky dribbler and a wide attacker who enjoyed a career year this fall with 11 goals. She’s also a candidate to shift to an attacking outside back role, though she should stick as a depth forward at the very least.

10. OL Reign

Summer Yates, M, Washington

Attacking midfielder is perhaps the position most difficult to project for players making the jump from college soccer to the pro ranks. Yates played underneath the striker and up front at UW, enjoying a very solid career in the Pacific Northwest that included 20 goals and 17 assists in 74 games across four years. A team like OL Reign is sure to have a lengthy scouting profile on her, and if she can play a bit deeper and dig in defensively, her attacking abilities could really shine.

11. Chicago Red Stars

Frankie Tagliaferri, M/F, Rutgers

There are a lot of similarities between Tagliaferri and Yates, both attacking midfielders who are looking to stick in the NWSL. Tagliaferri transferred to Rutgers for her fifth season after four years at Penn State, enjoying a stellar fall season. Finishing the campaign with 13 goals and nine assists, Tagliaferri earned Big Ten Midfielder of the Year honors and boosted her draft stock. The Red Stars need players at a number of positions after making several high-profile trades, and Tagliaferri makes plenty of sense here.

12. Kansas City Current

Cameron Tucker, F, BYU

The speedster from Utah was a huge part of BYU’s success over the past few seasons. She knows how to find he back of the net, scoring 43 goals and added 29 assists in 97 games for the 2021 NCAA runners-up. A back-shoulder runner who could feature anywhere across a front three, her combination play with Colohan indicates that she can also drop in and combine. With a big roster at the moment, Kansas City can go with the best player available here, and Tucker is arguably the strongest forward left at this point.

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.