It’s rare for any NWSL team to come out of draft day without improving, but the questions following the chaos remain the same: Who got better immediately, who opted for slow, high-value growth, and who took too many risks?
Drafts are best analyzed at least a year after they occur, and hindsight is 20/20. But with one of the strongest draft classes in years, each team carved out a path for the 2023 season. Armed with picks, trades and team quotes, let’s evaluate how they did.
Kansas City Current – A
In both volume and impact, the Current cleaned up. Kansas City made a steep choice in sending Williams to Gotham to pick up Michelle Cooper, but general manager Cami Levin Ashton and head coach Matt Potter were adamant that they wanted Cooper as their cornerstone going forward.
Selecting Spaanstra at No. 10 was perhaps the team’s biggest steal. It was a bit of a surprise that she was still on the board at that point, and the winger is going to bring dynamism to the team’s wide attack. From there, the Current drafted solid players in positions of need, particularly at defense and goalkeeper. With eight total picks entering training camp, competition for contracts is going to be fierce in Kansas City in February.
Team says: “Michelle is somebody that we’ve obviously watched over the course of the last couple of years. And she’s somebody that we really wanted to be part of this organization. She’s an incredible talent and has showcased that at the collegiate level, and we’re very excited to have her with us in Kansas City.” — GM Cami Levin Ashton
Orlando Pride – A
The Pride made the right strategic pick at pretty much every point in the draft. Madril already has professional experience in Sweden and will be a crucial piece to Orlando’s backline rebuild. Messiah Bright is a fantastic pick-up at No. 21, since many (myself included) thought she’d be off the board by the middle of the second round.
Hansen and Yates were two other players projected to go higher than they ultimately landed. The Pride had the benefit of selecting not only the best players available, but also players at positions where they could use good, young talent. Yates is a little less proven against strong competition, and Hansen likely suffered positionally with few teams going all-in on defense, but both can make an impact in Orlando.
Team says: “[We gained] variety. We highlighted key players in key positions and you look at the picks that we got, they can come in and make an immediate impact to the team. I spoke about having a competitive environment in our training, and I think we have that in our draft picks.” — head coach Seb Hines
Welcome to #GothamFC, @lynnraenie! We’ve acquired #USWNT forward Lynn Williams in exchange for the 2nd overall pick in the 2023 @NWSL draft. pic.twitter.com/bF8AFmNVUp— NJ/NY Gotham FC (@GothamFC) January 12, 2023
Welcome to #GothamFC, @lynnraenie! We’ve acquired #USWNT forward Lynn Williams in exchange for the 2nd overall pick in the 2023 @NWSL draft. pic.twitter.com/bF8AFmNVUp
Gotham FC – A-
It almost feels like you have to take a deep breath before even coming close to analyzing Gotham’s furious amount of activity this offseason, but with the dust mostly settled, things are looking good in New Jersey. Williams should be back to full fitness, and the cost of selecting Nighswonger seems reasonable considering the talent Gotham has picked up in other trades. Nighswonger has the ability to be the creative playmaker in the attacking midfield that Gotham has long wanted.
The only questions remaining from Gotham’s draft day are mostly in the “what if” category. What if Gotham had held onto the No. 1 pick? What if they had selected Michelle Cooper at No. 2? How do young players fit into the team’s vision, with the choice of a proven forward in Williams over the potential of a rookie? We’ll see how it plays out over time, but for now general manager Yael Averbuch West should be proud of her work.
Team says: “All of today was the culmination of thousands of conversations, and every decision we made was not taken in a vacuum. It’s part of a holistic look at how we, from yesterday to now, become a significantly better team.” — GM Yael Averbuch West
Portland Thorns – A-
The Thorns didn’t need much, and yet the players they picked up could have a lasting impact on the club. Reyes can play outside back as well as midfield, and D’Aquila is an excellent addition to the team’s attacking depth, especially with a number of players likely out for the World Cup this summer. The only question mark following the Thorns’ draft is what the long-term plan is at center back, but that’s simply now a position to watch for other moves.
Anytime Thorns goalkeeper coach and former Germany international Nadine Angerer selects a goalkeeper, you can feel good about that player not only having an impact in Portland but also on the league at large in a few years’ time. Angerer has developed a number of players who currently start at other NWSL clubs, and if she thinks Lauren Kozal has what it takes, expect big things.
Team says: “For us, we wanted to keep our group together. As you’ve seen we haven’t had too much turnover in the offseason, and we wanted to know where can we add to our roster to make us better” — GM Karina Leblanc
Houston Dash – A-
The Dash benefited from player wishes and a North Carolina team in flux with their trade for Ordoñez, who set a rookie goal-scoring record last year with 11 goals. They will pay for the opportunity next year, trading out of the 2024 first round, but when a player of Ordoñez’s caliber becomes available, you jump at the chance to take her.
The Dash’s other picks fill positional needs, with Harvard product Hirst giving cover in the midfield and arguably the second-best center back on the board in Harris. Houston has to feel like they can get more out of the players they currently have while the additions give the whole team balance.
Team says: “One of the reasons to bring Ordoñez in was to get more out of María Sánchez, because she’s going to beat the player 1v1 on the dribble, she’s got an incredible delivery in the box, and one of the assessments that I had was that we need to get on the end of those deliveries.” — head coach Sam Laity
Chicago Red Stars – B+
This was a sneaky good draft from the Red Stars, a team where this year’s rookies will have the opportunity for a lot of playing time. Hocking was one of the best players still available at No. 7. The Penn State grad will be a good center-point to combine with Mallory Swanson up top and pick up attacking steam while the USWNT forward is away at the World Cup.
Fear of positional imbalances also fell away with Chicago’s selections of Yochum and Jones, both of whom have a chance for serious playing time in the midfield. Questions about Jones’ defensive capabilities were likely the reason she fell to the fourth round, but she is a first-round level passer. If the Red Stars can stay patient and give her support, she might be the steal of the draft.
Team says: “I think that you’d be a little bit naive to think that we don’t have good players, because we do have some very good players. We got some building blocks that we’ll build around, and we’ve got some players that I think a lot of people would like to have. So we’re not walking around with our tail between our legs. We do feel like we’re gonna have a good team.” — head coach Chris Petrucelli
Angel City FC – B+
Angel City had the most significant selection of the night, picking up the youngest draft pick in NWSL history in 18-year-old Alyssa Thompson. Thompson already has experience with the USWNT first team, and her potential to be L.A.’s next superstar is sky high. The team went all-in on an expensive top choice, and it could pay off for years to come.
When looking at the draft holistically, however, the $450,000 ACFC spent to select Thompson was noticeable. Angel City has worked with a deficit of assets in both of the drafts they’ve participated in so far. On Thursday, they had only one other pick after Thompson, which they used on goalkeeping depth. They’re going to have to use other transfer opportunities to fill positions of need, and it will be interesting to see how they move money around to have the depth they need to make it through the season.
Team says: “I think it shows a massive intent by the club, in terms of being aggressive to trade up and get the No. 1 pick. And we couldn’t be happier with getting a talented player who’s got a massive ceiling and who’s going to be able to make a difference. And then obviously getting someone so young and then being able to develop the person is huge.” — head coach Freya Coombe
Washington Spirit – B
The Spirit came into the draft with only two picks and came out with six, wheeling and dealing in the later rounds to buy in. Head coach Mark Parsons said at the draft that he had 2024 league expansion in mind with the moves the team made, and their late-round picks could pay dividends in the future.
Washington’s biggest move was the trade that sent Emily Sonnett to Seattle, marking the second time Parsons has traded the defender in their careers. The Spirit’s decision not to carry as many national players in order to maintain roster consistency has some logic to it, but Sonnett has been very good for Washington and was a big part of their 2021 championship season.
Team says: “We have a structural problem that we had to rebalance. If five players go to the World Cup, if five players — with expansion potentially coming — and also looking at how many of those players are going to play consistent minutes in the World Cup and how they will return, we’ve been open about the direction we feel that we’re gonna have to go.” — head coach Mark Parsons
San Diego Wave – B
The Wave went with known properties over positions of need after making some strong free-agency moves. Enge, out of Stanford, should provide depth to the attacking line, as San Diego looks for consistent scorers outside of 2022 Golden Boot winner Alex Morgan.
The Wave will also need another backup keeper when Kailen Sheridan is out for the World Cup, and Brzykcy is fresh off a national championship with UCLA. Overall, San Diego has set itself up well through strong drafts last year and smart transfer pick-ups. Their rookies are coming into a good situation without a ton of pressure to carry the load.
Team says: “Sierra was a big target for us, we’re really pleased we got her. The fact that she can play multiple positions gives us a bit of versatility. Lauren has been in training with us anyway, so we know her character and we know what she’s like. And then Giovanna, I can’t believe she dropped so low down the order, because that is one really talented player. So we’re really, really happy with our picks.” — head coach Casey Stoney
Welcome, @emilysonnett! ✨➡️ https://t.co/T9wbWnxW9N#BoldTogether pic.twitter.com/LvIOCJWHAq— OL Reign (@OLReign) January 13, 2023
Welcome, @emilysonnett! ✨➡️ https://t.co/T9wbWnxW9N#BoldTogether pic.twitter.com/LvIOCJWHAq
OL Reign – B
Laura Harvey has never been a manager who prefers to build through the draft, and her team got better mostly through other moves this week. The Reign picked up Elyse Bennett from Kansas City on Wednesday, acquired Emily Sonnett in a late-round trade with the Spirit and re-signed Megan Rapinoe to a one-year deal.
Bennett and Sonnett will both have to compete for playing time, but the Reign’s strength has long been their level of depth. In a World Cup year, they’ve set themselves up to make another run at the NWSL Shield and maybe even the elusive NWSL championship.
Team says: “I think we all knew that there wasn’t going to be a ton of business this offseason for our team with where we’re at … I think that might be something that happens throughout the year is we we tend to do a little bit of business here and there just to tweak and make our team as good as it possibly can be to get over the hump at the end of the season, and try and get what our ultimate goal is, which is to win a championship” — head coach Laura Harvey
North Carolina Courage – B-
North Carolina’s draft night felt somewhat odd to the outside viewer, and not for the first time. The unexpected trade of Diana Ordoñez set the tone early, though it was later explained that the forward had requested a trade.
From there, the Courage seemed to get more value out of their late-round picks than the swings they took on their early selections. Robbins is ready for pro-level games, having anchored a strong Florida State midfield for five years, and head coach Sean Nahas said he sees Hopkins as a possible replacement for Ordoñez up top.
Team says: “I think the realistic situation is that players are in a situation now where they want to make decisions that best suit them as well. And from the business side of things, you have to make sure you’re doing the right thing for your business. I think at the end of the day, we wanted to make sure [Ordoñez] was happy.” — head coach Sean Nahas
Racing Louisville – B-
Racing Louisville’s draft day started with a player they weren’t going to get rather than one they were. Emily Madril is a player Louisville knows well, and it seems that when they heard Orlando was picking her at No. 3, they started looking for exit strategies out of the first round.
Monaghan is a hard-working winger who can get in behind a defense and will do the defensive work from an attacking position that Louisville can use. Martinez will likely start at right back, opposite Emily Fox on the left, and Mattingly Parker is a great pick-up late in the draft. The biggest mark against Louisville’s draft is that they missed out on a key center back, which is a huge area of need for the club.
Team says: “In our preparation leading up to today, there was only one center back we wanted, but on draft day it became clear we weren’t going to have that chance at No. 4. We sought the best value for our pick, and we moved for a player in Paige Monaghan who has league experience, a great personality and positional versatility. She will be a great addition to our team.” — head coach Kim Bjorkegren
Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.