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What every team needs in the 2023 NWSL Draft

Angel City traded up for the first pick in the 2023 NWSL Draft. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports)

The 2023 NWSL Draft is this week, and some teams have already made big moves to prepare for the next wave of talent entering the league.

Which players will be selected remain to be seen, but we do know that every NWSL team has needs to address. Let’s take a look in the lead-up to draft night on Thursday in Philadelphia.

Gotham FC

Midfield/winger

Gotham’s approach adjusted dramatically last Thursday when they acquired midfielder/forward hybrid Yazmeen Ryan in a deal with Angel City as part of a blockbuster four-team trade. Ryan fills one of the team’s obvious needs as a creative playmaker who can both run at goal and connect with players behind her.

The expected return of Allie Long from pregnancy should bolster Gotham’s holding midfield. The New Jersey club still needs to finalize McCall Zerboni’s contract extension, but they’ve already achieved greater balance than they had in 2022.

This might allow them to take a big swing on attacking talent with the No. 2 pick (Michelle Cooper, perhaps?) and fill out the front three with Midge Purce and Ifeoma Onumonu, especially since at least one of those players will miss midseason games for the World Cup. With a major hole filled, Gotham has the ability to take the best player available to them.

Orlando Pride

Defense, midfield

The Pride are sitting on a whole lot of allocation money after receiving $350,000 from Gotham for the No. 2 pick in the draft in last week’s trade, but they also have a chance to grab an important contributor at No. 3.

While the Pride could use a game-changer in the attack, they should also consider the defensive talent available. The Orlando defense struggled under pressure at times in 2022 and conceded 45 goals, the second-most in the league. Whether in central defense, outside back or defensive midfield, the Pride would do well to find someone who can add to the core supporting their playmakers up top.

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The Dash could stand to add midfield talent to support Ebony Salmon and the attack. (Maria Lysaker/USA TODAY Sports)

Houston Dash

Attacking midfield

The Dash have a settled defense and an exciting focal point in the attack in Ebony Salmon. Now, new head coach Sam Laity might be looking for an attacking midfielder to bring a creative spark to Houston’s midfield.

Shea Groom has filled the role for the Dash in the past, but the team doesn’t have as much attacking midfield depth as other clubs, especially with Nichelle Prince out for an extended period of time with an Achilles injury. The Dash could also use a player in the midfield who can hold the ball and move it with speed. Between injuries and international absences, ball progression and playmaking depth are going to be keys for Houston in 2023.

Angel City FC

Midfield

Angel City already made a huge splash by trading for the No. 1 pick last Thursday. They reportedly plan to use that pick on talented teenage forward Alyssa Thompson, which will surely stabilize their frontline for years to come.

Picking up Thompson is something of a no-brainer, but Angel City arguably needs to shore up its midfield more than its attack. Every player in Los Angeles’ midfield had bright moments in 2022, but they’re lacking a possession-oriented cornerstone to make the whole system click. And since they effectively traded out of the rest of the first round, it will be interesting to see what other moves Angel City makes.

San Diego Wave FC

Center forward depth, outside back

The Wave addressed a significant need when they signed defensive midfielder Danny Colaprico through free agency, guaranteeing stability at the position and accounting for Emily van Egmond’s absence during the World Cup.

Entering the season with a more balanced midfield, the Wave can now turn to other points of need, though they currently don’t have a 2023 first-round pick. Alex Morgan scored the lion’s share of the team’s goals in 2022 with a variety of talent on either side of her. Shoring up secondary scoring will be key, with Morgan likely missing part of the season for the World Cup.

They could also use an elite crosser to maximize the quality they have in the air. That player could come in the form of a talented outside back, though the role might be better suited for the transfer market than the later rounds of the NWSL draft.

Kansas City Current

Center back

Kansas City restocked their midfield with a few sharp free agency pick-ups, made the biggest splash with the signing of Debinha on Monday and have top signing Lynn Williams finally 100 percent after her season-ending hamstring injury last year. Now, they have some space to fill in the defense.

Kristen Edmonds was a huge part of the defensive unit that powered Kansas City all the way to the 2022 NWSL Championship. She left in free agency to sign with Gotham. Last season, the Current played with a three-back system involving a rotation of center backs. If they’re planning to use a similar formation in 2023, they’ll need someone to complement Elizabeth Ball, Addisyn Merrick and Izzy Rodriguez.

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Chicago needs to fill out its roster around Mallory Swanson amid a free-agency exodus. (Daniel Bartel/USA TODAY Sports)

Chicago Red Stars

Midfield

Chicago has a lot of needs right now, none more pressing than in their midfield. All of their midfield starters from the 2021 NWSL finalist team are gone, including both of their defensive midfielders who were their two best distributors.

At the moment, the Red Stars don’t have enough midfielders to fill out their preferred 3-4-3 formation. Even if they go back to a three-player midfield, they have to bring new talent in to make it work. Whether it’s a steady No. 6 or a creative playmaker, Chicago must make the position a top priority.

From there, the Red Stars need depth at center back and maybe one more attacker to alleviate the goal-scoring load from Mallory Swanson, who will surely miss time for the World Cup.

Portland Thorns

Depth for international absences

The Thorns roster that won last year’s NWSL Championship remains mostly intact, and the club can expect Lindsey Horan to return from her stint with Olympique Lyon after the World Cup.

Where they could find themselves in trouble is during the World Cup period, when they’ll be missing multiple players in the defense, midfield and attack. They can pick up a pro-ready contributor at a number of different positions with the fifth pick on Thursday night, with defense and attack being the obvious points of need.

Racing Louisville FC

Center back

Racing Louisville goalkeeper Katie Lund faced the most shots in the NWSL in 2022, and center-back captain Gemma Bonner left the league in the offseason to return to her home country of England. Louisville has exciting young playmakers in their midfield and quality goal-scoring talent on the frontline, but finding a sustainable partnership in the back will be critical to the team’s progress in 2023.

Emily Fox slotted into a three-back formation at times in 2022, but that move felt more like a necessity than a positive tactical tweak. Satara Murray needs a center-back partner who can help support the goalkeeping talent the club has in Lund.

Washington Spirit

Outside back

In the last two seasons, the Spirit have either traded or lost to free agency all three outside backs who played in their 2021 NWSL Championship win. Julia Roddar left the NWSL to return to Sweden, Tegan McGrady is now in Portland, and Kelley O’Hara indicated she is signing with Gotham FC through free agency.

The Spirit should be set in the central defense with Sam Staab, Emily Sonnett and Amber Brooks, but they badly need starter-quality outside backs. They don’t currently have a pick in the first round, but they may trade up with such big shoes to fill.

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Megan Rapinoe is expected to return to OL Reign in 2023. (Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports)

OL Reign

Depth for international absences

OL Reign are already stacked, with a starting XI that can contend for the NWSL Shield without making a single change from last year. As we know, though, having that many star players can be a double-edged sword during international tournament years.

The Reign don’t need much in this year’s draft, but they could target center-back and attacking midfield depth to bolster the squad for World Cup time.

North Carolina Courage

Midfield, outside back

The biggest hole in North Carolina’s 2023 starting XI has a distinctly Debinha-sized shape. You can’t necessarily replace a once-in-a-lifetime player in a single college draft, but it can serve as an opportunity to find a player to develop behind 22-year-old Brianna Pinto.

The Courage could also use depth in their defensive midfield, after the team struggled to hold up possession and lost their composure too often in 2022, leading to 33 goals against. The Courage’s formation in 2023 (if they move away from the box midfield) might determine whether they stack the midfield or target an outside back to pair consistently with Carson Pickett in their high-octane, defense-to-attack style of play.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

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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