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’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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.