The 2024 NWSL draft is almost here, with the league descending upon Anaheim, California on Friday, Jan. 12.

The draft will air live at 8 p.m. ET on ION Television for the first two hours, while the remaining hours of the draft will air on ION Plus. The full draft, which features four rounds of 14 picks apiece, will go until 12 a.m. ET.

That number is up from 12 picks per round a year ago, as both Utah Royals FC and Bay FC will be joining the league this year. They have the No. 1 and No. 2 picks, respectively, in the draft.

Over 200 college players have entered the draft, but just 56 players will hear their names called. Among the top prospects are UCLA’s Reilyn Turner, Georgia’s Croix Bethune and Stanford’s Maya Doms.

Onyi Echegini, this year’s MAC Hermann Trophy winner, given to the top player in college soccer, opted to forego the NWSL and sign with Juventus instead.

The first round of the draft will go as follows (barring any trades):

  • No. 1 – Utah Royals
  • No. 2 – Bay FC
  • No. 3 – Chicago Red Stars
  • No. 4 – Utah Royals (from KC)
  • No. 5 – North Carolina Courage (from HOU)
  • No. 6 – Racing Louisville
  • No. 7 – Washington Spirit
  • No. 8 – Bay FC (from ORL)
  • No. 9 – Orlando Pride (from LA)
  • No. 10 – North Carolina Courage
  • No. 11 – Portland Thorns
  • No. 12 – San Diego Wave
  • No. 13 – Washington Spirit (from SEA)
  • No. 14 – Gotham FC

Diana Ordoñez is used to being the young one.

The 2021 ACC leading scorer is projected to be a top-10 pick in the 2022 NWSL College Draft after deciding to leave the University of Virginia a year early. She found herself in a similar situation three years earlier when she graduated high school a semester ahead of her peers, despite already being young for her grade, and arrived at UVA as a 17-year-old.

“I don’t really think about my age too much because before I did, and it would kind of hinder me from a lot of things,” Ordoñez said. “But now, I mean, I’m just doing what everybody else is doing — it doesn’t really matter how old I am.”

Sitting in front of neatly organized shelves during a Zoom call on Thursday, Ordoñez explained the carefully thought-out academic plan she had made at the start of the summer for her junior year, just in case turning pro and graduating college at the age of 20 became a reality.

“[My parents] were really supportive,” said Ordoñez. “They obviously guided me through pros and cons and things like that, but at the end of the day, they were like, ‘We support your decision if you want to go back to school. And if you want to go pro, then you go do that.’”

Finishing her 2021 season as an All-American and MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist, the timing seemed right to declare for the NWSL draft.

If her production hadn’t been where she wanted it, Ordoñez would have waited another year. But the forward scored 18 goals during the season, which was first in the ACC and second in the nation. She also finished her collegiate career tied for third on UVA’s all-time goal-scoring list with 45 and sixth on the program’s all-time points list with 102.

Coming into season knowing it was potentially her last, Ordoñez focused on refining the small, technical details of her game, like first touch and execution in front of goal.

“No matter how good my finishing is, I always say that I can work on my finishing,” said the ACC Offensive Player of the Year. “Especially being the nine, someone who is expected to produce and score goals, that’s something I will never stop working on. No matter how good you are at it, I just don’t think there’s anything you can just kind of be like, ‘OK, check that off, I’m good at that,’ and then move on.”

Her goal-scoring technique will be under even more acute scrutiny at the next level, but Ordoñez embraces the challenges that come with being a pro, referring to the NWSL as a “whole different beast.”

“At the end of the day, I’m a rookie,” she said. “That’s the reality of my first season.

“No matter where I go, chances are there’s going to be a world-class person starting in my position already, and to me that’s really, really exciting. Even if I don’t necessarily get as many minutes as I want in the beginning, I can just soak up everything that environment has to offer.”

Jessa Braun is an editorial intern for Just Women’s Sports. She is also the Head of North American Content for the Women’s Sports Alliance. You can find her on Twitter @jessabraun.

San Diego Wave FC plans to select Florida State midfielder Jaelin Howell with the first overall pick in the 2022 NWSL College Draft, sources tell Just Women’s Sports.

The 2020 MAC Hermann Trophy winner registered for the draft on Monday but is still exploring European options, sources say. The deadline for players to declare for Saturday’s NWSL draft is Monday at 8 p.m. ET.

Howell’s decision comes a week after she captained the Seminoles to a 4-3 shootout win over BYU in the College Cup final. Of Florida State’s three national championship teams in their 26-year program history, Howell was a part of two, with the first coming during her freshman year in 2018.

“We’re all excited to see what the next chapter holds for her,” said Florida State head coach Mark Krikorian. “She’s going to have a lot of options and choices in what it is she wants to do.”

A top recruit coming out of high school, Howell had her pick of top college soccer programs. She chose Florida State mainly because of Kirkorian’s emphasis on individual-based tactical and technical development.

Starting 21 games as a holding midfielder this season, Howell anchored a Florida State defense that recorded 23 shutouts and allowed just 13 goals. The senior, who added two goals and four assists this season, was named a First Team All-American and the ACC Midfielder of the Year for the second year in a row.

“When you take her physical and psychological tools and look at the whole package, she’s equipped with so many different elements that have allowed her to be successful and have helped us to be successful,” Kirkorian said.

“They’ve done so much for me, so it’s hard to even think about leaving,” Howell said. “I am ready for a new chapter in my life, but definitely this one is going to be sad when it comes.”

Howell would join a San Diego roster that already includes Abby Dahlkemper, Kailen Sheridan, Tegan McGrady and Alex Morgan. Ahead of their debut season in 2022, the Wave will fill out the rest of their roster during the NWSL Expansion Draft on Thursday and College Draft on Saturday. San Diego has two picks in the first round and six picks overall.

The NWSL has not slowed down since crowning the Washington Spirit as champions in late November. In the past two weeks, there have been a flurry of trades and teams have submitted their protection lists as the league prepares for the expansion draft on Thursday and college draft on Saturday.

The expansion draft kicks off the events at 7 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network, the NWSL YouTube channel and Paramount+, where expansion clubs Angel City FC and San Diego Wave FC will get to select one player from each NWSL team and a total of one U.S. allocated player.

Four clubs have made deals with the new California teams to receive full immunity in the expansion draft, including the Chicago Red Stars, Kansas City Current, NJ/NY Gotham FC and the North Carolina Courage. Racing Louisville FC and Portland Thorns FC are protected from Angel City, and the Washington Spirit have received protection from San Diego. In addition, OL Reign and the Spirit each have partial roster protection from Angel City.

It’s hard enough to keep track of all the trades, lists and draft orders, let alone process the potential effects of each club’s decisions. Now is a good time to get caught up, so let’s discuss where each team stands heading into a week that will define the 2022 NWSL season.


San Diego Wave and Angel City FC

With the partial rosters they’ve formed through trades and signings, Angel City and San Diego are already posing threats in 2022. ACFC has pieced together a strong and versatile core of Sarah Gorden, Julie Ertz and Christen Press. Currently, they have the slight edge over San Diego, who did almost as well in signing Kailen Sheridan, Abby Dahlkemper, Tegan McGrady and Alex Morgan (if the deal with Orlando is finalized on Dec. 17, as The Athletic reported last week). That might change after San Diego takes advantage of their first picks in the first and third rounds of the college draft.

Racing Louisville

Since Racing Louisville traded Christen Press’ playing rights to Angel City for expansion protection, a natural first-round pick in the 2022 draft and $75,000 in allocation money, they’ve been setting themselves up for the future. They’re in the best position of any team in the college draft with the second, fourth and 16th overall picks. While it might take at least a year for the rookies adjust, Louisville could become a contender sooner than people think, especially with rising stars like Ebony Salmon and Cece Kizer. Kizer just completed a breakout season, in which she started all 22 games and led the team with five goals.

One development to watch this week is the status of Savannah McCaskill and Yuki Nagasato, players Racing left unprotected for the expansion draft. Both played key roles in Louisville’s attack this past season, with McCaskill tallying two goals and three assists in 22 starts and Nagasato contributing two goals and two assists in 18 starts. Worst case scenario, Louisville loses only one of them to San Diego since the club is fully protected from Angel City.

Washington Spirit

If anything, the 2021 NWSL champions are in position to be more dominant than they were this past season. They don’t have a pick in the college draft until No. 38, but their team is so young already that it hardly matters. The Spirit are a step ahead of most teams, since they’ve had their young players for a year already, won a championship and now get to build on that foundation with players like Trinity Rodman, who at 19 years old is still years younger than hopefuls in the college draft.

There’s also little stress heading into the expansion draft, where they’re fully protected from San Diego and their three U.S. allocated players (Emily Sonnett, Kelley O’Hara and Andi Sullivan) are protected from Angel City. Fullback Tegan McGrady has been Washington’s biggest loss after she was traded to the Wave earlier this month. Although Spirit interim coach Kris Ward preferred McGrady in the starting lineup, he often flipped between her and Julia Roddar, who is on the protected list and will enable Washington to keep a backline they’re familiar with.

OL Reign

With young and experienced players filling out positions at every level, OL Reign is one of the deepest and most well-rounded teams in the league. Even though they’ve left some big names unprotected in the expansion draft and they’re not selecting until No. 10 in the college draft, the Reign will be fine. Megan Rapinoe, for example, will be on the table for San Diego after the Reign protected Rose Lavelle with their U.S. allocation slot. Rapinoe and the rest of the Reign’s forwards are at least protected from Angel City, so they know they won’t lose more than one member of their league-leading offense that scored 35 goals in 2021. Other unprotected names to note are Tziarra King (protected from Angel City), Celia and starting defenders Lauren Barnes and Kristen McNabb.

‘Having an OK time’

North Carolina Courage

After trading Sam Mewis to Kansas City Current, North Carolina has a big hole to replace in the midfield. When the Courage were without Mewis for six weeks at the end of the season, while the U.S. women’s national team star was recovering from knee surgery, the center of the park fell apart. They also traded midfielders Cari Roccaro to Angel City and Angharad James to San Diego and picked up 2021 No. 3 pick Brianna Pinto from NJ/NY Gotham, so it looks like a midfield rebuild is in the works. Still, they would be smart to use their third overall pick on a midfielder on Saturday.

Chicago Red Stars

At first glance, the Red Stars’ decision to trade midfielder Julie Ertz and defender Sarah Gorden to Angel City FC is worrying. Gorden, known for speed and dribbling out of the back, has been a brick wall since cracking into Chicago’s starting XI as a rookie in 2016. Ertz sets the tone in the holding midfield by starting attacking plays. But the NWSL finalists played most of their season without Ertz, and while Gorden is a big loss, the Red Stars have depth on their back line.

Offense is an area Chicago is still building, so expect them to draft a midfielder or forward with the 11th overall pick in the college draft who can complement the skill sets of Kealia Watt and Mallory Pugh. Pugh is among four USWNT players who just re-signed with the Red Stars on multi-year contracts. That group includes Tierna Davidson, Casey Krueger and Alyssa Naeher, and they are all protected in the expansion draft.

Portland Thorns

The Thorns are so stacked with experience that any protected list was bound to leave off some high-level talent. On the Thorns’ unprotected list for Thursday’s expansion draft are defenders Becky Sauerbrunn and Meghan Klingenberg as well as world-leading goal scorer Christine Sinclair. Sauerbrunn and Sinclair should be safe considering retirement is on the horizon for both and Sinclair’s ties to Portland run deep.

Klingenberg, however, would be an intriguing option for San Diego (since the Thorns have received protection from Angel City through a trade). There’s also Angela Salem, another 33-year-old, if they value experience in the midfield more than defense. That said, the Thorns also reportedly have an agreement in place with San Diego that would protect their core players from selection.

NJ/NY Gotham FC

Defense wins championships, and an NWSL title is exactly what goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris and defender Ali Krieger said they’re after with their new team. Krieger’s aerial dominance and long-ball assists will add to a strong defense that already includes Imani Dorsey and NWSL Defender of the Year Caprice Dydasco. Gotham traded away some good players in Pinto and Sheridan, but Harris and Krieger more than make up for the losses.

Room for improvement

Orlando Pride

The Pride have dealt Krieger, Harris and Jodie Taylor, and now Alex Morgan is on her way out in a trade that San Diego officially announced on Monday. Orlando also has no full or partial roster protection in the expansion draft. All of this is OK because Orlando is in desperate need of a rebuild. Since joining the league in 2016, the Pride have made the playoffs just once in 2017. So far, they’ve acquired a 2022 first-round pick and a 2023 third-round pick from Gotham, and a conditional natural second- or third-round pick from San Diego. The Pride’s 2022 season will be murky, but based on the moves they’ve made and the addition of head coach Amanda Cromwell, they will be a new team in 2023.

Houston Dash

The Dash have been one of the quieter teams in the last couple of weeks, and now are one of just four teams that don’t have any full-roster protection in the expansion draft. Their protection list makes sense, but it will be interesting to see what happens with unprotected players Megan Oyster, Sophie Schmidt and up-and-coming midfielder Brianna Visallli. The biggest name to note on the unprotected list is Kristie Mewis, who seems the obvious pick for either Angel City or San Diego, unless the rumors that she’s planning to sign Tottenham Hotspur come true.

Kansas City Current 

Kansas City’s midfield is in a good place with Sam Mewis as the linchpin. Other than that, the Current haven’t done much to show they’re capable of improving upon their last-place regular season finish in 2021. Their highest pick in the college draft is 12th overall, and they haven’t made any further trades.

Jessa Braun is an editorial intern for Just Women’s Sports. She is also the Head of North American Content for the Women’s Sports Alliance. You can find her on Twitter @jessabraun.