The 2023 NWSL Draft kicked off on January 12th, where the 12 teams picked their fresh out of college or high school rookies for the 2023 season.
A total of 48 players were drafted across the teams — all were college athletes except one who declared for the draft out of high school.
What is the NWSL draft?
For those who do not know, the NWSL draft occurs every year some time before the start of preseason. College athletes or players 18 years or older can declare for the draft, including an application-type document that is almost like applying for a 9-5 job.
These players come from all over the country. Some are internationals who have decided to come to play at a college in the United States.
The draft is comprised of four rounds and a total of 48 picks. Each team has a certain number of picks, but teams often trade picks for other players or allocation money. This year, some teams had only two picks, while others had eight.
For the first round, a team is on the clock for five minutes to discuss who their pick will be. Once the pick is in, the player gets announced and officially off the board for other teams.
Once picked, each draftee will attend preseason with the team that chose them. From there, the players will figure out their professional journey.
Angel City FCEmbed from Getty Images
First up, Angel City FC had the first and 27th picks in the draft. With the first pick in the NWSL draft, Angel City chose high school star forward Alyssa Thompson.
Thompson adds to Angel City’s strong front line, which includes Christen Press, Sydney Leroux and Claire Emslie. The young star already has two call-ups with the US senior national team, and has plenty of room to grow.
At the 27th pick, Angel City added goalkeeper Angelina Anderson from the University of California, Berkeley. Anderson joins a deep goaltending roster, including DiDi Haracic and Brittany Isenhour. Anderson had 26 shutouts in her collegiate career, second all-time in school history. Learning from experienced keepers will allow Anderson to grow into the league.
Kansas City CurrentEmbed from Getty Images
After some trades, the Kansas City Current had the 2nd, 10th, 15th, 18th, 35th, 38th, 42nd and 47th picks in the draft. To say the least, the Current had a great number of new players to add to their team.
In order, they selected: Michelle Cooper, forward (Duke University), Alexa Spaanstra, forward (University of Virginia), Gabrielle Robinson, midfielder (West Virginia University), Jordan Silkowitz, goalkeeper (Iowa State University), Mykiaa Minniss, defender (Washington State University), Ella Shamburger, defender (Vanderbilt University), Rylan Childers, midfielder (Kansas University), Ashley Orkus, goalkeeper (University of Mississippi).
To acquire Cooper, the Current traded forward Lynn Williams for the 2nd overall pick, guaranteeing that Cooper would be available. This was ultimately a like-for-like swap. Much as Williams, Cooper is a fantastic goalscorer, tallying 31 goals in only two seasons with Duke.
Spaanstra also joins the squad as an attacker, scoring 37 times in her collegiate career. Both players add depth to the Current’s forward pool, as the team only had three going into the draft.
In the middle and at the back
Robinson and Childers join the team as midfielders. Kansas City already has an abundance of midfielders that make up most of their roster. The two draftees can be versatile and will learn from some of the best in front of them, such as Debinha and Sam Mewis. These new players can also assist in starting roles when national team players are called up during FIFA windows.
Minniss, Shamburger, Silkowitz, and Orkus add depth to the Current’s defence and goalkeeper pool. The team had a solid defense that allowed them to make it to the NWSL final, but two more players to cycle in will allow them to keep some of their best players in tip-top shape.
Hallie Mace has been a regular for the USWNT, so having two more defenders can help in that area. Silkowitz and Orkus have a chance to protect the net and learn from veteran keeper AD Franch. Both keepers had fantastic showings at the collegiate level and can show what they can do professionally.
Drafting these young keepers was a smart choice for the team, as the Current was down to two goalkeepers on the roster.
Orlando PrideEmbed from Getty Images
The Pride had the 3rd, 21st, 25th, 39th and 41st picks of the NWSL draft. They selected: Emily Madril, defender (Florida State University), Messiah Bright, forward (Texas Christian University), Tori Hansen, defender (University of North Carolina), Summer Yates, forward (University of Washington), Kristen Scott, forward (University of Central Florida).
Madril and Hansen add to the Pride’s defense. Orlando has a decent number of defenders to keep them afloat, but adding two extremely successful defenders at the collegiate level can add even more depth to their defensive roster. The Pride finished 10th in the league last year with 45 goals against. Up-and-coming defenders can help tie down the backline.
Bright, Yates and Scott add to the Pride’s attack. Bright scored 50 goals in her collegiate career, which shows her ability to put the ball in the back of the net. Yates scored 27 goals and assisted 23 and Scott scored 33 goals in their respective collegiate careers.
The Pride suffered many injuries last season, especially on the offensive front, so having these young players come in adds depth to their offense. Adding successful scorers with a nose for goal can certainly add to the 22 goals scored by the Pride last season.
NJ/NY Gotham FCEmbed from Getty Images
Gotham had the 4th and 44th overall picks in the draft. After some trades, they obtained forward Lynn Williams, among other stars, to jumpstart the next season.
In the draft, they selected: Jenna Nighswonger, forward/midfielder (Florida State University) and Iliana Hocking, midfielder (University of Arizona).
Nighswonger adds to the attacking midfield for the team. With a left foot like teammate Kristie Mewis, Gotham’s left side can be very dangerous for opposing defences. In college, Nighswonger had a scorer’s mentality, while also contributing many great assists to help her team win two NCAA titles.
Hocking is a rock solid defending midfielder. She may not have the goals or assists of others, but when she scores, they are typically rockets from deep. Her play as a defensive midfielder will add needed depth in that position after Gotham struggled while Allie Long was on maternity leave last season. Both players should see significant time with the last-place finishers of last season and help the team out of the basement.
Portland ThornsEmbed from Getty Images
The Thorns had the 5th, 12th, 24th and 32nd pick in the draft. After a championship last season, the team looked to add even more top players to obtain success again.
They selected: Reyna Reyes, midfielder/defender (University of Alabama), Isabella D’Aquila, midfielder (Santa Clara University), Lauren DeBeau, forward (Michigan State University), Lauren Kozal, goalkeeper (Michigan State University).
With free agency in full swing, the team does not know if they will lose any veteran players that make up their core defense. Reyes adds to the defense to allow for more options in the backline going forward. She scored 16 goals in her four-year career and was a consistent starter.
D’Aquila and DeBeau add to the Thorns’ lethal offense. They join Sophia Smith, who led the line with 15 goals last season and was U.S. Soccer’s Player of the Year. D’Aquila was an NCAA Champion in 2020 and scored 50 goals in 78 games at Santa Clara. DeBeau scored 13 goals and six assists in her 40-game career at Michigan State. Both players will be incorporated into the squad, especially when Smith and Canadian forward Christine Sinclair are on national team duty.
Kozal becomes the third keeper on the roster behind Bella Bixby and Shelby Hogan, as the team lost Abby Smith to Gotham in free agency. In Kozal’s final year at Michigan State, she registered 10 shutouts. She also recorded 227 saves over her four collegiate seasons. Kozal adds depth to the Thorns’ keepers and adds to the solid backline Portland has built over the years.
Chicago Red StarsEmbed from Getty Images
The Red Stars had the 7th, 14th, 23rd and 43rd pick in this year’s NWSL draft. Chicago had a decent overall season last year, as they made it into the playoffs as the sixth seed, but lost to San Diego in the quarterfinals. After quite a few disappointing playoff runs, the Red Stars look to add players that will make them successful.
They selected: Penelope Hocking, forward (Penn State University), Grace Yochum, midfielder (Oklahoma State University), Allison Schlegel, forward (Penn State University), Sophie Jones, midfielder (Duke University).
Hocking and Schlegel add to the roster on the frontline. Both players come from Penn State, so they already have the chemistry to help Chicago score goals. Hocking scored 48 total goals, which broke the record for Penn State. Schlegel scored 47 total goals and assisted on 20 at Penn State.
Yochum and Jones join the Chicago midfield. The Red Stars lost quite a few midfielders to free agency, and young up-and-coming players can help fill that gap. Yochum appeared 86 times for Oklahoma, scored 41 goals and tallied five assists. Jones started 75 matches for Duke, scored five goals and tallied eight assists.
Be sure to check out the second part of our 2023 NWSL Draft recap.