CHICAGO, Illinois — For the first time ever, the National Women’s Soccer League expanded it’s arms to players throughout the college system.
After five seasons of limiting the NWSL College Draft to graduating or final-year of eligibility players, the NWSL announced that players can forgo any eligibility and declare for the draft early. The league had plenty of takers, with one of the largest draft classes in history.
NWSL Draft Recap: Tierna Davidson goes No. 1 to Chicago
The first two selections were players that are leaving their respective universities early. Meanwhile, both are U.S. Women’s National Team players, currently at camp in Portugal.
Tierna Davidson was selected with the No. 1 overall pick by the Chicago Red Stars. The selection was met with bursts of applause, due to the draft being held in the Windy City. In three seasons at Stanford, Davidson featured in 49 matches, starting 48. As a defender, Davidson recorded six goals and eight assists.
She was recently named the 2018 U.S. Soccer Young Female Player of the Year.
As mentioned, Davidson did not attend the draft, due to U.S. National Team camp. However, she did record a message for the Red Stars prior to the draft.
“I’m really bummed that I couldn’t make it to the NWSL draft, but I’m extremely honored to have been chosen No. 1 overall by the Chicago Red Stars,” Davidson said. “I’d like to thank Rory [Dames, Red Stars head coach] and the rest of the Red Stars for having confidence in me.”
Davidson joins a defense that includes her fellow USWNT teammate Casey Short. Other defenders for the Red Stars include Kathleen Naughton, Sarah Gorden, Arin Gilliland and Brooke Elby. However, sometimes Julie Ertz will feature on defense, but has shifted more into a defensive-midfielder role.
Rory Dames, Red Stars head coach, called Davidson a player that doesn’t come very often in the NWSL Draft.
“[It’s] not necessarily just the skill set, but her maturity level, the experience she already has internationally,” Dames said. “She trains and plays with the best team in the world. Our players on that team have nothing but great things to say about her, and Hidecki [Nakada] and Paul [Ratcliffe] — Davidson’s coaches at Stanford — also have nothing but great things to say about her.”
— Chicago Red Stars (@chiredstarsPR) January 10, 2019
Mace goes No. 2, but could demand a trade
Hailie Mace learned a thing or two from Christen Press.
Mace, a fixture on the U.S. Women’s National Team, is currently not in Portugal with the team. However, she also declined to attend the NWSL Draft, despite being invited. The defender from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was selected by Sky Blue FC.
Players are leaving Sky Blue FC in swarms. However, the team is finding replacements with young players. But, Mace might not be one of those players.
Despite being drafted by the club, Mace has expressed that she could hold out of reporting to training. The potential holdout was reported by The Equalizer’s Dan Lauletta. According to The Equalizer, Mace informed Sky Blue that she would not report.
However, general manager Tony Novo thinks differently.
“There’s challenges with her,” Novo told The Equalizer. “But I think that she will be here once we talk to her and get by some of the negativity we’ve had in the past. There’s a lot of things that we need to improve.”
Sky Blue FC won’t entirely be made up of rookie players, though. The team completed a trade with the Washington Spirit during the draft to obtain defenders Estelle Johnson and Caprice Dydasco, while also receiving goalkeeper DiDi Haracic. Meanwhile, Washington picked up the No. 3 overall draft pick.
Sky Blue had one other pick in the first round, selecting Mace’s college teammate Julia Ashley. The defender looked less than thrilled to learn Sky Blue would be her NWSL home. However, she did express interest in leaving to go overseas. Even still, should she return to the league, Sky Blue would hold her rights.
Welcome Caprice Dydasco, DiDi Haracic & Estelle Johnson! ?? pic.twitter.com/aKnPb36353
— Sky Blue FC (@SkyBlueFC) January 10, 2019
Stanford alums reunite with Washington Spirit
Richie Burke’s first NWSL Draft as Washington Spirit head coach brought together a lot of Stanford alums.
Despite losing three veteran players to the Sky Blue FC trade, Burke picked up players with solid chemistry. With the No. 3 overall pick — that was acquired from Sky Blue — Washington began a trend of bringing Stanford players to reunite with Andi Sullivan, who will enter her second season in the league.
Jordan DiBiasi was the first Spirit selection. The midfielder started 91 of her 92 college appearances, scoring 31 goals and providing 23 assists. Her senior season was her best, as she reached double-digits in goals and assists, providing 10 of each.
DiBiasi started every match in 2018 for Stanford. She was a finalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy, but lost out to teammate Catarina Macario, who did not enter the draft. However, DiBiasi is a member of the U.S. U-23 Women’s National Team.
About DiBiasi, Burke said that she has a “can opener on both feet.”
“Coming into this draft we were very clear about what we wanted and who we wanted to get, and we knocked it out the park,” Burke said. “DiBiasi is a tricky, creative, stylish, tactician. She’s got a great football brain, a fantastic IQ, so that was a no brainer for me.”
— Washington Spirit (@WashSpirit) January 10, 2019
McGrady also gets a ticket to Washington
Only four picks later, another Stanford alum joined the Spirit.
Tegan McGrady — who made her USWNT senior team debut on April 8, 2018, against Mexico — was drafted by Burke. The defender/forward started 61 of her 72 appearances for Stanford in a four-year career. She scored four goals, but provided 13 assists. McGrady notched a career-high five assists in 2017.
“Every paper that I wrote in elementary school, I wrote that I wanted to be a professional soccer player,” McGrady said to media. “And to say that I’ve gotten to that point is one of the best feelings and another dream that I’ve accomplished.”
In the first round, Washington also picked up Sam Staab from Clemson and Dorian Bailey from the University of North Carolina. Meanwhile, in the second round, Washington obtained Bayley Feist from Wake Forest.
Full NWSL Draft List
In its entirety, click this link to every player selected in the NWSL Draft.
— NWSL (@NWSL) January 10, 2019
PHOTO: (L to R) — Kayla Sharples, Jenna Szczesny and Hannah Davison, the newest members of the Chicago Red Stars, pose for a picture at the 2019 NWSL College Draft in Chicago. Chicago made two other selections, including Tierna Davidson of the U.S. Women’s National Team. Photo courtesy of Daniel Bartel/ISI Images.