Here are the winners and losers from a chaotic 2023 NWSL Draft day.
Drafted: Jenna Nighswonger (Florida State), Iliana Hocking (Arizona)
Traded for: Yazmeen Ryan, Lynn Williams
Gotham only made two picks in the draft but it’s the work before and during the draft that makes it shine. Prior to the draft, they secured terrific young talent Yazmeen Ryan from Portland Thorns, and during the draft they acquired USWNT attacker Lynn Williams from Kansas City.
Then in the draft they used their highest remaining pick to secure the most pro-ready midfielder in this year’s class, Jenna Nighswonger. Gotham needed a rebuild after being the bottom team on the table last season. Through their work this offseason, which peaked with an exceptional 2023 NWSL Draft, they’ve assembled a team we can’t wait to watch.
Drafted: Emily Madril (Florida State), Messiah Bright (TCU), Tori Hansen (UNC), Summer Yates (Washington), Kristen Scott (UCF)
Remember in Avengers when some comic book creation would fly onscreen and treat that version of Iron Man like a crudely constructed BattleBot? That’s been happening to Orlando Pride for, well, a while. Their task this offseason was to make this the last rebuild they’ll have to undertake for quite some time.
We’re delighted to report that they’re finally being fitted with a new, modern suit – and it’s about damn time.
Orlando picked up major pieces straight down the spine of the team. Emily Madril was the best defender in the draft and a modern style center back who’s excellent at ball progression, and UNC defender Tori Hansen was added later, too. They were then able to right a wrong and pick up forward Messiah Bright after she fell way too far in the draft. Bright will be an excellent target for Marta, and potentially Washington attacking midfielder Summer Yates, who was a first round talent according to several mock drafts (not mine, but still).
With this draft, the Pride finally look like a team that’s undergone a serious and long overdue transformation.
Drafted: Reyna Reyes (Alabama), Izzy D’Aquila (Santa Clara), Lauren DeBeau (Michigan State), Lauren Kozal (Michigan State)
The Thorns make the list because of their cerebral approach to the draft. Having won the NWSL Championship last season, the Thorns didn’t need to do much, but there were specific areas of need – and Portland filled them expertly.
Top goalscorers Sophia Smith and Christine Sinclair will have hectic schedules this World Cup year, and will be away from the club for multiple matches. Picking up an exciting goalscorer in Izzy D’Aquila was vital to easing that burden.
Defensively, the Thorns are pretty solid, but Reyna Reyes is an ultra talented addition who will be able to battle for a starting spot and comfortably take over when some Thorns’ backline players are at the World Cup.
Drafted: Olivia Wingate (Notre Dame), Sydney Collins (UC Berkeley), Clara Robbins (Florida State), Haley Hopkins (Virginia)
Life without Debinha is hard. Daunting, in fact. Some might even say worthless. Nevertheless, North Carolina has to figure it out. And like a recently dumped ex, they’re making curious decisions.
In Debinha (12) and Ordóñez (11), the Courage lost half of all goals they scored in 2022 (46). While they picked up two forwards, it would be a surprise if either came close to Ordóñez’s rookie record. It’s also possible they could have squeezed a little more out of their picks, as Wingate would have likely been available later in the draft.
In fact, I probably didn’t need to write any of that. Let their captain, Abby Erceg, explain.
Drafted: Nicole Douglas (Arizona State), Lyza Bosselmann (Gonzaga), Riley Tanner (Alabama), Lena Silano (Long Beach State), Civana Kuhlmann (Colorado), Delaney Graham (Duke)
Lost: Emily Sonnett
The Spirit entered the draft with a defense to reconstruct, and left the draft with even more of that defense to reconstruct. During the night they traded stalwart center back Emily Sonnett to OL Reign for a third-round pick and the Seattle club’s first-round pick in the 2024 draft.
While the Spirit did well with their late-round picks, it’s hard not to note the glaring hole in their team just weeks before training camps begin. If the Spirit were able to obtain a higher pick to select Emily Madril or Reyna Reyes, they’d be in the section above, but they didn’t. In fact, they didn’t select a true defender at all.
While the true quality of the Spirit’s draft will depend on whatever deals they close for defenders between now and then, it’s tough to overlook exiting a draft with a position of need becoming even more urgent than before the night began.
Drafted: Michelle Cooper (Duke), Alexa Spaanstra (UVA), Gabrielle Robinson (West Virginia), Jordan Silkowitz (Iowa State), Mykiaa Minniss (Washington State), Ella Shamburger (Vanderbilt), Rylan Childers (Kansas), Ashley Orkus (Ole Miss)
Lost: Lynn Williams
By most measures, Kansas City has been winning the offseason. They secured free agents Vanessa DiBernardo, Morgan Gautrat and Debinha. Now, in the draft, they selected the best college player in the country in Michelle Cooper, and Alexa Spaanstra, the best winger in the draft.
However, just one year after winning last year’s offseason with the acquisition of Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams, they shocked the draft room, and Williams herself, by trading her to Gotham. Williams made just one appearance and delivered an assist before going down injured. However, her recovery has become complete enough to see her back with the USWNT.
While Michelle Cooper is certainly the future, it’s unfortunate that Williams’ Current career is over after just 90 minutes. Williams is a three-time NWSL Champion, former Golden Boot winner and MVP. She deserved better.
Drafted: Shae Holmes (Washington), Natalie Viggiano (UW Madison);
Traded for: Emily Sonnett
To be completely fair, Reign didn’t need to do much on the night. Last year’s NWSL Shield winners are absurdly talented and absurdly deep, and they added forward Elyse Bennett in a trade with Kansas City prior to the draft.
But among a loaded draft class they only selected two players and made a curious trade with Washington to bring in Emily Sonnett.
Alana Cook and Sam Hiatt have forged a strong pairing in central defense (Sonnett’s best position), Sofia Huerta stars at right back for both club and country (Sonnett’s next-best position), and they can call on Quinn or Olivia van der Jagt in defensive midfield (Sonnett’s third-best position). Sonnett also won’t provide relief while Cook and Huerta are away at the World Cup, because she’ll likely be on the plane with them.
It’s possible more moves are in the works, or a switch to a three at the back formation, that’ll make the acquisition of Sonnett clearer. But as it stands it’s a curious move for a player without a natural fit in the team.