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Players can register for the draft until 11:59pm ET, and as they do, delightful bits of chaos are breaking out across the NWSL. Yesterday, Angel City FC pulled off a major four-team deal to grab the top pick in next week’s draft. Bear with me for the slightly confusing details, but a wonky deal was made involving four teams.
First, ACFC traded their No. 5 pick in Jan. 12’s draft plus their highest second-round pick in 2024 plus $200k in allocation money to Portland Thorns for midfielder Yazmeen Ryan. Then, ACFC traded Yazmeen Ryan plus $250k to Gotham FC in exchange for the No. 1 overall pick. Finally, Orlando Pride traded their 2024 fourth-round pick and $350k allocation money to Gotham for the No. 3 overall pick.
This graphic helps:
Angel City likely decided to mash the chaos button because Duke sophomore Michelle Cooper recently registered for the draft. Also, Jeff Kassouf from Equalizer Soccer is reporting that Alyssa Thompson, the 18-year-old superstar who was considering playing for woso powerhouse Stanford, will elect to skip college and enter the draft. With these two additions, a draft full of potential stars just became its own galaxy.
The talent and potential of Cooper and Thompson makes both worthy of the top pick, so here’s the decision Angel City has to make.
In 2021, she led her high school team to an 18-0 record by scoring 48 goals and dishing 14 assists (62 goal contributions in 18 games!). At just 15, the promise of her talent led to her being successfully recruited by Stanford. In 2021, Thompson was named 2020-21 Gatorade National Girls’ Soccer Player of the Year (an award won by surefire fellow draft pick Izzy D’Aquila, present stars Mallory Pugh and Morgan Brian [Gautrat], and all-time greats Lauren Cheney, Amy Rodriguez, Heather O’Reilly and Aly Wagner).
In February and March of 2022, at 17, Thompson played with the USWNT U20 team in the CONCACAF Women’s U20 Championship, scoring three goals and eventually winning the tournament. A few months later she was with the team again in the U20 Women’s World Cup where she played three matches and scored a goal.
Before the year was up, and before she’d turned 18, she’d been called up by the senior USWNT and made her debut across the pond at Wembley Stadium.
In a word: dynamism. Thompson has track star-style speed and acceleration, which she showed off in 2022 by blowing away the competition in the 100m to finish with a time of 11.74 seconds – the second fastest time in California.
Of course, it’s not just her speed that makes her a teenage phenom ready for the pros. Thompson also has a good understanding of movement on the pitch and a Trinity Rodman-like tenacity that sees her fly up and down the flank to help win back possession and start attacks.
At just 18, Thompson is of course far from the finished product, but that’s the exciting part. She’s already good enough to have earned callups and minutes through the ranks of the national team, and she’s only going to get better. As a young player, training with and playing alongside Christen Press and Sydney Leroux is a best case scenario.
No defense in the NWSL – or world – would be looking forward to facing a counterattack of Press, Leroux, and Thompson.
Cooper is a defender’s worst nightmare. As a sophomore, she stood out on the pitch as a player prepared for — and already competing on — a different level. Even among teams filled with other potential draftees, Cooper looked unstoppable. In her two seasons with Duke, she made 40 starts, scored 31 goals and delivered 16 assists.
Cooper already has a lot of the tools necessary to keep professional defenders up at night. She’s quick, has good close control, possesses great balance and change of direction, can shoot with either foot and, even at just 5’3, can leap to win headers in the box.
Injuries took their toll, particularly long-term injuries to Press and Leroux, but Angel City only scored 23 goals in 2022, which was tied for third-lowest in the league. Cooper would instantly fix that.
Press and Leroux should return at some point during the season as well, and a target forward that commands defenders’ attention would make their jobs much easier as well. Forcing teams to defend Press or Leroux 1v1 is not an ideal situation for any opposition, but could be the nightmare Angel City creates in the very near future.
Congrats to Angel City, but really congrats to the NWSL and also all of us. Both of these players in the league for the 2023 season will be a gift.