More rookies are finding immediate success in the NWSL than ever before. Trinity Rodman was an integral part of Washington’s 2021 championship her rookie year, Sam Coffey deputized as the Thorns’ holding midfielder en route to their 2022 title, Diana Ordoñez set the single season rookie scoring record in 2022, and Naomi Girma won 2022 Rookie of the Year and Defender of the Year while helping San Diego become the first expansion team to make the playoffs.
So who might be next season’s breakout performers and where might they be going? Tune into the 2023 NWSL Draft on Thursday at 6pm on Paramount+ and CBS Sports HQ.
Note: players technically still have until 11:59pm ET today to register for the draft, but we couldn’t wait. So it’s mock draft time! Here’s our best swing at how the first round will play out.
No. 1 Angel City FC - Alyssa Thompson, Forward, Harvard-Westlake Prep School
Though Michelle Cooper would be a brilliant pick, Angel City is in the enviable position of having two incredible, generational talents to choose from. By selecting teenage phenom and star of tomorrow Thompson, Angel City can allow her to grow and learn from current stars Christen Press and Sydney Leroux until she’s ready to take the spotlight (which, given her talent, might only be a matter of months).
No. 2 Gotham FC - Michelle Cooper, Forward, Duke
Gotham struggled to score goals in 2022, meanwhile, in her final season at Duke, Cooper delivered 19 goals and 11 assists in just 22 games. An attack with Midge Purce, Ify Onumonu and Michelle Cooper with Yazmeen Ryan providing service sounds terrifying, and it could be coming to a stadium near you.
No. 3 Orlando Pride - Izzy D’Aquila, Forward, Santa Clara
The Pride need a few pieces to complete their rebuild, but a goalscorer the caliber of Izzy D’Aquila doesn’t come around often. She’s a tenacious forward who hit the 50 goals mark at Santa Clara in just 78 appearances, including 19 in 21 this season.
No. 4 Racing Louisville - Emily Madril, Defender, BK Hacken (Florida State)
Louisville gave up the third-most goals in the league despite their keeper, Katie Lund, saving the most shots in the league and maintaining a save percentage close to San Diego’s 2022 Goalkeeper of the Year Kailen Sheridan. Madril is an exceptional defensive talent who fills an immediate and major need.
No. 5 Portland Thorns - Alexa Spaanstra, Forward, Virginia
Portland were part of the massive four team trade that saw Angel City end up with the No. 1 pick, and Thorns attacker Yazmeen Ryan head to Gotham FC. Spaanstra is a classic wide player who can play on the right or left, and racked up 37 goals and 34 assists throughout her 107 game UVA career.
No. 6 North Carolina Courage - Riley Mattingly Parker, Forward, Alabama
North Carolina has to prepare for life post-Debinha, so their first pick should be an attacker. Parker’s no-nonsense intensity and 17 goals and seven assists in 26 games played helped Alabama reach the College Cup semifinals for the first time.
No. 7 Chicago Red Stars - Clara Robbins, Midfielder, Florida State
The Red Stars lost three midfield stalwarts in free agency as Morgan Gautrat and Vanessa DiBernardo went to Kansas City, and Dani Colaprico joined San Diego Wave. Clara Robbins is a dynamic midfielder who would be a great first step in the rebuild of that unit.
No. 8 Houston Dash - Reyna Reyes, Defender, Alabama
The Dash can score on just about anybody so the next step should be to improve defensively. They made a trade to secure 2021 Defender of the Year, right back Caprice Dydasco, and Reyna Reyes would allow them to solidify the left side too.
No. 9 North Carolina Courage - Tori Hansen, Defender, North Carolina
The Courage scored the second-most goals in the league, but a leaky defense kept them out of the playoffs by a single point. If replacing Debinha’s attacking output is the first priority, 1b should be reinforcing the defense. The 5’10 Hansen led a defensive unit that tallied 15 shutouts and helped UNC reach the College Cup championship game.
No. 10 Kansas City Current - Messiah Bright, Forward, TCU
The Current’s biggest to-do was strengthening their midfield, which they achieved through free agency by nabbing both Morgan Gautrat and Vanessa DiBernardo. Their next task should be crafting a more dynamic attack. With Lynn Williams finally healthy, a reliable target forward who scored 50 goals and delivered 25 assists in 100 games could be a perfect fit.
No. 11 North Carolina Courage - Sophie Jones, Defensive Midfielder, Duke
Part of the reason North Carolina shifted so many goals was a suddenly leaky midfield and an inability to control matches. Jones is a metronomic defensive midfielder who’s a solid anchor and good at managing the tempo of her team a la Portland’s Sam Coffey.
No. 12 Portland Thorns - Jyllissa Harris, Defender, South Carolina
USWNT Captain Becky Sauerbrunn will not only be away for a month with the national team for the 2023 World Cup, but at 37 the Thorns need to work on identifying a long-term replacement should she choose to retire. Jyllissa Harris would be a good start. She was a key presence in a stingy Gamecocks defense that only conceded 15 goals all season, earning her a spot on Top Drawer Soccer’s first team Best XI.