This week, we review the 2023 NWSL College Draft from earlier this month, in which a high schooler was the number one selection, and a number of internationals were not among the 48 players selected in the draft, including a few who are in their nation's pool for a Women's World Cup Finals spot this summer.
2023 NWSL College Draft
The 2023 NWSL College Draft was held on January 12 in Philadelphia at the National Coaches Association Annual Convention. Eight of the 12 first-round picks were traded one or more times prior to their selection so there was a lot of ambiguity as to where some of the top picks would end up.
The 48 players selected in the 2023 NWSL College Draft are as follows. Note: the citizenship is the U.S. unless otherwise identified.
1. Angel City FC. Alyssa Thompson, FW (Harvard-Westlake School)
2. KC Current. Michelle Cooper, FW (Duke)
3. Orlando. Emily Madril, DF (Florida State)
4. Gotham FC. Jenna Nighswonger, MF (Florida State)
5. Portland. Reyna Reyes, DF/MF (Alabama)
6. NC Courage. Olivia Wyngate, FW (Notre Dame)
7. Chicago. Penelope Hocking, MF/FW (Penn State)
8. NC Courage. Sydney Collins, DF/MF (California) Canada/U.S.
9. NC Courage. Clara Robbins, MF/FW (Florida State)
10. KC Current. Alexa Spaanstra, MF/FW (Virginia)
11. NC Courage. Haley Hopkins, FW (Virginia)
12. Portland. Izzy D'Aquila, FW (Santa Clara)
13. San Diego. Sierra Enge, DF/MF (Stanford)
14. Chicago. Grace Yochum, MF (Oklahoma State)
15. KC Current. Gabrielle Robinson, DF/MF/FW (West Virginia)
16. Racing Louisville. Kayla Fischer, MF/FW (Ohio State)
17. Racing Louisville. Brianna Martinez, DF/MF (Notre Dame)
18. KC Current. Jordan Silkowitz, GK (Iowa State)
19. OL Reign. Shea Holmes, DF (Washington)
20. Houston. Sophie Hirst, MF (Harvard)
21. Orlando. Messiah Bright, FW (TCU)
22. Houston. Jyllissa Harris, DF/MF (South Carolina)
23. Chicago. Allison Schlegel, MF/FW (Penn State)
24. Portland. Lauren DeBeau, MF/FW (Michigan State)
25. Orlando. Tori Hansen, DF (North Carolina)
26. Washington. Nicole Douglas, FW (Arizona State) United Kingdom (England youth international)
27. Angel City FC. Angelina Anderson, GK (California)
28. Washington. Lyza Bosselmann, GK (Gonzaga)
29. Racing Louisville. Jaydn Edwards, MF/FW (New Mexico)
30. Washington. Riley Tanner, MF/FW (Alabama)
31. Racing Louisville. Riley Mattingly Parker, MF/FW (Alabama)
32. Portland. Lauren Kozal, GK (Michigan State)
33. San Diego. Lauren Brzykcy, GK (UCLA) Hungary/U.S.
34. Washington. Lena Silano, FW (Long Beach State)
35. KC Current. Mykiaa Minniss, DF (Washington State)
36. Houston. Lindsi Jennings, DF (LSU)
37. Washington. Civana Kuhlmann, FW (Colorado)
38. KC Current. Ella Shamburger, DF (Vanderbilt)
39. Orlando. Summer Yates, MF/FW (Washington)
40. Washington. Delaney Graham, DF/MF/FW (Duke)
41. Orlando. Kristen Scott, MF/FW (UCF)
42. KC Current. Rylan Childers, MF (Kansas)
43. Chicago. Sophie Jones, MF (Duke)
44. Gotham FC. Iliana Hocking, DF/MF (Arizona)
45. San Diego. Giovanna Demarco, MF (Wake Forest)
46. OL Reign. Natalie Viggiano, MF/FW (Wisconsin)
47. KC Current. Ashley Orkus, GK (Mississippi)
48. Houston. Madelyn Desiano DF (UCLA)
High schooler Alyssa Thompson went to her hometown side Angel City FC after the club made deals before the draft with Gotham FC and Portland Thorns to move up to the number one spot.
2023 NWSL College Draft #1 pick Alyssa Thompson, who is still in high school. Photo courtesy Angel City FC.
Alyssa Thompson has been deemed a "generational player" and was the first ever high school player drafted by the NWSL (though one other high schooler was a late registrant just days before the draft—Haley Miller of American High School in Oregon, who plays with the Portland Thorns Academy). Thompson played twice for the full USWNT as a 17-year-old last summer against England and Spain. Through FIFA's parentage rules, she could play for Peru as well, though that team was not at all competitive this summer during the CONMEBOL Copa America Femenina (see: The Week in Women's Football: 2022 Copa America Femenina review - Tribal Football). In 2020, she and her younger sister, Gisele, joined the Total Futbol Academy, a boys' club in the Major League Soccer's academy system MLS NEXT.
Also in 2023, the Thompson sisters signed a multiyear deal to become the first high school athletes to sign a name, image and likeness deal with Nike. Alyssa Thompson was the 2021 High School Soccer Player of the Year after scoring 48 goals in 18 games with Harvard-Westlake School, where she is still a senior; she is expected to primarily finish her senior year this spring with online courses, as Angel City FC pre-season training begins in earnest next month, with regular season matches starting in late March. She also ran track and had the sixth fastest time in the State of California in 2022.
Thompson was a starter last summer for the summer amateur leagues' powerhouse Santa Clarita Blue Heat, who finished second in the six team West Conference (24 points) to the ultimate 2022 UWS champions Calgary Foothills (30 points), and played with a number of experienced internationals at the Blue Heat (see: The Week in Women's Football: Interview with Armenia ace Vermillion; Chelsea FC Women: Europe's Next Powerhouse review - Tribal Football). She had previously agreed to play at Stanford University in Northern California.
In other major draft day moves, Gotham FC acquired the number 2 pick in the draft but traded it to the Kansas City Current in exchange for USWNT forward Lynn Williams, who was out all last season with a hamstring injury. The North Carolina Courage ended up with four first-round picks (Nos. 6, 8, 9 and 11) after trades that included sending Mexican-American forward Diana Ordonez (fourth in the NWSL in goals with 11 in her rookie season) to the Houston Dash, while the Courage received the number 8 pick and $100,000 allocation money for future signings.
New Houston Dash head coach Sam Laity, who spent ten years as an assistant with the Reign franchise, said: "[Ordonez's acquisition has] been going on for a while, and everybody's ecstatic that we can get it over the line today. That was a big piece for us, because had we not got that trade done before the draft, then that would have influenced who and what we had picked at No. 8…. The dream I have is (María) Sánchez [fellow Mexican international] crossing the ball to Ordóñez. One of the reasons to bring Ordóñez in was to get more out of Maria Sanchez [who scored 2 goals in 21 matches last season], because she's going to beat the [opposition] player one-for-one on the dribble. She's got an incredible delivery in the box and, one of the assessments that I had was that we need to get on the end of those deliveries."
During the draft, the Washington Spirit received a third-round pick in 2023 and a first-round pick in 2024 from OL Reign with a player to be named later, who that evening was identified as USWNT veteran defender Emily Sonnett.
There were 261 players registered for the NWSL college draft in 2023, compared to 189 in 2022 (see: The Week in Women's Football: NWSL draft; Liga MX Femenil action & new UWS franchises - Tribal Football). There were a number of registered players who were from abroad or who held dual citizenship, along with some who have played at the full international level for their country (see below). As is consistent with past years, most of the picks were Americans, with many of those coming from major schools/conferences (Pac-12/SEC/ACC) and/or had experience with U.S. youth national teams. Only Nicole Douglas, an English youth international forward who played at Arizona State University and who we featured last fall (see: Nicole Douglas exclusive: From Chelsea academy to ASU record-breaker 'once in career talent' - Tribal Football), was selected, in the third round by the Washington Spirit's new British coach Mark Parsons. Douglas led the nation in scoring in 2022 and was seventh nationally for goals per game in 2023; it was a surprise to see her slip so far in the draft into the third round; she also has options in Europe and her ASU teammate and Netherlands youth international midfielder Eva Van Duersen just signed with Bayer Leverkusen of the German Frauen-Bundesliga.
Those who registered for the draft who were imports or dual citizens with other nations included:
- Canada 11
- United Kingdom 8
- Brazil 6
- Germany 4
- Spain 2
- Dominican Republic 1
- Ghana 1
- Italy 1
- Jamaica 1
- Mexico 1
- Morocco 1
- South Africa 1
- Sweden 1
There were a number of draft registrants who had joint U.S. citizenship with another country:
- United Kingdom/U.S. 3
- Mexico/U.S. 2
- Canada/U.S. 2
- Argentina/U.S. 1
- Brazil/Mexico/U.S. 1
- Canada/Portugal 1
- Dominican Republic/U.S. 1
- Haiti/U.S. 1
- Hungary/U.S. 1
- Peru/Spain/U.S. 1
In addition, one player had joint New Zealand/United Kingdom citizenship while another one had qualified for both Serbia and Germany.
Among those current internationals with other nations who were not selected in the draft, five are virtual locks or have a chance to be on their country's WWC Finals side this summer, one of who is a dual citizen of the U.S. and would not count as an import according to NWSL rules. These players include:
- Nour Imane Addi—University of South Alabama and a full Moroccan international, who should be in the pool for this summer's WWC.
- Sophia Braun—Gonzaga University, who has played with Argentina's full national team since 2020 after time with their national youth teams; she was a key substitute defender in last summer's Copa America Femenina side. She is from Oregon and, as a U.S. citizen, would not count as an import in the NWSL. While at Gonzaga, the Bulldogs won 54 games and tied 1 of their 86 matches since 2018 (including a shortened season in 2020 due to COVID).
- Hannah Blake—University of Michigan and dual national of New Zealand and the United Kingdom. She missed games at U of M this season due to Football Ferns full international call-ups and played at the U-17 WWC in Jordan in 2016, the U-20 WWC later that year in Papua New Guinea and the 2018 U-20 Women's World Cup Finals in France.
- Gabrielle Gayle—University of South Alabama and Jamaican international defender. In 2020, she became the first South Alabama Jaguar to represent her nation since Athanasia Moraitou played for Greece in 2020 as well. She was called in for two CONCACAF W Championship Qualifiers early in 2022 at the full national team level and has played for Jamaica at the U-20 level.
- Samantha Chang—University of South Carolina and is a youth international for Canada and played at the 2016 U-17 Women's World Cup Finals in Jordan; she was capped once at the senior level against Argentina during the SheBelieves Cup in 2021 in the U.S.
Other players with international experience who were not selected in the draft included:
- Lynette Urena Diaz—Delaware State University and who has played for the Dominican Republic at the U-20 and the full international level.
- Kat Gonzalez—Marshall University and previously at East Carolina University, who grew up in the U.S. but plays internationally for the Dominican Republic.
- Aniana Munoz—University of North Florida and previously at the University of Miami [Florida]. She played last summer for Peru at the Copa America Femenina. She also qualified to play internationally for Spain and the U.S.
- Wasila Diwura-Soate—Louisiana State University and she has played for Ghana at the U-17, U-20 and full international team levels.
- Aida Kardovic—Creighton University; she was born in Germany and played at Turbine Potsdam and Nurnberg at the club level in Germany and for Serbia's U-17 WNT.
At the draft, NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman talked to the media and discussed the NWSL versus other leagues abroad as well as the league implementing VAR [Video Assistant Referee] in the 2023 season, which can only help the refereeing, which in some cases in the past has been well below standards. Berman said about competition from European women's leagues: "I don't really view them as competition on the commercial side, particularly because we play in different seasons. But even if we didn't, I think this is an area where their success translates to success for us and vice versa. And the more competitive the global landscape is in the World Cup and otherwise, I think the more investment we'll see coming into the league and coming into the sport. I think the one place where we probably do compete is for player talent.
"And in that regard, it'll force everybody to raise the bar. And I think that's a good thing for the players. It's part of the reason why competition is important in business because it forces everybody to make smart business decisions. And I think the proof of concept here is that [Brazilian international midfielder] Debinha wanted to play in Kansas City because they built a dedicated training facility, and I think that will spur additional investment that will help us to raise the game and elevate the player experience, that will provide fruits for the future for the success of the league" (see my recent column earlier this month: The Week in Women's Football: Debinha explains choosing Kansas over Arsenal; NWSL transfer wrap; expansion chat - Tribal Football).
Berman said about the implementation of VAR this summer by the NWSL: "I don't know how many of you have worked with other leagues that have implemented VAR, but it is a many-months process with a tremendous investment of resources, not just from a broadcast perspective, but training the VAR individuals themselves who are going to have to be watching every game, but also from a technology perspective, having confidence that we'll be positioned to be able to enact that initiative live. And everything is on track for that to occur. That investment also requires that we go to a minimum of six cameras for every game for next season." This is a huge improvement for NWSL viewers, as poor camera angles and missed plays have been frequent complaints over the past few years.
In reference to Mark Parsons joining the Washington Spirit, there are five new permanent coaches for 2023:
- Gotham FC (Juan Carlos Amoros, Spain). Amoros joined the Houston Dash from Real Betis this summer as interim head coach but moved to Gotham on a long-term contract during this off-season.
- Orlando (Seb Hines, England). He filled in as an interim coach after the club dispatched Amanda Cromwell, who only lasted a few months as their head coach after years at UCLA.
- Washington (Mark Parsons, England). He originally was an assistant and head coach with the Spirit before coaching the Portland Thorns and then nine months with the Netherlands women's national team (see our story on Parson's return to the NWSL: (The Week in Women's Football: NWSL squad changes; Parsons chat; Yanez makes big move - Tribal Football).
- Houston (Sam Laity, England). Laity spent 10 seasons at OL Reign as an assistant coach (see more in our column earlier this month: The Week in Women's Football: Debinha explains choosing Kansas over Arsenal; NWSL transfer wrap; expansion chat - Tribal Football).
- Portland (Mike Norris, England). He recently joined the Thorns after being an assistant coach with Canada's women's national team program and was at colleges in Canada.
For the 2023 season, the league has nine male and three female head coaches, with eight from England, two from the U.S. and one each from Spain and Sweden.
Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribal Football. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham is on the global game of women's football. Get your copy today.
Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey