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NWSL College Draft: Forwards dominate, a bevy of trades and allocation money

Allocation money made its mark on draft day, as did Sky Blue’s trade for Mallory Pugh.

The new 2020 NWSL game ball sits on the stage at the league's college draft in Baltimore on Jan. 16, 2020. (Mitchell Northam / Pro Soccer USA)

The 2020 National Women’s Soccer League College Draft was eventful and hectic from the go, setting the tone for an entertaining day of action at the Baltimore Convention Center on Thursday.

Before and after the Portland Thorns selected Stanford’s Sophia Smith as the No. 1 overall draft pick, a flurry of trades altered the first round order before it was underway. Between Thursday morning’s action and previous moves, each one of the first round spots was acquired via trade, a first in league history.

With all of those trades, the first round participants almost entirely went for college soccer’s best attacking talents. Along with Smith, forwards Morgan Weaver, Ashley Sanchez, Evelyne Viens, Ally Watt, and Tziarra King were first round draftees, and a few to teams in need. Sanchez went to the Washington Spirit, Viens to Sky Blue FC, and King to the Utah Royals, all teams that struggled for goals in 2019. The positional distribution evened out by draft’s end, but only one goalkeeper was selected Virigina Tech’s Amanda McGlynn, who heads to Sky Blue. (A full list of draft picks can be found here.)

Just as newsworthy as college soccer’s standouts were the other pieces of the trades. While teams also exchanged draft picks, they also traded allocation money. Though Thursday’s trades were not the first to involve allocation money — a trade earlier in the week between the Royals and the Chicago Red Stars holds that honor it truly announced itself on draft day, with the Red Stars and Sky Blue picking some up along the way.

However, specific amounts were never released by the league or its teams each time allocation money was exchanged. Many noted the league’s lack of transparency on the issue, but for now, its higher-ups have no intention of changing that.

We’ve discussed that internally,” league president Amanda Duffy said at the draft. “I’ve determined that right now and going forward that sharing that allocation money is useful, we’ll allow the necessary information to be relayed to fans and to media without giving too much information.”

Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler added allocation money can be used for several things on a team’s lists of tasks.

“There are also mechanisms that you can use it in other ways to support the operator, the team,” Whisler said. “It’s not going to be obvious when that money is pulled out for use for the team for other things. We’re not going to announce those things, either.”

The day’s other news came from player trades. The Red Stars acquired forward Rachel Hill, along with allocation money and 2021 draft picks, from the Orlando Pride in exchange for the No. 3 overall pick and a third round pick this year, but the day’s biggest trade involved Mallory Pugh. The U.S. women’s national team forward was involved in the type of blockbuster trade that defines the NWSL offseason, heading to Sky Blue in exchange for three draft picks to the Washington Spirit.

I know that they’ll be sad to lose her,” Sky Blue head coach Freya Coombe said after the draft. “But their loss is our gain and we’re really excited to have her.”

The trade was emblematic of both team’s priorities — the Spirit got the No. 4 pick in the draft and selected Sanchez, and both will look to improve last year’s finishes— but also of the day itself. In short, it was a word Coombe frequently: “exciting.”

Mitchell Northam contributed to this report.




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