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NWSL Draft recap: Washington Spirit, Sky Blue FC, Houston Dash dominate early action

)Ashley Scoby/Pro Soccer USA)

CHICAGO — The National Women’s Soccer League college draft served as the launch of the league’s seventh season – and as a sign of how far it’s come.

United Soccer Coaches President Leslie Gallimore stepped to the podium Thursday to announce the first pick and reminisced about the league’s first draft. From a tiny, closed-door room in a hotel, to taking over a ballroom in Chicago’s enormous McCormick Place, the NWSL has made quite the jump.

To punctuate that evolution, Thursday’s draft started not with player selections, but an announcement about increased compensation and roster sizes. In its seventh season, the NWSL will include more players than ever, with each team allotted a maximum of 22 spots.

Despite the league-wide increases, just a couple teams dominated the early picks in Thursday’s draft.

The Chicago Red Stars secured United States women’s national team defender Tierna Davidson with the No. 1 overall pick and Sky Blue FC took UCLA’s Hailie Mace with the second pick, but the Washington Spirit overtook nearly half the first round after that, securing four picks out of the nine possible.

To grab the third overall pick, the Spirit sent three players to be named later and their fourth-round pick to Sky Blue FC. They also traded for Chicago’s No. 6 overall pick the night before the draft. In descending order, Washington took Stanford’s Jordan DiBiasi (No. 3 overall), Clemson’s Samantha Staab (No. 4 overall), Stanford’s Tegan McGrady (No. 7 overall) and North Carolina’s Dorian Bailey (No. 8 overall).

But the Spirit’s activity wasn’t limited to that round. They also made a trade in the second round, the discussion of which chewed up about 15 minutes. Portland was initially set to choose 17th overall, but called a timeout. After that, the league itself called another timeout, stretching the dead time between the 16th and 17th picks, until Washington finally announced the trade and took Bayley Feist out of Wake Forest.

Sky Blue FC, which finished last in the NWSL in 2018 and made headlines with its reported subpar training facility and housing conditions, also provided a huge portion of the early activity. They collected four of the first 11 picks. After Mace, Sky Blue took North Carolina’s Julia Ashley, Butler’s Paige Monaghan and Baylor’s Julie James. 

Ashley told media after she was selected that she was still contemplating playing in Europe instead of going to New Jersey.

“Yeah, that’s common for any player coming into the league today,” New Jersey president and general manager Tony Novo said. “Very confident that we’re gonna be able to sign her.”

The Chicago Red Stars, Sky Blue FC, Washington Spirit and North Carolina Courage made up the entire first round. So it wasn’t until the third pick of the second round that the other half of the league got in on the action. Houston took over the second round, picking four players: Ally Prisock (USC), CeCe Kizer (Mississippi), Betsy Brandon (Virginia) and Kayla McCoy (Duke).

The only team that didn’t have a draft selection was the Seattle Reign, which had previously traded away all its picks. The club didn’t make any moves on Thursday to pick up a slot.

See the full list of draft picks here.

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