This week, the lists of college prospects will be rolled out. Journalists and fans will polish their mock drafts (The Equalizer staff included), even as picks still trade hands. Height and speed will be analyzed, positional needs hotly debated, and everyone will agree that Crystal Dunn will be spending her summer nights on the lush grass fields of the Maryland SoccerPlex.
[MORE: 2014 NWSL Draft coverage.]
The thirty-six players who will be drafted into the National Women’s Soccer League will be young women looking to live the dream, play professional soccer amongst and against the best, endure six-hour bus trips to play the full-90 and then ride six hours back. There will be others who don’t quite make the cut, some who cross oceans to in hope of earning minutes in Europe and Asia, and many who hang up their cleats and head back to the security of full-time jobs.
There are thirty-six stories waiting to be told with this year’s college draft.
Amanda Frisbie is one of them, she hopes.
She had a pretty good year at University of Portland in 2012. As a starting forward for all 21 games, she scored 12 goals and dished nine assists to her teammates. The Pilots went out in the second round of the NCAA tournament in a 0-3 loss to Michigan. Frisbie forced Michigan keeper Haley Kopmeyer’s only save of the night.
Frisbie spent the summer focusing on how to increase her offensive impact. “My whole summer, I had goals set for myself. All I was thinking about was having a better year than I did, scoring goals and making things happen up front.”
Two weeks before the 2013 season started, Pilots Head Coach Garrett Smith approached her with one small request: give up the only position she’d ever played and become a center back.
“To be honest, I wasn’t sure about it,” Frisbie admits. ”I had never, ever played anywhere else! That first game came up, and I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t easy at first.”
That first game was against Marquette, and she played 56 minutes. Portland won. Two days later, she played 93 minutes against Oregon. Portland won. Six days after that, she earned 110 minutes in the season’s only tie, a 1-1 duel against Stanford.
Here’s Frisbie’s senior year in stats: 1,710 minutes played, 20 starts in 20 games, 8 goals, 1 assist, a .500 shot percentage, and four game-winning goals. All, mind you, as a fullback.
The Pilots finished 17-3-1 and had nine shutouts. Going into her senior year, she was already being considered for the MAC Hermann Trophy as a forward. By the end of her season, she’d racked up a semifinalist spot for the MAC Hermann as a defender, had made NSCAA First Team All-America (along with the likes of Dunn, Morgan Brian, and Kassey Kallman) and NSCAA All-West Region First Team, and was named the 2013 West Coast Conference Defender of the Year. The list doesn’t end there.
Frisbie pauses for a moment as she reflects on her final year as a Pilot, but in the end all she comes up with is, “It worked out, I guess.”
It’s not the only time she defers praise. When the conversation veers into awards talk, she immediately says, “I was really surprised.” (She actually sounds surprised, even still.) “All that stuff, the MAC Hermann, the All American, I don’t know how all that stuff works, but I was really surprised and really honored.”
Later, she concludes that the process helped her grow.
“Even though the transition wasn’t easy at first, having never played the position before, I’ve definitely learned to embrace it and love it just as much. The whole process has made me grow, not only as a player, but as a person as well.”
Angela Harrison, color analyst for the University of Portland women’s soccer team (and for the Thorns FC broadcast team in 2013), watched Frisbie find her way on the backline. “There was a lot of learning on the fly. But she has the athleticism, pace, and ability on the ball,” says Harrison.
“My mentality has always been to score all the time,” says Frisbie. The highlight reel above reinforces the sentiment. ”I love it more than anything, to score goals.” It’s not that Frisbie stopped scoring them in 2013, but suddenly there was a lot more to be thinking about on the field.
“You have to be conservative. You have to be the complete opposite. You have to be patient. I was comfortable with the ball at my feet as a forward, and people were telling me as a center back, I looked calm when I had the ball. And I realized, I’m not freaking out when I’m under pressure, and that was an advantage.”
The conversion made and a work in progress, there wasn’t much time to worry how it could affect her chances at finding a place to play after college. During most of her time at UP, there wasn’t even a guarantee that she could play professionally in the U.S. Frisbie talks about watching WPS fall apart, and says, “During my college career, it was definitely hard to have a mentality of — okay, there’s definitely a league I can go to. I knew for sure I wanted to play after college, that I wanted to keep playing.”
Frisbie started preparing herself for needing to leave the country to keep her soccer career alive. “It’s a big move, it’s a big thing. There’s so much you have to look at when you want to go play overseas. You want to keep playing, but there’s so many things you have to adjust to. It’s a new life.”
The arrival of the NWSL meant the arrival of a straightforward goal: “I want to stay here, I want to play in America.”
Her NWSL draft prospect is where it starts to get complicated. The concern is that teams might not know what to do with her, having played the large majority of her career so far as a forward and with only one year of defense under her belt. General consensus is that she’ll be drafted as a defender, with Kassey Kallman getting the slight edge as best center back in the draft.
Harrison thinks the head coaches of NWSL teams have already marked her conversion down as a success. “A lot of teams will consider her for her defensive capabilities, but her offensive versatility gives her an edge.” Harrison likens Frisbie to another Pilot, Danielle Foxhoven, and says, “If they’re looking at her in the draft, they shouldn’t discount her ability to put the ball in the back of the net.”
It’s not just the stats or the goals that make Frisbie a solid pick for Harrison either. “She embraced [becoming a defender] and went after it, and did whatever it took to help her team. She got better every game. She made it look–for the most part–kind of easy. She has her poise, she has confidence, and you can see how that translates to the field.”
Frisbie spent the holidays at home with her family in Texas. She flew back to Portland shortly after the New Year. Her father, in an endearing tweet that speaks to the unending uncertainty of an athlete’s parent, posted, “Amanda on her way back to ‘Soccer City.’ Always tough to see her go. Spring semester or maybe drafted into #NWSL.”
She’s been playing in the Thorns’ backyard, and her Texas hometown McKinney is roughly a four-hour drive from Houston. She’s grown attached to the Pacific Northwest and to Portland, but she’s ready to leave if she has to. “I’d be happy anywhere I went. I just want to play the game. Anywhere. Anywhere. I just want to play.”
The only certain thing is that Frisbie will be awake early on Friday morning, following along on Twitter when the draft kicks off at 10 a.m. ET in Philadelphia, waiting to see a few questions be answered. If she’ll be drafted. What city she’ll end up calling home from March until August. And finally, if she’ll be the one scoring the goals or stopping them.