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Each NWSL team’s biggest draft needs and the players to fill them

With the 2018 NWSL College Draft right around the corner, teams are starting to make moves to get draft picks to help them fill their rosters. While some teams make the most of the draft to fill their ranks, other coaches are willing to trade their picks in return for other players. Regardless of how coaches get them, their goal is the same: find players to fill their most pressing needs. The Equalizer’s Chelsey Bush and Allison Lee put their minds together to determine what each team needs the most ahead of the 2018 season, and which players who have declared for the draft can best meet them.

Washington Spirit

The Spirit finished in last place with the second-most goals against and the worst goal differential. What immediately jumps to mind is central defense. None of the trio of Shelina Zadorsky, Kassey Kallman, or Whitney Church had a season to write home about, and a good young center back could snatch a spot, likely next to Zadorsky. With seven draft picks, including two in the first round, it wouldn’t hurt to look at fullbacks as well as they lack depth. Looking at their roster, they are solid in the center of the park but could use wide midfielders to give Jim Gabarra a little more flexibility in formation. A more solid midfield should also relieve pressure on their backline. They are set at goalkeeper with Stephanie Labbé and Kelsey Wys, and should their injury woes lessen, they are probably strongest up top, so no need for more forwards.

Indigo Gibson – California

It seems weird to discuss the draft and the Washington Spirit in the same sentence and not have Andi Sullivan’s name also appear, but honestly, she doesn’t fill their most pressing needs (and there’s the minor detail that she’s yet to declare for the draft). Granted, you don’t turn a player like Sullivan down if given the chance, but the Spirit would be wise to use their second first-round pick on a center back. Cal’s Indigo Gibson could be just the player they’re looking for to strengthen their defense. A 2017 MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist, Gibson anchored the Bears backline and helped them secure 10 shutouts in her senior campaign. Although the Bears lost to Pac-12 strongholds Stanford, UCLA and USC last season, the defensive prowess of Gibson helped the Bears hold each of those teams (reminder: Stanford was the nation’s leading offense) to just one goal.

Boston Breakers

The Breakers finished in ninth place with the second-fewest goals scored. While it’s an improvement over the last-place finishes of 2016 and 2015, it’s a marginal one, and they still have work to do. First point of business should be a striker with pace. They have both Natasha Dowie and Katie Stengel capable of holding up play and scoring, but both lack speed and too often were left isolated. A fast forward who can break on the counter should relieve some of the scoring issues. After that, a fullback is a necessity, preferably a right back although depth on the left behind Allysha Chapman wouldn’t do any harm. Midge Purce was relegated to outside back during her rookie campaign, where it became clear to everyone she is not a defender. The Breakers could also use some height to help with set pieces. Otherwise, the Breakers (if healthy) have the makings of a decent if young squad, with solid goalkeepers and a midfield that moves from fair to good if a healthy Rose Lavelle is in it.

Savannah McCaskill – South Carolina

Savannah McCaskill could be the spark Boston’s attack needs. (photo courtesy South Carolina Athletics)

“A fast forward who can break on the counter” summarizes Savannah McCaskill’s play to a T. The MAC Hermann Trophy finalist and two-time reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Year has been the backbone of South Carolina’s attack in her four years in Columbia, leading them to their first ever College Cup appearance last December. The forward is almost deceptively speedy, leaving opponents in her wake as she makes a break towards goal. She has not only proven that she can score goals, recording 40 career goals for the Gamecocks, but that she can also serve the ball for her teammates. McCaskill lead the team in assists in 2017 with 9 to increase her career total to 34. Any team would be lucky to draft McCaskill, but Boston could really use her speed, ability to create opportunities for herself and her teammates, and her finishing to help them climb back up from the bottom of the table.

Sky Blue FC

Sky Blue finished in sixth place with the most goals against. Any team with Sam Kerr is going to score goals, and the additions of Shea Groom and Katie Johnson make them absolutely lethal in the attack. Obviously, their needs are in defense. Rebekah Stott adds a veteran presence that would have been lacking without Kelley O’Hara and Christie Pearce, and she can also play central or outside back. Erin Simon, Erica Skroski, and Mandy Freeman range from passable to very good, but they desperately need depth in case of injury, and a great college defender could probably make an argument for a starting spot. A midfielder or two should round out their group, especially a good box-to-box midfielder to back up Raquel Rodriguez. Wide players would also not be a bad idea, and it would be an added bonus if draftees added height. Sarah Killion and Nikki Stanton are both good holding midfielders, while Kailen Sheridan in net should be secure for years to come.

Schuyler DeBree – Duke

Schuyler DeBree’s versatility easily makes her a first round pick. (photo by Shane Lardinois)

Sky Blue’s most pressing need is defense, and that’s about as obvious as they come. Schuyler DeBree could help alleviate the New Jersey-based club’s defensive woes. The ACC Defensive Player of the Year and All-American anchored a Blue Devil backline that allowed only seven goals over a 19-game win streak and registered a program record 18 shutouts on the season. Although she was primarily featured at center back, she is versatile enough to be slotted out wide to play outside back if need be. That defensive versatility would be key to Sky Blue, allowing Denise Reddy to tinker with her backline to find the right combination of personnel. She’s also a New Jersey native, and it’s no secret that Sky Blue loves their Jersey Girls.

Houston Dash

The Dash finished in eighth place with the fewest goals scored and the second-worst goal differential.On the surface it would look like they need forwards, but with the acquisition of Savannah Jordan and the return of Kealia Ohai, they should be set up top. What they do need are central midfielders. The trade of Andressa left a big hole, and Amber Brooks’ conversion to center back left a spot at defensive midfielder that was never suitably filled last season. A more solid midfield will help both scoring issues and defensive lapses. They also need upgrades across the board on defense, although Cami Levin gets the job done at left back especially if the center is secure. Right back was an ongoing problem regardless of who suited up there, and even with Brooks’ superb work in defense, she needs a stronger partner, especially one with more pace. They are set at goalkeeper with Jane Campbell and Bianca Henninger.

Rebecca Quinn – Duke

Rebecca Quinn could be the cure-all for Houston’s midfield woes. (photo by Shane Lardinois)

Rebecca Quinn is the kind of player who can adapt quickly to almost any position and makes every team that she plays on better. Duke had a storied season this year, dropping their season opener against North Carolina before going on a 19-game win streak and being named ACC regular season champions before losing to—who else?—North Carolina in the ACC tournament final. Who was missing from Duke’s roster in both of those matches? Rebecca Quinn. That’s right. Quinn is a game changer when she’s on the field, and she’s equally dangerous on either side of the ball. Quinn could be a nice fixture in the Andressa-less Dash midfield, and her experience playing at the international level with fellow Canada teammates Lindsey Agnew, Janine Beckie and Nichelle Prince could only help the Dash’s chemistry. Oh yeah, and she’s likely to be allocated by Canada, which frees up salary cap money Vera Pauw can put to good use elsewhere on the field.

Chicago Red Stars

The Red Stars finished in fourth place, only scoring three more goals than they allowed. They have three very clear needs. First, a striker to go alongside Christen Press. Their entire offense funnels to her, and while Press is about as good as you get in the NWSL, it makes their attack ultimately predictable and very flat when she’s not available. Another player like Sofia Huerta would be invaluable, as she is really the only natural wide attacker they put on the pitch, which is their second need. Their diamond midfield tends to be narrow and doesn’t get as much width from their fullbacks as they would like. A wide midfielder would go a long way. Chicago is also one of the few teams that would benefit from another goalkeeper. Alyssa Naeher isn’t relinquishing her starting spot, but they are very much in need of a backup. With seven draft picks, they can afford to use one on a keeper.

Imani Dorsey – Duke

Imani Dorsey is one of the top forwards in the 2018 NWSL College Draft. (photo by Shane Lardinois)

This list is Duke heavy, but for good reason: Duke had their best season in program history, and only a penalty kick shootout during the College Cup semifinals prevented them from making a run for a national title. Imani Dorsey and her 14 goals, tied for team best, were a big reason. Not only did Dorsey prove she can score goals, but a number of her goals were scored in dramatic fashion. A striker like Dorsey is hard to come by, and her scoring prowess should translate well to the next level. Her hesitation to shoot is her one flaw and could be fatal against NWSL defenses, but her strengths more than outweigh that weakness. She also proved to have dynamic chemistry with Kayla McCoy on the field, playing each other balls to set up scoring opportunities. If she can find that same on-field chemistry with Huerta or Press, her speed and finishing could make her lethal in the Red Stars attack.

Portland Thorns FC

Finishing in second place and winning the NWSL Championship with the league’s best defense and goal differential, the Thorns don’t need much, so it’s good they only have two draft picks. Although they did just acquire Andressinha, they’ve lost both Allie Long and Amandine Henry, leaving a spot open for a holding midfielder. They may also want to look at another wide player, as Nadia Nadim is gone, Dagny Brynjarsdottir is out for the season, and Tobin Heath’s status is uncertain, although Caitlin Foord mitigates some of that need. Another option may be a center forward and/or attacking midfielder to work as a backup to Christine Sinclair. They are very solid on defense, although it wouldn’t be a bad idea to pick up a center back for depth, and there is no need for a goalkeeper.

Michaela Abam – West Virginia

Michaela Abam might be worth the risk to Portland.
(photo courtesy WVU Women’s Soccer)

West Virginia’s Michaela Abam is versatile enough to play just about any position on the field, although she is most known for her ability to score even against the most pressing of defenses. The forward’s career 42 goals and 16 assists over 95 appearances for the Mountaineers makes her extremely attractive for any team that could use a versatile player in their attack, but her recent comments to the Houston Chronicle may cause other teams to look elsewhere for their attacking needs. If any team could convince Abam to play in the NWSL, it’s likely the Thorns, whose two NWSL titles, Shield, and home crowds are enough to lure even the best players from around the world. She would definitely fill some of the void left by Nadia Nadim’s return to Europe, but their roster is strong enough that, even if she decides to play abroad, they should be just fine without her.

North Carolina Courage

Last season’s Shield winners with the second-best defense and goal differential, the Courage came up short in the NWSL Championship. With one defender retired and another waived, plus Yuri Kawamura likely not available to start the season, their first order of business should be defensive depth at all positions. Elizabeth Eddy is their only defender on the bench as of right now, although the final proved that there are a number of players who can fill in at right back. The Courage roster is one of the most versatile in the league. They have more than enough options up top, but another attacking midfielder would probably be a good investment. Two starting-quality keepers makes that position as solid as you’ll find.

Gabby Seiler – Florida

Gabby Seiler scored one of Florida’s three goals in their upset over Stanford during the 2017 NCAA season. (photo by Matt Stamey/courtesy of Florida)

The Courage need options on defense and an attacking midfielder. Enter Florida’s Gabby Seiler, a box-to-box midfielder who can create opportunities on goal and be pushed back on defense in a moment’s notice. Although she is best as an attacking midfielder (last season she led the Gators in assists with 8 and was second in goals with 6), she has also proven that she is more than capable of playing center back, even anchoring a three-back against some of the top offenses in the country. That versatility gives Paul Riley more options for utilizing Seiler’s skill set on the field while adding much-needed depth to their roster, which could make her a real asset off the bench for the Courage.

Utah Royals FC

FC Kansas City came in seventh place with the third-fewest goals scored, and Utah inherits their roster and picks. They only have three picks, and none in the first round, but I’m going to buck tradition by saying if they don’t sign a keeper from elsewhere, they need to draft one. Nicole Barnhart is an NWSL legend, but even legends don’t last forever, and her successor needs to be in place sooner rather than later. With the departure of Shea Groom, they should also look for forwards, particularly one whose hold-up play will contrast the fast-paced styles of Sydney Leroux and Amy Rodriguez. Finally, they would also benefit from an attacking midfielder capable of pulling the strings for an attack, which is something they haven’t had in a while. Defensively they are sound both on the pitch and on the bench.

Casey Murphy – Rutgers

Rutgers’ Casey Murphy is one of the top goalkeepers in the NWSL Draft. (photo copyright Katie Cahalin for The Equalizer)

Casey Murphy is one of the best keepers in the draft, and for good reason. Highly touted by many to be the future of USWNT goalkeeping, the redshirt junior burned the last year of her college eligibility to go pro. Any team would love to have Murphy on their roster, and she’s honestly good enough to start for a number of teams. With the status of Barnhart’s career seemingly in question at the conclusion of every NWSL season, Murphy could take over starting duties sooner with the Royals than other clubs, and what better keeper to train under in the meantime than Barnhart? However, rumor is that Murphy is headed overseas, so the Royals may want to go with another keeper more likely to stay stateside instead. If that’s the case, Duke’s EJ Proctor or Florida State’s Cassie Miller are solid backup plans for the Royals.

Orlando Pride

The Pride finished the season in third place with the best offense, but their defense let them down. With only one pick (in the third round), the draft isn’t going to help them much, so their focus needs to be on their biggest problem area: right back. Kristen Edmonds struggled all season, Jamia Fields was a short-lived option for a reason, and Camila, who was adequate, has an ACL injury. If they can strengthen the central defense and trust Alanna Kennedy and Dani Weatherholt as a dual pivot on top of the backline, an option is to move Ali Krieger back to her normal spot at right back, but a rookie center back is not likely to be the anchoring force that would be needed to make that move. Should they sign a defender via another avenue or trade for more picks, defensive depth is still needed. Of a secondary concern is a stronger midfield. They are set at goalkeeper and have plenty of strong forwards.

Amandine Pierre-Louis – West Virginia

On paper Amandine Pierre-Louis is the prototype of an NWSL outside back: strong, fast, and willing to push into the attack while able to quickly cover ground on defense. She was pushed back to outside back for her senior campaign, starting all 27 matches for the Mountaineers and earning co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. Even from her spot on WVU’s backline, Pierre-Louis still recorded five goals and an assist on the season to increase her collegiate career totals to 14 goals and 12 assists, not too bad for a defender. As proven earlier in her collegiate career, she can play higher on the flank as well, which could make her a more attractive choice for the Pride.

Seattle Reign FC

Seattle finished in fifth place with the second-best offense. Like the Pride, they only have one draft pick at the moment, and it’s in the fourth round. They are bringing in Jodie Taylor to replace Katie Johnson and should be set up top, as they also are at goalkeeper. Where they lack is at fullback on both sides, although Vlatko Andonovski has used Merritt Mathias as an outside back (effectively) in the past. Although their midfield looks strong on paper, it didn’t always translate on the pitch last season, and they could probably use a good holding midfielder more than anything. With Megan Rapinoe and Nahomi Kawasumi, they are solid in their width, but a little depth there wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Brittany Basinger – Penn State

When you look at Brittany Basinger’s career at Penn State, it’s hard not to be impressed. She saw 88 starts over 95 appearances, tallied five career goals and nine assists from her spot at left back and was part of the 2015 National Championship-winning squad. Last year she co-captained the team and led a defense that posted 17 shutouts on the season, helping the Nittany Lions claim their seventh Big Ten Tournament title before advancing to the NCAA tournament quarterfinals. She also brings with her a wealth of experience in the U.S. youth national system, which can only be an asset when facing off against the top athletes in the country.

{Related: Washington Spirit intend to take Andi Sullivan – if she declares}

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