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Chicago surprises, takes Bywaters No. 1

UCLA forward Zakiya Bywaters was drafted No. 1-overall by the Chicago Red Stars. (Photo Copyright: Patricia Giobetti |

INDIANAPOLIS — Chicago wasn’t afraid to take a risk with the No. 1-overall pick in the National Women’s Soccer League’s first college draft. The Red Stars drafted UCLA forward Zakiya Bywaters, who scored 15 goals in 2012.

Self-described as “versatile” and “confident going 1-v-1 at players,” Bywaters could step right into a starting role for the Red Stars, who prior to the draft lacked any real attacking threat on their still-developing roster.

[RELATED: Full list of all 32 players picked, and where they are headed]

The Red Stars were allocated the U.S. national team’s defensive-minded midfielder Shannon Boxx, midfielder Keelin Winters and defender Amy LePeilbet. Add in goalkeeper Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod a Canada midfielder Carmelina Moscato and there is a clear lack of attacking flare in Chicago.

Mexico national team cornerstone Maribel Dominguez fills that void to a bit, along with fellow Mexico national team player Dinora Garza.

But Bywaters adds a natural forward to the equation. She’ll likely be the focal point of coach Rory Dames’ attack, which is something for the first-team NSCAA All-American is ready for.

“I’ve been in and out of the national team program, so I always knew after school I wanted to play professional soccer, I just didn’t know the means of how I was going to get there,” she said. “I just took it day-by-day and made sure the environment I was in was helping me prepare for this day, so I’m very pleased with the outcome.”

This is the second-straight year that a UCLA Bruins player was selected No. 1-overall, but last year’s No. 1 Women’s Professional Soccer pick — Sydney Leroux, selected by the Atlanta Beat — never had the chance to play in WPS. The league halted operations shortly after the draft.

UCLA is traditionally one of the more prestigious women’s college soccer programs in the U.S., having appeared in three NCAA finals, but never won a title.

“Now that I’m in this environment I have to get advice from people who have already been there, because I don’t know what I’m getting into,” Bywaters said. “I have the resources to reach out to people so I’m very excited. Even playing with people Lauren Cheney and Sydney Leroux — just really make sure I keep in contact with them and asking them how their experiences were, because they left something great at UCLA and I’m just honored to leave something great as well.”


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