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Jennifer Gordon’s 2016 NWSL mock draft

Will the Thorns take Makenzy Doniak and give Virginia the top two picks in the NWSL Draft? (Photo Copyright Steve Bruno for The Equalizer)

Will the Thorns take Makenzy Doniak and give Virginia the top two picks in the NWSL Draft? (Photo Copyright Steve Bruno for The Equalizer)

Following is Jennifer Gordon’s mock draft covering the 1st round of Friday’s NWSL event. Note the 10th pick was given to Orlando Pride who are expected to acquire it from Portland Thorns FC following the allocation announcement (when Lindsey Horan is expected to be officially unveiled by Portland).

1) Portland – Emily Sonnett, Virginia

For the third time in as many years, there’s little drama surrounding the first pick. Any doubt over who would be the first pick in the draft was erased when the Georgia native was called into the full U.S. national team in October. Sonnett, a standout center back from the University of Virginia will be taken by Portland, whose shaky defense proved fatal to its postseason aspirations. Sonnett is calm and composed on the ball, good in the air and was the vocal leader Cavaliers’ backline. Sonnett is one of the few pro-ready prospects in this draft and will be ready from day one to help solidify the Thorns’ backline.

2) Portland – Makenzy Doniak, Virginia

Two years ago in the 2014 NWSL Draft two North Carolina Tar Heels were taken with back to back at one and two – Crystal Dunn and Kealia Ohai. It’s likely we’ll see the first and second overall pick come out of the same school this time around only this year it will be two Virginia products. Doniak is a fast, strong forward who not only scores regularly but sets other up as well with 36 career assists to her credit at Virginia. Doniak had two 20 goals seasons with Cavaliers, and despite battling injuries this season, including a pulled hamstring, Doniak still managed 14 goals. Her 164 career points are by far the most of any declared player with Janine Beckie coming in second with 131.

3) Sky Blue FC – Raquel Rodriguez, Penn State

Okay, here’s where it gets tricky. While it’s near impossible to know how serious any of the internationals are about playing in the NWSL, it’s undeniable that Rodriguez is a top 5 talent in this draft. The midfielder is skillful, creative and confident. In the College Cup, she demonstrated how well she can play on both sides of the ball and her stock is elevated by the dearth of midfielders in this draft. While Sky Blue doesn’t necessarily need a midfielder, Nadia Nadim at times last year was isolated in the attack. A player with Rodriguez’s talent could go a long way in remedying that. Rodriguez could also prove vital to Sky Blue’s 2016 campaign if the Australian team makes the Olympics leaving the squad without Caitlin Foord and Sam Kerr for a portion of the season.

[MORE: Rodriguez adds MAC Hermann Trophy to College Cup title]

4) Seattle – Cari Roccaro, Notre Dame

While Roccaro did play central midfield for a time at Notre Dame, she’s long been projected as a center back at the professional level and what Seattle really needs is a holding midfielder. It’s not a perfect fit, but taking another holding/defensive midfielder at this spot would likely be a bit of a reach. Roccaro is a veteran of two U-20 World Cups, the second time serving as captain. Good tactically, with solid positioning, Roccaro does a good job of breaking up attacks before they become dangerous. It’s quite possible that Seattle looks to trade down in this draft to a team more in need of a center back that’s ready to start right away like Kansas City.

5) Houston – Katie Bowen, North Carolina

After losing Niki Cross, Tony Pressley, and Ella Masar, the Dash are in need of some defensive reinforcements. If the team is willing to use a coveted international spot and is confident enough in her intentions to play in the league, Houston could pick up a versatile player who has already played in two World Cups that could help plug in some of these holes. Bowen served a consistent, calming presence for the Tar Heels’ defense and would be a good addition to a defense that proved porous at times last season. Of course, Houston also needs a backup keeper with Erin McLeod deciding to go to Europe but it seems unlikely that the team takes one here. The draft is as much about supply and demand as anything else. There are a couple of keepers that are worthy of backup roles in the NWSL and only a couple of teams expected to be on the market for the same. Furthermore, only one keeper, Adrianna Franch by the Flash in 2013 has been taken in the first round in league history and she was taken to be the starter.

6) Houston – Janine Beckie, Texas Tech

Continuing the logic from above, although this is currently Houston’s second and last pick in this year’s draft, it seems unlikely that they take a keeper. Given the glut of center backs in this draft, Houston might be able to swap this pick a la Chicago in last year’s draft and still leave the draft room with multiple players to improve the team’s defense. If Houston keeps the pick, the best value would play up the field. The speedy dual Canadian/ U.S. citizen bagged 57 goals in her career at Texas Tech and helped the Red Raiders win their first Big 12 Conference championship this past season. The road to the conference title game included Beckie beating the country’s best player Kadeisha Buchanan to win in the semi-finals. Beckie declaring for the draft seems to indicate she will not be allocated by Canada.

[MORE: 145 players initially declare for 2016 NWSL College Draft]

7) Washington – Brianne Reed, Rutgers

The Spirit need depth at center back. A possible target for the Spirit could be Rutgers’ product Brianne Reed. Rutgers had the best goals against average in the country, and Reed was an important cog in the Scarlet Knights’ defensive stinginess. A bit undersized a 5’5, what she lacks in height she makes up for with athleticism. She is also one of the best 1v1 defenders available and uses her body well.

8) FCKC-Cali Farquharson, Arizona State

Kansas City has a lot of needs given the off-season departures and Amy Rodriguez’s pregnancy. Given that there’s not a lot of attacking talent in this draft, Kansas City would do well to pick up a forward with its first pick in the draft. Farquharson, who has seen time with the U.S. U-23 team could fit the bill. The technical forward led the Sun Devils all four years in scoring despite missing several games due to a hamstring injury. If she can stay healthy, she could have a real impact for the back-to-back champions.

9) Western New York – Carson Pickett, Florida State

The Flash traded left back Kristen Edmonds to the Orlando Pride. Pickett is by far the best left back available in this draft. Pickett, a Florida State product has played on one of the nation’s best defenses the last two seasons after starting her career for the Seminoles as an outside midfielder. Pickett has a wicked left foot and delivers deadly crosses and set pieces.

10) Orlando (currently in Portland’s possession) – Cheyna Williams, Florida State

In its short history, Orlando has shown an affinity for players with some kind of connection to the sunshine state. Williams, who assisted the winning goal for Florida State in the 2014 College Cup, is one of the best attacking players available in the draft. The fast, dynamic forward who is good at running in behind opposing defenses would be a great addition to the new franchise.

[MORE: Mexico no longer funding player salaries in NWSL]

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