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NWSL Week In Review: Value of draft picks currently low

Crystal Dunn, foreground, was picked first overall by the Spirit in 2014 (copyright Hannah di Lorenzo for The Equalizer)

If you bought stock in the overall value of NWSL draft picks a year ago, you would likely be severely disappointed at the current state of affairs surrounding them. Judging by the reckless nature some coaches and general managers are throwing them around in trades, they may not be worth the proverbial paper they are printed on.

In fact, NWSL draft picks are so worthless that teams have found a way to bend the rules to deal picks for future years for anything they can find on the shelf.

But why? And will it be this way forever?

PODCAST: Stop the Presses, Christen has made her debut in Utah!

Well, consider this year’s draft where as it turned out the top six picks ended up on either Sky Blue or Washington, both in dire need of some help to turn around their franchises. Sky Blue had the fifth pick, grabbed the fourth pick from Utah and the sixth from Houston, giving them three straight selections. They took Michaela Abam, Imani Dorsey, and Amandine Pierre-Louis, all college stars or they wouldn’t have been in the draft to consider. Dorsey has finally broken through and made four starts for Sky Blue (with one assist), but Abam has seen the field for 50 minutes, and Pierre-Louis has not at all (due in part to injury).

At the top of the draft, Andi Sullivan (Spirit), Savannah McCaskill (Sky Blue after being drafted by Boston), and Rebecca Quinn (Spirit) have all been regulars, but – with the possible exception of McCaskill – have hardly covered themselves in glory this season. The two teams are a combined 2-19-7.

And that’s at the very top. Portland took Sandra Yu and Gabby Seiler eighth and ninth and neither has appeared for them, even with all their injuries (Seiler has been injured herself, but it’s unclear what her current status is). The last pick of the first round – Frannie Crouse – actually scored for North Carolina as a replacement player, but was released soon thereafter. After the first round, very few names have seen the field or even made their respective rosters.

Crouse’s case may be the biggest illustration of the current issue. With Boston folding, not only were their players dispersed, but we are left with only nine teams, meaning many very good soccer players just can’t get a chance to get regular playing time. I’ve talked about the growing pains of Sullivan and Quinn, but the other less heralded players do not have that chance. This is a professional league, after all, where the goal is win and win now.

Going backward, last year’s (2017) draft was better, but not significantly so. Rose Lavelle and Ashley Hatch did well as the first two picks (although both have struggled for different reasons this year), but after that Morgan Andrews (No. 3) has been unable to find a starting position, Kayla Mills (No. 4) was recently waived by Sky Blue, and Christina Gibbons (No. 5) recently lost her starting spot with winless SBFC. The only other first round picks to be regulars are Margaret Purce with Portland and Mandy Freeman with Sky Blue.

Even in 2016, only Emily Sonnett (1) and Rachel Daly (6) could be considered current indispensable players for their NWSL squad. The same cannot be said, however, for 2015, where a slew of current stars littered the first nine picks and Sofia Huerta was still available at No. 11.

Crouse is obviously a talented player who you hope has the chance to catch on with someone. But who? There are only nine options for all the talented players in this country (and beyond).

It’s not shocking to see the draft picks that do surprise tend to be with rebuilding franchises. Houston was gutted after last season, moreso when Christen Press decided to go to Sweden rather than play for them. The Dash took Jane Campbell in the second round and Nichelle Prince in the third last season, and followed that up by grabbing Haley Hanson seventh overall and Veronica Latsko in the third round this year. With Washington in dire need of something, the Spirit recently signed third-round pick Maddie Huster.

However, that’s about it. A look at the names of those drafted – even with only four rounds – in the last two years sees a lot of college stars that have not been able to stick with NWSL teams.

Will that change in the future, as people like Rory Dames are apparently betting on by accepting all of Laura Harvey’s selections from Utah? There could be expansion on the horizon, which would help open up possible spots. In the 2015 draft, Dames was able to grab Arin Gilliland, Danielle Colaprico, and Huerta fairly deep into it.The year before he traded for a draft pick that turned out to be Julie Ertz and selected Vanessa DiBernardo right after her.

In that 2015 draft, Aaran Lines and his staff ended up with four first-round picks at Western New York took Abby Dahlkemper, Sam Mewis, Lynn Williams, and Jaelene Hinkle. The returns were not immediate, and unfortunately the franchise would soon get moved, but in the long-run that went pretty well.

So maybe Dames knows what he’s doing? Only time will tell.

What did we learn in Week 14 of the NWSL season, where the playoff race is as close as ever?

WEDNESDAY (recaps)

Orlando 1:2 Houston

What Went Down: An unmitigated disaster for the Pride, who thoroughly dominated the first 30 minutes, but only had one bizarre (but legal) goal and a missed penalty to show for it. Full credit to Vera Pauw and the Dash, who again made huge halftime adjustments, and again they involved Kealia Ohai using her speed to run at slower opposing defenders.

But the Pride should have been able to finish this one off and didn’t. Ohai’s goal was perfectly placed, but should have been saved. After that, Orlando – full of veterans – just collapsed and the Dash left with another three points.

Player of the Game: Amber Brooks – Two things you get out of Brooks are versatility and consistency. Brooks looked like she was moved between the midfield and defense throughout, but helped Houston battle back after a rough start and did her usual diving and throwing her body in the way to prevent opposing goals.

Under the Radar: Linda Motlhalo – Houston’s midfield got run over in the first 30 minutes and by all rights should have all night the way things were set up, but Motlhalo, who should get a long, hard look for Rookie of the Year, was key in at least making the Pride work for that space. Eventually, Motlhalo assisted on the tying goal as well.

Inside the Numbers: 6 – Number of shots that Alanna Kennedy took, with none of them being on frame. A residual effect of scoring from midfield the week before?

Up next: Orlando – Played again; Houston – at Seattle (Sat.)

Utah 0:0 Seattle

What Went Down: Christen Press’ arrival couldn’t immediately solve all of the Royals’ goal scoring woes, and they scored just 10 in 13 matches through this one, and draws are not the way they’re going to make the playoffs. It was a shame because Utah dominated most of the match as Seattle sorely missed Jess Fishlock in the middle, but couldn’t consistently threaten despite having most of the ball.

Megan Rapinoe is always going to be a threat, but Becky Sauerbrunn and her teammates are playing very well at the moment, and because of that are probably the team North Carolina would want to see least in the playoffs, as we saw in Utah’s upset on the road two weeks ago. However, if they can’t score, the Courage won’t have to worry about it.

Player of the Game: Becca Moros – Whether it is the influence of Sauerbrunn or just chemistry, Moros has been excellent the last few weeks at her outside back spot and actually got involved in the attack a few times in this match as well.

Under the Radar: Diana Matheson – Particularly in the first half, Matheson was setting up chances everywhere and was inches away from scoring just two minutes into the contest, which would have changed the dynamics significantly.

Inside the Numbers: 8,504 – Attendance at Rio Tinto on a scorching hot Wednesday night, so well done to the fans in Utah.

Up next: Utah – Played again; Seattle – Played again

Portland 1:1 Sky Blue

What Went Down: In isolation, results like this can be glossed over, but this was a massive two points dropped for the Thorns at home. After completely dominating the first 30 minutes, things just got away from them, and in the end, they were actually fortunate not to lose as it appeared their goal was offside and Adrianna Franch had to come up with a couple of big saves.

Some of that is due to injuries and it probably wasn’t coincidental that Sky Blue was much more dangerous after Emily Sonnett got subbed off. And give Sky Blue full credit for continuing to push on when they still can’t buy a victory this season. However, if you’re concerned about the Thorns, you’re probably not alone. The stats, however, were relatively even, a little too much so for Portland at home against a last-placed club.

Player of the Game: Carli Lloyd – Lloyd is a two-time World Player of the Year (and a runner-up last year), but her club career, particularly in NWSL, has seen mixed success. But the soon-to-be 36-year-old has been excellent in the last couple of games, and really took over in the second half, eventually winning a penalty and scoring.

Under the Radar: Adrianna Franch – She only made three saves, but a couple of them were huge, including off the foot of the aforementioned Imani Dorsey and late against Shea Groom.

Inside the Numbers: 16 – Combined minutes from Raquel Rodriguez and Christina Gibbons and Sky Blue had a great performance anyway.

Up next: Portland – Played again; Sky Blue – Played again

SATURDAY (recaps)

Orlando 0:3 North Carolina

What Went Down: Just your usual Courage first-half knockout punch in the form of three goals in three minutes, after they did a similar thing to another potential playoff opponent on the road in Seattle recently. And they did it without Jaelene Hinkle or Sam Mewis, and traded for Heather O’Reilly in mid-week so will soon have her on board as well.

Orlando played better in the second half, but will be really worried about its defense, which was shredded in that three-minute stretch. Monica particularly did not look on the same page as her teammates, and the back four didn’t get a whole lot of help from their midfield. Alex Morgan also got hurt, and although it didn’t look serious, every game is going to be crucial for the teams fighting for playoff berths.

Player of the Game: Debinha – She sometimes gets forgotten with all the other names the Courage throw at people, but her quality can be essential to winning games, as it was here.

Under the Radar: Kaleigh Kurtz – I mentioned about the lack of playing time for recent draft picks, but Kurtz, who wasn’t drafted, put another solid 90 minutes together in place of Hinkle to help the Courage post the clean sheet.

Inside the Numbers: 13 – Point lead at the top of the table for North Carolina, which means if they don’t get the NWSL Shield, you’ll have quite a story at the end of the summer.

Up next: Orlando – vs. Washington (Sat.); North Carolina – vs. Chicago (Wed.)

Utah 3:1 Sky Blue

What Went Down: This was perhaps the first time all season that Sky Blue’s defense looked anything like last year, despite their struggles in the standings. And for a team like Utah who struggles to score, it might have come at a perfect time. Domi Richardson, who has played fairly well this season, had a tough night, although Laura Harvey hopes Christen Press can make other defenses do so as well.

Harvey rested both Diana Matheson and Amy Rodriguez, and the Rodriguez omission could get interesting. It did look as if Katie Stengel pairs better with Press that Rodriguez does, although it was just one game against Sky Blue. In the end, the Royals still managed only 11 shots and just five on target.

Player of the Game: Katie Stengel – Stengel had perhaps the goal celebration of the campaign on her second, and on a team that struggles offensively as much as Utah has, maybe she will be an answer going forward.

Under the Radar: Gunnhildur Jonsdottir – She gets the Jess Fishlock weekly award for covering the most ground, including creating havoc in front of the Sky Blue goal in the first half to allow Press to score. They could use her in the opponents’ penalty area more often, but even for her, it’s hard to be everywhere.

Inside the Numbers: 45 – Minutes for Savannah McCaskill, who was brought on at halftime. Sky Blue is playing a lot of games, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.

Up next: Utah – at Portland (Fri.); Sky Blue – vs. Chicago (Sat.)

Seattle 1:0 Portland

What Went Down: Again, it’s not so much about the final result, road games can be hard and the Reign were obviously motivated. It also took until the late stages for Jodie Taylor to get her game-winner, but the Thorns were dominated in this game, never recording a shot on goal and perhaps the only thing not making the score worse with Adrianna Franch. They also probably should have been playing with 10 for 75 minutes after Meghan Klingenberg got away with a yellow card after kicking Allie Long (and leaving a pretty ghastly mark) away from the ball.

So now (although still without Tobin Heath) you have pretty good evidence that Portland’s season so far probably doesn’t deserve a playoff berth (it currently sits in sixth). There is still time to change that and Mark Parsons had gotten his team to play its best at the end of the season before, but it’s a struggle right now.

Player of the Game: Adrianna Franch – Franch will probably get some Player of the Week votes when her team went 0-1-1, which is not exactly what Portland envisioned when the week began.

Under the Radar: Elizabeth Addo – The Ghanaian put together a really good shift, as they say, occasionally dangerous on offense, but more importantly controlling the midfield for the Reign in the absence of Jess Fishlock.

Inside the Numbers: 0 – Number of shots on goal for Portland, which I just throw back in here because it illustrates how the game was played.

Up next: Seattle – vs. Houston (Sat.); Portland – vs. Utah (Fri.)

SUNDAY (recap)

Chicago 2:0 Washington

What Went Down: The Red Stars got three points, and they are extremely valuable ones, but it wasn’t a real complete performance from them against a struggling Spirit team. The pairing of Katie Naughton and Julie Ertz looked vulnerable to any kind of speed, which could make Wednesday’s game in North Carolina a rough one. Sam Kerr and Yuki Nagasato look like they are pairing well, but the Red Stars would like to see them more dangerous more often.

The Spirit continue to look rudderless, especially in the midfield. They did have half the possession and did attempt 15 shots, although only two of them were on frame. As things go for struggling teams, they appeared to have a clear penalty kick early in the second half (while trailing 1-0), on a Nikki Stanton handball, but it wasn’t given. Such is life.

Player of the Game: Yuki Nagasato – She scored on an amazing diving header, but she also adds plenty to Chicago every match to the point where it’s hard to see Rory Dames taking her out at this point.

Under the Radar: Ashley Hatch – You have to feel a little bit for last year’s Rookie of the Year, but she worked really hard in this game, at one point tracking Sam Kerr all the way back to her own box. She earned a yellow card for her troubles, but you can’t fault the effort.

Inside the Numbers: 5 – Consecutive times Washington has been shut out, which obviously is not good for winning games.

Up next: Chicago – at North Carolina (Wed.); Washington – at Orlando (Sat.)

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