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The Lowdown: Tierna Davidson’s decision will shape NWSL Draft

The NWSL released the latest list of draft eligible players on Tuesday, but in a deadline that defies logic, players still have until Wednesday afternoon to register. The draft is Thursday at noon EST.

As we reported last week, Hailie Mace is on the list, but the most glaring name not included is Tierna Davidson. The league made a major change to the draft eligibility rules this year making underclasswomen eligible to declare. Davidson has one more year of eligibility left and is expected to be on the United States’ World Cup roster this summer. If she declares it is likely U.S. Soccer would make her a Federation Player and not part of her NWSL club’s salary cap. She is also expected to be the most sought-after player on the draft.

“The thing that makes it difficult is that with the late deadline you really don’t know until the day before the draft who’s coming in and who isn’t.” Rory Dames, whose Chicago Red Stars control the No. 1 overall pick, said last week. “Sometimes some of the players you think would go with the (top three) picks are the last ones to come in.”

Dames is in a fascinating position. His team has been to the playoffs four years in a row and is good enough to contend in 2019. Davidson could shore up the defense and give Dames major flexibility with his back seven. But U.S. World Cup players are likely to be gone for all but about three games until the U.S. team’s tournament ends.

“It’s an interesting question because the better the player the easier to integrate,” Dames said. “If we’re going to talk about Tierna specifically, Tierna is obviously very familiar with Julie (Ertz), very familiar with Alyssa (Naeher)…so if Tierna’s the one you’re specifically asking me about, I think that integration comes pretty quick. Because she’s already played a significant time with a lot of those players, and assume that she comes out of college and into the draft she is going to spend a tremendous amount of time with those players over the next six months anyway.

“I’m going to use a comparison for no other reason than it’s the player people are speculating about with Hailie…Hailie is a player that you’ll have for the whole year. Hailie has different physical attributes and a different skill set than Tierna does. That’s the mixture. If you get her, you get her, and you have her for 12 months. If you get Tierna there is a good chance you don’t have her for half the season.”

Hailie Mace (Photo credit: Percy Anderson)

Dames also mentioned that adding Davidson to the Red Stars could create issues if the league expands in 2020 (cue Groundhog Day theme music…) teams will likely be limited as to the number of allocated players they can protect in an expansion draft, which makes her long-term value slightly less for teams already loaded up on Federation Players.

Speaking of value, the quiet trade market this offseason is due in part to the lack of knowledge about Davidson’s draft status. Her inclusion would severely alter the value of some of the top selections for trade. Dames said he believes there are six players in the draft that can make an immediate impact for him, and considering he also holds the 6th and 7th picks, the inclusion of Davidson is quite a big deal.

“If the players that we’re interested in are not there when our picks come, we won’t pick just to pick. Then we’ll look to see what the value of those picks are others.”

Denise Reddy of Sky Blue is sitting behind Dames with Nos. 2 and 3, and like her Chicago counterpart knows the value of those picks hangs in the balance based on the final draft list. “Right now I’m going into the draft assuming I’m using 2 and 3. But you never know. You have to be open.”

EXTRA: Rory Dames on holding the No. 1 pick

Also at play is the growing notion that top college players do not want to play for Sky Blue and would be more likely to seek out options overseas if selected by the embattled New Jersey club. Reddy said she has not heard any of that and that she has spoken with several players in the mix to be taken with the team’s two first round picks. However a source close to several college players said it is a “big, big issue coming up.”

The Washington Spirit and North Carolina Courage round out the top five. The Spirit only this week officially announced Richie Burke as their new head coach and he has yet to comment publicly on the draft. The Courage, who also have No. 9, are in an incredibly envious position with their two first rounders on top of the best team in NWSL. They will have options, as will the Red Stars at 6 and 7. The Spirit are also in at No. 8.

Noticing the trend, only four of the nine teams are in the 1st round. That means there are more teams out of the 1st round than in it.

The Dash are in a strong position despite nothing in the 1st round. The side entered the week holding Nos. 12, 13, 16, and 18. Those picks could go a long way toward determining if the Dash can finally become a playoff team under new head coach James Clarkson. The Thorns have the No. 17 pick and nothing again until No. 35.

That leaves three teams outside the first two rounds including the Seattle Reign who are currently without a pick. Their coach, Vlatko Andonovski, famously marched into his 2012 interview with FC Kansas City ownership armed with a binder that included profiles on more than 100 potential draft picks. You can be sure Andonovski will be trying to maneuver his way back into the fray on Thursday.

It is no surprise to see the Royals and Pride outside the upper echelons of the draft. This will be Laura Harvey’s seventh draft and while it will be her first time sitting out the Top 20 (the Royals first pick is No. 23), she has made only one top five pick—Carson Pickett at No. 4 in 2016.

This could change with trades but as of last week, Harvey said she was not anticipating moving up and added that: “The draft has a bit of a weird feel this year.”

The Royals, of course, got their fill of this year’s draft when they traded the No. 1 overall pick to the Red Stars last June in the deal than landed them Christen Press.

The Pride have been chasing the draft since they stormed into the league with a megadeal that got them Alex Morgan. They also still have no formal announcement of a head coach (The Equalizer‘s Jeff Kassouf and Kieran Theivam report that it will be Marc Skinner) and until recently had no general manager either. The Pride’s two picks are No. 25 and No. 30.

Free Kicks

-Call me contrarian, but my gut is that Davidson does not wind up a Red Star. Whether that means she does not declare, gets passed over or the pick traded, I’m not sure. And I’ll probably be wrong.

-I’ll be blown away if the Reign don’t make a pick.

Photo Copyright Lewis Gettier for The Equalizer

-Word on the street is that Sofia Huerta and Megan Oyster are among players being thrown around for potential trades. Doesn’t mean either of them will get moved at the draft or after.

-I’m sure there will be trades this week. Just ask Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler.

But I’m starting to think the offseason really has been as quiet as it has sounded. Harvey joked: “I thought my phone was broke.”

Don’t forget that rosters are expanding so the deeper teams like the Courage and Red Stars don’t need to move players to add players. That has to be a factor in the soft trade market.

-Clearly the Red Stars have a trade waiting to be announced. That aside I’ll be shocked if they make all three 1st round picks.

-Want to watch the draft? The whole thing will be live streamed starting at 12:00 p.m. EST. Marisa Pilla and Jen Cooper will be joined by draft rookie Lori Lindsey. Watch it via nwslsoccer.com, YouTube, Facebook, or the NWSL App. Special guests will be sprinkled throughout.

-If you’re in Chicago, the draft is open to the public (11:00 a.m. local time) at the Skyline Ballroom at McCormick Place in Chicago. On Wednesday night the Red Stars supporters group will be hosting pre draft events.

-If you’re on the fence about attending, I highly recommend. No matter how many drafted players are in the room, the energy and emotion are sublime. I spoke with Ohio State goalkeeper Devon Kerr last week about the draft: “I’m really excited to come to Chicago and be in that environment and be with all the other potential draftees.” The keeper position is almost a draft within a draft and as rosters currently stand no team needs a first-choice keeper. At the same time, roster expansion probably means everyone will carry three. “I’ve had to wrap my mind around (the lack of open keeper jobs), but I’ve always been driven to play at the highest level possible for me and I’m aware of how competitive it is. I personally love being in competitive environments and even if I was to come in as a second or third goalkeeper, I’m the type of person that wants to push myself in any given environment and learn from the goalkeepers ahead of me.”

A final word for Patrick Donnelly

In closing I would like to wish good luck to Patrick Donnelly, who is leaving the NWSL this week after six years as the league’s head of communications. Through the years, Patrick has been available for all different inquiries, always quick with a polite response even to the toughest and most uncomfortable questions. We did not always see eye to eye on matters of NWSL communication and dispensing of information, but I always felt we trusted that each was acting in the best interest of the league and its coverage.

On a more personal level, when a few colleagues helped me launch the NWSL Media Association a few years ago, Patrick offered us immediate encouragement and legitimacy. Over the last few years his work with the NWSL MA has been instrumental in helping improve the way the NWSL is covered.

I’ll close with a quick anecdote about the always mild-mannered Patrick Donnelly. A few years ago I was sitting with Patrick and his intern and I jokingly asked the intern Mike Madera how often Patrick slammed his desk in frustration about yet another email from me. To know Patrick is to know that would run completely counter to his personality. But he shot the intern a smile and said: “Be careful how you answer that!”

Good luck, Patrick. NWSL is better for your involvement.

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