Well, you can’t argue that Paul Riley’s deviating from form as far as his attitude towards the college draft is concerned. In 2010 and 2011, Riley’s drafting wasn’t exactly stellar, with most of the Independence’s picks washing out in preseason. Those that did survive the cull often didn’t get off the bench, with 2011 first rounder Sinead Farrelly the only draftee to make an immediate impact. Ironically, the Independence’s draft for the doomed 2012 WPS season featured six draftees…five of whom played in the NWSL last season, and the other, Sarah Hagen, starred in Germany.
So it’s apparent that Riley does have an eye for rookie talent, it’s just one he doesn’t seem to be eager to use all that often. He was eager to trade for Michelle Betos to shore up the club’s backup goalkeeping situation in a move that looked rather simple considering the netminder having played for Riley previously. There was also the move to trade back for Meleana Shim after the Santa Clara alum had been taken by Houston in the expansion draft. Riley spoke of Shim’s value being more than that of a second round pick, a piece they gave up in the trade, but the rationalizing smacked of someone trying to cover for the front office’s blunder in having let her go unprotected in the first place. The Thorns arguably came into the draft with the league’s most talent rich roster, but the club can’t keep shedding assets as in the Shim and Nikki Marshall trades and hope to not pay a steep price in the long-term.
Neither of Portland’s draftees figure to be major contributors in 2014. Emily Menges won’t arrive until a few months into the season as she finishes school and will likely be no better than a reserve utility defender as a rookie, while Elisabeth Sullivan faces steep odds to crack this roster. In other words, it’s business as usual for a team helmed by Paul Riley.
25 – Emily Menges – D – Georgetown
Paul Riley’s famous antipathy towards the draft process continued unabated this season, with the Thorns, already short on picks, trading out of their early second round slot and only making their first pick late in the third round. All things considered, Portland didn’t come into this draft with very many holes anyway, so it’s perhaps understandable as to their draft strategy. That being said, they got some nice value with their first pick, taking a solid defender in Emily Menges. A lightning fast back out of Georgetown, Menges really rounded into one of the nation’s top defenders her final two years in the nation’s capital. She’d be no better than fourth choice at center-back to open the season though, so perhaps her pace might invite a move out wide, where the club does not have as much depth. Menges will also be finishing school before heading to Portland, meaning she may miss at least the first month of the season. With that in mind, Menges might find it tough to break into this team upon her arrival, though she does have a fair amount of upside for the future.
31 – Elisabeth Sullivan – F – Mississippi State
Head scratcher. With more refined prospects like Kristen Hamilton or Micaela Castain, or even Christabel Oduro if Portland was willing to part with an international slot, it doesn’t really make much sense to take Sullivan, whose numbers were grossly inflated by Mississippi State’s laughable non-conference scheduling. Sullivan scored just two goals against RPI Top 50 clubs this season, tied for fourteenth among seniors who scored ten or more goals this season. Three of her eight goals in league play came when woeful MSU was down by multiple goals, and her shots per goal ratio in the SEC was an unimpressive 6.63 shots per goal. Sullivan does boast a fantastic shots on goal ratio that didn’t dip, even in league play, while also possessing no small degree of pace. But she’ll have to show much more than that to stick here, and given Paul Riley’s historical apathy towards playing rookies, one wonders how much time she’ll really see if she does stick.