Chris’ 2019 NWSL Draft Big Board Top 25 – Connolly A Clear #1

Positional Top Fives

GK

1. Rose Chandler – Penn State
2. Devon Kerr – Ohio State
3. Sarah Le Beau – Auburn
4. Ella Dederick – Washington State
5. Vera Varis – UCF

DEF

1. Alana Cook – Stanford
2. Kaleigh Riehl – Penn State
3. Natalie Jacobs – Notre Dame
4. Ellie Jean – Penn State
5. Ally Prisock – USC

MF

1. Megan Connolly – Florida State
2. Taylor Racioppi – Duke
3. Betsy Brandon – Virginia
4. Natalia Kuikka – Florida State
5. Jordan DiBiasi – Stanford

FW

1. Mimi Asom – Princeton
2. Michelle Xiao – Stanford
3. CeCe Kizer – Ole Miss
4. Leah Pruitt – San Diego State
5. Kyra Carusa – Stanford

Overall Top 25

1. Megan Connolly – MF (AMC) – Florida State

Quite simply on another level compared to the other freshmen in Division I in 2015. Connolly probably put together one of the best rookie seasons in recent memory at this level last season and could realistic stake a claim as one of the nation’s best players as she enters her sophomore season having already been named a first team All-American last season and a semi-finalist for the Hermann Trophy. Had some gigantic shoes to fill as a rookie coming in for Dagny Brynjarsdottir in the club’s #10 role in the 4-2-3-1 and now looks like she may have the potential to someday eclipse the Icelandic great in the annals of FSU history. Despite missing three games for international commitments with Ireland, Connolly still netted nine goals and ten assists, but her contributions were more than just what she got on the stat sheet, as her presence at the heart of the attack helped free up the rest of the club’s frontrunners. Connolly’s ability to make things happen and make everyone else around her better is undoubtable, and the Irish international could make history as the first foreign player to be taken #1 if she decides to stay on these shores. If she doesn’t, Connolly will surely be a hot commodity for any ambitious European club.

2. Alana Cook – D (CB) – Stanford

The Card got a stud and a half with Cook, who looks like the crown jewel in another outstanding recruiting class for Paul Ratcliffe’s program. All Cook did as a rookie was step right into a defense that has built a legacy of being a brick wall and partner Maddie Bauer to give Stanford one of the best center-back duos in the nation. Cook had been a mainstay at U17 level coming into Stanford but hadn’t really seen her career ignite at U20 level to follow but put together a brilliant rookie season, winning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors to go along with many other plaudits celebrating her season. Netted three goals to go with her superlative defensive play and should again partner with Bauer in central defense to dominate opposing offenses this year. Cook had worked her way back into the reckoning for the U20 World Cup after last season but looks set to miss out like her Stanford brethren after the controversial redshirt requirement was enacted. It just means the New Jersey native will have to do her best on the backline of a national title contender in 2016.

3. Taylor Racioppi – MF (AMC) – Duke

Another of the youngsters who made the U.S. U20 World Cup roster during the ill-fated 2014 cycle, Racioppi probably put some of the hard lessons learned during that tournament to good use during last year’s dream season for the Blue Devils. Racioppi was miscast as a makeshift center-forward early on for Duke at times last season which definitely isn’t her game, but the Blue Devil offense really got going once Racioppi slid back into a more natural attacking midfield role. Led Duke in assists with six as a rookie and finished second in goals with seven, though her efficiency numbers were ghastly, and many of those goals and assists didn’t come against elite competition. Blue Devils were pretty young in parts in the attack, so Racioppi’s play could grow exponentially as the supporting cast around her matures. Figures to have Duke contending for more College Cup berths in the next few years, but Racioppi is likely to be one of the main keys for success for this year’s U20 World Cup team as a likely starter for the competition.

4. Kaleigh Riehl – D (CB) – Penn State

A lynchpin for the U20 team for the U.S. and all but assured of a spot on the final roster for the 2016 edition of the event should she keep herself in the running for a spot. Riehl quickly established herself as not just one of the best freshmen defenders in the country last season but one of the college game’s best overall defenders after anchoring a backline that carried PSU to their first national title. Started all twenty-seven matches as a rookie and went the distance in eighteen of those matches while being the glue in the middle of a very young back four. Not a prolific scorer or assister from her center-back spot but good for the odd goal or assist and saved them for some pretty big matches as a rookie. I’m not quite sure if she’s a franchise cornerstone type of player yet, but Riehl currently tracks out as a player with great pro potential after last year and will be looking to raise her profile again at the U20 World Cup this year.

5. Natalie Jacobs – D (CB), F (RF) – Notre Dame

First things first, is she a center-back or is she a forward? Jacobs plays centrally for the U.S. U20s but featured frequently as a right-forward in the Irish’s 4-3-3 as a freshman last season, so there’s certainly versatility there if nothing else. Came into South Bend as one of last year’s most heavily hyped recruits and did well as a rookie for the perennial ACC contender, starting fifteen matches for the club. There is a worry that Jacobs didn’t particularly show an acute touch in front of goal though, taking fifty-two shots as a freshman but just scoring four times to go with a brutal 40.4% SOG mark. Five assists help her cause, but if her efficiency numbers can’t improve, it might be time for a full-time switch back to central defense. It’s tough envisioning Jacobs not being on the U20 team for the Fall’s U20 World Cup, so her timetable could get pushed back, but regardless, the competition in Papua New Guinea is likely to be a big determinant of where Jacobs’ stock ends up after this year.

6. Betsy Brandon – MF (DMC) – Virginia

Given the success of Morgan Brian and Danielle Colaprico in the NWSL after coming through the proving ground of Virginia’s midfield, anybody that can start in Charlottesville as a freshman is immediately going to be pop up on the radar of scouts as a potential star of the future. So it is with Brandon, who isn’t in the class of the above duo yet but who also was mighty impressive as a rookie with the Cavs last year, starting all but one match, no small feat considering the sheer talent on UVA’s roster. Brandon was used as a deep midfielder in the club’s 4-4-2 diamond system which probably kept her offensive stats down but also might prepare her for a Colaprico-esque regista role at the next level. Brandon came into Charlottesville as a player on the fringe of the U20 team and doesn’t look particularly likely to feature at this Fall’s U20 World Cup based on recent call-ups, but that just might mean she’ll be well placed to be one of the nation’s best sophomores in 2016. Either way, we should know a lot more about Brandon’s long-term potential if she can continue to develop this year in the always brutally difficult ACC.

7. Mimi Asom – F – Princeton

Despite coming into college with a handful of accolades, I doubt too many believed that Asom would be as good as she was as a rookie for the Tigers last season. Even though Princeton and other Ivy League schools are at a disadvantage by starting their season a little later than other conferences, Asom still managed to net twelve goals as a rookie en route to Ivy League Rookie of the Year honors. And they weren’t a hollow twelve goals either. Asom netted six goals against RPI Top 100 teams and three against RPI Top 50 teams as a rookie, including a brace against Boston College in their upset of the Eagles in the NCAA Tournament. Her efficiency numbers were pristine as well, leading to Asom looking like a top forward prospect for this draft class on paper. The question, as is always the case with small school prospects, is if Asom will be able to develop enough in a few years given the easier schedule than say if she was at an ACC or Pac-12 school. If she can slide into the U20 World Cup team, a possibility after offseason call-ups, some of those questions could be answered this Fall.

8. Natalia Kuikka – MF (AML) – Florida State

An absolute assassin with the ball at her feet. The type of winger that can stop on a dime or turn defenders inside out with her skills on the ball. Made a tremendous first impression with the Seminoles by scoring six goals and adding five assists en route to many honors, including being named the ACC Tournament MVP after the Noles overcame Virginia. Was able to settle surprisingly quickly in Tallahassee despite being called away for international duty with Finland last season, something that figures to continue for the next three years, as Kuikka, like teammate Emma Koivisto looks like a crucial part of her nation’s footballing future. Did serious damage on the wing last year, but she might be tried out as a center forward this year as the club tries to replace Cheyna Williams and Berglind Thorvalsdottir. Efficiency numbers are decent for a winger but still could be improved a bit. A Kuikka with even more upside is a frightening thought considering how well she showed as a rookie in 2015.

9. Michelle Xiao – F (LF, RF) – Stanford

Not your typical Stanford forward. Less a silky passer than a slashing winger, Xiao added an interesting and unique dimension to the sometimes overcontemplative Cardinal attack as a rookie in 2015. Like some of her other fellow Stanford freshmen, Xiao found a role in the starting lineup early as a rookie and didn’t let up, starting all but one of the Card’s matches as a freshman. Netted a handful of goals last year, including the team’s lone strike against Duke in the Elite Eight, but her usage rate and efficiency numbers were pretty poor for a forward on an elite team, as she scored those five goals on fifty-five shots and finished with just a 34.5% SOG mark. Gets too individualistic at times trying to do too much by herself. Has tools and potential and definitely could be valued as an out-and-out winger at the next level if she develops.

10. Ellie Jean – D (RB) – Penn State

The nation’s best freshman full-back last year and potentially one of the nation’s best defenders, period, by the time she graduates, Jean’s emergence at right-back was a major reason why Penn State finally won the national title in 2015. Long a fixture at multiple levels of the U.S. youth national teams, Jean saved much of her best work for the NCAA Tournament, grabbing assists in the wins over Ohio State and West Virginia to help propel the Nittany Lions to glory. Finished with six assists overall in a sensational rookie campaign. Started twenty-one matches as a rookie and should continue to grow even better in the future as she matures alongside a young backline for PSU. Was a member of the most recent U.S. U20 camp and could, along with many of her teammates on the Nittany Lions, be bound for the U20 World Cup which could potentially tell us much more about her possible upside as a pro though while potentially pushing her timetable back a season.

11. CeCe Kizer – F (CF) – Ole Miss

Has been at the heart of probably the most dramatic jump in reputation after her freshman season for this class. Kizer entered Ole Miss like much of the Rebels’ other prospects, as somebody who had shown decently at times as a youth product but without many of the accolades that even other SEC freshmen had racked up during their club days. All Kizer would do as a rookie was score fourteen goals to pace one of the nation’s most dangerous attacks and do it on just fifty-four shots, with seven match winning goals to her name. Seven goals against RPI Top 100 teams shows Kizer wasn’t just a flat-track bully either, and the Rebels will be looking for more of the same as she moves forward. Kizer got a brief look at the U20 World Cup roster in the offseason, but it doesn’t appear likely that she’ll make the final cut, which just means she’ll have to bully SEC defenses this Fall. In a spot that does well to get its forwards scoring opportunities, so she could post gaudy numbers for another three years and maintain this lofty standing if she can prove she’s not a one year wonder.

12. Ally Prisock – D (CB) – USC

It’s a rarity when a player from the Trojans overshadows those from state rivals Stanford and UCLA in this department, but Prisock showed the potential to be an absolute gem as a rookie with the club last year. Had been well in favor with the U.S. youth teams up to a point, as she seemingly faded from the scene before really getting a shot at U20 level before coming to the Trojans last year. Prisock showed why that might have been a mistake, as the rookie was at the heart of the Pac-12’s best defense, starting all twenty-three games last season and eating up minutes as a center-back. Doesn’t provide much going forward, and this is a loaded class, so this might be a bit generous. But head coach Keidane McAlpine has also constructed some mean defenses at his various stops over the years, meaning Prisock could yet fight for a spot in the opening rounds. Got a recall to the U.S. U19s earlier in the offseason, so she may yet have a shot at her forcing her way into the U20 team for the World Cup this Fall.

13. Jordan DiBiasi – MF (CM) – Stanford

Like fellow pass masters Virginia, Stanford cranks out midfielders that can go at the next level like a conveyor belt, and DiBiasi looks a good bet to be one of the next to get a shot if she can replicate her promising freshman season. The Colorado native proved youth wasn’t a hindrance last year, as she won a starting spot right away and didn’t budge all season, starting every match as a central midfielder in the Card’s 4-3-3. Had fellow Card Alana Cook not won Pac-12 Freshman of The Year honors, DiBiasi probably would have been next in line, such were her contributions for the Pac-12 champs as a rookie. DiBiasi may be a bit of a different midfielder than the true playmakers of the past, like Teresa Noyola, as she had just one assist as a rookie, but McGrady had the game winning strike in all four matches she scored in, all against teams that made the NCAA Tournament. That clutch factor could hold in her good stead with Stanford likely to play many big matches in the next three years, and more of those strikes could have DiBiasi land in the first round in 2019.

14. Tegan McGrady – D (LB) – Stanford

Left-backs don’t grow on trees, and when one is as impressive as McGrady was despite not fully featuring all season, you know she’s going to be near the top of a draft board. Though McGrady played in just sixteen games and started just nine due to injuries and a glut of other defenders on the roster, she made a distinct impression in the time she did get, racking up some big-time assists in Pac-12 matches against the Oregon schools and Washington, where the Card won all three matches en route to a league title. It remains to be seen if she can hold off Stephanie Amack for the role full-time, but McGrady was certainly in favor as the starter at left-back towards the end of the league season. Seemed like a natural contender for a spot on the U20 World Cup roster, but Michelle French’s controversial redshirt policy may mean McGrady’s doing her damage on these shores this Fall, which could see her draft stock rise higher if she continues to impress.

15. Leah Pruitt – F (CF) – San Diego State

Prospects like Pruitt don’t end up at places like San Diego State, but the Californian lived up to advance billing as a rookie for the Aztecs, winning Freshman of the Year honors in the Mountain West in 2015. Came in on the U20 radar, and though she’s fallen from that squad it seems, Pruitt was a terror up front for the Aztecs as a rookie. Ten goals and nine assists was a great haul, and considering SDSU scored forty-one goals on the season, Pruitt had a hand in just about half of the club’s strikes. Efficiency numbers weren’t great, so she could sharpen up on those a bit, and Pruitt also needs to show she can do it against the biggest opposition, which should be possible if SDSU keeps playing ambitious non-conference schedules. A big, physical center forward type who could develop into someone who could lead the line at the next level. A talented supporting cast should mean Pruitt has plenty of chances to shine over the next three years.

16. Kyra Carusa – F (CF) – Stanford

Good things come to those who wait, and Stanford got a gem in 2015 after Carusa made a major impact after missing all of 2014. The redshirt freshman ended up being one of the nation’s best freshman forwards by slotting in as the team’s #9 at the top of the 4-3-3 and finishing with five goals and six assists. That may not sound like much on paper, but Carusa was a magnet for game winning goals and assists, often against some of the stiffest opponents the Card faced last season. The question is if Carusa can produce enough to be a #9 at the next level, as most of her best work came from helping everyone else around her be better. Obviously, she should get better with age, and Carusa was playing with a young supporting cast, but the key now is to find that next level to get into double figures scoring herself. Given the galaxy of attacking talent to help her out in Palo Alto, you wouldn’t put it past Carusa to get it done.

17. Courtney Petersen – MF, D (LB) – Virginia

Still a bit of a mystery after playing as a key reserve for most of 2015. Petersen was thought to be one of the likely stars of the freshman class last year but ended up having to bide her time coming off the bench on a loaded Cavs squad, though she did start against Florida State as a left wing-back, showcasing some of her versatility. Still looked the part of a player that could make a big impact after three goals and three assists as a rookie for the ACC powerhouse. Appears to still be in the frame for the U20 World Cup next season, so we might not get to see what Petersen can do as a key cog at college level for another year yet, but it’ll be interesting to see if the Michigan native can make a bigger impact at youth international level if she makes the final squad for the U20 WC.

18. Emily Bates – MF (AMC), F (CF) – Texas A&M

Was the straw the stirred the drink for Texas A&M as a rookie. Was a key figure all season long for the Aggies, and the four matches she missed through injury coincided with the club’s only back-to-back losses on the season. Had seemingly been overshadowed by fellow signee Ally Watt upon joining the team but proved to be an astute addition with a fantastic freshman season. Netted seven goals as a rookie along with six assists, including key strikes against Ole Miss and LSU late in the season. Big question is if Bates has a position at the next level, as she’s too small to hold up as a center forward in the pros and may face some trouble as an attacking central midfielder as well. Aggies churn out offensive prospects though, and Bates looks like another that could make the jump if she continues to develop.

19. Sam Staab – D (CB) – Clemson

Californian has risen from obscurity upon entering Clemson to being one of the most promising young defenders in the nation after one year with the Tigers. Despite not coming into this level with much of any accolades from her youth days, Staab ended up being one of the best rookie center-backs in the nation after being put through the crucible of the ACC last year. Started all of Clemson’s matches as a freshman and helped anchor one of the nation’s stingiest defenses. Also showed a surprisingly acute touch for a center-back, with a team high seven assists last year. Got a look into U19 camp in the offseason and is probably a longshot for the U20 World Cup team but has upside for sure at this level. Some big hitters at CB in this class, but don’t be surprised if Staab ends up as one of the best defenders in this class if she keeps developing.

20. Kelcie Hedge – F (LF, RF) – Washington

Winger came into Washington as one of the Huskies’ best ever recruits and lived up to the billing for most of her rookie season with the club. Touted as a midfielder in the youth ranks but played mostly out wide on the frontline on both flanks for UW last season. Was one of the primary attacking options on a typically goal shy Washington side in 2015 and tied for third in goals with four, though on pretty poor efficiency numbers overall. Scored some big ones with those goals though, so the hope has to be that her offensive game develops more over the next few years. Still in the frame for the U20 World Cup this season, which would push her timeline for the draft back at least one year in all likelihood. UW’s had offensive prospects that have tantalized on paper but have struggled to put it all together after four years before, so it’ll be interesting to see if she can avoid stagnation in Seattle.

21. Rose Chandler – GK – Penn State

Probably one of the odder cases you’ll see in some time. Chandler has been with Penn State for two seasons and played in just five games of relief work for the Nittany Lions and could well miss all of this season as well if she makes the U20 World Cup roster this Fall. That could mean that Chandler may leave college with just two seasons as a starter under her belt having already used her redshirt season in 2014. Normally, such a circumstance would have a player nowhere near the ranked portion of this board, much less as this class’ top GK on paper, but Chandler has a long history of success at youth international level and may start for the U20s at the World Cup this Fall. Of course, it’d probably be more reassuring if we’d seen it consistently at college level, and Chandler’s a bit undersized at 5’7” but still looks like this class’ top prospect in goal right now. The U20 WWC could be crucial for her stock if she starts for the U.S.

22. Kaycie Tillman – MF (RW) – Florida State

Highly tipped prospect was somewhat overshadowed as a rookie by players like Megan Connolly and Natalia Kuikka, but Tillman was still a big reason why the Noles’ offense ripped opposing defenses apart. Still a bit raw but has the physical tools to potentially be a big factor at the next level. Like most Florida State wide players, Tillman racked up the assists last season, finishing third on the team with eight assists and proved amazingly durable for an offensive player, starting every match as a rookie for the Noles. Was a U17 team regular before coming to FSU but has fallen onto the bubble for the U20 World Cup squad. Figures to rack up assists again over the next three seasons given the Noles’ consistent ability in front of goal. Talented, true, wingers rarer than you might think in pros, so she could yet rise higher on this list.

23. Sura Yekka – D (RB) – Michigan

Canadian looked to be on a rocket ship to fame just a few years ago, as she was a part of the Canadian WNT late in 2013 for a series of friendlies but has since fallen out of favor with the full national team. Bumped back down to U17 level for the 2014 U17 World Cup, Yekka figures to be a big part of her nation’s hopes for the U20 World Cup this year. Took a while to settle in Ann Arbor but was one of the Big Ten’s best young defenders towards the end of the season. Didn’t have a huge impact offensively on the stat sheet last year, but Michigan routinely turns out excellent defenders. Needs to show she can do it against top opposition consistently.

24. Dorian Bailey – MF – North Carolina

Highly tipped to be in the running for the U20 World Cup team after having featured heavily at U17 level a few years back before coming to UNC. Looked like a potential star early as a freshman in the midfield for the Tar Heels, notching two goals and three assists in thirteen matches as she helped invigorate an occasionally stagnant attack. Versatile enough to play multiple positions, and it’ll be interesting to see if she sticks in midfield considering Anson Dorrance’s willingness to move players around later in their college careers. Torn ACL in middle of freshman season likely will keep her off the U20 World Cup team, and it will be interesting if she can maintain last year’s promising form after such a major injury.

25. Ally Watt – F (RF) – Texas A&M

Late bloomer really didn’t break onto the national scene as a youth player until late 2014 but has put herself in with an outside chance of sticking on the U.S. U20 roster for the U20 World Cup. Has the physical tools and upside to develop into a threat on the wing at the next level but was frustratingly inconsistent at times as a rookie with the Aggies. Can be wound up and doesn’t always respond to frustration in a positive manner. Has a reasonable nose for goal but efficiency numbers need to be improved upon for her to grow into her potential.

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