NWSL – 2017 NWSL Draft – Chris’ Big Board Top 26

Hello everyone. Instead of making everyone wait for the full edition, here are the Top 25 on my Big Board after the 2016 season, only considering players that have officially declared as of today. If you read the earlier version of the Big Board posted this past Summer, you can skip the “What I Said Before 2016” section for each prospect and just move onto the “Anything New?” section for each prospect.

EDIT: I’ve added YouTube highlight videos for players that have them. Click on the player’s name where applicable.

EDIT 2: This post has been edited to reflect additional prospects who have entered the draft.

I’ll be posting profiles of the rest of the prospects ranked on my board later in the week.

1. Rose Lavelle – MF (MC) – Wisconsin

What I Said Before 2016:

On the precipice of a breakthrough at senior international level, Lavelle looks to be a dead certainty to be one of the top two picks in January’s draft, and could end up going #1 overall depending on team need. While Lavelle was a highly touted player coming into Wisconsin, few probably envisioned her rising to this level after four seasons in the college ranks. But Lavelle was an instant star for the Badgers, winning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors and raking in awards by the bucketful since at an individual level, including a pair of All-America honors her past two seasons in Madison. Some might argue that Lavelle’s high volume shooting can be problematic at times, but given the dearth of weapons around Lavelle at times, it’s a lot more understandable. Lavelle impresses just as much with her ability to keep the game simple with short passes as she does with her runs with the ball from midfield. It’s those runs with the ball at warp speed that captivate the eye and make the quick footed Lavelle such a threat to opposing defenses. But most are probably starving for the opportunity to see Lavelle in an offense with superior players to see what the midfield schemer can really do.

Anything New?

Lavelle played in a deeper midfield role for much of 2016, which may help her draft stock, but it probably didn’t do much to enhance a toothless Wisconsin attack. She still played well and is an easy first round pick and potential #1 though thanks to her upside. I don’t think she’s a can’t miss player, but I do think Lavelle is a sturdy building block for someone in the midfield.

2. Christina Gibbons – D/MF – Duke

What I Said Before 2016:

Duke’s Swiss army knife really began to rise to prominence in 2014 when she battled her way onto the U.S.’ U20 World Cup team and held her own at left-back for most of the tournament. It underlined Gibbons’ ability at youth international level after having impressed early on in her Blue Devils career, when she had started every match as a rookie while looking like one of the best young defenders in the country. Gibbons continued to grow as a sophomore despite battling injuries late and showcased her versatility in taking up a more offensive role for the Blue Devils as they searched for goals. But Gibbons only really took the leap to the next level for Duke last season, helping marshal one of the nation’s best defenses. With Gibbons playing multiple roles for Duke over the course of the season, she excelled both defensively and going forward, netting three goals and five assists in an All-America season for Duke as they made a thrilling run to the College Cup final. Her versatility in being able to play just about anywhere on the pitch should help her cause, though you have to figure she’ll find her best role at full-back, the role she filled at the U20 World Cup.

Anything New?

Gibbons played more of an offensive role as a senior out of necessity as the Blue Devils were crushed by injuries. That they were able to get to the Elite Eight and within one win of an ACC title is a massive credit to their senior class, including Gibbons, who continues to look like a star in the making. The big question is, where on the pitch will it be? Conceivably, Gibbons could be a utility player used where needed. Regardless, she looks like a very good bet for the first round.

3. Savannah Jordan – F (CF) – Florida

What I Said Before 2016:

The active scoring leader in DI going into 2016 has been an unholy terror with the ball at her feet for three seasons for the Gators. Jordan made the best first impression possible as a freshman, scoring twenty-two goals for Florida, one of the best hauls in history at this level for a rookie. It’s been a steady deluge of goals ever since for Jordan, who topped nineteen goals as a sophomore with last season’s twenty-four goals and seven assists. While Jordan’s not lightning quick, she has enough of a burst and accompanying strength to separate from most opposing defenders. And if Jordan gets a sight of goal within eighteen yards, it’s almost assured that she’s going to be celebrating a goal. If the team that drafts her doesn’t try to get cute and do something daft like put her out on the wing, Jordan is going to be a dangerous scoring presence at the next level for years to come.

Anything New?

Jordan was still pretty good in 2016 but not quite the analytics darling that she was in her junior season. She still finished tied for seventeenth all-time in D1 career goals though and was still one of the nation’s top forwards. And yet the clarion call of “she’s not quick enough” has been uttered in some circles. As was the case with Makenzy Doniak last season, some teams never learn, and Jordan should still be a fine pro going forward with the right fit.

4. Ashley Hatch – F (CF) – BYU

What I Said Before 2016:

Brute force on a football pitch personified, Hatch is a still somewhat raw talent at forward but one with no shortage of upside to her game through three seasons. A highly touted rookie coming into Provo, Hatch still was clearly getting her feet under her at this level as a rookie but still managed six goals and seven assists to raise expectations heading into her sophomore season. That was a breakout season for Hatch, who scored a stunning eighteen goals to help fire BYU to WCC honors and to establish herself as one of the nation’s best forwards. 2015 would not be a season to remember for Hatch though, as she suffered through an injury riddled season, which saw her miss eight matches and look limited in the final three matches of the season in which she returned. But even before being felled by injury, Hatch was struggling, as the Arizona native scored just four goals in ten matches with a rather absurdly bad efficiency mark, with the powerful forward needing seventy-six shots to score those four goals. She has the potential to be a big time target forward at the next level, but Hatch could slip to the later rounds or out of draft consideration if she can’t find her scoring form coming into 2016.

Anything New?

Problem solved. Hatch stayed healthy and found her scoring form, netting nineteen goals with great efficiency numbers. The smoldering form she found early on earned a call-up to the USWNT mid-season, and it’s a sure sign that Hatch is in the frame to be one of the top picks in this year’s draft. When on form, Hatch is clearly an elite level talent and one that could add some goals to any NWSL club’s attack. Replicating the chemistry she had in Provo with a veteran group of attacking teammates could be tough early on though, but the long-term potential for Hatch is huge.

5. Morgan Andrews – MF (AMC) – USC

What I Said Before 2016:

You know Andrews’ story by this point. A prep phenom who was touted breathlessly as the next big thing, Andrews was already being tipped for glory with the USWNT by the time she stepped foot in South Bend for Notre Dame. The hype definitely seemed real in her freshman season with the Irish, as Andrews won ACC Freshman of the Year honors after a seven goal, five assist season for the national powerhouse. And then things went bad for Andrews, who failed to make the U.S. U20 team for the U20 World Cup in 2014 after lackluster appearances at youth international level. It started a tailspin which saw Andrews gradually fall out of favor in South Bend despite starting every match for the club and putting up solid stats, with her occupying a spot on the bench for UND in crunch time in the NCAA Tournament likely signaling the necessity for a divorce from the Irish. A transfer out west to USC followed, and an up and down season ended with All-America honors, likely on the back of a rather stunning late season run. Andrews’ draft stock largely depends on how well she can lead a team that looks like a College Cup contender on paper in 2016. I could easily see her go in the Top 5 with a big season, but I also think Andrews is more of a boom or bust prospect than some will want to admit.

Anything New?

Well, mission accomplished as far as the College Cup is concerned. Those questions about whether a team with Andrews topping the ticket could win anything were settled in the affirmative as Andrews helped USC win the national title. But the last part of the last sentence of the above still rings true. Assessments are still mixed on Andrews from some NWSL personnel after some inconsistent displays and some questions about her pace at the professional level.  She doesn’t seem like the type of player best suited for a massive rebuilding project but could be a nice piece for a contender.

6. Rachel Hill – F – UConn

What I Said Before 2016:

With UConn no longer being a giant in the sport, there’s perhaps a sense that Hill is being overlooked going into the final season of an otherwise glittering collegiate career. A salve for an offense that had been struggling for a true star for years, Hill has been one of the nation’s most lethal strikers for three seasons now and should continue to obliterate defenses as a senior in 2016. Hill announced her presence on the national scene with thirteen goals as a rookie, using that season as a springboard to making the U.S. U20 team at the 2014 U20 World Cup. That didn’t exactly work out that well, but Hill brutalized collegiate defenses for sixteen goals upon her return. The Huskies could be a dark horse to get to Cary and the College Cup considering their firepower this season, and Hill could find herself as a Hermann Trophy contender if they get there. Regardless, Hill is one of this class’ elite players and should be gone by the end of the first round.

Anything New?

Well, Hill was overshadowed a bit again, albeit for other reasons, as fellow Husky Stephanie Ribeiro exploded to lead the team in scoring. But Hill had the better advanced numbers and still produced wonderfully for UConn. Her profile is probably down a bit due to UConn not really making deep progress in the NCAA Tournament, but I’d argue Hill could be this class’ best forward when all is said and done with the right fit.

7. Mandy Freeman – D (CB, RB, LB), MF (DM) – USC

What I Said Before 2016:

Utility defender who can play anywhere needed on the backline or even in midfield, Freeman’s versatility should make her a hot commodity in the first few rounds of January’s draft. Freeman made an immediate impression as a rookie for USC, immediately taking her spot as one of the Pac-12’s best defenders and raising expectations going forward. While Freeman didn’t play at that level as a sophomore, she was again a stud as a junior, taking her spot as the anchor in midfield ahead of the back four. With versatility always in demand, Freeman could end up making this projection look conservative come January, especially if USC lives up to their potential in 2016.

Anything New?

Freeman was one of 2016’s big winners, as you might expect given USC’s march to the national title. Freeman began the season as a defensive midfielder and finished it as one of the nation’s elite center-backs, after the Trojans moved her back to the backline to shore up a sinking defense early in the season. Her versatility is obviously a huge asset, though it would appear that her immediate future is in central defense after showing so well this season. With Buchanan going overseas, Freeman’s status gets a big lift, meaning she could be the first center-back off the board, likely in round one.

8. Alexis Shaffer – MF (AMC) – Virginia

What I Said Before 2016:

The occasional forgotten woman of the Virginia offense at one point, it’s safe to say everybody knows Shaffer’s name now after a breakout junior season for the goal happy Cavs. Shaffer had made an immediate impact as a rookie super sub for Virginia in 2013, chipping in with nine assists for the club, even though she only started one match for UVA that season. In the lineup consistently as a sophomore, Shaffer would more than double her goal total, netting seven times, though her assists would drop off a bit. Most likely expected Shaffer to keep improving in 2015 on a star-studded team, but few probably expected her to score fourteen times for the Cavs while also adding eight assists. With Makenzy Doniak’s graduation, Shaffer is the leading returning scorer (and assister) for the 2016 Virginia side and will obviously be taking a lot of the burden in keeping the Cavs’ attack ticking over. The U.S. U23 international’s been improving rapidly over the course of her collegiate career though, and another season like 2015 could have Shaffer moving into the discussion of potential first round picks in January.

Anything New?

Talk about bad timing. This was a transition year for Virginia, and Shaffer kind of got caught up in the middle of it. She was the top scorer here by a mile, but her overall numbers suffered as it became apparent that the likes of Caroline Miller or Makenzy Doniak weren’t walking through that door. Efficiency numbers that were great in 2015 turned sour in 2016 once you factor out penalties. I think Shaffer will be much better in a pro environment with better players to help ease any scoring burden, though the ship on her as a first round pick may have sailed.

9. Kayla Mills – D (LB, RB), MF (DMC) – USC

What I Said Before 2016:

I’d make an argument that Mills might be the best full-back prospect to come out of the college ranks in the NWSL era. The Trojan defender was recruited as an attacker before being converted to a full-back and has taken to the role exceedingly well, winning second team All-America honors as well as Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors, a big accomplishment considering the level of defensive talent in the league. Mills more than earned it, terrorizing teams from her right-back position as she tied for the team lead with six assists while also scoring twice. Mills wasn’t afraid to let fly, shooting forty-eight times on the year, though it’s safe to say she won’t be that involved in front of goal as a professional if she stays at full-back. Mills’ thunderous forays up the flank have been commonplace in L.A. the past few seasons and should have her on the radar for the USWNT sooner rather than later. As a senior on one of the nation’s best defenses this upcoming season, Mills could lock in a spot in the first round of the 2017 draft with a big campaign.

Anything New?

OK, let’s tap the brakes on the hype machine. Mills is still a damn good prospect, but her profile didn’t go up after being tabbed for a thankless defensive midfield role as a senior as USC remodeled its defense early in 2016 after a rough start. Mills was still a very good piece of a national title winning puzzle, but other than versatility, it’s hard to glean too much about her potential as a full-back from her senior season. Given the premium on full-backs at this level though, Mills could still see her name called in round one.

10. Maddie Bauer – D (CB) – Stanford

What I Said Before 2016:

The immovable rock at the heart of the Stanford back four, it almost feels like Bauer’s never really gotten her due at collegiate level despite being a consistently excellent center-back for a defense that is perennially among the nation’s elite. At collegiate level, Bauer stepped right into a starting role as a freshman and has been an elite level center-back ever since, though she’s yet to be dubbed an All-American or even an All-Pac 12 first teamer yet despite picking up first team All-Region nods as a rookie and last year. Even in a class full of potentially fantastic center-backs, Bauer looks like one of the creme de la creme, and a side looking for help in the heart of defense would be foolish to let her slip out of the first round come January.

Anything New?

Well, this class of center-backs is less potentially fantastic with Buchanan France bound and Rebecca Quinn having redshirted. But Bauer got her due, finally, with All-American honors, though she had to live through a a traumatic NCAA Tournament defeat to Stanford as well. She may have been passed up by Mandy Freeman on the figurative central defense prospect depth chart, but Bauer’s solid as a rock at center-back and should be a very good player in the NWSL, even if greatness may elude her.

11. Meggie Dougherty Howard – MF (MC) – Florida

What I Said Before 2016:

A constant in the lineup in the defensive band of midfield in Florida’s 4-2-3-1 over the past three seasons. Dougherty Howard won a starting spot early in her rookie season with Florida in 2013 and hasn’t relinquished the role since. A rather quiet presence in the middle of the park her first two seasons with the Gators, Dougherty Howard enjoyed a breakout season in 2015 that really started before the season proper when she won a W-League title with the Washington Spirit Reserves and played like one of the defunct league’s best players in its final season. That form certainly translated to the college season when Dougherty Howard dished out eight assists to go with three goals in a strong offensive season for Florida. The big worry is that Dougherty Howard could just be a product of Florida’s system, which churns out players who dominate in college but amount to little at professional level, a problem which has been seen repeatedly for the defensive midfielders for the Gators for some time now.

Anything New?

OK, I’m a convert. I think Dougherty Howard could develop into a very good pro despite not being truly outstanding in any one area of the game. Even when factoring out penalties, she netted a handful of goals and had a career high twelve assists as a senior, including grabbing eight assists in the club’s final eleven games. Florida tinkered with her playing a little higher in the formation this past season, and she might be more of a utility central midfielder, filling in where most needed, at the next level. I’m probably a little more bullish on her than most, but I wouldn’t hesitate in taking her in the middle rounds if I needed midfield help.

12. McKenzie Meehan – F (CF), MF (AMC) – Boston College

What I Said Before 2016:

If not for an accursed falling mirror, Meehan might already be shredding NWSL defenses, but said mirror did a number on her Achilles before the 2014 season, forcing a medical redshirt and pushing the dynamic attacker back into this draft class. It was a cruel blow for a player that looked to be on the brink of stardom for BC after scoring twenty goals as a sophomore in 2013 and looking like a player that could have made a real difference for the U.S. in 2014’s U20 World Cup. Fears about Meehan’s recovery from said injury in the short-term were allayed by another offensively brilliant season for the Eagles in 2015. There may be some fears that Meehan might be a system product of BC’s all-out attack style, especially with Stephanie McCaffrey’s NWSL struggles. But if Meehan knocks in another 18-20 goals as a senior, she’ll be hard to ignore in the first few rounds in January.

Anything New?

She only grabbed twelve, with a couple of those from the penalty spot. Truthfully, I’ve gone a bit cold on Meehan heading into this draft. She still scored a fair amount against top teams, but her efficiency numbers sagged as a senior. I wasn’t blown away by her showing against Louisville when I saw her live, and the most worrying part may be how BC has floundered with Meehan as the club’s alpha dog over the past few seasons. I’d still consider Meehan, but I’d also stay away in round one.

13. Nickolette Driesse – MF (MC) – Penn State

What I Said Before 2016:

One of the only players in NCAA history to have two winners’ medals with two different clubs at DI level. Driesse first burst onto the scene as a member of Florida State in 2013, starting twenty-seven matches and looking like a fixture for the Noles in central midfield for some time to come. Driesse impressed enough to make a late charge onto the U.S. U20 roster for the 2014 U20 World Cup, but it was a mixed blessing, as Driesse never really regained favor with FSU upon her return from the competition and was increasingly marginalized by the end of the Noles’ national title winning campaign. A fresh start with Penn State proved to be just what Driesse needed, and she flourished in a more attacking role in midfield for the Nittany Lions, providing enough thrust in the center of the park to help PSU on to their first national title. Four goals and six assists were a far cry from her more static days at Florida State, and Driesse looks like one of the the most dynamic midfielders in this class. She’ll be vital for Penn State as a senior, as the team gets gutted by graduation and the U20 World Cup.

Anything New?

Even Driesse couldn’t quite lift Penn State’s attack on her shoulders and spring a back-to-back College Cup trip after the club lost a boatload of that title winning team of 2015 for various reasons. As the offense suffered some teething problems, Driesse saw her impact blunted a bit, though she still matched the previous season’s assist total. Cumulatively, I think Driesse is still a strong prospect for the next level and could be a mid-round bargain for someone.

14. Jane Campbell – GK – Stanford

What I Said Before 2016:

Campbell’s seemingly been the Chosen One in goal for the longest time now, the preordained successor to Hope Solo’s mantle in goal for the USWNT, but to be honest, I’ve cooled on her a little bit. While there’s no question that Campbell is a superior goalkeeper when at her best, she hasn’t always been at her best with the Card. Campbell’s been consistently called up for the U.S. U23 team though and is clearly high in the pecking order of succession going forward, though she’s had multiple hiccups at club level. Campbell ticks every box you’d want for a goalkeeper at the next level: shot-stopping ability, presence, kicking game, etc. But there’s also the reality that Campbell has baffling lapses in concentration in matches that simply should not be happening to a top-tier upperclassman goalkeeper at this level. Odds are, Campbell matures with age and turns into an international calibre goalkeeper for the U.S. and a #1 for an NWSL team. But for the first time, I feel like a ceiling is in sight for Campbell, and I’m not quite sure she’s a can’t miss prospect any more.

Anything New?

It’s pretty much the status quo for Campbell, for better or for worse. She didn’t round into an all-conquering, consistent machine, but she also didn’t fall off a cliff. Campbell’s still probably the best keeper in this class, flaws and all. She’s already seen training camps with the full USWNT, which should give you an idea of her stock with that setup. The inconsistency that has plagued her tenure in Palo Alto is still evident though, and you fear for somebody reaching for her a round early come draft day.

15. Michele Vasconcelos – F (RF), MF (AM) – BYU

What I Said Before 2016:

All-action winger will be a big part of BYU’s push towards the College Cup as a fifth-year senior in 2016. Vasconcelos looked like the next big superstar for the Cougars after a rookie season that ended with WCC Freshman of the Year honors following eight goals and seven assists for the Provo powerhouse. The road would not get easier from Vasconcelos after that though, as she suffered a serious injury early in 2013 that cost her almost all of that season. Vasconcelos would return with a vengeance a season later in 2014 and racked up six goals and six assists as she sought to reestablish herself as an important component for the Cougar attack.  Vasconcelos still was dangerous, but her efficiency rate was alarmingly poor, with three goals coming on sixty-one shots. BYU’s spoilt for choice offensively, which certainly means there’s not going to be huge pressure for the winger to do it all on her own, but her draft stock will likely depend on reversing the trend of declining production on the stat sheet as Vasconcelos tries to finish her college career on a bright note.

Anything New?

Kiss those concerns goodbye. Vasconcelos had a dream season for BYU and put up sixteen goals and thirteen assists, including a stretch of seven straight matches with a goal. Her efficiency numbers rebounded to ridiculous levels as she made the devastating engine that was the Cougar attack roll. Her stock surged as much as anyone’s this past season, and she should provide an instant spark to someone’s attack, even in a super sub role.

16. Margaret “Midge” Purce – F – Harvard

What I Said Before 2016:

It might be an eye of the beholder thing with Purce, who might be a divisive prospect come draft day. Massive things were expected of Purce upon reaching the college ranks considering a glittering pedigree. Three years in, and it’s not gone quite to plan for either club or player. Purce’s stock plummeted after a poor U20 World Cup in 2014, and it’s not completely recovered since the U.S.’ debacle in Canada. Goal total as a junior declined to just nine in 2015 and Purce needed eighty-eight shots to score those goals and put just 37.5% of her shots on target with most of the damage being done in the second half of the season against overmatched opposition. And yet Purce looks pretty damn good when you view footage of her juking defenders out of their boots with the U.S. U23 team this past offseason. Purce probably needs patience and a right fit at the next level to really flourish. But unfortunately, I think she’s a candidate to be taken a few rounds too early in January, though a big senior season could ease those fears.

Anything New?

Anyone hoping for clarity about Purce was probably disappointed after her senior season with Harvard. The Crimson forward again scored in double digits, hitting for twelve goals but did most of her damage against weaker opposition. Her efficiency numbers are again some of the worst in this class, and outside assessments of Purce have been mixed, to say the least. And yet, live, Purce looked a class apart when I saw her against Louisville early in 2016. A high risk, high reward prospect for sure.

17. Catrina Atanda – MF (AMC) – Clemson

What I Said Before 2016:

Little playmaker out of New Jersey has been at the forefront of Clemson’s journey out of the dregs of DI over the past three seasons. Atanda showed potential as a spot starter as a rookie but really began to come into her own as a sophomore, leading the club in scoring with nine goals, despite not technically being a forward. Atanda would lead Clemson yet again in scoring last season, tying for the team lead with five goals, but she did so taking fifty-nine shots, which definitely wasn’t a positive. Atanda’s got a solid range of passing and is more than capable of delivering long balls over the top of the backline or weighting them to split defenders. Possesses quick feet and is solid in tight spaces but not explosively fast, which could be an issue at the next level. Has a cannon of a shot from distance and often puts it to good use.

Anything New?

Clemson and Atanda both had big 2016s, with the club winning the title, largely on the back of Atanda’s efforts quarterbacking the Tiger attack. The midfielder busted out for twelve goals and four assists, both career highs and did so without taking a single shot more than she did in 2015, curing a few of the efficiency worries plaguing her. While Atanda’s scoring record against the biggest clubs was a bit spotty, she’s not going to be a first option in the NWSL, so that shouldn’t be a big problem. Though she’s a little undersized, I think Atanda could be a nice under the radar pick for someone in the middle rounds.

18. Toni Payne – F/MF – Duke

What I Said Before 2016:

U.S. U23 international had an NCAA Tournament run that should become the stuff of legend around Durham, helping deconstruct a near impregnable Florida State defense in the Blue Devils’ shock semi-final victory in the College Cup. Payne immediately won a starting spot for Duke as a rookie and produced a promising return with three goals and five assists to heighten expectations going into 2014. Payne would flourish individually, with seven goals and five assists for the Blue Devils, but she also was forced to endure Duke’s worst season on the pitch in some time collectively. In fact, Payne seemed to be stuck in a bit of an offensive rut as a junior, as even with that huge push at the end of the season, she finished with just four goals and five assists in 2015. But being able to produce on the big stage in the NCAA Tournament, both in the semi-final and the quarterfinal against Stanford absolves a lot of sins and has put Payne squarely on the radar for the 2017 draft. While Payne could be a terror for teams that love to explode on the counter, the big question is if she’s got enough end product to truly be a hit at the next level.

Anything New?

Payne rode the momentum from that great 2015 finish to her best season as a collegian, scoring nine goals and adding six assists, both career highs. However, the bulk of those goals came against the weaker teams on Duke’s slate, as the scoring often dried up against the better clubs the Blue Devils faced, her prospects not helped by the injuries that took away other options and saw her face increased defensive pressure. She’s probably best as a counter-attacking force and might be a great super sub for someone early on in her career.

19. Stephanie Ribeiro – F – UConn

What I Said Before 2016:

If you guessed that Rachel Hill was the leader in shots for UConn, you’d be wrong, as Ribeiro actually led the club with a whopping ninety-six, a crazy number for someone listed as a midfielder. Ribeiro also enjoyed her best season as a collegian, scoring seven goals and doubling the assist total from her sophomore season with eight. Ribeiro’s always seemed to be on the cusp of big things at UConn, first impressing as a super sub as a rookie before earning spot starter duties as a sophomore and scoring six goals for her troubles. As stated above, Ribeiro flourished, winning All-America and AAC Midfielder of the Year honors. That was enough to see her on the U.S. U23 team in the offseason and get her a spot high on this big board. She’s not an elite offensive talent in this class but does look like a solid late round investment if she keeps her junior form going.

Anything New?

Is it time to rethink that assessment of Ribeiro as not being an elite offensive talent? Winning the golden boot with twenty-one goals and fourteen assists as a senior in 2016 certainly opens up the possibility that we’ve perhaps underestimated Ribeiro. Rachel Hill’s advanced numbers are better though, and the senior was slowed down notably by some of the toughest teams on UConn’s schedule in 2016. At the very least, the big year has Ribeiro in the conversation for being selected in the first half of this year’s draft.

20. Claire Wagner – D (CB) – Clemson

What I Said Before 2016:

Leader of a hard-nosed Clemson defense that has helped turn the Tigers into a contender in the ACC. Understandably, it was pretty tough for Wagner to get recognized as one of the nation’s top young center-backs early in her career with Clemson’s diminished profile, but as the Tigers have soared up the ACC ladder, so has the profile of their defensive bulwark. A starter from day one here, Wagner’s been an unshakable presence at the heart of the talented rearguard for three seasons and finally got much deserved All-ACC Third Team honors after her strong showing as a junior in 2015. Like some of the other members of Clemson’s defense, Wagner’s got some scoring punch as well and showed as much last season, finishing tied for third on the team in goals with three and second in assists with five, both strong totals for a center-back.

Anything New?

Wagner again was at the heart of the defense for Clemson as they won the ACC title and finally completed their surge from the league’s basement a half-decade ago. The center-back also continued to shine in front of goal with four more goals to take her career total to eleven, which is pretty impressive for a central defender. I’m not sure I’d reach for her in the first few rounds, but Wagner looks like a steady hand who could be a gem from the last few rounds for a team needing defense.

21. Ellie Boon – D (LB) – Portland

What I Said Before 2016:

This degree of anonymity probably isn’t what Boon had in mind upon signing for the Pilots, but her profile hasn’t exactly been raised by her side’s fall into relative obscurity over the past half-decade. A big left-back with prototypical size for the position at the next level (5’8’), Boon’s plied her trade with the Pilots well enough for the past three seasons in Portland. Boon would enjoy her best season defensively in 2015 as well, being the best member of a rearguard that held WCC foes to under a goal a game in league play. How high Boon rises on this board probably depends to some extent if Portland can turn it around this year, but left-backs are a golden commodity at the next level, which certainly should ensure that she at least gets a look in camp from some interested NWSL team.

Anything New?

Well, Portland didn’t really turn it around in 2016, but Boon’s stock has only probably gone up considering the dearth of great left-back options in this class and her own steady play over the course of her senior season. Boon only had two assists, tied for a career low with the Pilots, but she also didn’t have much to work with in terms of players getting onto the end of her passes and crosses. She might slip to the fringe of the draft or out of it entirely, but it’d hardly shock me to see Boon have a productive NWSL career.

22. Simone Kolander – F – Minnesota

What I Said Before 2016:

Stock is surging after a breakout 2015 season for the Golden Gophers. Kolander had definitely shown signs of being a potential star earlier in her career, netting five assists as a rookie before a great sophomore season of five goals and eight assists. Kolander would hit the ground running in 2015, scoring ten goals and winning Big Ten Forward of the Year honors as a junior. Was impressive in doing almost all of her damage in Big Ten play, with seven of her ten goals coming in the league, including a whopping five match winning goals against league foes, which is incredible considering the Gophers won just six league games in 2015. Her league efficiency mark was great was well, scoring six non-penalty goals on twenty-six shots and putting a ridiculous 63% of her shots on frame. A towering forward at 5’11”, Kolander will be tipped for another big season in 2016 and could climb further up this list if she keeps scoring.

Anything New?

Kolander again was a great asset for a surprising Minnesota team, scoring eleven goals and adding six assists. The big forward netted seven goals against RPI Top 50 teams, tied for the best mark of anyone in this draft class. There are a few worries about Kolander though, as her efficiency tumbled as she took eighty-six shots, close to thirty more than she had in any previous season. She also finished cold, not scoring in the club’s final eight matches, with that inconsistency potentially dropping her to the later rounds.

23. Kristen McNabb – D (CB) – Virginia

What I Said Before 2016:

AKA the “other” Virginia center-back the past few seasons, McNabb will get a chance to quarterback the Cavaliers’ backline in 2016 with the graduation of Emily Sonnett. It’s been a bit of an uphill climb  for McNabb, who missed her true freshman season through injury and came off the bench as a reserve for most of 2013. For the past two seasons though, McNabb has been a force in central defense for a stingy Virginia defense. McNabb wasn’t completely recognized for her performances until this past season though, earning All-Region Second Team honors. There are some questions that need answering this season though. McNabb will need to show that she’s capable of excelling in her own right after playing on a backline with Sonnett as a center-back partner for two seasons, though if she keeps progressing, her stock could skyrocket. McNabb’s also short for a center-back at 5’5”, which might be the major knock against her.

Anything New?

McNabb’s stock probably held steady thanks to the lack of true outstanding center-back prospects beyond the top couple of players. While she wasn’t awful, McNabb also didn’t really do much to establish herself as an elite prospect which might have been necessary given her size concerns. Still, Virginia was going through a bit of a rebuilding phase this year, which explains a little bit. Virginia players have done well in recent seasons in the NWSL, so McNabb should get a shot to prove she belongs.

24. Kailen Sheridan – GK – Clemson

What I Said Before 2016:

Canadian looks to be second in line to the throne in goal behind Sabrina D’Angelo when veterans Erin McLeod and Stephanie Labbe retire. The Canadian’s been the last line of defense for Clemson over the course of three seasons and has largely met expectations after coming into the ACC school as one of its most highly touted recruits in ages. It’s no coincidence that having Sheridan in goal has coincided with the Tigers’ defense becoming one of the fiercest in DI, and she capped her junior season off with All-America honors at year’s end. A rangy keeper who’s more long than explosive in between the pipes, Sheridan’s still capable of making big saves and has deceptive footwork for a keeper. The worry is that when it goes wrong for Sheridan, it really goes wrong, as in the disastrous ACC Tournament semi-final loss to Virginia last year. Then again, you probably could say many of the same things about current Washington Spirit keeper Kelsey Wys, who turned out just fine after maturing in goal.

Anything New?

Not really, though it’s not common that a keeper with three years of starting experience is suddenly going to get dramatically better or worse as a senior. Sheridan indeed went to Rio as an alternate but wasn’t called upon. Clemson did about as well as expected, with the Canadian keeper a big part of that. Sheridan’s slip down the ranks is less an indictment on her and more a testament to the rise of some others. She should be a solid backup right off the bat as she adapts to the next level this year.

25. Jordan Jesolva – MF – Santa Clara

New Profile!

It was a long way back for Jesolva, who looked like one of the nation’s most promising prospects as a rookie in 2013 for the Broncos after netting five goals for the WCC powerhouse. But Jesolva’s fortunes would become much murkier for the next two seasons, with a devastating injury midway through 2014 hampering her well into the 2015 campaign. Some had likely written off the possibility of the attacking dynamo ever making a huge impact again going into her senior season, but Jesolva defied the odds to score ten goals and add four assists, both career highs. With goals against the likes of USC, Minnesota, and NC State, Jesolva showed she had a flair for the moment and was a massive part of the Broncos’ shock run to the Elite Eight. If her injury woes are truly behind her, Jesolva’s the type of player that SCU cranks out for the pros: talented and with staying power.

26. Chelsea Drennan – MF (CM) – South Carolina

What I Said Before 2016:

Quick, name the active career leader in assists heading into the 2016 NCAA season. I’m going to guess that most outside of Columbia or SEC country would fail to register that Drennan enters this upcoming season with that honor having racked up twenty-nine assists in three seasons for the Gamecocks. Amazingly, her ten assists in 2015 aren’t even a career high, as she marked her first season at this level in 2013 with a whopping twelve assists, one short of the best in program history for a single season. Drennan’s not particularly likely to get involved in the scoring herself though, with just five goals in three seasons here despite taking a fair amount of shots, and you wonder if she’s dynamic enough in the middle of the park to make it as a pro.

Anything New?

Well, Drennan certainly improved in the scoring department, netting eight goals in 2016 after scoring just five combined in her previous three seasons. She also racked up eleven more assists to finish her collegiate career with forty, most of anyone in this class by a solid margin. I suspect Drennan’s not at the level of the elite midfielders in this class, but she’s certainly put herself in the draft picture given the bulk of work in her career for the Gamecocks.

2 thoughts on “NWSL – 2017 NWSL Draft – Chris’ Big Board Top 26

  1. VaSoccerFan

    First of all, Chris, this is an impressive feat and one for which I am much grateful. Thank you for this info in this bleak season of (almost) no woso. I do have some comments of my own.

    I am a big Lavelle fan and have been for years, but still continue to feel she sabotaged her own development and career by going to Wisconsin. The story of how she got there is unknown to me, but I can’t help feeling she would be a more sophisticated player at this point if she had gone to a program with better competition, a better style of (offensive) play, and a better teaching situation. At times, she looks unstoppable, but we have had far too few opportunities to see her play in a high-quality offensive situation.

    To me, Gibbons looks to have a temperament and approach similar to that of Andi Sullivan, although, as Chris says, her biggest question is her best position at the next level. Goodness knows, nobody yet has a stranglehold on LB on the WNT, but slightly-older young players such as Hinkle, Short, and Gilliland stand in the way. Nevertheless, she seems like a sure thing, somewhere for somebody.

    To me, Jordan is the most perplexing early choice on the board. She spent 2 or 3 years of her Florida career as the #1 marking target of every team they played, with defenders of all sizes and shapes draped around her. It seemed she seldom had space to move or breathe; she was always feared, but seldom dominant. Will that situation change for the better at the next level? And can she contribute to her team’s success more than 18 yards from goal?

    OK, I take that back. Andrews is the most perplexing choice on the board and the problem is all in her head. She has the physical skills to do just about anything, excelling at passing and shooting from distance, although I am increasingly impressed with her short passing game. She is not the most mobile of top-flight MF’s and does not cover huge swaths of space, but the latter could just be her dictated role at USC. She looks destined to be a holding MF at the next level, which means people like Sullivan and Mewis are in her way. But it’s attitudinal or maturity issues which have impeded her progress thus far, and I have twice watched her in person display a temperament which seemed to indicate she was on a different page from the rest of her team. Granted, both of those occasions were before her senior year. Still, I am rooting for her to become a great player, but I cannot imagine drafting her early without having a serious face-to-face talk with her ahead of time.

    Jill Ellis et al have made much of the need for technical players, players who can break down another team with attacking skills. If she and the rest of the USWNT hierarchy are really serious about that (and the two recently-announced camp rosters seem to suggest otherwise), then Alexis Shaffer fits those requirements perfectly. I saw her play multiple times this past season and she was almost always the best soccer player on the field — and this include playing against great competition. She covers a lot of ground, despite having so-so pace, and can thread a needle with a pass or a shot. It’s a mystery why she’s not in the U23 call-up list. She would be an excellent fit with an NWSL team that values possession and MF skills.

    Reply
  2. mockmook

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for all this hard work — it is extremely helpful in evaluating players.

    I do have a question about Purce — and this might apply to others as well:

    You’ve moved her up about 21 places (what!!!!!) from your previous ranking, but you say there was no clear signal on her in the interim. With all due respect, why?

    Reply

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