NWSL – Chris’ 2020 NWSL Draft Big Board – Top 27

1. Jessie Fleming – MF – UCLA

On the same year that a couple of rising Canadian stars signed off from the college game, Fleming showed why she could walk away a college legend in her own right in a few years. Fleming had already been a full Canadian international for more than a few years before coming into Westwood and came into the college game with the reputation of being one of the brightest attacking prospects for her country in some time. After a season with the Bruins, it’s easy to see why Fleming is so highly regarded. Despite missing three matches while on international duty, Fleming still led the Bruins in scoring with eleven goals on a remarkable forty-two shots, putting sixty-four percent of those attempts on frame, astonishing numbers for anyone, let alone a rookie. Fleming also made a habit of making defenders look like training cones for YouTube-worthy clips with her technical skill and flair on a consistent basis. The Canadian seems like a near lock for a #1 pick in this draft if she’s in it, which is the big question considering Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence’s venture to France after their college careers ended.

2. Deyna Castellanos – F – Florida State

Florida State scored one of the recruiting coups of the decade when they were able to bring in Castellanos, one of world soccer’s most promising prospects. The Venezuelan had displayed what appeared to be otherworldly talent at youth international level for her country in the run-up to her arriving in Tallahassee and won the Golden Boot at the 2014 U17 World Cup. Already a full international with Venezuela, Castellanos had mighty expectations to meet as a freshman at Florida State. Despite missing nine matches on the season, the Venezuelan was still impressive as a rookie, tying for the team lead with seven goals, including some astounding strikes and would’ve surely finished in double figures had she played in every match. Efficiency at collegiate level needs some work, but time is on Castellanos’ side, with the forward not turning eighteen until April. The sky is truly the limit for FSU’s latest international star.

3. Tierna Davidson – MF/D – Stanford

The standout player on a typically elite recruiting class heading into the Farm last year, Davidson was all that was promised and more in her rookie season. Previously a part of the U20 World Cup qualifying team for the U.S., Davidson wasn’t on the final roster for the competition, with Stanford being the benefactors and getting a fantastic freshman season from the Californian. Davidson was talented enough to start every match for the Card as a rookie and was part of an imposing central midfield that also featured Andi Sullivan. Though Davidson was more miss than hit in front of goal, one of her two goals was a big game winner against Big Ten double winners Minnesota. Also a potential fit at center-back for some team, we may not find out Davidson’s true potential until Sullivan departs after 2017, with Davidson likely becoming the focal point of the midfield for Stanford after then.

4. Taylor Kornieck – MF – Colorado

It’s hard to pick out a player from last season’s freshman class that did as much to boost their overall profile and draft stock as Kornieck. Though Kornieck looked like a recruiting coup for a program that had come off a horrible season, few could have envisioned the impact the U.S. U18 international would have right off the bat. While more than Kornieck contributed to Colorado’s rise to second place in the Pac-12, the rookie’s incredible 2016 season was one of the biggest factors in one of the biggest turnarounds in league history. Kornieck’s ability in the clutch certainly can’t be denied after her rookie season, which saw her net six game winning goals and eleven overall for the Buffs. Kornieck’s efficiency numbers weren’t great, but she’s not going to be a center forward at the next level. Role is a big question as a pro, as Kornieck stands at a massive 6’1”, which raises a lot of possibilities for position, but any strong coach should be able to find a place for this special talent.

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

Riehl enters 2017 as a veteran at U20 level for the U.S. after starting every match at last year’s U20 World Cup in Papua New Guinea while having also featured at the U20 World Cup two years earlier. Given that experience in 2014, when Riehl was one of the few rostered players without college experience to that point, the bar was set pretty high as she headed into the college ranks with PSU. It’s safe to say she cleared that bar and set it even higher after a 2015 campaign that saw Riehl start every match at center-back for the club as they rolled to a first national title. Riehl’s efforts helped PSU net eight straight clean sheets to finish the season, while her goal late in the College Cup semi-final against Rutgers sealed her side’s spot in the final. Riehl looks like a no-brainer first rounder at this point, even in a class with some great potential at center-back.

6. Ella Stevens – MF – Duke

Arguably the crown jewel in a star studded 2016 recruiting class for Duke, Stevens only built on her sizable reputation last season with a fine debut at this level. Stevens had swiftly climbed the youth international ladder and been on the U.S.’ U20 World Cup qualifying team in 2015 but wouldn’t make the final squad a season later, which would work out to Duke’s benefit. Even with star power in the attack such as Toni Payne and Imani Dorsey, Stevens finished as the club’s leading scorer, netting ten goals and adding six assists, with four of those strikes coming against RPI Top 50 clubs. Stevens’ shots per goal mark was impressive, though her 42.6% shots on goal percentage left much to be desired. Still, with some key departures in the midfield and attack this offseason, Stevens’ growth will be key if Duke are to contend once more for an ACC title.

7. Bridgette Andrzejewski – F – North Carolina

Widely considered one of the best incoming freshmen not headed to Papua New Guinea for the U20 World Cup, Andrzejewski was equal to the hype in her first season as a Tar Heel in 2016. With the Heels desperately needing someone to step up to lead the line with graduations and redshirts taking a toll on the offense, the Maryland product stepped up, leading the team with nine goals as a rookie. It was an impressive feat considering Andrzejewski was just a freshman, was playing in the nation’s most difficult league, and was largely the focal point of the offense, with nobody else on the team managing more than five goals. Her efficiency numbers, though not awful, could use a bit of improvement, but things should get a little easier with Zoe Redei healthy and Jessie Scarpa returning to ease some of the scoring pressure. All things considered, Andrzejewski looks like another potential first round pick from UNC.

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

Oh, what a difference a year can make. One year ago, Jacobs would surely be at or near the top of any big board of prospects after a very good freshman season following a youth career full of lofty accolades. The Californian had made a big splash with the Irish as a freshman, scoring four goals and adding five assists for the ACC powerhouse in an attacking role. Seemingly a lock to be a big part of the U.S. U20 squad’s plans in Papua New Guinea for the U20 World Cup, Jacobs instead found herself marginalized for almost the entire competition. Jacobs would only see a handful of minutes of action until the semi-final against North Korea, where she started and nabbed the late equalizer for the U.S. before the team fell in extra time. Can Jacobs get her mojo back as a sophomore with Notre Dame in 2017? It’s one of many questions that needs answering, including where Jacobs projects at the next level, as a forward or a center-back.

9. Anika Rodriguez – F/MF – UCLA

UCLA fans might have wondered what could’ve been in 2015 had Rodriguez not been forced to redshirt through injury. A year removed from that lost season, Rodriguez showed why she was one of the nation’s top recruits in the class of 2015 by having a fantastic first season on the field for a resurgent Bruins side. The redshirt freshman started all but two games in 2016 and led the Bruins in assists, with eight on the season. A fair chunk of those assists came on game winners against name opposition, showing a comfort beyond her years in big games already. Though a bit undersized at (5’2”), Rodriguez played much bigger as a rookie last season and still looks like a player who could carve a spot for herself in the first round come 2020. How Rodriguez performs with a big influx of new offensive talent in 2017 could be key for UCLA this year.

10. Tavia Leachman – D (CB) – Utah

Utah brought in one of their best ever recruiting classes last season, but if anyone expected a rookie Ute to end up on this list come season’s end, most expected it to be either of the club’s U18 U.S. internationals, Holly Daugirda or Ireland Dunn. Instead, it was Leachman who won all the plaudits as one of the nation’s best freshman defenders after a revelatory season in anchoring the Utah backline. Leachman, despite coming from rising power club Beach Futbol, was still something of an unknown commodity coming into Salt Lake City but finished the season having started every match and finishing second on the team in minutes played while looking like a potential star in the making. Leachman doesn’t figure to be overlooked any more, having been called up to the U.S. U23 team in the offseason, underlining her rising profile at this level.

11. Chloe Froment – D (CB) – Long Beach State

French youth internationals don’t come around the NCAA ranks that often, so you could understand the hype behind Froment’s arrival at Long Beach State. The center-back’s story is well known by this point, but the wait was more than worth it for LBSU, who saw the newcomer galvanize a new look backline in 2016. As you might expect from a French youth international, Froment has the technical skill that many of her peers her age at this level lack, both defensively and offensively, having tied for the team lead with five assists last season despite being a central defender. Froment is still adapting somewhat to the more physical nature of the college game but more than held her own in a tough conference and against some big time non-conference opposition. Worries about Froment’s development at a mid-major should be minimal considering LBSU’s history of producing excellent players, and the biggest question around the French defender might be whether she stays in the U.S. or goes back to Europe to continue on as a pro.

12. Evelyne Viens – F, MF – South Florida

Because of her lack of youth international experience and playing at a relatively low profile school at South Florida, Viens might be the best player you’ve never heard of. The Quebec native hadn’t got so much as a sniff into the full Canadian youth international setup coming into USF, so expectations were likely a little tempered going into Viens’ rookie season. They needn’t have been. Viens turned in one of the finest offensive seasons in Bulls history as a freshman, starting every match and scoring a whopping sixteen goals en route to AAC Rookie of the Year honors. Those goals included six against RPI Top 100 teams, with her work in front of goal done on solid efficiency numbers. The Canadian has outstanding pace and acceleration, either from an attacking midfield role or leading the line. With everyone knowing Viens’ name now, it’ll be interesting to see if she can maintain or build on last year’s scoring pace.

13. Ellie Jean – D (RB) – Penn State

The Nittany Lions will be thrilled to have Jean back on the flank in 2017 after the redshirt sophomore spent last season with the U.S. U20s. Jean had been an instant hit for PSU as a rookie in 2015, stepping right in at right-back and helping the Big Ten powerhouse win its first national title. Jean’s six assists only told part of the story, as her poise and maturity belied her years and was a big factor in PSU’s ultimate triumph. Jean stepped into the U20 team for last year’s tepid journey into Papua New Guinea and played most of the minutes as the U.S. disappointed. She should get back in the swing of things this season though as one of the very best full-backs in this class, though a starting spot is not assured with Maddie Elliston also in the mix for PSU. Wherever she ends up playing though, Jean has the makings of a pick in the first few rounds of this draft class.

14. Rylee Foster – GK – West Virginia

The latest of a long line of impressive Canadian keepers at youth international level to crop up in the NCAA, as well as another big addition from West Virginia’s Canadian recruiting pipeline. Foster was already considered a budding star coming into her college career having been a fixture for Canada at youth international level, all the way up to being the starter in goal for the U20s for some time. It was perhaps then a little regrettable that Foster was the unlucky keeper having to pick the ball out of the Canadian net time after time this Fall as her side were beaten soundly at the U20 World Cup. The silver lining was that the early exit gave Foster enough time to get back stateside and into the WVU goal for the club’s later rounds in their NCAA Tournament run to the final. Foster still has some rough edges to smooth out to truly contend for the #1 spot for her country at full international level, but she looks like a clear #1 keeper in this class at the moment.

15. Julia Bingham – D (RB) – USC

It was going to take a lot for a rookie to make a lasting impression on the backline of one of the nation’s best defenses on paper going into the 2016 season, but Bingham more than managed to do so. Coming into Los Angeles with a smattering of U18 experience for the U.S., Bingham was perhaps expected to be a contributor, but few could have seen her play so capably on the flank as a rookie in 2016. In fact, Bingham was so assured out wide in defense, that the Trojans were able to move Kayla Mills into midfield and Mandy Freeman back to center-back, a move which many felt was a key one in their push to a second national title. The big question now is whether Bingham can grow into a leadership role on the backline with the club taking big hits from graduation in the offseason. If she can, Bingham could easily work her way into the first round.

16. Kaiya McCullough – D (CB) – UCLA

It’s sometimes hard to stand out in Westwood, especially as a freshman in a star studded recruiting class, such as the one UCLA brought in before last season. And yet, McCullough managed it last year, filling a position of vital need for the Bruins at the heart of their backline, starting all but one match for the club. While there was still a noticeable learning curve for McCullough as a rookie, she also showed power and strength in central defense to deal with many of the forwards she faced in her first collegiate season. Considering the youth of most of that backline as well as with a rookie keeper in net, it’s safe to say that the best is likely yet to come for McCullough and the Bruins. There’s more than a few promising central defender prospects in this class, but if UCLA lives up to expectations in the next few years, McCullough could be a potential first round pick.

17. Ally Watt – F – Texas A&M

Those hoping for a true glimpse of Watt can really do as the focal point for an offense were likely only satisfied in part this past Fall, as the Aggie forward was restricted to a super sub role, even with the U.S. U20 team laboring on offense for much of the U20 World Cup. Watt would make the most of the role though, most notably in the quarterfinal win over Mexico, as she netted the equalizer with less than ten minutes to play. Watt flashed such potential at times as a rookie in College Station with the Aggies, mostly in the second half of the club’s season, finishing with seven goals. With her pace and nose for goal, Watt could be one to watch if she can marshal a little more consistency and a a bit more efficiency in front of goal. Her return will certainly be appreciated by an A&M side that wasn’t the offensive juggernaut of season’s past in 2016.

18. Zoe Redei – F – North Carolina

#18 may be a bit optimistic for a rookie attacker that scored just three goals in her first season (and didn’t do it on great efficiency numbers), but there’s some extenuating circumstances on the Illinois native’s rap sheet. Redei missed eight games in an important stretch of the season through injury, and the Heels’ offense suffered noticeably with her absence. While Redei would return for the last few matches of the postseason, she was still getting back up to speed after a promising beginning to the campaign. A member of the U.S. U20 World Cup qualifying team, Redei wouldn’t be on the final roster but showed much promise as a rookie for the Heels. Also capable as an attacking midfielder, Redei could be in line for a big boost in production if she can shake the injury bug which cost her a chunk of last year. With UNC in most people’s Top Five going into 2017, Redei could have plenty of opportunities to further her growing reputation.

19. Amanda Carolan – F – Georgetown

Anyone predicting Carolan would end up on this list at the beginning of the season might’ve earned a few curious stares, as the Hoya forward had redshirted in 2015 and hadn’t particularly come into the nation’s capital with more than a modest club resume. Carolan also knew surely that she’d have a mighty fight for scoring opportunities with a veteran attacking corps likely to do much of the heavy lifting. And yet, the Hoya redshirt freshman started all but one game and netted ten times, tying for the team lead in game winning goals with six in a surprising rookie season. Carolan proved to be a sure shot against top teams, netting four goals against RPI Top 50 teams, but it was her efficiency numbers which were so shocking, as she needed just twenty-seven shots to score her ten goals while putting fifty-nine percent of her shots on frame. Those numbers might not be sustainable in the long-term, but they do provide evidence that Carolan could be one to watch for in a class full of promising scorers.

20. Malia Berkely – D (LB) – Florida State

Sometimes you wonder if it’s the system, but Florida State’s produced so many elite level defenders over the years that you have to show respect to the talent that gets cranked out of Tallahassee on the backline year after year. The latest gem from the Noles looks to be Berkely, a big name recruit who came into the program with a long list of experience at the U18/U19 level internationally for the U.S. All Berkely did as a rookie was be one of just three field players to start every match for the ACC Tournament champion Noles, holding down a spot at left-back as a rookie in the nation’s toughest conference. Berkely has the size to perhaps get a look at center-back this year to fill the departed Kirsten Crowley’s shoes and is also versatile enough to play in midfield as well. FSU looks loaded after a down year in 2016, and Berkely could blossom as a sophomore as a result.

21. Jennifer Westendorf – F – Notre Dame

It’s been a rather eventful first season for Westendorf in the college ranks after coming into South Bend as one of the most highly recruited players in last year’s class. A long-time U.S. youth international, Westendorf switched allegiances to Brazil before qualifying for the 2016 U20 World Cup and was expected to miss a chunk of her rookie season with the Irish to compete in the finals in Papua New Guinea. However, surprisingly, she turned the opportunity down to stay with the ACC side for her entire rookie season. Said season was something of a mixed bag. While Westendorf did score six times, including three game-winning goals, her efficiency numbers were some of the worst for a big name player in recent memory, needing seventy-five shots for those six goals and putting just twenty-nine percent of her efforts on frame. While there’s talent there, Westendorf absolutely has to improve her efficiency in front of goal if she’s to be taken seriously as a true top level prospect going forward.

22. Kelcie Hedge – MF – Washington

Hedge found herself in the headlines for all the right reasons this past Fall when she came off the bench to score an injury time winner against Mexico in the U.S. U20 team’s dramatic comeback win in the U20 World Cup Quarterfinal. It was probably the highlight of a dismal tournament for the Americans, and Hedge for her part was only used as a sub in one other game while starting and playing a half in the third-place match against Japan. Hedge will be hoping for better in Seattle this upcoming collegiate season as she tries to build on a promising rookie season in 2015. Four goals and three assists represented just the top of the iceberg for Hedge’s contributions for the Huskies as a rookie, and the club desperately missed her attacking element as they struggled in the Pac-12 last year. All eyes will be focused on the Idaho native in 2017 as she should be the focal point of a UW team that has the potential to secure a top half league finish.

23. Courtney Petersen – MF/D – Virginia

Hard to say if the UVA utility player’s stock has risen after a U20 World Cup season that saw Petersen start the opener for the U.S. but then only get thirty more minutes for the rest of the competition, coming off the bench in extra time in the semi-final defeat to North Korea. Petersen certainly looked like she was in line for a bigger role following an excellent rookie season with a stacked Virginia side in 2015. Despite not starting for the bulk of the season, Petersen still played a crucial role in the Cavs’ success, scoring three goals and adding three assists despite making just two starts. Potentially an option at full-back or in the midfield at the next level, Petersen faces a crucial second collegiate season in 2017. The UVA side she returns to this year is a far different one than she last played for in 2015, and the Michigan native likely needs a big season if the Cavs are to move back up the ACC pecking order.

24. Victoria Pickett – MF – Wisconsin

2016 feels like a lost year for one of Canada’s brightest young prospects. Pickett took a redshirt last season as she stepped away to play at the U20 World Cup, enduring a rather dismal campaign with her Canadians getting pummeled in three matches, with the Badger only being tabbed for the starting lineup in one of those matches despite being one of the team’s best talents. It was disappointing considering her performances earlier for her nation at younger age groups as well as considering her showing as a rookie in Madison. Despite not joining the team officially until the 2015 season had gotten under way, Pickett was still good enough to win Big Ten Freshman of The Year honors after two goals and four assists as a rookie. UW badly missed her attacking thrust last year, and she could be the focal point of the offense upon her return to the Badgers in 2017.

25. Sarah Luebbert – F – Missouri

It’s rare that youth club level superstars decamp at a program like Missouri, and though Luebbert was the unquestioned jewel in the Tigers’ 2016 recruiting class, there was little indication that she would turn in a rookie season that would have her considered one of the nation’s best new attacking talents. The freshman flew out of the blocks, netting four goals in her first five matches before scoring in her first two league games as well. She’d slow down a bit later on, but having netted eight goals against RPI Top 100 teams, few could argue that Luebbert hadn’t enjoyed a memorable debut season. While she’ll need to prove she can do it on a consistent basis, Luebbert was solid across the board efficiency-wise, and another season of goals could have her creeping up this board further.

26. Stefani Doyle – MF/F – Arkansas

For a program that had never really had success in luring elite level players to Fayetteville, Arkansas’ signing of Doyle marked a major coup and a potential turning point for the program under Colby Hale. If Doyle lived up to the hype. It’s only been one season, but the early signs have been more than promising, as the Texas native was one of the SEC’s best young players in a big rebound season for the Razorbacks. Already well experienced with the U.S. U19 team coming into the SEC side, easily won a spot in the starting lineup and racked up six goals and three assists, including a game winner against ACC powerhouse Duke early in her college career. Doyle’s usage rate probably needs to get much better to truly flourish, but so far, she’s shown every sign of being a great talent for Hale’s exciting side.

27. Mikayla Krzeczowski – GK – South Carolina

South Carolina had grown a reputation of being one of the best schools in the country in producing goalkeepers over the past decade, including Canadian international Sabrina D’Angelo, but had fallen upon hard times in that department in 2015, leading some to wonder if the boom period had dried up. They needn’t have worried though, as Krzeczowski, a highly touted U.S. U18 international coming into college lived up to the hype and then some to stand out amongst this rookie class. Despite possessing just average size for the position (5’6”), the rookie keeper stood tall in goal for one of the nation’s best defenses, helping lead them to a SEC title and Elite Eight berth showing presence and command beyond her youth. Given the development of keepers at SC before, the sky is the limit for the Georgia native.

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