(If you haven’t already, check out the accompaniying podcast for this post in the last post, on SoundCloud, or on iTunes.)
1. Alana Cook – D (CB) – Stanford
Sometimes, the safe choice is the right choice. In this case, with a draft class that looks so shaky on paper, Cook looks like the surest thing, with Connolly and Kuikka potentially headed back to Europe and Scarpa having an unsettled position. Already a U23 international for the U.S., Cook looks to be the latest in a long line of Stanford defenders that could feature at the next level. A highly touted prospect coming into Palo Alto before the 2015 season, Cook made a case for herself as one of the nation’s best center-backs right away and won league Freshman of the Year honors. Needing to follow that up with an encore, Cook pretty much did the same, shining at center-back and playing every minute of the season for the Card while winning All-Pac-12 Second Team honors for the second straight season. The key test now is if Cook can be the leader that the club needs in central defense with Maddie Bauer graduated and with Stanford needing to break in a new starting keeper. If Cook can show that side of her game is elite, there could be no stopping her, as she’s physically strong and quick enough to handle most forwards in all likelihood.
2. Megan Connolly – MF (AMC) – Florida State
After an otherworldly freshman season in 2015, I mused that Connolly was already one of the nation’s best players after just one first team All-America season for the Noles. In retrospect, following up such a season was going to be almost impossible for anyone, even a player as talented as Connolly. Playing a #10 role as a freshman, Connolly netted nine goals and ten assists, playing even better than those numbers would indicate. Following that debut season, Connolly was capped at senior international level for the first time and looked to build on 2015’s success as a sophomore. But FSU’s offense was notably erratic at times, the club missing the finishing prowess of Cheyna Williams, and Connolly struggled to carry the biggest burden as the Noles tried to figure it out around her. Granted, Connolly still finished tied for the team lead in goals with seven and made five of those game winners, but few could argue that her sophomore campaign had been as eye-catching as the year before. Talent-wise, Connolly could still easily be this class’ best player, but I’m not sure it’s such a walkover any more. We’ll probably have a much better feel for Connolly’s ceiling after her junior year.
3. Jessie Scarpa – D (CB), F – North Carolina
A player with a bunch of upside and an uncertain role at the next level. Scarpa’s been a force at collegiate level through two seasons but was one of many who did not show their full potential at the U20 World Cup last year for the U.S. Scarpa made a massive impression early as a freshman, as she was one of the best young prospects in America despite coming off an ACL injury from her high school days, playing center-back as well as a more attacking role in midfield as a rookie. Scarpa was all attack leading the line in 2015, netting eight goals and adding eight assists in a breakout season offensively for the Heels. It will be interesting to see where Scarpa fits into this Tar Heel team upon her return this season, as the club found some offense in her absence last season, potentially putting a move back to the backline in play, though they’re pretty well off there as well with Julia Ashley quarterbacking the defense. Is she a target forward at the next level? A center-back? Regardless, Scarpa’s just scratching the surface of her potential and should be a first round pick in this class.
4. Natalia Kuikka – D (CB, LB), MF (AML) – Florida State
Heading into last season, Kuikka looked like one of the most exciting youngsters in the nation having been massively impressive as a freshman marauding down the left wing as an attacker with six goals and five assists to her name despite having to deal with international duty for Finland. And then Mark Krikorian turned her into a center-back. All Kuikka did after the move was win All-America honors, the only player in this draft class to do so last season. In the process, Kuikka picked up her second straight ACC Tournament MVP honor while looking like a natural in central defense, playing every minute in nineteen matches. Despite playing as a defensive anchor, Kuikka still managed to tie for the team lead in assists with five and is more than capable of contributing offensively as her freshman season is evidence of. Kuikka is probably a little small at 5’6” for a top-level center-back, but her defensive ability and attacking chops make her a perfect candidate for a switch to left-back. Versatility and upside could have Kuikka in as a first-round pick in this draft class…if she doesn’t opt for a return to Europe.
5. Emily Ogle – MF (MC) – Penn State
Along with teammate Kaleigh Riehl, Ogle was one of the nominees for the U.S. Soccer Young Female Player of the Year award this past year, underlining the potential of the central midfielder who looks like a sure bet for the first round at this point. Now a U.S. U23 international, Ogle initially burst onto the scene as a big name recruit for PSU in 2014, winning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors after a six assist campaign. Ogle would again be a big part of the Nittany Lions’ success a season later, scoring seven goals and adding five assists on strong efficiency numbers from her spot in midfield as PSU won their first national title. International duty would be the call of the day in 2016, as Ogle redshirted with a handful of teammates at PSU to play in the U20 World Cup, where she started in midfield but struggled to really get the American offense firing at full throttle in a disappointing tournament. Ogle is capable in a deep role or further up in central midfield, but to lock herself in as a potential top five pick, she’ll need to answer questions about her dynamism in the center of the park and show she can carry this midfield with Nickolette Driesse having graduated.
6. Taylor Racioppi – MF (AMC) – Duke
There’s a certain nagging sense that Racioppi might end up on top of this class when all is said and done, but it’s hard to believe she didn’t lose a little ground after an injury hit sophomore season. Racioppi had been on fire up to that point, making the 2014 U20 World Cup team and impressing with seven goals and six assists in 2015 as a freshman in Durham. Racioppi was thought of as a shoo-in for the U20 World Cup team again last season but declined, opting to stay with the Blue Devils for the 2016 season. Racioppi would miss the second half of the season with a leg injury, throwing a wrench in Duke’s plans for a College Cup. Before then, Racioppi had been on a decent scoring clip, netting three goals and five assists, though much of that came in a non-conference walkover against overmatched Wofford. How Racioppi would have fared against the meat of the ACC schedule is a pressing question, and the New Jersey native’s play against elite opposition these next two seasons could dictate how high she goes in this draft.
7. Julia Ashley – D (CB) – North Carolina
Perhaps one of the nation’s best kept secrets from this prospective draft class, Ashley may not be a big headline maker but could nonetheless be this program’s next great center-back, which is big praise considering some of the names that’ve come through here in the past decade. Despite entering North Carolina with not much of an overall youth club profile, Ashley promptly won a starting spot as a true freshman and looked like one of the nation’s best young defensive players. Little changed last season, with Ashley starting all but three matches for the Heels and racking up almost twenty-two hundred minutes for the ACC powerhouse. Ashley’s also been good for a few assists a season in her first two years and has a nice range of passing for a center-back. Though she’s played a little bit wide in a three-back for the Heels, Ashley probably projects more as a traditional central defender at the next level. With UNC a likely national title contender in 2017, Ashley’s reputation could rise higher with another big season.
8. Jordan DiBiasi – MF (MC) – Stanford
The U.S. lost out on DiBiasi for the U20 World Cup roster due in part to the redshirt policy for this cycle, and Stanford reaped the benefits of the gifted midfielder in another strong season in her Palo Alto career. Somewhat overshadowed by the talents of the likes of Andi Sullivan and Tierna Davidson, DiBiasi provides a bit more attacking thrust in midfield for the Card. Already a starter at the beginning of her rookie season and showing a flair for big goals, DiBiasi continued to impress for Stanford as a sophomore. After netting a handful of goals as a rookie, DiBiasi upped that total to seven as a sophomore and was particularly impressive in the first half of the season, netting six in an eight match span that featured goals against the likes of Georgetown, Florida, Minnesota, and Santa Clara. DiBiasi’s scoring form would taper off in the second half of the season, but few can quibble with her season on the whole. Stanford might have the nation’s best midfield trio this season, and DiBiasi’s talents are a big reason why.
9. Maddie Elliston – D (RB) – Penn State
The Nittany Lions will be happy to have Elliston back amongst their ranks after the Nebraska native redshirted last season to take part in the U.S.’ doomed U20 World Cup campaign. Elliston started every match on the backline for the team in that disappointing tournament but will be looking to get back to her best with some of her other PSU teammates from that team this year. Elliston first made a big splash in 2014 as she ended up starting every match for the club as a rookie and netted over two thousand minutes in a great debut season. Injury would hit hard a year later, as Elliston missed the first month of the season before being eased back into the lineup as the year went on, with PSU winning the national title and adding some hardware to Elliston’s mantle. A key question for 2017 will be how Erica Dambach juggles both Elliston and Ellie Jean, her part-time replacement in 2015 at right-back. Elliston’s too good to leave on the bench, but her role (or Jean’s) probably isn’t certain at this point.
10. Maria Sanchez – F – Santa Clara
It’s been a long, complicated road for Sanchez to this point, but Santa Clara will naturally be hoping that the Mexican international has been worth the wait. Sanchez began her collegiate career at tiny Idaho State and quickly overpowered Big Sky opponents, netting seven goals as a freshman and then fifteen as a sophomore. And then things got controversial. Sanchez looked for a move to a better program, with ISU brass making tampering accusations, with the end result being the Mexican starlet essentially having to redshirt in 2016 before becoming eligible for her final two collegiate seasons with the Broncos. She kept busy with a massively impressive U20 World Cup for a rising Mexican program and was simply dazzling on the ball against international opponents. Already capped at full international level, Sanchez looks like a future star at international level for her country and could be a key piece to SCU’s College Cup hopes these next two seasons.
11. Kaycie Tillman – MF (RW), F (RF) – Florida State
Tillman hit the ground running as a rookie here in 2015 and hasn’t looked back since as a vital part of the Seminole attack. It was always going to be difficult in duplicating a freshman season that saw her net eight assists, and the U.S. U20 team could have used some of her positive thrust down the wing in the recent U20 World Cup campaign. Though Florida State had one of their least memorable seasons in recent memory following an early NCAA Tournament campaign, Tillman again showcased some of her potential in another great season, winning All-Region First Team honors for the Noles. Starting all but one match, Tillman tied for the team lead with five assists while also chipping in with three goals, including big time strikes against UConn and Duke. With another year to gel, Florida State’s young offense could be much improved in 2017, meaning Tillman could be a candidate for one of the season’s true breakout players.
12. Michelle Xiao – MF, F (LF, RF) – Stanford
U.S. U23 international looks like another prime talent for the pros from a program that has put many of their alums in the NWSL. Xiao made an immediate impact as a rookie, starting in all but one matches and establishing herself as one of the nation’s top freshmen. A slashing dribbler out wide with the ball at her feet, Xiao dazzled opposing defenses on the ball but also lacked a certain end product some of the time. Things would be a little more difficult as a sophomore for Xiao, as she wasn’t an automatic first choice any more but still managed to start twelve games for the club. Despite limited minutes early in the season, Xiao eventually worked her way back into the starting lineup as a constant and finished the season in great form, with four goals in the club’s final six matches, increasing her overall season total to seven goals. Efficiency still looks like a work in progress, but Xiao could be a nice secondary or tertiary option for someone’s offense at the next level if she keeps improving.
13. Tegan McGrady – D (LB) – Stanford
Not going to the U20 World Cup may have worked out perfectly for McGrady, who avoided a likely reputation hit with the disaster in Papua New Guinea and excelled for a second straight season for the Card. After suffering through some injuries as a rookie but still looking like a potential star for Stanford, McGrady continued to develop as a sophomore, starting almost every game for the Card and earning All-Pac 12 honorable mention plaudits, which is still a big compliment considering the depth of talent in the conference, especially at defender in 2016. In addition to being a part of a stellar Stanford backline, McGrady also was a big threat coming forward and assisting on the Card’s offense, assisting on three game-winning goals in conference play while getting amongst the goals herself against Oregon. It’s hard to find professional calibre left-backs, meaning McGrady could well work her way into first round discussion if she continues to develop.
14. Hailey Skolmoski – F (CF) , D (CB) – Utah
One of the overnight superstars of the 2016 season, Skolmoski had come into Utah as a former state Gatorade Player of the Year for Utah but had mostly been a solid but unspectacular starter at center-back as a rookie before injury curtailed her season. But the Utes were suffering through their chronic worries about finding a scoring threat, and the club was stronger on defense with Tavia Leachman now in their ranks, prompting a move to the frontline for Skolmoski. And the rest, as they say, is history. Skolmoski scored thirteen goals, including a blistering segment of league play, where she netted five goals in four games, doing all the scoring during a four game winning streak. Skolmoski would wear down late, netting just a shot on goal in the club’s three NCAA Tournament matches, but on the whole, it was a breakout season that netted her a call-up to the U.S. U23 team. At the next level, the question is if she’ll stay up front or be pushed back into defense once more.
15. Sabrina Flores – D (LB), MF (LM, MC) – Notre Dame
Returns to the college game in 2017 after redshirting last year while playing in the U20 World Cup for the U.S., while sister Monica suited up for Mexico. The Irish, despite winning a league title last year, will appreciate the return of Flores after two promising seasons for the club before 2016. Flores was an immediate starter as a rookie in 2014 and made the transition from left-back to the wing in midfield as a sophomore. She’d again start every match and impressed in scoring three goals and adding six assists for the Irish attack. A big question is the role Flores will play this year for Notre Dame, as her sister could again start at left-back, opening up a spot in midfield, where Flores could fit centrally or even move out to a wing forward role if the Irish stick with a 4-3-3. While Flores may not be a star at the next level, her versatility could be key in sticking around the NWSL for a long time.
16. Marie Levasseur – F/D – Memphis
Canadian international finds herself back in favor with the full national team after a call-up in April to the senior team. Whereas she plays in an attacking role for the Tigers in college, Levasseur has been tried out at full-back internationally, which could dramatically increase her value to professional suitors. Levasseur’s value to her team at college level is unarguable, with the Canadian having been the AAC Rookie of the Year in 2015 before turning in another solid season last year despite missing a handful of games. Five goals and six assists was another solid return considering those missed games, while also being aware of the fact that Levasseur was probably just the third scoring option for Memphis behind Valerie Sanderson and Jessica Lisi. With Sanderson gone this season, Levasseur’s role in the offense is likely going to evolve as well. But it might be her performances with the Canadian WNT, likely in defense, that could dictate her draft stock.
17. Jemma Purfield – D (LB) – Arizona State
2017’s international woman of mystery, Purfield has been one of the nation’s elite left-backs for the past two years at South Alabama. When head coach Graham Winkworth traded up for Arizona State after another fine season in Mobile, Purfield followed and will be under a much brighter spotlight in one of the nation’s most testing collegiate conferences. An English youth international and former U17 captain for her nation, Purfield first made a name for herself by totaling eleven assists as a rookie, including helpers against the likes of Auburn, LSU, and Marquette. Purfield would outdo herself in 2016, winning league Defender of The Year, Player of The Year, and Tournament Most Outstanding Player while also bringing home All-America honors. Considering Purfield scored eleven goals and seven assists despite, again, being a defender, the honors were well deserved. It’s safe to say that her duties in the Pac-12 are going to be much more defensive, and it will be interesting to see how the jump in class affects her game. But skilled left-backs don’t grow on trees, and if Purfield keeps developing, she might join compatriots Leah Galton and Rachel Daly in the NWSL.
18. Kayla Sharples – D (CB) – Northwestern
With center-back partner Hannah Davison, Sharples helps form one of the nation’s elite center-back pairings, made all the more astonishing by the fact that both are just going to be juniors coming into the 2017 season. The Wildcats gave up just four goals in eleven league games last season and just six going into the NCAA Tournament, making them one of the nation’s best defensive teams, with Sharples’ play in central defense a big part of that success. After starting every match as a rookie, Sharples again was ever-present in the lineup for the Wildcats and was a workhorse, playing every minute in all but three matches en route to Northwestern keeping a ludicrous seventeen clean sheets with her NU teammates. With three goals, Sharples isn’t a non-factor offensively either. Coming from the rough and tumble Big Ten and with elite size at 5’11”, Sharples could be well suited for the physicality of the pro game and could be a standout, even in a class with many promising center-backs.
19. Sam Staab – D (CB) – Clemson
An almighty outlier, Staab is an assist machine at center-back for the Tigers. Many likely wondered if Staab could maintain her high level of play from her rookie season after coming in as something of an unknown commodity. The center-back netted seven assists as a rookie, and few likely expected Staab to even come close to matching that pace as a sophomore. And yet, Staab actually obliterated that figure, racking up eleven assists, which tied her for tenth most in Division I. Eight of those assists came in a five game stretch, with Nebraska and North Carolina being amongst the victims of Staab’s form, while she also scored goals against South Carolina and Duke. The offense is one thing, but Staab also formed one of the nation’s best center-back pairings with Claire Wagner. With Wagner gone, Staab’s going to be the new focal point of the defense, but based on previous evidence, she’ll probably be up to the task.
20. Ally Prisock – D (CB) – USC
It’s a little hard to fall under the radar as a starter on a national title winning team, but it almost seems like that’s the case with Prisock heading into her junior year for the Trojans. Prisock had been a revelation here as a rookie, starting every match and looking like a natural Pac-12 star at center-back for the Women of Troy. Prisock couldn’t barge her way into the U.S. U20 World Cup team last year, but USC benefitted in a big way, as Prisock again started every match for the Trojans and was only six minutes short of beating out teammate Mandy Freeman for the team lead in minutes played. A physical center-back with a combative edge (five bookings as a sophomore), Prisock now transitions from young star to upperclassman leader on a backline that loses Freeman and Savannah Levin from its ranks. Showing she can marshal said backline as its anchor will be key in determining if Prisock’s draft stock tilts back up after this year.
21. Mimi Asom – F – Princeton
In 2016, Asom didn’t live up to the lofty standard she set as a rookie for the Tigers. Then again, it’d probably be hard for almost any forward to do so considering how high a bar Asom set as a freshman for Princeton. Then, Asom teamed with Tyler Lussi to form one of the nation’s most frightening one-two punches in the attack, with Asom ripping up opposing defenses for twelve goals on strong efficiency numbers to set a marker as one of the class’ best forwards. Asom didn’t quite go through a sophomore slump last season, but her numbers were down across the board, including seeing her goal total dip to nine, with three of those coming against league doormat Cornell. Asom’s still here with the potential to be this class’ best pure scorer when all is said and done, but there’s big pressure on her shoulders this year to carry the scoring load with Lussi having graduated. If she’s up to the task, Asom could be in contention for the first few rounds.
22. Casey Murphy – GK – Rutgers
An extremely difficult prospect to rate properly in this draft class. Without question, Murphy’s the best keeper in this draft class, and, quite frankly, it’s difficult envisioning anyone seriously challenging her for that distinction, even two years out from the draft. That alone should keep her relatively high in the pecking order when all is said and done. However, it’s hard to argue that Murphy’s stock rose that much after 2016 after redshirting to be the U.S.’ #1 for the U20 World Cup. It was a calamitous tournament for almost all involved, and Murphy carried some of the blame as well with some shaky showings over the course of the competition, save for a strong display in the third-place match defeat. A massive keeper who stands at a listed 6’0” and is a fine shot stopper with great athleticism for her size. But Murphy’s handling and decision making is suspect at times, and this past Fall raises questions about being protected at college level by a revolving door of fantastic defenders. Will be the first keeper off the board in this class but has some rough edges that need smoothing off.
23. Marisa Viggiano – MF – Northwestern
Northwestern is widely thought of as a defensive team under Michael Moynihan, but Viggiano’s doing her best to shed the stereotype as one of the Wildcats’ prime threats in midfield. A recruiting coup and former member of the U.S. U20 pool, Viggiano was a massive signing for a rebuilding Wildcats side and came into Evanston with massive expectations on her shoulders. Viggiano would be impressive as a rookie but really began to come into her own last season for the rapidly improving Wildcats. Five assists on the season, including two in the NCAAs against Kent State, led the team, while Viggiano also tried to get on the scoresheet herself as the team leader in shots with thirty-four. She only managed a single goal though, and you have to wonder her collegiate ceiling if Northwestern can’t bring in some stronger talent on the frontline to support her. But Viggiano’s a budding star for the Wildcats and might be someone whose true potential is only seen at pro level.
24. Kyra Carusa – F – Stanford
A bit of a late bloomer that’s enjoyed a rapid rise through the ranks, Carusa has developed into one of the Pac-12’s most dangerous offensive players heading into the 2017 season for the Card. Few likely knew what to expect of Carusa given her redshirt in her true freshman season, but she came out quickly as a redshirt freshman in 2015, starting all but one game and establishing herself as one of the nation’s top rookies. Quickly developing a reputation as a big match performer after her freshman season, Carusa continued to excel as a sophomore, knocking in a handful of goals and racking up ten assists for the Palo Alto side, including eight assists in Pac-12 play, all of which earned Carusa much deserved All-Region third team honors. With some serious scoring power coming in in this freshman class, Carusa’s assist total could soar further as she looks like one of the most important creative pieces to this Stanford side.
25. Leah Pruitt – F (CF) – USC
It’s rare to call a super sub one of the most important players going into a new season, but that could be the position Pruitt finds herself in going into 2017 for the Trojans. Pruitt put her name in lights as a rookie at San Diego State in 2015, scoring ten goals and nine assists as she set herself up as one of the nation’s best rookies for the Aztecs. But then came the shocking news that Pruitt was transferring up to USC ahead of her sophomore season, just one of many moves that had experts tabbing the Trojans for a title challenge. Instead of being a starter for USC though, Pruitt was a key weapon off the bench, logging four goals and leading the team with eight assists despite not starting a game and not even getting up to nine hundred minutes on the season. A handful to try to stop when she gets rolling with the ball at her feet, how Pruitt gels with Alex Anthony in the attack this season could dictate the Trojans’ title defense, as well as Pruitt’s draft stock.
26. Reilly Martin – F (RF, LF), MF (AMC) – Michigan
A highly touted recruit coming into Ann Arbor, Martin was mostly used as a super sub du jour as a rookie, starting just six matches but still coming up big with a pair of goals and five assists. Given a chance to ascend into the starting lineup as a sophomore, Martin took the opportunity with both hands, turning into one of the Big Ten’s most dynamic weapons, with seven goals and ten assists in 2016. Martin’s goal numbers could be a bit deceiving considering three of those goals came from the penalty spot, but there’s little denying getting into double digits in assists for the season, a mark that tied her for the league lead. The highlight was assisting on both goals in the club’s win over Notre Dame, and Martin had at least one shot on goal in every match in 2016, bar a draw with Wisconsin. Efficiency is not Martin’s strong suit though, so she might be more apt for a midfield role at the next level.
27. Franny Cerny – F – DePaul
Czech youth international by way of northern California, Cerny has been doing damage in the Windy City for the Blue Demons for two impressive seasons. DePaul has been a quiet offensive juggernaut in the Big East for the past half decade, and Cerny’s been a big contributor to that output in her first two years in Chi-town. Cerny would come into last season with some pretty big expectations after winning Big East Freshman of the Year honors in 2015 following a six goal, five assist outburst, and she’d suffer through no sophomore slump, netting nine times and adding six assists on incredible efficiency numbers. She’d start a little slow, but seven goals against league opponents, including two against Georgetown in two matches showcased Cerny’s potential. Cerny will undoubtedly be asked to pick up more of the scoring load with Abby Reed’s graduation, but if she’s up to the task, the Californian could sneak higher up this board.
28. Sarina Bolden – MF – Loyola Marymount
A major player in the recent resurrection of Loyola Marymount’s fortunes after so many seasons of struggle, Bolden got a big reward this past offseason with a call-up to the U.S. U23 team for a training camp. Few probably could have envisioned Bolden’s rise to such a level after her freshman season, where she only started six matches for the Lions, but Bolden took a quantum leap forward one season later as she became one of the first names on the team sheet for LMU. Bolden finished her sophomore season as the Lions’ leading scorer, netting six times and adding three assists, as she locked herself in as one of the league’s most important players for her side. Bolden’s efficiency numbers weren’t great, but you also get the feeling that she could flourish if given a little more help offensively at LMU this season.
29. Hannah Davison – D (CB) – Northwestern
A highly touted recruit into a program that really needed some at the beginning of the 2015 season, Davison has developed nicely into one of the Big Ten’s best defenders and a potential middle round pick in this draft class at this pace. Davison would start fourteen times as a rookie as a part of a formidable defense, but it’d take until her sophomore season to really shine for the Wildcats. Davison was the young anchor of one of the nation’s stingiest defenses, starting every match and playing all but fifteen minutes on the year. Davison’s not going to be a big offensive force from central defense, but she did manage a winner with her head against Marquette last year. The Wildcats have been a defensive force under Michael Moynihan, and while Davison may not get as much attention as teammate Kayla Sharples, she too could be a nice pro prospect.
30. Gudrun Arnardottir – D – Santa Clara
A surprising addition to Santa Clara’s roster before last season, Arnardottir is yet another very promising Icelandic prospect to come and excel on these shores. Listed as a sophomore before her first season at college level, Arnardottir came to the U.S. with a smattering of caps at full international level, in addition to many appearances for Iceland at youth international level. Worries about how Arnardottir would adapt to the American college game were swept aside in short order, with the Icelandic player winning WCC Freshman of the Year honors after starting every match as a rookie on the Broncos’ backline and even netting a couple goals, including the winner against league rival Loyola Marymount. The sky’s the limit for Arnardottir given her showing after just one college season, and though she may choose a pro career in Europe over the U.S., she already looks like a vital part of Iceland’s future.
31. CeCe Kizer – F (CF) – Ole Miss
Perhaps a poster child of why judgments made after just one season should be frowned upon. Kizer came from almost nowhere as a rookie to put her name in lights with fourteen goals in an offense happy side that ripped opposing defenses up, doing it against big clubs and with strong efficiency numbers. It was nowhere near as easy last season, as Kizer and her club struggled to meet expectations. Her goal total sunk like a stone to just five, even though the number of shots Kizer took remained quite similar. Kizer’s SOG % also dipped, while she netted just one game winning goal. The lone real bright point was a big jump in assists, with Kizer notching six for the Rebels. Most of those goals did come in SEC play, but Kizer also missed time with a foot injury that plagued her down the stretch. It’s a crossroads season for Kizer, and with Gretchen Harknett and Addie Forbus both gone now, the junior will undoubtedly be the player of focus in the attack for Ole Miss.
32. Anna Maria Baldursdottir – D – Saint John’s (NY)
A university that’s unearthed some great international gems over the past half decade may have yet another in the form of Icelandic stud Baldusdottir. Already a full Icelandic international after having featured in her nation’s qualifying matches for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the young Baldursdottir looks like a potential star for the future for her nation based on early evidence at college level. Baldursdottir immediately won a place in the starting lineup for Saint John’s (NY) as a rookie and excelled in the program’s first Big East title triumph, raising expectations for her sophomore season. She would essentially exceed those expectations, earning All-Region First Team honors after anchoring a defense that was one of the nation’s stingiest while also adding three game-winning goals on the year. Keeping her on these shores might be tough, but Baldursdottir figures to be a pro wherever she ends up.
33. Charlotte Williams – MF – Penn State
The season didn’t end with a flourish, but the absences of many of Penn State’s top players due to the U20 World Cup to emerge, including Williams, who took on an increased role as a sophomore after showing some real flashes of potential during PSU’s national title winning campaign. Best in a creative role in midfield, Williams might find new opportunities as a #10 for the Nittany Lions with Nicolette Driesse’s graduation, opening up a hole for such a player in the lineup. Williams doubled her goal total from her freshman season in 2016, netting six times, even as her assist total dropped from seven to four for the club. As much as anyone, Williams could benefit from the re-infusion of talent back into PSU’s lineup this year, and how Williams meshes with fellow central midfield junior Emily Ogle, returning from the U20 World Cup, could well determine how the Big Ten powerhouse’s season goes in 2017.
34. Betsy Brandon – MF (DMC) – Virginia
Was Virginia’s forwards let down by its midfield, or was its midfield instead let down by an inconsistent group on the frontline? It was a puzzling question that raged all the more after UVA’s rather early Sweet Sixteen exit in the NCAA Tournament with the Cavs having grown spoiled following a rich vein of recruiting form that had brought the likes of Morgan Brian and Danielle Colaprico to Charlottesville. The hope was likely that Brandon would be the next in line on the star conveyor belt in UVA’s midfield, but after a promising rookie season, Brandon stagnated a bit as Alexis Shaffer dominated the Cavs’ midfield (and its entire attack for that matter). Brandon would maintain her grip on a starting spot as a sophomore, but her offensive numbers also didn’t budge that much, with three goals once more not from the penalty spot in 2016. With Shaffer’s graduation though, Brandon’s going to need to play a much bigger role in setting the tempo for the Cavs. It’s entirely possible she jumps up quite a bit if she can get it done.
35. Dorian Bailey – MF – North Carolina
Another player who could well be much higher up the board come January 2019, Bailey has seen her development stunted by an ACL injury suffered in her freshman season. Said injury put paid to hopes of a U20 World Cup appearance, which also had the knock-on effect of keeping her in this class instead of pushing her back to the 2020 class. A hard worker in central midfield, Bailey figures to play in a deeper role if Joanna Boyles is healthy this season. Last year, Bailey was instead used as one of the club’s first reserves off the bench and finished tied for fourth on the team with four goals despite not cracking a thousand minutes on the season. Some ACL injuries take longer to get all the way back from, meaning Bailey could be in for a big tick upward in form this year as that injury gets further in the rear view mirror. Carolina’s loaded for 2017, meaning Bailey could be a nice tip for one of the nation’s breakout players of the year if all goes according to plan.
36. Emily Bates – MF (AMC), F (CF) – Texas A&M
A very tricky player to grade, as Bates has had injury problems throughout the first few years of her career in College Station. However, Bates definitely has shown what she means to the Aggies through two seasons, as when in the lineup and healthy, the offense has looked infinitely more dangerous than when she’s been absent. After a seven goal, six assist rookie showing, A&M faithful likely dreamt of a potential double digit return, but the injury bug bit Bates hard as a sophomore. Injury would cost Bates nearly a month of the league season, and that in turn almost cost the Aggies a spot in the NCAA Tournament. When in the lineup, Bates did chip in with five goals, though mostly against the lesser sides on A&M’s plate, and saw her assist total dip to just one. Durability questions are now a major red flag, but if Bates can stay healthy, you can probably bump her value up at least ten spots.
37. Dakota Mills – F – Saint Joseph’s
Mills might be the best forward from this class that you’ve never heard of. But Atlantic 10 defenses definitely knew Mills’ name after a 2016 season that saw her set a program record for goals in a single season with eighteen, while she also added five assists for good measure en route to A10 Offensive Player of the Year honors. Mills is an overnight superstar either, as she was already coming off a big season in 2015, where she netted ten goals as a rookie for the Hawks. Mills’ efficiency numbers were very good as well, putting one of every five shots in the back of the net while also putting 57% of her efforts on frame. Hang-ups? Mills still has to prove she can get it done against the very best of the best, a she was held to one combined shot on goal against Rutgers and Northeastern, arguably the top two teams on SJU’s schedule last year. But with patience and a little luck, Mills could be a steal in this class.
38. Vanessa Valadez – F – SMU
SMU was always going to need a Herculean effort to rebound from the morass it found itself in heading into last season. But a young Mustangs side has benefitted from a great young corps of talent, and Valadez is one of the brightest of those stars that SMU has at their disposal. Valadez’s college career got off to a bit of a slow start, as she was forced to redshirt through injury after having featured in a handful of games in 2014. But Valadez would begin to show her potential a year later with eight goals for the Mustangs, raising expectations heading into last season. As a sophomore, Valadez was all action, netting nine goals and also adding eight assists to show herself as one of the AAC’s most valuable attackers. The biggest question hanging over Valadez is her ability against the top teams, as she was notably quiet against powerhouses like BYU and UConn last year, though she still has two years to develop.
39. Sarah Le Beau – GK – Auburn
A familiar face in all likelihood to Chicago Red Stars brass after playing for Rory Dames at youth club level, Le Beau has shined as a collegian in two stellar seasons thus far as well. A moderately touted player coming onto the Plains, Le Beau redshirted in 2014 but won the starting job right at the beginning of 2015 and has hardly looked back since for the Tigers. Le Beau set a marker down as arguably the best rookie keeper in the nation in 2015 and didn’t suffer from a sophomore slump last year either, forming a nice last line of defense behind a typically stellar backline for Auburn. It speaks volumes that at a school with a history of churning out strong keepers, Le Beau could rise highest yet given the first few seasons of her career. With little depth in this keeper class, Le Beau could be in demand for some team looking for a developmental keeper in the later rounds.
40. Arielle Schechtman – GK – Georgetown
Living, breathing proof that sometimes you really do get a second act in DI WoSo as a goalkeeper. Few could have likely envisioned Schechtman being on this list at this time a year earlier given a dismal beginning to her collegiate career at UCLA. After redshirting as a true freshman, Schechtman was thrown right into the fire behind a porous backline as one of the club’s revolving door of netminders and looked out of her depth in a nightmare season for the Bruins. Without a future in all likelihood at Westwood, Schechtman transferred to Georgetown and proved a revelation, helping lead the Hoyas to their first College Cup appearance. It was good enough to see the keeper recalled to the U.S. U23 team in the offseason. It’s up to her to prove she’s not a one-season wonder, but in a bad GK class, Schechtman has a chance to stand out.
41. Hailie Mace – D (CB) – UCLA
It’s been trial by fire for Mace, who was tossed into the deep end as a rookie for the Bruins on the backline, and she and her compatriots took some serious lumps in 2015 as UCLA struggled on defense. But a year of additional experience and a talented center-back partner in Kaiya McCullough helped steady the ship a bit, with Mace showing improvement by sophomore season’s end. A converted forward who also has played full-back, Mace’s future at the next level is probably on the backline, though given her penchant for forward runs, a full-time move to full-back might be in the cards. UCLA’s defense was still fairly average last season though, so improvement will be needed with much greater expectations this season for the club if Mace is to solidify her draft stock.
42. Qyara Winston – D – Arkansas
An overnight star for a resurgent Arkansas side in 2016. Winston went from afterthought to one of the SEC’s bright young defenders after a breakout sophomore season last year in a rebound year for the Razorbacks. It was a stunning rise for Winston considering she had been a reserve for almost all of her freshman season before redshirting in 2015 following just four appearances. But Winston ended up a critical element to the SEC side’s defense last year, starting nineteen matches and being a part of six clean sheets. Arkansas looks like a side that could challenge for a league title this upcoming season, meaning the odds of Winston being a one-hit wonder probably aren’t that high. If she isn’t, she could continue moving up these rankings next year.
43. Julie James – MF – Baylor
Big time recruits don’t pop up in Waco very often, so James’ signing with the Bears was a serious coup for the Big 12 side. The midfielder’s been a starter here for almost all of her two-year career to this point and made an immediate impression with four goals as a rookie in 2015, setting the stage for bigger expectations going into her sophomore season. While James couldn’t quite match her scoring total of a year earlier, she did dramatically up her assist total, going from one to five as a sophomore. The big Texan would probably be even more of a presence on the score sheet with a little more offensive help around her, and the Bears’ low profile the past few years hasn’t helped her stock. But with Baylor having a nice young core to build around the next few seasons, James could be a sleeper for a big rise up the rankings with a little luck.
44. Christine Etzel – GK – Brown
Brown’s rise from an Ivy League afterthought to a side of real consequence in the league has soared with the fortunes of its stellar goalkeeper, Etzel. Etzel was busy as a rookie and turned a few heads in that 2015 season, but it’d take until her sophomore season for everyone to truly take notice, as the Connecticut native earned unanimous Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year honors after a brilliant season for the Bears. It remains to be seen if Brown can keep building on a revelatory 2016 season under Kia McNeill, but Etzel looks likely to be front and center of any potential title push. The keeper has nice size at 5’11” and will likely have four years of starting experience by the end of her career, but she might still be a little raw with Brown not likely to face a supremely testing schedule. But it’s far from a deep goalkeeping class, meaning Etzel could be a nice late round sleeper.
45. Remy Borinsky – MF – Dartmouth
Another potential mid-major gem in a somewhat diluted class. Borinsky was one of the Ivy League’s best rookies in 2015, starring in midfield and looked to capitalize on that with a follow-up last year. It’s safe to say she did so in style, nabbing All-Region First Team honors, a big feat considering she was playing on the Ivy’s worst side by some distance in 2016. Borinsky wasn’t shy about shooting last year, taking thirty-one shots, second most on the team but only netted a single goal for those efforts. It’s hard to truly get a great gauge on Borinsky’s talents at this point considering she’s being asked to do so much for a team with so little talent. But if the Big Green do surround her with some more capable players, Borinsky could be one of this class’ fast risers, but that’s far from a given right now.
46. Mariel Gutierrez – MF – Northern Colorado
Not to be confused with the other soccer playing Mariel Gutierrez at Georgia. Northern Colorado’s Gutierrez has been one of mid-major soccer’s brightest stars for the past two seasons. An immediate starter for the Bears as a rookie, Gutierrez made a huge impression with seven goals in 2015 but took another big step forward last season for UNC. Ten goals and three assists was a huge return considering the Bears didn’t even play twenty matches last season. As ever, the question is if Gutierrez’s game can translate to a higher level, as the Bears didn’t exactly play the most testing schedule last season. Strong efficiency numbers for a midfielder gives her hope, as does UNC’s record of developing Adrienne Jordan, a former Chicago Red Star draft pick. In a weak class, Gutierrez could be a big time sleeper in the later rounds.
47. Gabrielle Vincent – D (CB), MF – Louisville
Center-back rose to prominence early in her sophomore season after quite the unlikely hat trick in 2016 against UAB while also adding an assist a few days later against Toledo. However, Vincent’s been more known for her work at the heart of the Cardinal defense for the past two seasons, though she could conceivably be a solid central midfielder in a defensive capacity as well. Vincent actually showed a small scoring touch as a rookie too, with a pair of goals, and her three goals last season for the Cardinals was actually tied for second on the team, though that says more about the offense than anything else. Vincent’s at her best in commandeering a hard working rearguard that sprung a few too many leaks last year, and she’ll need another big season in 2017 with the club graduating veteran keeper Taylor Bucklin.
48. Grace Hagan – F – Kansas
Towering forward’s goals have been crucial to the Jayhawks’ efforts as a contending side in the Big 12 over the past two years. Won a starting spot right off the bat as a rookie and netted four goals and three assists, but few could have expected her rapid growth as a sophomore in 2016. The Wichita native almost doubled her goal tally to seven last year while also upping her assist total to four for KU. Were some of those goal numbers a bit deceiving though? Three of those seven goals came from the penalty spot, and Hagan’s efficiency numbers look considerably worse once you factor out spot kicks, though many of her goals were against stronger opposition. With this being such a weak class though, all it might take is just another step forward to get Hagan into conversation in the later rounds.
49. Olivia Gauthier – D (CB), MF – Memphis
The next big addition for the Tigers off their touted pipeline into Canada. However, unlike most of Memphis’ Canadian stars over the years, Gauthier takes up more of a defensive role for the club, either on the backline, or in midfield, where she excelled as a rookie. A minutes eater who led the team in minutes played while captaining the Tigers as a sophomore, Gauthier could end up sticking on the backline though after excelling for Memphis there in 2016. Not a huge factor offensively with no goals and four assists in two seasons, though that’s not a big demerit if she stays on the backline again. Could be tough to stick in the NWSL given her international status but could carve out a spot for herself abroad.
50. Paige Welch – D/MF – Oklahoma
Austin native crossed the divide to sign with Oklahoma as a modestly regarded recruit, and the Sooners have reaped the dividends through two seasons. Made an immediate impact as a rookie for OU in 2015, starting all but a few games for an improved Sooners side. There were no signs of a sophomore slump last year either, as Welch retained her starting spot for OU in all twenty-three matches in 2016. Not much of a threat offensively but saved her one goal as a sophomore for the best possible moment, netting it against SMU in the NCAA Tournament to help OU to its first ever win in the Big Dance. Faces a big task going forward in being a defensive leader with the likes of Rachel Ressler having graduated around her going into 2017.