Why you should care about the NWSL College Draft

ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 03: Andi Sullivan
ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 03: Andi Sullivan /

The 2018 NWSL College Draft is here, with the sixth NWSL season slated to begin in late March.

‘Twas the night before the NWSL draft, when all thro’ the house,
Not a single club was stirring, not even a mouse;

The jerseys were hung by the stage with care,
In hopes that a lucky name soon would be declared.

On Jan. 18, the 2018 National Women’s Soccer League College Draft will begin at 10 a.m. ET at the United Soccer Coaches Convention in Philadelphia. The draft will open its doors to the public and media, and the event will be streamed live on Facebook, YouTube and the league website.

The draft symbolizes an important part of the year; the end of one’s collegiate career, and the beginning of a professional path with a league that is entering its sixth season. Before the draft, eligible players have submitted their names to the preliminary list which has been shuffled around and updated for weeks leading up to the big day.

Perhaps the best part of the draft is the suspense leading up to the day; the guesses and tweets about who will go No. 1, what the 10 NWSL clubs are looking for out of the 2018 class, what an unexpected pick could be and of course all the heartfelt speeches.

If you don’t get excited for the draft, but are the first to jump on the rookie-bandwagon (I’m looking at you, Rose Lavelle fans), be better. As U.S. soccer continues to make a point of investing in youth, and players are finishing school early to play professionally, the draft is one of the most important days for setting up the foundation of the year ahead. So in short, here’s why you should care.

This year the expected No. 1 pick is Stanford All-America and U.S. women’s national team midfielder Andi Sullivan. Sullivan recently won the all-mighty MAC Hermann Trophy, the highest honor for a college soccer player, and is fresh off a national championship with the Cardinal. For the USWNT, Sullivan played in the team’s final friendlies of 2017 and helped Jill Ellis’ squad earn two wins against Switzerland.

The Washington Spirit hold the first overall pick in the draft, so unless a curveball or absolute upper-90 bender is booted into Philly, Sullivan is heading to the Spirit. Soccer fans everywhere have been excited about Sullivan for years. Her decorated career at Stanford started in her freshman season, when she was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, and carried through her senior year, when she earned about every honor imaginable.

2016 wasn’t as kind to Sullivan. She tore her ACL which not only kept her out of Stanford’s NCAA tournament run but also out of the USWNT camp. After a year rehabbing — admirably, incredibly silently — Sullivan made her return in the most monumental way. Sullivan alone is reason enough to get excited about the NWSL year ahead.

Next: USWNT January Camp is here: What’s in store for 2018?

2017 set the standard incredibly high for NWSL rookies. North Carolina Courage forward Ashley Hatch may not have recorded her first start for the NC side until June 3, but once she got the call in the starting XI she didn’t disappoint. The BYU alum scored in her first start in a Lifetime match against FC Kansas City and went on to win 2017 NWSL Rookie of the Year. The No. 2 draft pick scored seven goals in 22 appearances on the year and also chipped in one assist.

This is the kind of season South Carolina forward Savannah McCaskill could have. The Gamecocks’ three-time All-America will enter the draft as an expected No. 2 overall pick. McCaskill was recently named to the USWNT January camp training roster. The Boston Breakers hold the second pick, so there’s a good chance the forward could wind up in Boston.

Other rookies that made a splash in 2017 were Breakers’ midfielder Rose Lavelle, Houston Dash goalkeeper Jane Campbell and the Washington Spirits’ Mallory Pugh, to name a few. 2018’s rooks will definitely have their work cut out for them to live up to the standards set by the previous class. However, given the draft list and the commitment to make each season bigger and better than the last, the rookies should be OK.

2018 also features a new franchise, Utah Royals FC. This club will be led by former Seattle Reign FC head coach Laura Harvey and features standout players like longtime USWNT center-back Becky Sauerbrunn and former Sky Blue FC defender Kelley O’Hara. The club will play at Rio Tinto Stadium in Salt Lake City and represents an exciting expansion for MLS’ Real Salt Lake. The new club won’t get to pick until No. 14 in the draft, so who knows who Harvey has in mind for her pick, but the addition of the club shows promising growth for the league.

It’s also worth noting that Harvey sticking around is a great sign for the league. With Seattle Reign, Harvey was a two-time NWSL coach of the year (2014, 2015) and spent five years with Seattle. When she announced her resignation last year it was made public that she was looking in a different coaching direction. However, the league, and players all over, were pleasantly surprised to see that the former Arsenal coach would be sticking around.

So from Sullivan’s mastery, to rookie domination and a new club entering the mix, there’s plenty to be excited for in the NWSL this year, and it all starts at 10 a.m. at the College Draft.