2023 NWSL Draft Preview

Who will be in the spotlight Thursday night?

By Johanna Modak

The 2023 NWSL Draft will take place at 6 PM on Thursday, January 12. It will be hosted in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Fans can attend in person (for free!) or you can watch along on CBS Sports or Paramount+. There is sure to be no shortage of excitement, so grab some popcorn, and here’s a breakdown of everything you need to know heading into the draft.

Sophia Smith, No. 1 draft pick at the 2020 NWSL Draft, courtesy of AP Newsroom

Fast Facts

  • The draft consists of four rounds of 12 selections each, totaling 48 selections overall. 
  • Last week, Angel City FC secured the No. 1 pick through a four-way trade involving the Portland Thorns, Orlando Pride, and Gotham FC. 
  • Washington Spirit, Kansas City Current, San Diego Wave, and OL Reign do not have a first-round pick this year. 

First Round Prospects

Angel City FC is projected to select 18-year-old forward Alyssa Thompson with the first pick. Thompson registered for the draft with less than a week until the deadline, making for an exciting revelation in tandem with Angel City’s fancy chess moves to secure the No. 1 pick. The NWSL was not the only possibility for the young star and USWNT member;  PSG had reportedly shown interest as well. These late moves make the first pick seem pretty set in stone, but the NWSL is never short on excitement, so we’ll have to wait to be sure!

Who else might we see selected in the first round? That’s a bit more up in the air. Teams are looking to fill in gaps in their own particular rosters, so beyond the first pick, the order is really determined by the specific needs of the selecting team. Claire Watkins with Just Women’s Sports offers an in-depth look at what each team will likely prioritize. 

Despite the complexities behind those drafting decisions, there are a few candidates who are likely to get snapped up in the first round. Reyna Reyes, a defender at Alabama, is expected to be a top pick. Not only is she holding it down for her team on the collegiate level, she also has some international play under her belt with the Mexican national team.

Emily Madril is another defender entering the draft with quite a resume. She is already contracted with the NWSL and playing professionally on loan in Sweden, having forfeited her final season of eligibility at the collegiate level for FSU.

On the offensive side, keep an eye out for Izzy D’Aquila out of Santa Clara, and Messiah Bright (TCU), who, beyond their impressive goal counts, have also both earned caps with the U.S. Youth National Team.

Draft History

The NWSL No. 1 pick has a strong record of making a big impact in the league. The past five No. 1 picks are all familiar names and big playmakers: Naomi Girma (2022), Emily Fox (2021), Sophia Smith (2020), Tierna Davidson (2019), and Andi Sullivan (2018). All of these players have earned caps with the USWNT, and are a highly celebrated group in both international and league play, having earned accolades ranging from NWSL Rookie of the Year (Girma, 2022) to U.S. Soccer BioSteel Female Player of the Year (Smith, 2022).

There are certain collegiate programs known to produce the most No. 1 picks. Among the top programs are UNC, Stanford, and UCLA. Notably, over the past five years, Stanford has produced three of the No. 1 picks: Naomi Girma, Sophia Smith, and Andi Sullivan. 

This year, with the first pick fairly clearly slated, it will fall to Gotham FC’s second pick to get the drama going. Teams may also trade slots, allocation money, and players during the draft, so there is sure to be no shortage of last-minute excitement. 

You can watch the 2023 NWSL Draft live on CBS Sports Network, CBS Sports HQ or Paramount+ at 6 PM ET on Thursday, January 12, 2023.

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