The 2021 National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) season is almost upon us, with the excitement to only build when the NWSL Draft takes place on Wednesday.
Previously known as the NWSL College Draft, the event will see the most talented players in the U.S. college system brought into what is arguably the best women's soccer league in the world.
The draft will include expansion team Racing Louisville for the first time as they look to bolster their roster following the headline-grabbing Expansion Draft back in November.
The Kansas City NWSL team will also feature, with the city returning to the league for the first time since 2017, when FC Kansas City ceased operations and all its player-related assets were absorbed by the Utah Royals. The Royals ceased operations in 2020, with all player-related assets transferred to a Kansas City-based ownership group.
Last year, Stanford's Sophia Smith was chosen by the Portland Thorns as the No.1 pick, after scoring 17 goals and providing nine assists as a sophomore in 2019. She also helped Stanford win the NCAA title for the second time in three years before becoming the first teenager to ever be selected in the draft.
This year, the Covid-19 pandemic has forced huge changes to the event. The most significant of those is a change to the player eligibility rules.ISI Photos/Bryan Byerly
Previously, players would have to declare for the draft in order to be picked. However, after the impact of coronavirus hit college sports hard in 2020, the NWSL have now announced that all senior college athletes will be eligible without the need to register.
In the past, declaring for the draft would make players ineligible for college sports. But with the college women's soccer season pushed back from the end of 2020 to spring 2021, aspiring NWSL players will have the opportunity to play their final season of college soccer and then turn their attentions towards becoming professional.
There has been some controversy surrounding the change, with any player selected in the draft to have their rights kept by that club until the start of the 2022 NWSL pre-season begins, whether they want to play in the league or not.
Nonetheless, the positive is that players will not have to choose between playing their final college season and registering for the draft, a dilemma which would likely have deterred some.
Who will be this year's top pick, then? Catarino Macario was almost everyone's undisputed prediction. The Brazilian-born forward acquired American citizenship last year and is set to become the first naturalized citizen to play for the USWNT after being cleared to represent the senior team. She has already been called up Vlatko Andonovski.
However, Macario announced last week that she would forego her final year at Stanford and turn professional, then signed for Lyon earlier this week. It's a move that deals a huge blow to not only Louisville, but the whole NWSL.
With the 21-year-old choosing to move across the Atlantic, USWNT international Emily Fox was chosen by Racing Louisville as the No.1 pick. The defender already has three caps at senior level, making her debut back in November 2018 when she was just 20 years old.
Fox has spent the last four years as part of the North Carolina Tar Heels, who reached the College Cup final in 2018 and 2019.
The next player picked was Trinity Rodman, daughter of former NBA star Dennis Rodman, who this week chose to go pro. The forward scored twice in last year's Concacaf U20 Championship final as the United States beat Mexico 4-1.
Brianna Pinto, another highly-rated young American talent, was picked third by Sky Blue FC. The 20-year-old midfielder, who was nominated for the U.S. Soccer Young Female Player of the Year award in 2019, has spent the last two years playing alongside Fox in North Carolina.
The 2021 NWSL Draft will be streamed live on the NWSL's official Twitch channel. The event will begin at 4pm PT/7pm ET on Wednesday January 13.
2021 NWSL Draft picks
|Round 1||1||Emily Fox||defender||Racing Louisville|
|2||Trinity Rodman||forward||Washington Spirit|
|3||Brianna Pinto||midfielder||Sky Blue|
|4||Kiara Pickett||defender||Kansas City NWSL|
|5||Emina Ekic||midfielder||Racing Louisville|
|6||Yazmeen Ryan||midfielder||Portland Thorns|
|7||Madison Haley||forward||Chicago Red Stars|
|8||Tara McKeown||forward||Washington Spirit|
|9||Viviana Villacorta||midfielder||Orlando Pride|
|10||Deanne Rose||forward||North Carolina Courage|
|Round 2||11||Taylor Otto||midfielder||Racing Louisville|
|12||Sam Coffey||midfielder||Portland Thorns|
|13||Kirsten Davis||forward||Racing Louisville|
|14||Mikayla Colohan||midfielder||Orlando Pride|
|15||Victoria Pickett||midfielder||Kansas City NWSL|
|16||Lucy Parker||defender||Kansas City NWSL|
|17||Addie McCain||midfielder||Kansas City NWSL|
|18||Kelsey Turnbow||forward||Chicago Red Stars|
|19||Anna Heilferty||forward||Washington Spirit|
|20||Alyssa Malonson||defender||North Carolina Courage|
|Round 3||21||Parker Goins||forward||Racing Louisville|
|22||Amirah Ali||forward||Portland Thorns|
|23||Taryn Torres||midfielder||Sky Blue|
|24||Kerry Abello||forward||Orlando Pride|
|25||Brianna Alger||defender||Chicago Red Stars|
|26||Joelle Anderson||midfielder||Houston Dash|
|27||Makamae Gomera-Stevens||forward||Houston Dash|
|28||Jimena Lopez||defender||OL Reign|
|29||Sydney Schneider||goalkeeper||Washington Spirit|
|30||Myra Konte||defender||North Carolina Courage|
|Round 4||31||Emily Smith||defender||Racing Louisville|
|32||Channing Foster||forward||Portland Thorns|
|33||Delanie Sheehan||defender||Sky Blue|
|34||Kaylie Collins||goalkeeper||Orlando Pride|
|35||Alissa Gorzak||forward||Chicago Red Stars|
|36||Alex Loera||midfielder||Kansas City NWSL|
|37||Hannah Betford||defender||Portland Thorns|
|38||Brookelynn Entz||midfielder||Kansas City NWSL|
|39||Mariana Speckmaier||forward||Washington Spirit|
|40||Tess Boade||forward||Sky Blue|