The 2014 NWSL Draft Class was touted as one of the best in recent memory, composed largely of U.S. U20 World Cup winners at the top. Through half a season, has this class lived up to it’s billing? Well…
BOSTON – Jazmine Reeves probably delivered the best individual performance by a rookie this season with her stunning hat trick against Portland in the Breakers’ triumphant win. Other than that though? Uh, not so great. Reeves has five other appearances and zero shots on goal in those games. Potential there for certain, but she’s probably not the surefire star some think she is. First round pick Nkem Ezurike hasn’t exactly set the world on fire either. In five matches, Ezurike has just two shots on goal and one goal. With Lisa De Vanna dispatched to Washington, both Reeves and Ezurike should get more opportunities in the second half of the season. Mollie Pathman impressed as a winger in the preseason but was drafted back into defense to help solve the club’s ills there. She’s been decent there but not exceptional. Goalkeeper Jami Kranich hasn’t played. Natasha Anasi never reported to camp, while Kim DeCesare has been playing for the club’s reserve team.
CHICAGO – Most figured the Red Stars would have a great shot at improving their team by leaps and bounds with two of the first four picks in this draft. And so it’s been. Julie Johnston is the leader in the house for Rookie of the Year and may yet win Defender of the Year honors when all is said and done. She looks to be playing herself into contention for the U.S. WWC squad next year. Vanessa DiBernardo hasn’t been quite at that level but has still been quietly impressive for the Red Stars. That’d be enough for most teams to regard their draft as a resounding success, but the club also scored with Hayley Brock in round three, with the forward impressing in attack before being sidelined with jaw surgery. And undrafted rookies? Yeah, Chicago scored with those too. Samantha Johnson was pretty much an unknown at USC through a middling college career but looks like a tremendous find at center-back. And Kecia Morway has more than held her own at full-back on the backline. It looks like another fantastic haul for a front office with a great eye for talent.
FC KANSAS CITY – A lot in terms of quantity and a decent amount of quality based on early returns. Kassey Kallman’s being played out of position at left-back, and it’s been evident in many respects, though she’s still been more than solid for the club in defense. The real find though was Jenna Richmond, who probably would’ve gone much higher if not for her history of knee injuries. She’s stayed healthy and been a great fit in the defensive band of midfield in the club’s 4-2-3-1. It may have been presumed that Richmond would be a reserve and spot starter as a rookie, but she’s played well enough to stick as a starter. Morgan Marlborough’s looked like a project from day one and with a return of just one goal and three shots on goal in seven games, she still has a long way to go to be a consistent performer at this level. With Sarah Hagen coming in as well, you wonder how many minutes she’ll see up front as the club’s target forward. Frances Silva has been the more impressive of the forwards, including scoring a big goal against Houston this past weekend. Silva’s already been an imposing threat in the attack and could end up being one of this class’ best picks long-term. Mandy Laddish has seen limited time as a reserve. Maegan Kelly is currently playing in Europe. Undrafted rookie Sara Keane made the club as FCKC’s backup keeper and started against Houston last week.
HOUSTON – Kealia Ohai was hampered a bit by injury at the beginning of the season but has begun to heat up as the season’s gone on. The rest of the squad’s improvement in front of goal is helping in that regard, with Ohai serving better as a complementary option than a top scoring option. She could have a great second half of the season. Rafaelle Souza made a brilliant debut against Boston but has been a bit more of a bit player since. The Brazilian may best be suited as a change of pace off the bench in the near term. Marissa Diggs perhaps did not catch on as quickly as some might have anticipated as an early second round pick but has forced her way into the lineup later on in the season, though Whitney Engen’s arrival may see her minutes drop again. Jordan Jackson showcased her potential early as the triggerwoman in midfield before suffering a concussion. It’ll be interesting to see if she retains her place in midfield as the season goes along. Ari Romero’s been a fixture at right-back, and though she remains raw in some ways, the Mexican youngster looks to have a bright future in the league (and for country). Undrafted rookies Kelly McFarlane and Lindsay Elston have both been capable reserves, though the latter has been injured for much of the past few weeks.
PORTLAND – Paul Riley’s legendary disdain for rookies hasn’t been tempered by his spell with the Thorns thus far. Emily Menges has been a fixture at center-back, perhaps out of necessity more than anything to this point. She’s had her moments of promise but has also still looked like a rookie during some of the club’s glaringly painful moments on defense. Elisabeth Sullivan barely played before being released by the Thorns as some of the club’s big name recruits became ready for duty. Undrafted rookie Courtney Niemiec was another to be thrown right into the fire at full-back. Like Menges, she’s also shown her youth in major minutes for the club. It’ll be interesting to see if she gets more starting assignments with the arrival of Stephanie Catley and the return of Rachel van Hollebeke from injury.
SEATTLE – Oh, injuries. First round pick Amanda Frisbie has missed the entire season thus far, and you wonder if this campaign won’t be a total washout for her with the squad looking settled in her absence. Megan Brigman has been an unused reserve for the entire season. Ellen Parker did not make the squad out of preseason camp. So in other words? Jury’s still out on this class. Not that they’ll mind that much at the top of the table right now.
SKY BLUE FC – Maya Hayes was thought of as a solution to SBFC’s problems up front but has struggled mightily early in the season. Zero goals and just two shots on goal in twelve appearances just about sums it up, though she did score in the club’s 2-2 comeback against Chicago, hopefully signaling improvement in the second half of the season. Hayley Haagsma suffered a torn ACL in the preseason and won’t play this year. Michelle Pao, puzzlingly, wasn’t on the club’s preseason roster but has apparently joined up with SBFC as a reserve player. Similarly, Elizabeth Eddy didn’t report to camp. By contrast, she hasn’t shown up with the club as of yet. The team signed Meg Morris off of waivers at the start of the season. The UNC alum hasn’t done much to help with the club’s shaky defense though in brief time in the lineup.
WASHINGTON – Crystal Dunn’s up and down year continues in earnest as she showed signs of her true ability both in midfield and on defense before her pesky hamstring injury acted up again. The continued ills have to be concerning to the Spirit, who envision the UNC star as a cornerstone for the club. It’s more of a worry considering the club got nothing else out of its draft. Molly Menchel is playing in Europe. Shasta Fisher is playing in WPSL in the Pacific Northwest. The team signed Bianca Sierra as an undrafted free agent, and she saw sporadic time but was traded to Boston as a part of a package deal for Lisa De Vanna.
WNY FLASH – A rare set of misfires. Courtney Verloo couldn’t crack the rotation despite the club struggling in attack early in the season. She was released a little while back in a surprising move. Cloee Colohan never reported to camp. Given the problems in finding a consistent partner alongside Brittany Taylor in central defense, they certainly could’ve used her. Kelsey Wys has deputized for Lydia Williams in goal when the latter was away at the Asian Cup but appears to be too green to be considered for a starting role at the moment. Neither Annie Steinlage nor Kristen Hamilton made the final squad. Left-back Haley Palmer was an undrafted free agent who stuck and was a lineup fixture early in the season but has seldom featured since being injured early on.