With Demi Lovato’s “Complicated” playing in the background at the Baltimore Convention Center, the 2020 National Women’s Soccer League College Draft kicked off at 8 a.m. (Pacific) this morning with a flurry of last-minute trades for first-round picks.
The Portland Thorns, who last week made a trade with the Orlando Pride to secure the no. 1 pick,* selected Stanford sophomore Sophia Smith. The choice of the 19-year-old forward was widely expected, though Smith formally declared for the draft only yesterday.
The Cardinal’s third no. 1 pick in a row, Smith thanked Thorns coach Mark Parsons and the team, her “Stanford family” and past coaches, her real family, her supportive boyfriend, and everyone who’s built the league and helped make sure women have a place to play professionally. “It’s been a crazy past few weeks for me,” said Smith, who won the NCAA Division 1 College Cup with Stanford in December and has been training this month in Florida with the US national team. She also offered a callout to the team’s rabid fans, who are surely already crafting scarves, banners, and chants in her honor: “To the Riveters, I’ll see you soon at Providence Park, and I can’t wait to play in front of you.”
A more surprising announcement came moments later, when outgoing league president Amanda Duffy said the Thorns would also have the no. 2 pick following a draft-day trade with the Chicago Red Stars involving later picks and allocation money. Extending its turn with the Sorting Hat, the team choose another forward, Morgan Weaver, a Washington State senior who grew up near Tacoma.
“I was shocked,” Weaver said after her quick thank-you speech on the podium. The Cougars’ top scorer the past four seasons, she led her team senior year to its highest-ever finish: the semifinals of the 2019 Women’s College Cup. She said she looks forward to sharing the field with Smith, “me learning from her, and learning off each other,” as well as legends of the sport who will be her teammates, like Christine Sinclair.
The Thorns’ first defender pick (and first from a non-West Coast school) came in the third round with Georgetown’s Meaghan Nally, a Big East Defensive Player of the Year who thanked the NWSL “for giving us a platform for living out our dreams,” as well as “my quietly excellent Hoyas.” She was beaming at the prospect of training with some of the world’s best attackers on the Thorns: “As a defender, you want to challenge yourself every day.”
In a final-round trade, the Thorns gave what would have been their final pick to Cascadia rivals Reign FC (the former Seattle team that now plays in a Tacoma stadium where you’re not allowed to swear) in exchange for “a player to be named later,” setting off speculation among Thorns fans about who from the Reign’s roster could be heading south.
Nearly 250 players declared for the 36 picks in this year's draft, with those not picked today still hoping to be invited for preseason training. Many of the drafted players, who were toddlers or not yet born when the 1999 US women’s national team claimed the world’s attention with their World Cup shootout victory and were tweens or teens when the NWSL launched, spoke of their drafting as the realization of a lifelong dream.
“Childhood me is going crazy inside right now,” says Tziarra King, a North Carolina State midfielder claimed by the Utah Royals with the no. 8 pick. King won over draft watchers with a thank-you speech offering shout-outs to the NC State psychologists, ground crew, and equipment handlers who have made her soccer career possible. Catch her speech an hour and 18 minutes in, or go deep and watch the whole 2020 draft below.
*While many a Portland sports fan may equate “top draft pick” with “certain doom,” remember that only the Trail Blazers appear to carry this curse, with their most recent no. 1 pick, in 2007, being the injury-prone Greg Oden. Also known as “Not Kevin Durant,” Oden arrived to great fanfare but never played a full season. The Blazers’ most recent no. 2 pick was Sam Bowie, better known in these parts as “Not Michael Jordan.” The Thorns’ only no. 1 draft pick was Emily Sonnett in 2016, who helped anchor the backline in the Thorns 2017 championship season, is making regular appearances with the national team, and, as part of the trade that snared the Thorns the top pick this year, is a gift that keeps on giving.