It's a new era for women's soccer in the United States as the attraction of turning pro early and foregoing the final year or years of college soccer is seen as worth it.
On the eve of Thursday's NWSL College Draft, Stanford sophomore Sophia Smith (photo) and UCLA junior Ashley Sanchez, both attacking players from 2019 College Cup teams, confirmed they were entering the draft.
NWSL College Draft: Eligible players
Until now, you could count on one hand the number of female players who gave up all or part of their college eligibility: Lindsey Horan, who signed with Paris St. Germain in 2012, Mallory Pugh, who joined the Washington Spirit before ever playing a varsity game at UCLA, Tierna Davidson, who gave up her senior year this fall at Stanford to enter the 2019 NWSL College Draft.
What has changed about the NWSL is it is facing increased competition from a dozen or so well-known European clubs who are pumping money into women's soccer and it has responded, in 2020, by introducing allocation money to give clubs flexibility to sign players to contracts above the league's modest minimums.
Smith was named the Most Outstanding Player at the 2019 College Cup, where Stanford won the national championship. She finished her career with 24 goals and 11 assists over two injury-plagued seasons.
thank you, Stanford. pic.twitter.com/2tHocyZ6d9— Sophia Smith (@sophsssmith) January 16, 2020
Sanchez was a 2018 first-team All-American and is UCLA's all-time career assists leader with 42. She said the move to the NWSL after her junior season is "difficult decision because of the impact UCLA has had on my career and my life."
Smith has been in the U.S. women's national team camp being held in Florida. Sanchez attended her second senior camp in December.
The other top collegians are Stanford junior Catarina Macario, the two-time MAC Hermann Trophy winner, Florida State’s Deyna Castellanos and UCLA's Jessie Fleming. Macario, who won't be eligible to play for the USA until 2022, is likely returning to The Farm in 2020. Castellanos signed with Atletico Madrid while Fleming did not enter the NWSL College Draft as of the Wednesday afternoon deadline, so she won't be eligible to be picked.
College Draft, Round 1:
1 Portland Thorns
2 Sky Blue FC
3 Sky Blue FC
4 Chicago Red Stars
5 Chicago Red Stars
6 NC Courage
7 Orlando Pride
8 Utah Royals
9 Reign FC