NWSL Draft 2023: Alyssa Thompson and Michelle Cooper lead promising group of pro prospects

The 11th National Women’s Soccer League draft takes place Thursday evening in Philadelphia. The league’s 12 teams will aim to bolster their roster with a total 48 picks over four rounds.

This will be the first in-person draft since 2020; the last two having been done virtually because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Last season, the San Diego Wave selected defender Naomi Girma from Stanford with the No. 1 pick. She went on to win NWSL Rookie and Defender of the Year and became a regular on the U.S. women’s national team backline.

More than 250 players have registered for this year’s draft. All of them played at least one season at the collegiate level except for 18-year-old phenom Alyssa Thompson, who registered for the draft after initially committing to Stanford.

The forward is following in the footsteps of Mallory Swanson (née Pugh), Trinity Rodman, the 2021 NWSL Rookie of the Year, and 2022 U.S. Soccer Young Female Player of the Year Jaedyn Shaw, all of whom bypassed college to go straight to the NWSL.

After acquiring the No. 1 pick via a trade with the Portland Thorns and NJ/NY Gotham FC, Angel City FC is expected to select Thompson, who scored 48 goals in 18 games for Harvard Westlake School in 2021. In 2022, she and her sister Gisele played in MLS Next (the pro league's boys youth development league) for Southern Californian club Total Futbol Academy. She played for the U-20 team that won the Concacaf Women’s U-20 Championship and then represented the USA in the U-20 World Cup.

In September 2022, Thompson made her senior national team debut, becoming the youngest player on the first-team since 2022 U.S. Soccer Player of the Year Sophia Smith in 2017.

Another forward, Michelle Cooper, is foregoing the last two years of her Duke eligibility. The 2022 Women’s MAC Hermann Trophy winner, Cooper scored 19 goals and contributed 11 assists as the focal point of the Blue Devils’ offense. She ranked second in the NCAA Division 1 women’s soccer goals and points charts for the season and became Duke’s all-time leading goalscorer and points earner. Cooper played on the same U-20 team as Thompson, scoring the most goals at the 2022 Concacaf Women’s U-20 Championship.

Defender Emily Madril took a unique route to the 2023 NWSL draft. While at Florida State, she suffered back-to-back ACL injuries in 2018 and 2019, but recovered to play for their national championship winning team in 2021. Following her school’s coaching change before the 2022 season, she gave up her remaining eligibility, signed a contract with the NWSL through 2025, and then finished the year playing for a Swedish team on loan.

Other players likely to be picked early in the Thursday’s draft:

Lauren Kozal
a Michigan product, finished a five-year career at Michigan State where she developed into one of the top goalkeepers in women’s college soccer. In 2022, Kozal teamed with her defenders to shut out opponents in 12 of Michigan State’s 23 games played, posting a goals allowed average of 0.68 goals per game. Kozal was the school’s first MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist.

Lauren Brzykcy (UCLA) and McKinley Crone (Alabama) got national exposure at the 2022 Women’s College Cup.

Reyna Reyes
will likely be one of the top defenders taken in the draft. The left back, who can also play in center of defense and in midfield, was one of Alabama’s key players on their 2022 team that posted the best season in program history. Reyes scored a career-high eight goals, the biggest coming in the 98th minute of the national quarterfinal against Duke to break the game’s 2-2 tie and send Alabama to its first Women’s College Cup. The 2022 MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist has played for the Mexican national team since 2021.

Tori Hansen led the North Carolina defense, which tallied 15 shutouts, a major factor in the Tar Heels’ run to the College Cup final, a game they lost to UCLA in heartbreaking fashion.

After seven years, Clara Robbins is finally leaving Florida State and turning professional. The midfielder, who can also play in defense and in the attack, played in 110 games, most in school and second most in NCAA history. She teamed with Madril on the Seminoles’ 2021 championship-winning team and then contributed five goals and five assists in Florida State’s run to the national semifinals last year.

After excelling as a defensive midfielder over the course of 75 straight games started at Duke (five goals, eight assists), Sophie Jones will be taking her talents to the NWSL. The Menlo Park, California, native won the 2018-19 Gatorade National Girls High School Soccer Player of the Year, and has played for U.S. youth national teams from the U-15 to U-23 levels.

Izzy D’Aquila
had an illustrious four-year career at Santa Clara University, scoring 50 goals in 78 games played. In 2020, she scored the game-winning penalty kick to clinch her team’s victory over Florida State in the national championship match. In 2022, the Mission Viejo, California, native concluded her collegiate career by totaling a single-season career-high 19 goals and five assists in 21 games.

Messiah Bright is another talented, durable and experienced goalscorer. Over the course of 100 games (five years) at TCU, she scored 50 goals and accumulated 25 assists. In 2021, Bright’s 17 goals set the school’s single-season record. She followed it up by scoring 11 goals with four assists in 2022 and earning a call-up to the U.S. U-23 women’s national Team.

NWSL preseason camps start Jan 23 and the 2023 season begins on March 25.

Photos: (Alyssa Thompson) Brad Smith/ISI Photos & (Michelle Cooper) Duke Athletics

1 comment about "NWSL Draft 2023: Alyssa Thompson and Michelle Cooper lead promising group of pro prospects".
  1. Matt Cardillo, January 17, 2023 at 11:12 a.m.

    How is it that Ms. Robbins was at FSU for SEVEN years?
    i see the red-shirt season. but how'd she then play 6 seasons

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