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Seattle Reign: NWSL Draft Preview

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Seattle has the 6th pick in a deep NWSL college draft.

The 2017 NWSL Draft is just days away, and more than 160 players are eligible for selection into one of the most competitive women’s soccer leagues in the world. After acquiring defender Carson Pickett in the first round of last year’s draft, Seattle Reign FC has an opportunity to find another solid contributor its lineup this time around.

Despite the fact that Canadian internationals Ashley Lawrence and Kadeisha Buchanan — both expected first-round draft picks — opted to take their talents to France, this year’s NWSL Draft still has plenty of talent. Seattle currently has the 6th, 26th, and 37th picks.

Let’s take a look at what Seattle might do in this year’s draft, which takes place Thursday, January 12, at 12:00 p.m. PT.

Seattle’s Current Roster

The NWSL roster allows 20 signed players at any given time. Seattle currently has 14 of its 20 spots filled, with offers extended to Merritt Mathias and Kiersten Dallstream. Assuming those two sign, that leaves four open spots for consideration. Laura Harvey told Equalizer Soccer that she’s preparing for 2017 as if Hope Solo will not be on the Reign, but indicated Solo would be welcomed by the club as long as she wants.

Here is Seattle’s current roster, with players grouped by the position listed for them on the Reign FC website.

GK: Haley Kopmeyer, Madalyn Schiffel

DEF: Lauren Barnes, Rachel Corsie, Kendall Fletcher, Merritt Mathias, Carson Pickett, Elli Reed

MID: Lindsay Elston, Jess Fishlock, Christine Nairn, Rumi Utsugi

F: Kiersten Dallstream, Naho Kawasumi, Megan Rapinoe, Bev Yanez

Seattle also has two open international roster spots for the upcoming season, and the club owns the rights to Mexican internationals Veronica Perez (midfield) and Ari Romero, a defender currently playing in the W-League for Perth Glory.

What Seattle Needs

The question of which positions Seattle needs to fill is actually a lot harder to answer than expected, as a lot of Reign players can fit in a variety of positions. Merritt Mathias, for instance, has experience as a forward and midfielder, but she finished the last season at right back and is currently listed as a defender on the Reign website. If Harvey sees her as the leading contender for that spot in 2017, or Romero signs, the team might not need an immediate solution there.

Instead, this draft is probably going to focus on depth for the future. While Harvey tends to prefer veterans along the backline, investing in fullback depth seems like a smart option. The same can be said for both the midfield and the front line, as a few attacking players might only have one or two seasons left in them.

The Reign could also use their draft picks to invest in a creative attacking midfielder in an attempt to fill Kim Little’s shoes, or a speedy goalscorer that could be groomed for the future. Essentially, the options to build a deep squad are endless.

Potential Options

In my dream world, Wisconsin midfielder and U.S. Youth National Team midfielder Rose Lavelle falls to the 6th pick, and the Reign sign the most talented creative attacking playmaker in this draft. Lavelle is a joy to watch — she makes the game look easy and brings a combination of vision and unpredictability. For Wisconsin this year, she was asked to play deeper in the midfield, which helped expand her already vast talent set.

Another midfielder Seattle could pick up in the first round is Morgan Andrews. She’s had an up-and-down career in college, but is one of those players who can completely change a game. She did just that in the NCAA College Cup — leading USC to a championship. Andrews could be a player that helps Seattle push for a late equalizing or game-winning goal.

This year’s draft is loaded with forwards, and I could see Harvey investing in a promising attacker in the first round. After dealing with injuries her junior year, Ashley Hatch from BYU — who has already earned a USWNT cap — had an incredible senior season, netting 19 goals. Hatch is fast, great at pressuring opposing defenses, and is strong at both running onto the ball and with her back to goal. She could eventually become an allocated U.S. Soccer player, which would be great for Seattle’s salary cap.

There are three really solid defenders that will likely go in the first round, and I could see any of them fitting into Seattle’s system.

USC’s Kayla Mills starred as a right back for most of her collegiate career, but played defensive mid this year for the NCAA champions. In this new role, she showed that her skills go beyond speed and athleticism. She’s got a smart soccer mind and vision, and could be a great understudy in either the midfield or defense. Check out her performance in the championship match for evidence (warning: video autoplays).

Mandy Freeman, also from USC, has played as a right back, defensive midfielder, and centerback for the Trojans. She is a great one v. one defender, has some solid speed, and her versatility and athleticism is enticing.

Duke’s Christina Gibbons just got called up to the January camp for the U.S. Women’s National Team, and for good reason; she’s arguably the strongest defender in the draft. Gibbons played nearly every position for Duke, filling in wherever the team needed her. While she got called into USWNT camp as a midfielder, it appears Gibbons’ best position is at left back — a spot the Reign don’t need to fill.

Sleeper Picks

For one of the later draft picks, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Harvey select Serina Kashimoto, a midfielder from Japan who spent her college years at Butler. Kashimoto was captain of the Japan U17 team and perfectly encompasses the style of play Japan is known for: technical, great vision, and effortless on the ball. Her downsides? She’s only 5’ 3”, was sometimes overwhelmed by aggressive opponents, and ended the season injured. Still, there’s plenty of reasons to believe she could thrive in the NWSL.

Seattle might be able to get Toni Payne with their 26th pick. She’s an incredibly fast winger who scored 23 goals and tallied 21 assists while at Duke. Her pace could be a huge boost for Seattle out wide, and Payne could be a spark off the bench. Why would Payne fall this far in the draft? When she’s up against a tough defense that stifles her runs, she tends to disappear.

Livestream

This year’s draft will be streamed live on YouTube. We will have a draft thread and will be reporting live from Los Angeles. Last year, there were a number of trades and league announcements in the days and hours leading up to the draft, and I expect this year to be the same. Stay tuned for updates, and we’ll see you back here Thursday afternoon.