This year’s NWSL Draft felt bigger than ever before, with a standing-room only crowd huddled into a large ballroom at the J.W. Marriott hotel in Los Angeles. In a year where Seattle Reign FC didn’t have a huge hole to fill in any one position, the team drafted players that could provide solid depth, and a few who could compete for starting spots on the squad.
Seattle Reign: 2017 NWSL Draft Picks
|1||6||Maddie Bauer||CB, DM||Stanford|
|3||26||Ari Ship||F, M||Cal|
While Reign FC coach Laura Harvey continues to focus on international talent as the core of her team, she took this year’s draft really seriously.
“It was probably the most invested I’ve been in the draft because I knew that it was very, very deep,” Harvey said, reflecting on the players the team was able to pick up. “Every single player we’ve taken is someone I watched religiously all season.”
With the 6th pick in the draft, Harvey and team selected Stanford University centerback Maddie Bauer, an NCAA All American, co-captain at Stanford, and MAC Herman Trophy semifinalist.
“I’m looking forward to playing at the next level, and I’m going to contribute in any way that I can. I really look forward to being coached by Laura Harvey,” Bauer said immediately after getting drafted. “I am excited to play that style of soccer, and I respect the way they play. I’m just looking to contribute as much as I can.”
Bauer started every game as centerback in 2016, helping lead a backline that secured nine shutouts and limited opponents to just 0.79 goals per game. Bauer, a four-time All-Pac-12 selection, brings a lot of skills that align with the Reign’s style of play.
Perhaps most importantly, Bauer is comfortable on the ball. Stanford was a team that, like Seattle, built attacks from the back — and that mostly came through Bauer.
“Coming from Stanford, we really pride ourselves on possession — and playing out of the back. That’s one of my strengths, I think,” Bauer said. “I’m excited to continue that and grow in that style, because I believe it’s how soccer is meant to be played.”
Bauer is also an aggressive player who is not afraid to push the ball forward from the backline and go in hard to win headers. Her great season at Stanford earned her a U23 January camp call-up, which began this week. Bauer’s ceiling might not be as high as other defenders, but that’s rarely been the type of player Harvey looks for to hold down the backline. Consistency and organization has always been more important.
“I’ve watched [Maddie] all year with Stanford and watched her with the U23s this week. She fills a need for us,” Harvey said. “We don’t build our roster around draft picks, but this year, similar to Carson last year, there’s a real opportunity for kids [like Maddie].”
Harvey also indicated that she sees Bauer as a potential holding midfielder, and expressed some regret that the Reign didn’t invest in that position last season, given the departures of both Mariah Nogueira and Amber Brooks. With Keelin Winters retiring, it became even more important to fill that role.
Seattle made a surprise trade with the Chicago Red Stars in the 2nd round, securing the 16th pick in exchange for the Reign’s first round spot in the 2018 draft. Seattle used that pick to select USC Foward Katie Johnson, who had a stellar season for the Trojans after coming back from an injury that kept her out the entire 2015 season.
“I watched her all year, and thought she was under the radar and I could get her at 26. Then she went and was a star in the [NCAA] finals. I was conscious that she might not fall to 26th, hence why I did it,” Harvey said about trading up to select Johnson, who many initially predicted would fall to later in the draft.
Johnson, who played with the Mexico Women’s National Team in the Rio Olympic Qualifiers, scored 10 goals and notched three assists in her senior season at USC. She declared her excitement for getting drafted by exclaiming on stage, “Ay dios mio!”
“I believe Katie is someone who can do really well in this league,” Laura Harvey said after the draft. “I’ve watched her live probably 10 times this season. For me, she was the standout forward this season.”
With the 26th pick, Reign FC selected Arielle (Ari) Ship, a forward who is dangerous on the dribble and can play centrally or on the wing. Ship was the Pac-12 Player of the Year in 2015 and finished her career at Cal with 29 goals and 14 assists. While she wasn’t as dominant in 2016, she’s got a lot of potential.
In her post-draft comments, Harvey indicated that she sees Ship as someone who can be a “fantastic addition to the midfield,” a testament to her versatility.
With their final pick, after sticking with West Coast players for the first three rounds, Reign FC selected University of Virginia defender Kristen McNabb. Virginia focuses on a possession style of play, and McNabb fit in well with their system. In addition to holding down the backline, McNabb scored 13 goals at Virginia. She’s a calm left-footed player whose only outstanding question is whether she can keep up with the pace in the NWSL.
After this draft, what can Reign FC fans expect leading up to the 2017 season? First, Harvey indicated the team will have a few international roster announcements next week. She also cautioned that the team will look a lot different than previous years, because Seattle doesn’t have Kim Little as a focal point.
Despite losing Little, however, Harvey ticked off a long list of world-class Reign players — Pinoe, Naho, Jess, Bev, to name a few — who “believe they have something to prove because they didn’t perform the way they wanted last season.”
“I’m really excited about this year,” Harvey concluded with a big smile. “I can’t wait.”