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NWSL Draft: Seattle Reign FC roster needs

Seattle currently has just one fourth-round pick. Which position should they prioritize?

SOCCER: JAN 15 NWSL College Draft Photo by Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images

The NWSL Draft is just one day away, and if the activities leading up to the event are any indication, this could be a wild few hours. Allie Long is now a part of the Reign FC midfield, while Seattle fans are mourning the loss of Katie Johnson and Rebekah Stott.

Meanwhile, Lindsay Agnew was traded from Washington to Houston, and Crystal Dunn went to the North Carolina Courage in exchange for Taylor Smith and Ashley Hatch, who move up north to join the Spirit.

What an adventure!

This year’s draft has some solid depth, but it is nowhere near as deep as last year — which boasted arguably the most talented draft class across all four rounds. And unless the club makes some moves, Seattle Reign FC won’t have significant opportunities to tap into any depth in early rounds, as the team currently has just one fourth-round pick. Seattle will likely use that to acquire depth for the future.

Where is that depth most needed? Let’s examine the current state of the Reign FC roster to find out.

Center Forward

After acquiring Jodie Taylor this offseason, Seattle is now stacked with target forwards. Taylor, Larissa Crummer, and Bev Yanez are all lethal in that position. In addition, while Vlatko Andonovski didn’t deploy Merritt Mathias as a center forward when he coached her in Kansas City, she had lots of time in that position under Laura Harvey.

Yanez is the most versatile in her skillset among the forwards, with the ability to play as a central midfielder or on the wings. At 5’ 8”, she is also great in the air. Crummer spent the majority of last season injured, but brings a lot of speed and height (5’ 10”). She’ll need to fine-tune her first touch if she wants to earn more starting minutes this year. Taylor is coming off a banner year with England, earning the Golden Boot in the Euro 2017 competition.

Status: Reign FC are set at the target forward role, so this shouldn’t be a draft priority.

Wide Forwards / Wingers

Seattle has some of the best wing players in the world in Megan Rapinoe and Nahomi Kawasumi, but this is a position that could use some depth for the future. Rapinoe is coming off one of her most productive years, but will turn 33 this summer. Naho, meanwhile, is 32. Yanez can play on the wings, but her skills are better utilized in the center of the field.

Don’t sleep on the skills of Diana Matheson, who can play in the middle or out wide. During her 67 appearances with the Spirit, where she primarily played as a wide forward in a 4-3-3 formation, Matheson scored 23 goals and assisted on 12 others. She’s a scrappy player whose energy could be valuable this season. In thinking about the future, however, Matheson will be 34 in April and is probably not a long-term option for the club.

Kiersten Dallstream is another strong depth option on the wing. Harvey used her primarily as a spark off the bench, but she feels like the kind of player that Andonovski values. Dallstream might not score many goals — her first came last season, in fact — but she helps pressure backlines and free up space for her teammates. Mathias and Carson Pickett can also slot into the wide attacking position in a 4-3-3, but aren’t natural wingers.

Status: Acquiring depth isn’t critical for this season, but with an aging core of wide players, targeting a winger for the future could be smart.

Midfield

The Reign FC midfield is looking to be really solid. Three players can easily slot into a holding midfield position: Rumi Utsugi, who I think was under-appreciated across the league last season; Maddie Bauer, an All-American center back from Stanford who is aggressive defensively and a great distributor; and Kristen McNabb, who mostly plays as center back but could likely slot in to help protect the backline.

That frees up Jess Fishlock and the newly acquired Allie Long to play further up the field. Long is one of the most consistent passers in the league, connecting more than 90 percent of her passes over the last five NWSL seasons. Fishlock is an engine that never stops, and having someone like Long beside her will allow the Welsh Dragon to move more freely between the attack and defense.

Seattle also has Christine Nairn, who led the Reign in assists during their inaugural season and was one of the most important players for three years in Washington. Nairn was a solid addition to the Reign midfield last season, but struggled with some of the additional defensive duties asked of her. One of Andonovski’s best traits as a coach is his ability to set clear roles for players that bring out their best talents. I think he’ll figure out how to deploy Nairn effectively this season — and that could mean pushing her higher up the field, as more of an attacking central midfielder or withdrawn forward.

Players like Yanez and Matheson can also slot into the midfield, giving Seattle’s new maestro plenty of options to work with.

Status: Reign FC could benefit from a creative attacking midfielder, but they won’t likely find one in the fourth round. With so much depth now in the midfield, don’t expect this to be a priority for the draft.

Defense

The backline was one of the most vulnerable components for Seattle last season. In previous years, Reign FC were among the best in the league in goals conceded. In 2017, they plummeted to among the worst. Losing Keelin Winters was a big reason for this. She was one of the best holding midfielders in the league, and her ability to shield the backline was underrated.

Lauren Barnes was 2016 NWSL Defender of the Year, but had an inconsistent season last year. She was still rock solid most of the time, but having a core of young defenders rotating in and out of the starting lineup caused her to have more rocky moments than in previous years. I expect she’ll bounce back this year and have another season that puts her in contention for Defender of the Year.

Andonovski has three options to slot in next to Barnes at center back: Scotland captain Rachel Corsie, who struggled with injuries last season and just had exploratory surgery on her knee; Kristen McNabb, who showed a lot of veteran calm in her rookie year, but was also prone to a few rookie mistakes; and Maddie Bauer, who never really got to show what she was capable of after spending some time away to finish her degree at the start of the season.

I think Andovoski can figure out what to do with that group of four center backs. There is a lot of talent among them, and the key will be to ensure they get consistent playing time together to figure things out and get comfortable.

The real lack of depth is at the outside back position. Carson Pickett should have the left back spot on lock down — and seems to be having a fantastic season with the Brisbane Roar in the W-League — but Barnes or Utsugi can slot in there in a pinch. The right back position is more of a mystery. Mathias actually came into her own last season, and she had a few really strong games there. Unfortunately for her growth in that position, Harvey often asked Mathias to transition from right back to center forward — leaving her without a consistent position to slide into. I still think Mathias can thrive as a right back, and after losing Stott, she is the current front-runner.

One other option that Andonovski might consider is Dallstream. She was a right back for the U.S. youth national team squad that won the 2008 U-20 Women’s World Cup. Harvey used her as an outside back at times in 2013 and 2014, but she hasn’t had playing time at that spot in the past few seasons. There is still time to groom her in this position — she has the speed and crossing ability to have an impact here.

Status: Reign FC would be smart to prioritize an outside back with their fourth-round pick, although depth in that position is not a real strength for this draft class. However, there’s likely a sleeper or two out there, and Andonovski knows the youth system well.

Goalkeeper

Lydia Williams is one of the best goalkeepers in the world, and has helped propel Australia to their highest world ranking ever (4th). Barring injuries, she’s expected to be the starting goalkeeper for Reign FC this season.

That leaves Haley Kopmeyer in her familiar role as arguably the best backup goalkeeper in the league. If Kopmeyer wants to continue to grow and earn time, she might push to go elsewhere. While it would pain fans who have grown to love her, it might be the best thing for Kopmeyer. It’s really hard to tell at this point what Andonovski envisions for Kopmeyer. However, if Seattle thinks her future might be on another team, they could look for a sleeper goalkeeper pick this draft.

Status: This draft presents a good opportunity to select a keeper who isn’t expecting much playing time this season, but could develop into a starting role in the future.

Summary

At the end of the day, we haven’t heard any rumblings to indicate Reign FC will trade up for a higher draft pick, meaning Seattle fans will likely have to wait until the fourth round to see who the club selects. Reign FC has had some luck in the fourth round in the past, getting both Kopmeyer and McNabb there. While we don’t know the mindset of Andonovski or Bill Predmore, our guess is that they’ll use this draft to select either a wide attacker or outside back.

The NWSL Draft will take place Thursday, January 18 at 7:00 AM PT. The event will stream live on YouTube, and we will be sure to report on any updates as they relate to Reign FC.

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