2021 NWSL Draft Preview: All you need to know before the first pick
The 2021 NWSL Draft is Wednesday, January 13th at 7pm ET, exclusively on Twitch

The wait is finally over.

We’re only two days away from the 2021 NWSL Draft, as the league’s ten club’s take one step closer to taking the field for the 2021 season. Before the league’s broadcast talent and special guests call all the picks, get caught up on all of the latest rules and news ahead of the first selection.

How the draft works (full rules can be found here)

With the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic still being felt on the NCAA and NWSL’s proposed 2021 competition structures, there are a few new rules for fans to familiarize themselves with when their clubs are on the clock this Wednesday. Fans can read up on the full official rules for this year’s draft here.

First, the league and the NCAA agreed upon a waiver this past December that allows draftees with remaining eligibility to choose if they will report to their NWSL club before or after the spring collegiate season. Players will have to submit their decisions by Friday, January 22nd.

Second, the league has expanded the eligible athlete pool for the upcoming draft, maximizing opportunities for clubs and players alike ahead of an altered 2021 season. The move grants automatic draft eligibility and removes the requirement for registration for all Division I players considered “seniors” by the league in this draft. This definition includes all players that have exhausted three years of eligibility prior to the start of the Fall 2020 semester.

Finally, the rights of any players selected on Wednesday will be assigned to the drafting team’s College Protected List until the start of the 2022 preseason. These rights are treated like the rights of professional players not currently in the league – they are an asset that can be kept, waived, or traded up for this period of time. If a player isn’t signed before the 2022 preseason, the club who has their rights will waive them.

These changes only apply to the 2021 NWSL Draft.

Picks (and players) are on the move

Each offseason always has it’s flurry of offseason acquisitions and departures, and this offseason is no different. While trades during the draft are always a possibility, there have been numerous moves in the past two months that got us to our current order, including:

  • In the trade that brought Savannah McCaskill and Yuki Nagasato to Kentucky, expansion side Racing Louisville FC added the No. 5 overall selection to their No. 1 overall pick in October, giving the Chicago Red Stars full roster protection in the 2020 NWSL Expansion Draft
  • The Orlando Pride moved back into the first round, receiving the No. 9 overall selection in a deal that sent World Cup Champion Emily Sonnett to the Washington Spirit 
  • Sky Blue FC received the No. 4 and No. 8 overall selections from the Chicago Red Stars, in exchange for Mallory Pugh and Sarah Killion Woldmoe
  • Tziarra King’s move to OL Reign saw newly founded Kansas City acquired the Tacoma-based club’s fourth round selection on Wednesday 

Historical talent can be found in any round

While much of the focus surrounding Wednesday’s draft is centered around who will be the first player off the board, there’s plenty of precedent for some of the league’s best and brightest to be found further down the board than some may think. Here’s a look at where some of the league’s current standouts have come off the board over the years:

Second (occasionally) is the best

With every selection from 2014 to 2019 being a part of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup with the United States, the first player off the board on Wednesday earns her spotlight. But, whoever has been selected in the ensuing slot has proven to have standout success as well. Some of the draft’s most famous second selections include Kealia Watt (2014), Sarah Killion Woldmore (2015), Raquel Rodriguez (2016), Savannah McCaskill (2018).

Additionally, the slots just outside the first round have produced some of the league’s top talents. 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup Champions Shea Groom (No. 12 overall) and Jane Campbell (No.15 overall) both came off the board in the second round of the 2015 Draft, along with OL Reign forward Sofia Huerta (No. 11 overall).

Third Round’s a charm

Some of the standout performers of the 2019 and 2020 NWSL campaigns got their starts as third round selections in the NWSL Draft. OL Reign defender Amber Brooks came off the board 24th overall in the league’s inaugural draft in 2013, with Portland Thorns defender Emily Menges being selected in the same round in 2014. More recently, 2020 Challenge Cup Golden Glove winner Kailen Sheriden was selected in 2017’s third round.

Saving the best for the last round

Fans shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that the draft’s final selections can’t have standout careers as well. Kristen Hamilton, a standout midfielder in Australia and for the North Carolina Courage, was the final selection of the 2014 draft – with OL Reign defender Celia Jimenez Delgado earning a similar honor in 2018. Dani Weatherholt, now at Tottenham Hotspur after being a stalwart for Orlando Pride’s defense, was selected with the first pick of the final round of 2016’s draft. Most recently, 2020 Expansion Draft number one pick Addisyn Merrick was selected in the fourth round of the 2020 NWSL College Draft.

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