News and notes from the 2019 NWSL College Draft
More info from a busy draft day in Chicago

Featuring additional reporting from Celia Balf

Chicago — News from the 2019 NWSL College Draft

Maria Sanchez founded out she was being drafted by the Chicago Red Stars while surrounded by her Santa Clara teammates, and everyone was very, very happy.

The defending champion North Carolina Courage had two picks in the first round of the 2019 NWSL College Draft, selecting Leah Pruitt from the University of Southern California at No. 5 and Hailey Harbison of Pepperdine University at No. 9.

Courage head coach Paul Riley said he feels both players will fit into the Courage system very well.

“Leah Pruitt, I really love her. She’s got Lynn Williams-type speed and ability. She can score goals. She has two great feet, strong as an ox, and size, speed, power and that’s our profile for most of our attacking players,” he said.

Harbison is another first-round pick for the Courage from Pepperdine, joining Williams, drafted in 2015 by the then-Western New York Flash.

“Harbison was a kid we really liked right from the start, she played with Lynn Williams and I talked to Lynn obviously about her and she was big on her. Again, pace, power, size. She’s good on the ball too,” he said. “I think she could play fullback or in the midfield for us.”

University of Oregon defender Jazmin Jackmon’s father cheered the loudest on Thursday when his daughter was selected in the third round of the 2019 NWSL College Draft.

Stanford’s Tegan McGrady delivered an emotional speech after being drafted No. 7 overall by the Washington Spirit. “It has been a childhood dream of mine to be playing professional soccer. Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed of being a professional soccer player and I can’t wait to start my journey,” she said at the podium.

NWSL managing director Amanda Duffy met with the media during the 2019 NWSL College Draft. Among the topics discussed was the league’s efforts for diversity in the coaching ranks.

I think generally we want more women working in sports, more women working in soccer, more female coaches that are a part of NWSL specifically in the development ranks leading up to NWSL,” she said. “We worked with U.S. Soccer towards the end of 2018 to coordinate the C-license course to help facilitate the education that goes into coaching. We’re really proud of the turnout of the players, the support from the players, the support from Utah Royals FC and U.S. Soccer in making that course work and putting us in a position to create a foundation, build on it with the development and creation of the education piece of it and now it’s also about creating the opportunities too. So we certainly want to see improvement and want to see more women in the game, more female coaches in NWSL and that’s something that we’re going to continue to work towards to various platforms and avenues that will get us there.”

Duffy said that the league does require teams to include diversity in the hiring process for certain management positions and team coach/technical staffs.

On the topic of playing conditions at Sky Blue FC and the changes to the permitted team assistance cap that were announced on Thursday, Duffy said: “I think the entire league feels pressure to continue to work and build and develop what they’re doing at the local level. For all of the organizations, there is improvement and work to be done. Some organizations may feel that a little more publicly, and a little more visibly and probably last year Sky Blue felt that. We’re working with their ownership and have been for some time on the steps that need to be taken for that organization to show progress and the areas that the league believes it should show progress.”

“We’ve almost doubled [the cap for cost of housing] coming into the 2019 season [over the 2018 season], that’s a part of what falls under the permitted team assistance cap that we announced earlier today. Like other areas, like our salary cap, our minimum/maximum salary and other benefits, we’ll continue to evaluate that and think there is still room to grow,” she said. “Six consecutive seasons we’ve made adjustments to get us to where we are today. I don’t think anyone sits and thinks that we’re in a spot that’s at the right spot, that’s at the end spot, and we can sit here for awhile.”

Duffy also addressed expansion, saying there have been positive conversations going on with groups and that she still anticipates adding a team or teams in 2020.

We certainly want to get back to ten teams, where we were a year ago, and think that’s important for us. The right number where this league can operate and keep the competitive level that we have right now is really important. It’s going to be at a pace that is going to maintain that competitive level but also get us in the right markets and the right situations,” she said. We’re not interested in expanding just to expand. It’s got to be with the right groups.”

She said the league continues to speak with FC Barcelona, which has publicly expressed interest in joining the NWSL. “It’s a dialogue that has been ongoing for sometime now. Certainly more than a year. An organization, a club, a brand that would certainly add value to NWSL, not just domestically but on a global scale, so we continue to have positive conversations with Barcelona,” she said.

On the continuing search for a new commissioner and whether she would like to be commissioner of the NWSL: “I think the dynamics, and there’s several factors that go into the structure of our league — between our partnerships and the governance structure of how we operate — is all taken into consideration. As the owners look forward at what they want with this league, what path is it that we want to be on for NWSL in defining the role for what the commissioner position is, that’s a part of that conversation. Their continuing to have it and I’m excited about continuing to be a part of the growth,” she said. “I enjoy working with this league and I enjoy being a part of moving the things forward that we’re moving, making it a stronger league and working with these owners to create better situations in each of the markets and this is a league that continues to show its progress and I’m proud of what we’re doing and excited to continue doing that work.”

Duffy also spoke about where digital games will stream in 2019: “Right now, we know that all of our digital games will move from the go90 platform to Yahoo! Sports for the 2019 season. Beyond that, we’ll have more details once we have our schedule in place for the 2019 season.”

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