A new season looms in the National Women’s Soccer League, as a massive year lies ahead for the league and its players.
With the World Cup slated to kick off in France this year, the United States seeks to defend its crown. The tournament is also set to drain the league some of its top-end talent, although that could open the door for some of the first-year players seeking to make an impression.
It’s hard to know just which players are going to end up on a roster, as players may spend preseason with a team but not sign until the year is underway. Then there’s the fact that two of the top picks in the draft, Hailie Mace and Julia Ashley, pursued opportunities in Europe instead of domestic chances, leaving two potentially high-impact players off the list.
Even in the backdrop of the World Cup and prolonged absences for some of the league’s biggest stars, first-year players are still going to struggle to carve out a regular role. All that aside, here are nine college stars from last fall to track in the upcoming NWSL campaign.
F Maria Sanchez, Chicago Red Stars: The lone Red Stars draft pick to make the opening day roster outside of No. 1 overall pick Tierna Davidson – that could change if the team has to add a few players during the World Cup – Sanchez is an exciting attacking player that can score or create from wide spaces. A member of Mexico’s national team, she certainly has the ability to play her way into the Rookie of the Year conversation.
M Jordan DiBiasi, Washington Spirit: One of college soccer’s premier attacking talents at Stanford the past four years, DiBiast is one of five draft picks that already signed with the Spirit. That means ample opportunity for playing time is sure to be available for a roster that is particularly young. An attacking midfielder by trade, DiBiasi’s a supreme talent with the ball, possessing intricate soccer IQ. If she can harness that and adapt to what is a physically demanding league, it will hugely benefit the Spirit.
F Leah Pruitt, NC Courage: Considering how deep the Courage is, it’s unclear which of their college draft picks end up sticking on the roster. Pruitt, a talented forward that can lead the line and probably shift our wide, is a handful for defenses to slow down. While the Courage extended her a contract offer – per their roster announcement – there is still a chance perhaps she ends up finishing her degree before joining the team at the end of May. Regardless of what plays out, Pruitt is a name to know considering the Courage’s ability to score goals.
D Sam Staab, Washington Spirit: There is going to be a significant rookie contingent lining up for the Spirit this season, which is to be expected after they made four picks in the first round of the draft. Staab, a left-footed, no-nonsense defender has the skill set to keep up with the demands of a league that can lean towards athleticism at times. She can also slot in as a left back, although fellow newcomer Tegan McGrady is a candidate to see minutes there as well.
F CeCe Kizer, Houston Dash: A talented, versatile attacker, Kizer’s another rookie that hasn’t been officially announced as a signee on the Dash. But that seems inevitable some point in the season, as her ability with the ball and performances from preseason seem in line with what the Dash need, at least at some point in the season.
M Emily Ogle, Portland Thorns: Smart and cerebral in central midfield, Ogle was the only draft pick Portland had in the 2019 draft. She’ll have the time she needs in order to adjust to the higher speed of play, and if she can adapt and make her skills on the ball translate, Ogle could be a very good player as a rookie.
F Caitlin Farrell, Orlando Pride: With looming concerns about her availability in the preseason, Farrell was somewhat surprisingly undrafted this year. It was a bit of a head-scratching, as she's the kind of forward that can have succes in NWSL, with a good motor, decent touch and ability to take players on. The Pride announced that Farrell signed a Supplemental contract, and it's likely that she'll get some opportunities
D Maddie Nolf, Utah Royals: The four-year defender from Omaha, Nebraska made the Royals roster as a National Team Replacement, and is one of a handful of rookies that could make the most of a chance this summer during the World Cup. A 5-foot-3 outside back, she’ll have the chance to learn from the likes of Becky Sauerbrunn and a veteran-laden Utah team as her pro career begins.
F Paige Monaghan, Sky Blue FC: Versatility is a huge asset for any rookie looking to make a jump to the pro level, and Monaghan’s ability to compete in either a wide attacking role or outside back should get her plenty of time on the field in 2019. She scored some goals in preseason – albeit against collegiate opposition – but could be a sneaky good player for Sky Blue.