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Top 30 2016 NWSL draft prospects: 16-30

Article Written by Travis Clark
Published: January 11, 2016
(Click here to see the Top 1-15 ranked players)

16. M Samantha Witteman, California

Career Stats: 84 games – 14 goals – 16 assists – 5,191 min.

A dynamic midfield player who burst onto the scene as a senior in 2015, Witteman’s versatility nudges her up the draft board, as she’s capable of playing just about anywhere on the field. Gave Pac-12 opposition nightmares this season with her ability to take on defenders one-v-one. The potential she showed last fall will need to carry over to her pro career in order for her to stick, as she wasn’t quite as prolific prior to her outstanding senior season. If it does, there could be big things ahead for the California native.  (Highlights)

17. D Katie Naughton, Notre Dame

Career Stats: 87 games – 11 goals – 2 assists – 8,099 min.

Another intriguing power conference veteran, Naughton’s been a steady presence at the back for the Irish during her career. Does her game translate to the next level, or is she just a really good college player? It could boil down to a number of factors, especially when considering her uneven performance at the 2014 U20 World Cup with the United States. There’s little doubting that the pedigree she brings to the draft will earn her a look, and she’ll then need to do the rest of the work, demonstrating she has the pace, ability and athleticism to capitalize and earn a roster spot.

18. D Georgia Kearney-Perry, St. John's

Career Stats: 72 games – 3 goals – 1 assist

The back-to-back Big East Defensive Player of the Year, Kearney-Perry’s fifth year in the college ranks did no damage to her draft stock. Injury plagued as both a freshman and a sophomore, Kearney-Perry formed a talented British spine with Rachel Daly smashing in goals up front. She’s a tremendous leader, good in the air, a tough defender who will need to show that she has the speed to keep up with some of the NWSL’s more dynamic attackers. Like Daly, she’s a candidate for dropping down the draft because of the international tag.

19. M Liana Salazar, Kansas

Career Stats: 83 games – 28 goals – 12 assists – 6,933 min.

Suffered a drop off last fall after a glittering junior season in the Big 12, Salazar remains an intriguing prospect for NWSL staffs to consider. A veteran of the Colombian national team, she missed out on the 2015 World Cup squad ahead of a solid yet not quite as spectacular senior season. Faces the same questions of how her international status might impact her on draft day, although if she can rediscover her form in the NWSL, she’s a candidate to become a sleeper pick in the third or fourth round.

20. M/F Mallory Weber, Penn State

Career Stats: 100 games – 36 goals – 29 assists – 6,708 min.

A key cog on the national champions, Weber’s success on the college level boiled down to her ability to put her head down, use her speed and outwork the opposition. Can that translate to a pro role? She is talented enough to get drafted at some point on Friday, but the question will become if she can adapt, adjust and find a way to use her abilities to excel as a professional. (Highlights)

21. F Jannelle Flaws, Illinois

Career Stats: 84 games – 54 goals – 14 assists – 4,344 min.

One of the draft’s most interesting cases, Flaws bounced back from a series of injuries to score 23 goals in 2013. While her numbers trended downwards and concerns about her health will obviously linger, her scoring track record could get a team to bite in the later rounds, taking a flier on a player who could deliver the goods if she manages to keep herself fit.

22. McKenzie Berryhill, Arizona State

Career Stats: 76 games – 6 goals – 4 assists

After emerging as one of the Pac-12’s premier defenders in 2013 and 2014, Berryhill’s struggles in 2015 could cool interest in her draft prospects. However, the 5-foot-8 defender has the tools and experience in one of the nation’s most demanding conferences that she could end up coming good if she can return to the form of her earlier career. Projects more as a center back, but she can also play central midfield in a pinch.

23. M/D Kinley McNicoll, Wisconsin

Career Stats: 78 games – 22 goals – 29 assists

The Canadian youth international is another prospect entering the draft on the back of a so-so 2015 campaign. In sparkling form during Wisconsin’s tremendous 2014 run, it’s always a concern when considering pro chances when a player isn’t dominant in college soccer. Part of that is that she played as a foil to Rose Lavelle, as McNicoll did a lot of the grunt work in the midfield that went overlooked, to open up space for her U.S. teammate. Regardless, there’s a good player here despite the international status – Canadians who aren’t allocated require a roster spot – that could end up getting picked up in the later rounds.

24. GK Abby Smith, Texas

Career Stats: 72 games – 63 GA – 300 saves – 30 shutouts  – 6,765 min.

Arguably the best goalkeeping option in a draft pool that included more than 20 netminders, Smith is a former U.S. U20 goalkeeper and U23 WNT veteran that faces the dreaded prospect of trying to carve out a spot on a domestic team somewhere and actually get playing time. While there is a volume in the spot, quality is lacking, and that’s where Smith is going to aim and make up the difference. However, there are questions facing her as she prepares to make the leap, including decision-making and command of her area. If she can assuage those marks against her, she’s an athletic shot-stopper with the tools to blossom into something even better. At this stage of her career, moving abroad for a year or two might be the more ideal route if she hopes to compete for a national team starting role.

25. M/F Brittany Ratcliffe, Virginia(w)

Career Stats: 93 games – 26 goals – 16 assists – 4,930 min.

A somewhat diminutive speedster who tore up the flanks for Virginia over the past few seasons, Ratcliffe was always overshadowed by some of the bigger names on the roster. Emerged as a super sub in 2013, she held down a starting role over the past two seasons, showing the ability to both score and create. A curious and experimental coach could end up selecting her later in the draft and trying to fashion her into an outside back, provided she can show the ability to handle the defensive demands of that role. Stands at 5-foot-4, though teams will overlook her at their own risk.

26. D Laura Liedle, Stanford

Career Stats: 93 games – 0 goals – 13 assists

Entering college with high expectations, Liedle perhaps never hit the heights at Stanford that she could have – although there’s little doubting she was a big asset for the Pac-12 power. Whether or not she can prove herself as a reliable professional or if she’s reached her ceiling is one of the issues she faces as the NWSL draft looms. Given the lack of outside backs in the draft pool and her track record at Stanford, there’s every reason to believe she’ll come off the board at some point on Friday.

27. M Christina Burkenroad, Cal State Fullerton

Career Stats: 83 games – 21 goals – 18 assists

Simply getting to this point is quite the story, as Burkenroad overcame homelessness and uncertainty during her high school years. She flourished as a senior, as the 5-foot-10 senior midfielder combined with great effect at Cal State Fullerton with Rebecca Wilson, almost upsetting USC in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Burkenroad reads the game well and was a handful in 2015, scoring 11 goals and adding 11 assists. (Highlights)

28. M/F Summer Green, North Carolina

Career Stats: 82 games – 25 goals – 23 assists – 4,585 min.

After graduating high school a year early to enroll at North Carolina, the U.S. U17 WNT star enjoyed strong campaigns as a freshman and sophomore. After scoring 16 of her 25 goals, her production stalled as a junior, before a slight uptick last fall. The caveat with Green is that despite her talent, consistency proved to be slightly elusive, not to mention the fact that she suffered a torn ACL in UNC’s final game in 2015 against Texas A&M. Given the fact that she only turns 21 later this year, hearing her name called in the later rounds wouldn’t be a huge shock, and in the right environment, Green could end up being a solid pro after she recovers from her injury.

29. Sarah Gorden, DePaul

Career Stats: 77 games – 1 goal – 2 assists

Thanks to the aforementioned lack of depth in the outside back pool, someone like Gorden could sneak onto a roster somewhere. Played as a center back, Gorden flourished the last two seasons on the Big East surprise outfit. However, standing at 5-foot-4, there’s little reason to believe she could crack an NWSL roster as a central defender. Given her athletic strengths, it’s possible to see her flourishing as a development project for a coach with the roster flexibility to coach her up into a new position as a right back.

30. GK Britt Eckerstrom, Penn State

Career Stats: 85 games – 62 GA – 255 saves – 6,966 min. – 24 shutouts

There’s almost an absurd amount of goalkeepers listed as eligible for the draft – 23 out of 145 players line up between the posts. Given the league’s budget constraints, it’s difficult to know which ‘keepers will hear their name called on draft day. But Eckerstrom certainly deserves a lengthy look after backstopping a quality defense all the way to a national title. She provides outstanding leadership at the back, her decision-making is spot on and she can make the athletic saves required. A native of the D.C. area and Washington Spirit Reserves veteran, perhaps she ends up picked by her hometown club. Remains a somewhat raw player who could continue to blossom and thrive given the right opportunity. (Highlights)

 
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