2024 NWSL Draft: Reactions, consequences & notes

We've just about recovered from Friday night so here are some thoughts.

2024 NWSL Draft: Reactions, consequences & notes

Alright, this won’t be so much a recap of the 2024 NWSL Draft1 but a ramble of things that have been bouncing around my mind over the weekend.

For a more storied piece of Friday night, I did have the pleasure of jumping on the phone with No.1 overall pick Ally Sentnor and No.4 overall pick Brecken Mozingo.

We talked about how they found the madness of the draft, what they’re about, and what they’re looking forward to in Utah. Check out the feature at Equalizer soccer.

No mucking about now, let’s get to it.

Croix Bethune, the number three pick to the Washington Spirit, is the moment on NWSL Draft night | Courtesy of the NWSL

‘Blue Bloods’

Something that rang true for me this year (and in many years gone by) is the shared belief, amongst coaches and GMs, that players from a small enclave of elite universities are the most valuable.

These schools could easily be called the NCAA footy ‘Blue Bloods’. Speaking roughly, we could say that UNC, Stanford, FSU, UCLA, and Virginia are members of this esteemed group.

This is partially based on who has a history of producing great players, and of course, winning. And part of this history is environmental. If you know players from these schools have been expected to keep up to a certain standard, which is very close to the pro-world, then you can marry talent with preparation.

There’s also the standard of the squads in training and the opposition to think about.

If training at UNC and Stanford, for example, is so intense and top-tier, then those players are developing a higher standard all the time even when you don’t see them in matches.

When it comes to facing off against others, the ACC and Pac12 conferences have been fantastic in providing competition. I don’t have an exact formula, but you could argue that for every one goal a player scores against an ACC team, it’s worth 1.5 or even 2 for some other conferences. (More on this later).

In 2024, eight of the first 14 players selected came from four of those schools. Only twice has the number one pick not been from one of those schools. The exceptions are Alyssa Thompson in 2023, who opted out of college, and Rose Lavelle out of Wisconsin. But guess where Thompson was meant to go? Yes, that’s right, Stanford.

Teenage Daydream

So this could all boil back down to recruiting of the ‘Blue Bloods’. But if the top schools can bring in the best school-age players, then some of the best young players understand that they don’t need to play in the NCAA for very long. They’re already the best.

Sentnor, 19, and Savy King, 18, were the top two picks in the draft out of UNC. And yes, they’ve been superb for the Tar Heels but you’re looking at U.S. national team youth players who didn’t need long in the college footy world to make the leap. Ally Lemos, 19, from UCLA was also right there behind them in the teen crew.

This trend is not new per se. Last year, we saw Angel City select Thompson, 18, right out of high school. In 2021, Trinity Rodman, 18, left Washington State for the NWSL. I could go on and on.

But this trend isn’t going to go away. Over the past decade, the NCAA has already become more of a one or two-year springboard than a four-year plan.

This will vary from player to player based on what they’re looking for. But if you know you want to be a footballer and you feel ready, then you’re ready.

All this is totally fine, but with the NWSL U18 mechanism being expanded to four players this season and European clubs eager to sign young Americans too, there is a chance the NWSL Draft cannot keep up with top young players who want to turn professional.

Maybe there will be no draft one day?

Teenagers Savy King (left), and Ally Sentnor (right) were drafted number one and two. || Courtesy of NWSL

The ACC Bump

So as I mentioned, even if you’re in the ACC at the moment but you’re not a ‘Blue Blood’ you can still benefit from the ‘ACC Bump’.

In 2024, a conference record 19 players (34% of the draft) were taken from the ACC. Unsurprisingly this was the most of any other conference.

Looking down the draft list, there were two Clemson players, Makenna Morris and Hal Hershfelt, taken in the first round, with four overall selected.

We saw Jameese Joseph become just the second-ever NC State player selected at number 15. Notre Dame had two players, Kiki Van Zanten and Maddie Mercado, also taken in the second round.

It was even a historic night for Pitt, who had their first-ever players selected in the NWSL draft: Amanda West and Landy Mertz.

The level of competition one faces can be a huge factor in scouting. And I do not think it is a coincidence that players from this conference will continue to draw the spotlight.

Spirit wyd or why did you do it?

ICYMI the lead up to the draft was dominated by the moves of the Washington Spirit who traded away two of their best players.


Out went centreback Sam Staab to the Chicago Red Stars, in exchange for the No.3 overall pick. D.C. also waved goodbye to creative midfielder Ashley Sanchez; with the NC Courage parceling up the No.5 pick and $250,000 to the U.S. capital.

So, this meant Washington scooped up four of the top 13 players in the draft. This is a joint record after the Courage did the same in 2023. An interesting look for a team that is trying to implement a massive rebuild.

Considering Sanchez signed an extension until 2026 and said on Instagram that she was “shocked” to learn about the trade, this was an extremely odd look. Bad vibes.

From a footy perspective, the Spirit did get a lot in return for sending Sanchez southwards. Perhaps, providing the price was right, D.C. felt that cleaning the dressing room of two club staples is about more of a cultural reset than a talent one.

At 26 and 24, Staab and Sanchez are just about to approach their peaks. It could be viewed as a big risk to move them on for young players.

But with FC Barcelona's head coach Jonatan Giraldez joining the Spirit in June, getting a bunch of very talented young players who can all learn his system at the same time makes some sense.

You might have smaller (or different) personalities and less familiarity with the previous standards at the club. It could be all about getting on the same page. In particular, an exciting creative attacking midfielder like Croix Bethune has a platform to get minutes with Sanchez’s exit.

And then there’s the salary part. The Spirit got younger and maybe less costly in the wage department too. What big-name player could be arriving in D.C. soon?

Sleeper/value picks

With a couple of surprise selections in the first round, that perhaps honed in on positional attributes and team needs more than individual talent or statistics, the draft was filled with some interesting “value” selections. Simply put, these are players who perhaps went later than expected.

Lauren Flynn, at No.16 from FSU, is someone who I think will really impress immediately in 2024. Going to expansion club Utah means that she is likely to start right away next to veteran Kaleigh Riehl, who has done this whole brand new club thing before.

Right behind her, Sam Meza, at No.17 from UNC, has so much potential. Being drafted to Seattle and getting to work with head coach Laura Harvey is a huge win for club and player. Especially with Rose Lavelle and Emily Sonnett leaving that midfield this year.

According to many experts, the Houston Dash perhaps had the ultimate “value” night by getting Avery Patterson (UNC) at 19, Kiki Van Zanten (Notre Dame) at 21, and Amanda West (Pitt) at 36. All three players were expected to be late first-round-to-early-second-round selections. The Texas club somehow scooped all three despite not having a first-round pick, although it did cost them $100,000 to jump up to pick 21.

One more to watch in the later rounds was Felicia Knox (Alabama) who Angel City picked up at 37. Due to past trades, this was the L.A. club’s first selection of the night. It was widely known that they needed some central midfield and set-piece playmaking. So, being able to scoop up Knox, who had 20 assists ( 0.9 p90) in 2022, was a big get.

Also a big shout out to the significant rambunctious ACFC fan contingent that attended the draft in Anaheim and created some atmosphere.

Felicia Knox (centre) between Angel City head coach Becki Tweed (centre left) and GM Angela Huccles (centre right) || Courtesy of ACFC

Caribbean Red Stars

Jamaican head coach of the Chicago Red Stars, Lorne Donaldson, drafted Bermudan midfielder Leilanni Nesbeth (Squad Depth’s favourite prospect) in the first round, striking a deal with North Carolina to acquire the 10th pick after it had traded away the third pick to Spirit (I know it’s a lot).

Spending $175,000 to get back into the first round and get Nesbeth is a big statement for the young box-to-box midfielder. But I think it will absolutely pay dividends. And furthermore, how great it is for the Caribbean coach to help develop one of the region’s most exciting young players.

In the aftermath of Nesbeth being selected, she said that she was excited to get some “curry goat” with her new head coach and get to know the ‘Windy City’ better. Beyond just the cultural fit, Donaldson showed impressive defensive tactics with the Jamaican national team and Nesbeth’s pressing and ball-winning skills should gel well in Chicago.

Make sure you check out Nesbeth’s charming breakdown of her outfit and accessories on the night. We are so ready for her to be in the NWSL. A proper star in the making.

It matters if you hear your name

The end of the draft can start to slow down. After many hours of admin who doesn’t feel a bit sluggish?

For the players and their families, who are at the event in person though, it can be a special and emotional moment that really should be cherished. No matter where you are picked. These players have arrived somewhere they always wanted to be.

Just as I was starting to flag around midnight on draft night, Laveni Vaka was selected by Bay FC at number 55. The penultimate pick.

Her family exploded with joy. Dancing, shouting, and crying ensued. Before long, a Tongan flag was whipped out for pictures and enthusiastic waving. With everyone and their auntie (literally) making sure to get in front of the lens.

Suddenly, I remembered that beyond all the footy admin, scouting, hot takes, analysis, music, lights, camera, action, adverts, and outfits, this is sort of what it’s really all about.

It doesn’t matter if you hear your name

Okay, I’m going to have cake and eat it here too. Not being drafted into the NWSL isn’t everything. There are many legendary players who did not hear their names on draft night.

I mean, just last year ‘Rookie of the Year’ nominee Paige Metayer went from being undrafted to becoming a bruising star in the Spirit midfield who was a threat on corners.

If a player’s path is different that’s okay. More than just okay, it’s an exciting time to weigh up your options and figure out what you want to do and how you want to do it. Feel what you have to feel and start thinking about what comes next.

That could be making sure teams know that you are interested in being on preseason squad lists or national team replacement player windows. Or looking abroad for other professional options.

Don’t take my word for it. Amy Andrews, the 2022 USLW player of the year for Tormenta FC, that banged 16 goals in 10 games, shared her thoughts on Friday about what it meant to her to go undrafted. The 23-year-old Englishwoman currently plays for Durham FC.

  1. You can find the full list of 56 draftees here.