Portland Thorns make Sophia Smith first teen drafted in NWSL history
Eager to begin her professional career after leaving Stanford following her sophomore season, Sophia Smith wasted no time making history in the National Women's Soccer League draft.
Selected with the No. 1 overall pick by the Portland Thorns, the 19-year-old Smith is the first teenager drafted in league history.
After frenzied trading that saw the second, third and fourth picks change hands on draft day, the Thorns also moved up to select Washington State forward Morgan Weaver with the No. 2 pick.
A playoff team a season ago and in all but one of the league's first seven seasons, the Thorns have been aggressive in attempting to retool their roster ahead of an Olympic year, when many players will juggle commitments to national teams. Portland acquired the No. 1 pick from the Orlando Pride last week in a trade that sent U.S. national team defender Emily Sonnett, among other assets, to the Pride. Smith declared for the draft after Portland acquired the top pick.
Although she shared the spotlight at Stanford with two-time reigning Hermann Trophy winner Catarina Macario, Smith has long been viewed as a potential franchise player. She was the lone player with remaining college eligibility to train with the U.S. in its recent January training camp ahead of Olympic qualifying later this month. Smith, who won't turn 20 until August, is also one of the all-time leading scorers for the U.S. under-20 national team.
She is the second underclassman selected first overall. Chicago took her former Stanford teammate Tierna Davidson first overall a season ago.
The No. 2 pick, Weaver led Washington State to its first College Cup appearance this past season. She finished her college career with 43 goals in 85 appearances, including 28 goals in 44 games the past two seasons. Portland traded the 15th and 16th picks in Thursday's draft and undisclosed allocation money to Chicago to move up to No. 2.
The Thorns weren't the only team seeking goal-scoring help, with forwards dominating the top of the draft a year after defenders were selected with five of the top seven picks in the 2019 draft.
After trading veteran forward Rachel Hill, a future first-round pick and undisclosed allocation money to Chicago during the draft for the No. 3 pick, Orlando selected midfielder Taylor Kornieck. The former University of Colorado standout was the draft's tallest player at 6-foot-1.
Then came the run on forwards.
Also moving up in a trade with Chicago, the Washington Spirit selected Ashley Sanchez with the No. 4 pick. Sanchez became the second underclassman selected in the first round after bypassing her senior season at UCLA.
A veteran of the youth national system who was the first to play in an Under-17 and Under-20 World Cup in the same year in 2016, Sanchez -- who also trained with the senior national team -- joins a Spirit team that already includes U.S. national team young stars Rose Lavelle, Mallory Pugh and Andi Sullivan.
The third team in a row to use a pick that at one point in recent days belonged to Chicago, Sky Blue FC used the fifth overall pick on South Florida forward Evelyne Viens. Although the Quebec product has surprisingly yet to gain a foothold with the Canadian national team, Viens was one of the most prolific goal scorers in college soccer the past four seasons. She scored double-digit goals in each of her four seasons, capped by 25 goals in 20 games as a senior.
The North Carolina Courage, two-time reigning NWSL champions and three-time reigning regular-season champions, picked Texas A&M forward Ally Watt with the sixth overall pick.
The Courage also last week acquired the rights to former UCLA standout Hailie Mace in exchange for veteran midfielder McCall Zerboni. Mace was the No. 2 overall pick in last year's draft by Sky Blue but elected to play instead for FC Rosengard in Sweden.
With Korniek already on hand as a hard-tackling presence in the midfield and Sonnett acquired via trade, Orlando continued to reshape its defense with two more picks in the top 10. The Pride used the seventh pick on versatile Virginia defender Courtney Peterson and UCF defender Konya Plummer, who captained Jamaica in the 2019 World Cup, with the 10th overall pick.
The Utah Royals selected NC State attacking talent Tziarra King with the No. 8 pick, and Reign FC closed the first round by selecting Santa Clara playmaker Kelcie Hedge at No. 9.
The rookies enter a league with a changing financial picture for players, which helped fuel the volume of trades. Thursday's draft was the first in which teams were able to trade allocation money. Beginning this season, each team has $300,000 in allocation money that it can use to pay players in excess of the league maximum salary of $50,000 -- or as an asset in trades. Players must meet certain criteria involving experience or achievement to be eligible and the new system does not apply to players currently allocated by the U.S. or Canadian federations.