The National Women’s Soccer League held its ninth annual draft on Wednesday night, with a virtual event due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the NWSL became the first domestic sports league to successfully resume play during the pandemic, with the first-ever Challenge Cup that took place over the summer in Utah followed by a shortened season.
Over 34,000 people tuned in from around the world to watch the Twitch stream and welcome the next generation of American soccer stars, which featured two UNC Tar Heels and a name NBA fans will recognize.
Here a breakdown of every first round draft pick:
1. Emily Fox (UNC) – Racing Louisville FC
With the first overall pick in the 2021 NWSL Draft, Racing Louisville FC selected defender Emily Fox out of the University of North Carolina. The expansion team is gearing up for its first-ever NWSL season, and in Fox, Louisville are getting a speedy and versatile defender who will bring width and an immediate impact to the team.
⭐️ 𝗡𝗼. 𝟭 𝗢𝘃𝗲𝗿𝗮𝗹𝗹 ⭐️
— ACC Women's Soccer (@ACCWSoccer) January 14, 2021
At UNC, Fox reached the College Cup final in 2018 and 2019 before the coronavirus pandemic forced the competition to suspend action in 2020. The 21-year-old already has three caps for the U.S. women’s national team after making her debut in 2018. Donned in a USWNT jersey, Fox spoke with media following her selection to Louisville.
“I’m really humbled and so excited to be a part of the club and the NWSL now,” Fox said of her selection.
2. Trinity Rodman (Washington State) – Washington Spirit
— Washington Spirit (@WashSpirit) January 14, 2021
Perhaps the most talked about player in recent days, Trinity Rodman was selected second overall by the Washington Spirit on Wednesday night. Rodman, who decided to forgo college completely, is just 18 years old and the second teenager to be drafted into the NWSL following last year’s Sophia Smith, who joined the Portland Thorns as the first overall pick in the 2020 Draft.
The talented forward has a natural eye for goal and has stood out for the U.S. U-20 side, leading the team to win the 2020 CONCACAF U-20 women’s championship with eight goals and six assists, including scoring twice in the championship final that led the U.S. past Mexico. Rodman is also the daughter of NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman.
“Obviously [my dad] was an amazing athlete and I got those genes from him but I’m just excited to be known as Trinity Rodman, not Dennis Rodman’s daughter,” Rodman said in her press conference following the pick.
Washington could be poised for a strong year with several recent draft picks, but also USWNT veterans Emily Sonnett and Kelley O’Hara, who were brought in during an eventful offseason.
3. Brianna Pinto (UNC) – Sky Blue FC
Sky Blue FC took UNC’s Brianna Pinto with the third overall pick, who has been called one of the most complete midfielders available in the draft this year. After losing standout midfielder Jennifer Cudjoe in the offseason and with Carli Lloyd and McCall Zerboni coming off injuries in 2020, Sky Blue have been left with one of the smallest rosters in the league.
Pinto was voted 2019 U.S. youth soccer player of the year after she started all 27 games she played for Carolina, scoring 11 goals and recording six assists. With a wide range of experience playing for the national team at the U-17 and U-20 levels along with her renowned versatility should make her somewhat of an instant addition to the team.
4. Kiki Pickett (Stanford) – Kansas City
In the first trade of the night, Sky Blue FC traded their fourth overall pick to Kansas City in exchange for $175,000. With the pick, Kansas selected Kiki Pickett, who leaves behind a successful collegiate career at Stanford.
A proven winner, Pickett is a two-time NCAA champion and is a three time Pac-12 champion. She earned All-Pac-12 first team honors in 2019 when she scored two goals and recorded nine assists in 25 starts, most notably scoring the game-winning penalty kick in the 2019 College Cup.
Pickett plans to play for Stanford in the upcoming scheduled spring season before reporting to her new team.
5. Emina Ekic (University of Louisville) – Racing Louisville FC
This could be the beginnings of a hometown hero story for Emina Ekic. Going fifth overall, Ekic became the first player out of Louisville to be drafted into the NWSL and of course, she was selected by none other than Racing Louisville FC. Ekic proved herself as a crucial force for the Cardinals and is an incredibly versatile forward who can play on the wing or through the middle.
Her passing skills and creativity along with her pace will likely make her a strong addition to Louisville.
“It’s my hometown. It’s special,” Ekic said of getting drafted by her hometown team. “Why not continue to write the story here?”
6. Yazmeen Ryan (Texas Christian University) – Portland Thorns
Following a trade that saw the Chicago Red Stars relinquish the sixth overall pick to the Portland Thorns in exchange for the seventh and 32nd picks in the 2021 Draft and an international slot in 2021, Portland selected midfielder Yazmeen Ryan from Texas Christian University.
The highest-ever draft pick out of TCU, Ryan is an experienced college player who will bring quality depth to a strong Portland team that could lose several players to international duty during the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
7. Madison Haley (Stanford) – Chicago Red Stars
The Chicago Red Stars selected Stanford’s Madison Haley with the seventh overall pick, immediately bolstering their attack and goal scoring talent. Best known for her smart and crafty runs as a target forward, Haley will be a big offensive boost for Chicago.
A two-time NCAA champion, Haley is an exciting player who has played with quality teammates throughout her collegiate career and will surely benefit from Red Stars’ talented midfield littered with players like Mallory Pugh, Moe Brian, Sarah Woldmoe and more.
8. Tara McKeown (University of South Carolina) – Washington Spirit
Sky Blue racked up the allocation money Wednesday night, receiving $100,000 and a natural second-round pick in the 2022 NWSL Draft from the Washington Spirit in exchange for the eighth overall pick. The Spirit selected Tara McKeown, a 2019 All-American and the Pac 12 Forward of the Year.
In McKeown, Washington is getting a very productive forward with aerial ability, composure and strong finishing skills.
9. Viviana Villacorta (University of California, Los Angeles) – Orlando Pride
With their first pick in the 2021 Draft, the Orlando Pride opted for UCLA’s Viviana Villacorta, a midfielder with strong link-up play and tidiness on the ball. The UCLA senior never missed a game in her three seasons with the team and played the role of the midfield conductor, which Orlando head coach Marc Skinner will definitely want.
The Pride has a lot of attacking talent, namely in Marta, Alex Morgan and Sydney LeRoux, and with the addition of Villacorta, they are on their way to building a more cohesive squad from bottom up. Villacorta brings U-19 and U-20 experience with the national team and adds much-needed depth to the Pride’s midfield.
10. Deanne Rose (University of Florida) – North Carolina Courage
One of the most successful teams in the NWSL, the North Carolina Courage won the league championship in 2018 and 2019. On Wednesday, the Courage selected Deanne Rose with the final pick of the first round, a versatile player who can play in defense or midfield.
And especially following the retirement of left back Jaelene Daniels, the Courage can have Rose can play on up and down on the left side of the pitch. As a Canadian native, Rose was also the first international pick of the 2021 Draft.