Thorns nab two star forwards in NWSL draft
The Portland Thorns added a pair of dynamic forwards with the first two picks in the 2020 National Women's Soccer League college draft.
The Thorns selected Stanford forward Sophia Smith with the first pick in Thursday's draft, then took Washington State forward Morgan Weaver with the second pick.
Both have speed and an ability to attack on the dribble.
In the third-round, the Thorns selected versatile defender Meaghan Nally out of Georgetown. They traded their fourth-round pick to Reign FC for a player to be named later.
Smith, a 5-6 dynamo who is on the fringe of the U.S. Women's National Team as a teenager, was the big prize.
Thorns coach Mark Parsons said the Thorns have been "crying out for Sophie Smith for a long, long, long time."
He described Smith as a player who "has a set of tools that not many on the planet have."
As a sophomore in 2019, Smith scored 17 goals and had nine assists for the national champion Cardinal. She scored three goals in Stanford's national semifinal win over UCLA and made a penalty kick in the tie-breaking shootout as the Cardinal beat North Carolina in the final.
Smith is the only college player who participated in this month's U.S. Women's National Team training camp. Her first experience with a senior national team training camp came when she was 16.
In 25 appearances with the United States under-20 national team, Smith has scored 21 goals. The 19-year-old Smith played for the United States in the 2017 under-17 World Cup.
Parsons described Smith as having the technical skill to create and score goals in a variety of ways.
"Her athletic ability is unmatched. But that doesn't matter if you don't have a mentality and maturity that she already has."
Smith said she learned of the Thorns trade for the No. 1 pick while participating in the national team training camp that ended on Wednesday.
On her decision to enter the NWSL with two years of college eligibility remaining, the Colorado native said the time was right for a new challenge.
"This is the best time for me to take that next step," Smith said.
Weaver, 22, scored 15 goals and had five assists in her senior season as WSU advanced to the national semifinals for the first time. The University Place, Washington native is 5-10. She had 43 goals and 12 assists in four seasons with the Cougars.
Parsons said Smith is more ready than Weaver to make an impact in the NWSL, but that Weaver has demonstrated "the physical, technical and tactical qualities
of someone that has an extremely bright future. We are getting someone who has no ceiling and brings
an incredible mentality to how she plays the game."
Parsons was surprised Portland was able to move up to get the second pick and praised the work of president of soccer Gavin Wilkinson to pull a deal together in the hour before the draft.
Parsons said he thought that Weaver and Smith were the two best players at the U.S. Women's National Team identification camp in December, which he and his coaches attended.
Nally, Portland's third-round pick, was a two-time Big East defender of the year who helped Georgetown twice make the national semifinals during her four years.
Parsons used the words "warrior" and "beast mode mentality" to describe Nally.
The player coming to Portland from Reign FC was reported by Jonathan Tannewald of the Philadelphia Inquirer to be defender Christen Westphal.
Portland entered the draft with the top overall pick as a result of a trade that sent Emily Sonnett to Orlando, then added the second overall pick by sending their two second-round picks and an unspecified amount of allocation money to Chicago.
New in 2020, each NWSL club receives $300,000 of allocation money to spend for player acquisition or retention. The NWSL did not release the amounts of allocation money moved in the trades. Tannewald reported that Portland sent $70,000 of allocation money to Chicago as part of the deal for the No. 2 pick.
Adding two dynamic forwards is not a surprise. Portland scored only once in its last six games last season and clearly needs to upgrade its attack. Added to that challenge is 2020 is an Olympic year, which means the Thorns likely will be missing some of their top players — Tobin Heath, Christine Sinclair and Lindsey Horan — in July and early August.
Portland has traded away Midge Purce and the rights to Caitlin Foord and reports this week indicate Hayley Raso will join Everton of England's Women's Super League on a six-month contract. Foord is reportedly close to joining Super League leading Arsenal.
Sam Kerr, another Australian international and the NWSL's scoring leader the last three seasons, previously left the Chicago Red Stars to sign with Chelsea.
Parsons said the Thorns roster building is not finished. He said the club is getting close to deals that would bring a couple of "world class" players to Portland.
"Hopefully, we're only half way to what we'll look like in '20," Parsons said.
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