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Portland lands four players with eye on the future, trades up to get TCU standout in first round

PMG FILE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Mark Parsons and the Thorns made four picks in the 2021 NWSL Draft on Jan. 13, including three attacking playersThe Portland Thorns focused on adding future attack-minded players during the 2021 National Women's Soccer League Draft, which was held virtually Wednesday, Jan. 13.

Portland selected four players, highlighted by attacking midfielder Yazmeen Ryan out of Texas Christian in the first round. The Thorns' other selections were attacking midfielder Sam Coffey out of Penn State in the second round, forward-midfielder Amirah Ali out of Rutgers in the third round, and and defender Hannah Betfort out of Wake Forest in the fourth round.

Coach Mark Parsons said Ryan was the top player on Portland's draft list. Not wanting to risk losing her, the Thorns traded up one spot to grab Ryan with the No. 6 pick.

"Her receiving, her passing, dribbling ability, positioning, ability to create and exploit space — she's got a great future," Parsons said. "It might take a bit of time, but this is someone we felt we had to get."

A native of Norman, Oklahoma, Ryan was an all-conference pick in all four of her seasons with the Horned Frogs. She has scored 19 goals and added 17 assists in 68 college games. The Big XII played nine games in the fall of 2020. Ryan scored three goals in seven games before being sidelined by an injury as the Horned Frogs went 8-0-1 during the fall.

To move up one spot, Portland sent the No. 7 first round pick and the No. 32 pick in this draft and a 2021 international roster spot to Chicago.

Parsons said the Thorns tried to climb as high as fourth in the first round to get Ryan. It made the deal with Chicago so that no other team could sweep in and draft her one spot before Portland's turn at No. 7.

Ryan said the Thorns were the team she hoped to go to in the draft.

"They were my No. 1 team, if I'm being honest," Ryan said during a video news conference, surrounded by excited family members. "It's just surreal that this is happening."

Ryan described herself as an "attacking-minded player looking to get after it," a style and skill set that fits the aggressive way Parsons wants the Thorns to play. She said she is excited to get to learn from elite players such as Christine Sinclair and Lindsey Horan, who she watched while growing up.

Because of COVID-19, players drafted Jan. 13 have the option to return to college to play this spring and in the fall. For that reason, players drafted Wednesday might not join the NWSL in 2021 but will remain on that team's college protected list until the start of preseason in 2022.

The players Portland selected Jan. 13 will not be on hand when the club opens training camp Feb. 1.

Portland already has a solid group of attacking midfield players, so Wednesday was more about long-term planning, Parsons said. He emphasized that the players selected have the ability to make the jump to the NWSL this season, but that each was selected with their future development in mind.

He said all the players the Thorns chose fit the proactive style of soccer the club plans to make its brand.

Coffey has thrived at both Boston College, where she played her first two seasons, and at Penn State.

Parsons, noting that Portland will have to wait for Coffey to complete college before she joins the club, described her as another player who is strong on the dribble and can be a difference maker in the attacking third of the field.

Coffey said she is looking forward to teaming with former Penn State standout and current Thorns midfielder Rocky Rodriguez.

"She's someone who has inspired me from the minute I got here to Penn State, and I just can't wait to be her teammate," Coffey said of Rodriguez.

In three seasons at Rutgers, Ali has 25 goals and 12 assists. A New Jersey native, she started all 62 games through her junior season and 10 of her goals were game-winners. As a junior in 2019, she was a first-team All-American. Ali has played in the U.S. Women's National Team youth system and prior to Rutgers was named the national high school player of the year by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.

"We've got some fantastic (attacking) options right now, but we're going to need more help in the future," Parsons said, describing Ali as: "Great on the ball. Great future. Just an absolute handful."

Betfort is a 5-11 defender who has been a four-year starter at Wake Forest and a team captain for two years. She has started 59 of the 65 games she's played.

Expansion club Racing Louisville selected North Carolina Tar Heels defender Emily Fox, who has made three appearances with the U.S. Women's National Team. The second selection, by the Washington Spirit, was Trinity Rodman. The daughter of former NBA player Dennis Rodman, she has been a standout for the U.S under-20 team. Trinity Rodman, 18, was going to play college soccer at Washington State, but her freshman season was canceled because of COVID-19.

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