The 2019 NWSL College Draft has arrived, and the North Carolina Courage will be making three of the first 14 picks in Chicago on Thursday. Over the last week a few big names have joined the 2019 draft class (Tierna Davidson and Tegan McGrady) while others (Bunny Shaw) have declined to enter the NWSL this year. Overall, the last few days have eased some of the hand-wringing about the list of missing players.
The Courage aren’t likely to grab any of the top-level players with the fifth-selection in the first round, but the addition of high level talent inherently increases the value of any picks that North Carolina makes in the first round. The NWSL College Draft is always a crazy affair, so it’s extremely difficult to predict what players will get drafted in any specific order outside of the first few. Instead, we will look at each phase of the Courage an determine the relative level of draft need.
North Carolina was an inhospitable team for rookies in 2019. Kaliegh Kurtz played 540 minutes in her first NWSL season, but she played professionally in Europe after college before joining the Courage. 2018 first-round selection Frannie Crouse played just 27 minutes for the team before leaving professional soccer. The only other 2018 draft pick to play a single minute of regulation time for the Courage in 2018 was Ryan Williams who earned 10 minutes. North Carolina finished with the best record in NWSL history, so there just wasn’t much space for rookies to break into the lineup.
Goalkeeper: High (probably)
In 2017 and 2018 the Courage employed Katelyn Rowland and Sabrina D’Angelo almost interchangeably. Both goalkeepers played well behind the best defense in the league, but neither player stood out on a personal level. After the season ended, D’Angelo announced that she was going to Sweden to play for Vittsjö. The move in unsurprising. D’Angelo is trying to hang onto her spot with the Canadian Women’s National Team ahead of the 2019 Women’s World Cup, and she wasn’t given a strong opportunity to show her skill with the Courage. Her departure leaves a gaping hole at backup goalkeeper, and while there are plenty of good free agents available it would be surprising for the Courage to completely avoid drafting a goalkeeper.
During the offseason ahead of the 2018 season it seemed like defense was an area of desperate need for the Courage. Then they traded for Merritt Mathias, added Kaleigh Kurtz, drafted three defenders in the 2018 NWSL College Draft, picked up Julie King in the Boston Breakers Dispersal Draft, and finally added Heather O’Reilly to the squad. The Courage had the best defensive season in NWSL history last year, and there isn’t much need on that side of the ball. Julie King didn’t play for North Carolina at all last year due to an ankle injury, but if she comes back healthy then defense is the lowest of concerns for the Courage. They might draft a defender is an amazing player drops to them, but it isn’t an area of need.
The need for midfielders early in the season will be low. Debinha, Crystal Dunn, Sam Mewis, McCall Zerboni, Denise O’Sullivan and Kristen Hamilton are six amazing players fighting for just four spots on the pitch. Then the World Cup will roll around and three or four of those players will disappear from May through July. During that time the Courage will be scraping by in the midfield, but hopefully they will be able to add one or two solid players to shore up the midfield. We can safely assume that Debinha, Dunn, and Mewis will all be travelling to France this summer, and Zerboni is fighting for one of the final spots on the roster. That leaves O’Sullivan and Hamilton playing 10 and O”Reilly pairing with Cari Roccaro at the 6. It would be nice to have some security behind those players, and we might even find a rookie good enough to get a starting role with the second team.
The North Carolina Courage scored more goals in 2018 than any team in league history. (That’s right, most goals for and fewest goals against in the same season) Despite their success, the front line is quite thin. Lynn Williams and Jess McDonald are both all-star level players in the NWSL, but there aren’t any true strikers on the depth chart behind them. Hamilton has been the traditional fill-in when injuries hit the front line, but she will be more needed in the midfield with the World Cup siphoning off a big chunk of the roster. The Courage recently signed Julia Spetsmark to play up top, but she might be away with the Swedish National Team or she might not pan out for the team. It’s always hard to know with new internationals. Darian Jenkins was traded to Seattle Reign FC, so the heiress-apparent is no longer around. There just aren’t a lot of strong forwards on the team. The Courage spent first-round picks in 2017 (Jenkins) and 2018 (Crouse) on forwards, but both players have since departed. There is plenty of offensive talent at the top of the draft board again in 2019, so maybe the Courage will make it three-for-three on first round forwards.
The NWSL Draft will take place on Thursday, January 10th in Chicago, IL. It starts at 12:00 pm ET. The draft will be live streamed on YouTube and the NWSL website.