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NWSL draft 2020: coaches and general managers react

There seems to be a wait-and-see attitude towards allocation money in NWSL

2019 NWSL Championship

If there was one question to take away from this year’s NWSL college draft, it would probably be how allocation money is going to affect the drafting and trading process from now on. The Utah Royals made the first cautious overture in the days before the draft, trading money to the Chicago Red Stars in exchange for the #8 overall pick. At the time, the amount was undisclosed, but eventually league sources confirmed it was $60,000, and Utah GM Stephanie Lee additionally confirmed after the draft that cash had exchanged hands. There were more trades in the first round of the draft, mostly at the instigation of the Chicago Red Stars, who raked up allocation money along with their picks. But we still don’t know what this money will be used for, after Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler and current league president Amanda Duffy revealed that allocation money doesn’t have to be used only on player salaries. With that in mind, there were a lot of “we’ll see” thoughts on the draft from coaches and general managers.

PAUL RILEY / North Carolina Courage

On the Courage’s draft results

“Good for us. We got four players. We got a midfielder, two defenders, and two hybrid players, is what we call them. And we got a forward who can score goals who fit our profile. I think all four players fit our profile for the positions they’re coming in. And in a draft I think that’s what you want.”

On allocation money

“My biggest worry about allocation is some teams keep buying the first and second picks every year. It’s going to change the league completely. And I think that can happen, and it kind of happened today. And I don’t want that in the future for the league. I think that’s bad that teams can buy it, just like the Yankees could buy it, and I don’t want that. I think it hurts the league a lot. You need teams to be able to hold their picks so those teams need to get stronger financial bases, I guess, to be able to hold onto their picks and make decisions with their picks. So if that happens two, three years in a row, it’s going to change the league and I’m not sure the rule’s been looked at deeply and closely, but maybe after the draft everyone will take a little look and come out with another version of it. Allocation’s good to keep the better players, if it’s used for the right thing.”

On Hailie Mace

With expansion coming next year, we’re preparing for [Vlatko Andonovski to play her at center back] already. I think she can play fullback for us. Merritt Mathias won’t be ready for the start of the season. She’s another one that we trust that can play in the wide areas and she can also play in the midfield and she can also play at front for us. I think Mace was having a dream draft pick for us and she’s under contract. We’re excited to have her.”

STEPHANIE LEE AND SCOTT PARKINSON / Utah Royals FC

On the Royals’ draft results

Acting head coach Scott Parkinson: “I think we’ve got the answers to make us a more robust, more cohesive team on and off the pitch.... Don’t forget, we missed out by three points two years in a row. We’re right there. We’ve just got a fix a few things. We think today’s draft’s going to help that.”

On how allocation money is affecting drafts and trades

General manager Stephanie Lee: “I think it’s interesting because we were the first ones. So we set the bar a little bit. And that was a discussion Rory [Dames] and I had when we were talking about the eighth pick and the number that we settled on, knowing that anything that came before or after that would increase or decrease based off of that. I think that it’s great. I think this is everybody looked at Utah from the board perspective and the league perspective and said they’re just going to buy players, but this is a reflection of why we needed the allocation money. We needed more assets and we needed more opportunity to get things moving and so we used it in a way that we wanted to see it be used from a league perspective as well.”

On the actual logistics of trading allocation money and making it transparent

SL: It’s an exchange of cash. We gave them money. We sent our money into the league and then they’ll disperse it to Chicago. The actual operations of it I think, it being a new rule, they’re still kind of tip-toeing through how to implement it, but it is an exchange of cash.... I think that the league is kind of battling through [allocation rules] right now and I think that they are going to make them public later so I’ll let them manage that because there’s a lot of numbers flying around at the moment.

MARC SKINNER / Orlando Pride

On his draft day approach

“There is some cover and some development for a longer term project too, so I think it’s really important that we have a win now mentality, but also growth for the future. And I think that with the picks that we’ve picked, we’ve identified that. And I’m happy that who we’ve taken, we can develop and grow and start or be ready to come in and effect the games.”

SAM LAITY / Reign FC

On the Reign’s drafting

“Our overall number one target was the player that we selected [#9 pick Kelcie Hedge], so we’re very very happy with that. Obviously we had three players that we were looking at in particular. We were looking for players that played a particular role to fill a need in our team and our squad. We weren’t looking simply just to pick players that had good potential draft ratings or basically the best players that were left, we were actually looking for players to fill positions in the team.”

“We picked a local girl in [#33 pick] Samantha Hiatt. That is the former Stanford captain and the U-20 national team caption and has remarkable pedigree. Really surprised that even though she’s just recovering from surgery at the moment that a player of that caliber was able to drop this far down the draft.”

On allocation money

“It’ll be really interesting to see how the allocation money affects the draft moving forward because I think this has really opened everybody’s eyes to the potential for the use of allocation money. It’s not something that anybody was really expecting I think, so congratulations to Utah for starting that ball rolling earlier in the week.”

“I will say that it seems really interesting in that you look at the amount of players that come out of the draft over the years. I think the retention rate is probably less than 10%. I can’t remember the exact number but it’s not far off. There’s a massive euphoria that gets created around the draft, it’s a huge buzz, I think even moreso now that money is changing hands for draft picks. It’s a transfer fee now for a potential college player. Interesting to see how it works out for these guys.”

On whether new owners OL Groupe were involved with the draft process

“There’s been some coordination going back and forth. But for the most part, it’s hands off. I don’t even know if the French organization would have any idea what the draft looks like and what the process is and what the rules and regulations are. They were more than comfortable just to take a back seat and let myself and Bill [Predmore] get on with it.”

MARK PARSONS / Portland Thorns FC

On drafting #1 pick Sophia Smith and #2 Morgan Weaver

I think I’d sum Sophia up in saying that what she’s looking for to be able to progress and develop, I think we’re a perfect environment for her and we’ve been crying out for Sophia Smith for a long, long, long time.”

“We flew to Florida. We watched every day of the December [USWNT] ID camp. A few people were joking, why are you here. I said I want to see Sophie, and I want to see Morgan Weaver every day. I want to watch them train, I want to watch who they talk to on their drinks break, who they get off the bus with. I want to see if off the field is as special as on the field. We knew Sophie for a long time and we didn’t know Morgan as well. Those two were the best two players in that four-day camp. We watched every minute of it and of course their experience is different. Sophie is probably in a place of being more immediately ready and Morgan’s in a place of, has incredible potential, can have impact now but also has a lot of areas to grow.”

FREYA COOMBE / Sky Blue FC

On grading her draft day performance

I’ve got to see how much is in the wallet at the end of the time as well, so if we look at the whole bigger picture of the day and bringing the draft in with some of the trades that we’ve made and some of the add-ons, I think it’s been a really, really positive day for us. Credit to Alyse [LaHue].”

On giving up draft picks to get Mal Pugh from the Spirit

“She’s a player with her caliber that we’ve been looking at for a long time. We’ve been chipping away at it. I know they’ll be sad to lose her, but their loss is our gain and we’re really excited to have her with us and to compete for us.”

RORY DAMES / Chicago Red Stars

On his draft day

“I’ve watched Zoe [Morse] play since she was 10 years old because she’s a Hawks kid. So she can play 4, 5, and 6…. Her soccer IQ’s very high. So it’ll be a little bit of a transition period. And then the two outside backs we picked up [#15 Julia Bingham and #16 Camryn Biegalski], we had them rated out as the best two or the best three on our board. You wouldn’t normally pick outside backs back to back but they were both sitting there.... Two outside backs that can get forward, a natural lefty on one side. Cam’s an Eclipse kid so I’m super excited with her and what she can bring. Both get up and down and it’ll be exciting to get some young energy in there to push some of our older players too.”

On allocation money

I think the allocation money has a lot of different uses that you could put it to work. There’s no secret, there’s one expansion team really coming next year. I feel like I’ve said that three years in a row, but we all know one’s coming for sure. And we have a lot of allocated [federation] players at this point so we wanted to be able to protect them. If you have players that, after this year, Vlatko could choose to break up that pool and start over, so you don’t know if you’re going to have players that come off allocation and those players become very expensive very quick. You can obviously use it to internally to reward some players that you’ve had. And most importantly we have a pretty good collection put up that when May, June gets around a lot of these players are coming out of contract overseas. We spoke to a good six internationals about coming in that we vetted and put time into. But it’s hard to spend that amount of money on somebody you’re only going to have for half the year, especially if they’re on a country that’s going to the Olympics.”

On more young players going pro early

“I think if you’re asking me is it a good thing or a bad thing, I think if you ask 10 people you’ll get 10 different answers. But what I will say is, Soph’s coming out of Stanford, she’s a pretty smart kid. Probably has a pretty good group around her that advised her and helped her get to that point, so I think her choice coming out is probably well thought through and she thinks it’s best for her, and I would say the same thing about [Ashley] Sanchez. Sanchez has been coming through the youth ranks forever and you’ve heard about her. I flew out to watch USC play UCLA this year, because I went out to see a few of them, and she was fantastic in the game. She came in off the left and was cutting in and was putting people in. So if those players and those families believe that this is the right path for them to choose I don’t think it’s any of our places to say yes or no and judge that. I think from the league standpoint and the coaches, we need to be careful that we’re not selling pipe dreams to kids maybe coming out of the schools and luring them to come out under false pretenses. But I don’t think that that’s happened to this point with any of the players that have gone early. I think all of the players that have come early are high level players that will be able to be effective in the league and all have long-term aspirations and hopes with the US national team that are probably getting achieved.”