Jan. 12—The NWSL draft started out as expected, but it only took a few minutes for the night to erupt into an even bigger spectacle at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Angel City FC used the No. 1 pick on the player everyone thought they would: Alyssa Thompson, an 18-year-old high school senior at Harvard-Westlake in Los Angeles who already has debuted for the senior U.S. national team. Last week, Angel City sparked a multi-team trade to land the No. 1 pick, and the ability to stay home helped convince Thompson to turn pro now.

Barely a breath after NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman announced the pick, she announced a blockbuster trade: Gotham FC landed U.S. national team veteran forward Lynn Williams from the Kansas City Current in exchange for the No. 2 pick. The Gotham fans in the room who came down from north Jersey were shocked, and so was everyone else on hand.

It was a surprisingly low price for Gotham to pay for the 29-year-old, who is returning to action this month with the national team after a long injury absence. If she stays healthy, she'll likely be on the U.S. World Cup team this summer. Before then, she'll line up on the left side of a Gotham forward line that features fellow U.S. veteran Midge Purce.


Earlier Thursday, Gotham acquired the No. 4 pick in a deal with Racing Louisville, dealing away forward Paige Monaghan, $150,000, and an international roster spot for this year. It was easy to guess at that point that Gotham was up to something bigger, because while the top of the draft pool had good players, it had few slam-dunks.

The Williams deal duly proved the bigger thing. Gotham kept the No. 4 pick and used it on Florida State midfielder Jenna Nighswonger, a finalist for this year's MAC Hermann trophy, college soccer's equivalent of the Heisman.

The player who won the award, Duke sophomore forward Michelle Cooper, went to Kansas City at No. 2. Multiple sources with knowledge of the deal told The Inquirer that Kansas City wanted Cooper badly enough to make a straight player-for-pick swap. Later in the night, Current general manager Camille Levin Ashton confirmed it.

"Michelle is somebody that we've obviously watched over the course of the last couple of years, and she's somebody that we really wanted to be part of this organization," Ashton said of a player who trained with the Current as an amateur last summer. "She's an incredible talent and has showcased that at the collegiate level, and we're very excited to have her with us in Kansas City."

Asked about trading Williams, Ashton said: "That's always the tough part of this job. ... We thank Lynn for everything and all her contributions to the team. It was something that we needed to do to make this decision."

One of Nighswonger's ex-teammates, centerback Emily Madril, went at No. 3 to the Orlando Pride. Her potential has been known for long enough that she turned pro last summer and signed an early deal with the NWSL, agreeing to go in this year's draft and spending the months until then on loan at a club in Sweden.

The first pick with local ties was Penn State midfielder Penelope Hocking, who went at No. 7 to the Chicago Red Stars. She spent her senior season with the Nittany Lions after three years at Southern California.

"They want me to be a key attacking piece," Hocking said of her conversations with the Red Stars' front office. She noted how excited she was to join an attack led by U.S. national team star Mallory Swanson [née Pugh].

"I'm so excited to play with her," Hocking said. "I mean, I've looked up to her for so many years. ... When I first entered the college game, I wasn't sure if I was going to play pro, but having the opportunity to do this is something I'm really, really proud of and happy to say I can do."

The draft is ongoing, broadcast live online via Paramount+ and CBSports.com.


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