Racing Louisville FC are officially on the clock. The NWSL has confirmed that the 2021 College Draft will take place on Wednesday the 13th of January at 7PM EST. The live stream of the draft will be available to watch, for free, on the NWSL Twitch channel.
Along with the Kentucky side that holds the number one overall pick, the Houston Dash have made public where they will be picking in the upcoming draft. The Dash will have four picks in total. One in the first round (7th overall), two in the third round (26th, 27th overall) and a final pick in the fourth round (37th overall). You can see the full NWSL draft order of all 40 draft picks here.
The NWSL college draft is always an incalculable occasion. With the 2020 NCAA season being even more tumultuous due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this draft class should be harder to analyze than in a normal season. Athletes currently enrolled in a NCAA program have until the 11th January to declare for the 2021 NWSL draft.
On their current roster the Dash only have six players that they have drafted themselves. Their longest serving drafted player is Rachel Daly, who was drafted with the sixth overall pick in the 2016 NWSL draft, out of St. John’s University. Unless they choose to trade it away, 2021 could be the first time the Dash have utilized a first round draft pick since 2018.
Highlighted above are the players to have appeared for the Dash, or another side, in the NWSL in the past three draft classes (2018-2020). This graphic does not include Sarah Shimer (2018), Jazmin Jackmon (2019), Grace Cutler (2019) and Chloe Castaneda (2020) as these players never made an appearance in the NWSL.
Just four of these nine players - Haley Hanson, Veronica Latsko, Ally Prisock and Bridgette Andrzejewski - are currently still contracted to Houston for the upcoming season. If you include the four players drafted by the Dash to have never made an NWSL appearance, their draft retention across a three year cycle drops to 30%.
This is not a criticism of the Dash’s selection process. These statistics are by no means unusual across other NWSL clubs. It’s just an observation of how difficult it is to consistently build your squad through the draft. I would argue that the Dash has been successful with their first round picks over the years: Kealia Watt (2014), Morgan Brian (2015), Rachel Daly (2016) and Haley Hanson (2018) have established themselves as remarkable players in the league. The Dash have successfully scouted top tier talent across the years, which is essential to finding key pieces to form your squad’s core. The next trick is then keeping those talented players at your club.
As the draft progresses to the mid rounds, the pitfalls of unpredictability present themselves. Kimberly Keever was a second round pick in 2018, 12th overall from the University of Washington. Despite scoring a memorable goal on her debut against the Chicago Red Stars, the winger only lasted one season with 11 appearances before exiting the league entirely.
That same day, back in March 2018, Veronica Latsko, a third round selection from the University of Virginia, also made her debut. Taken 16 places below Keever, Latsko has amassed 30 appearances, seven goals, and four assists since her debut. Most recently she solidified her role as the deputy forward to captain Rachel Daly by averaging a goal every 99 minutes in the 2020 Fall Series. Of course Latsko’s lasting legacy as a fan favorite in Houston dates back to her debut season. The forward produced one of the most memorable moments in the club’s history when she scored a 92nd minute counter attacking winner against the Seattle Reign in May 2018. It was Latsko’s sliced finish across the face of goalkeeper Casey Murphy that finally secured the Dash’s first ever win over the Reign.
Over the past two seasons, the Dash have selected five players in the second round. In 2021, they do not possess a second round pick. For this draft class to be prosperous it will have to emulate the haul of 2018 where the Dash were astute enough to uncover one lower round gem as well as being able to identify a premier player of versatile excellence.
Retaining the Challenge Cup, in April 2021, will be the first objective for the Houston Dash next season. Hopefully a handful of bright young players will be there to ensure the circle does not break.