U.S. Hopefuls Eye 2011 WPS Draft
The U.S. U-23 Women’s National Team is currently holding a training camp, its first of the year, in sunny California and at least 10 players in the camp are WPS draft-eligible, including several who are likely to be top picks.
While full U.S. Women’s National Team forward Alex Morgan is expected to go first to the Western New York Flash, the rest of the 23 remaining picks are up for debate.
No matter where they go, several of the U.S. U-23s just can’t wait to get started.
“I am excited about the opportunity to continue my career and become a professional,” said Stanford senior Christen Press, who won the 2010 Hermann Trophy as college soccer’s top player. “With only six teams in the league now, I know the level will be much higher than college and I can't wait to play with such great players and improve my game.”
Two highly-rated defenders have been trying to stop Press from scoring during the U-23 training camp. Lauren Fowlkes from NCAA champion Notre Dame and Elli Reed from Portland were both starters on the U.S. team that won the 2008 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.
“Having to watch the draft on the Internet will be very nerve-wracking, but exciting at the same time,” said Reed, a skillful and fast flank player. “I expect the pro game will be very different than the college level. The pace will be fast and it will take a little more time to adjust, but playing professional soccer is a dream I’ve had for a long time and the opportunity is amazing.”
Fowlkes, at 5-10, was one of the most dominant players in college soccer last season. She is rated just behind Reed in the draft projections for defenders on womensprosoccer.com.
“I feel like anything can happen in a draft, so I am taking the approach of not creating any expectations of where I might go,” said Fowlkes. “I am expecting the pro game to be very competitive, fast paced and lot of fun. I thrive in a competitive environment so I think I will like WPS a lot.”
The vast majority of the U.S. U-23s aspire to play for the full team one day, and a big step would be excelling in WPS. U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage keeps a close eye on those matches, having called up numerous players who put in solid performances in the pro league.
“Not many people get the opportunity to play at the pro level, so we appreciate the chance to get drafted and make a team,” said Fowlkes. “We’re just thankful to the owners and sponsors for supporting a league that is at such a high level.”
One player who has already made the jump from the U-20s, to the U-23s to the full team is midfielder Meghan Klingenberg, who finished a highly successful career at UNC last fall. She is in her first full Women’s National Team camp and trying to make the roster for the Four Nations Tournament in China, so life for her right now is certainly a whirlwind.
“It’s a really awesome deal,” said Klingenberg of her chance to play in the WPS. “When I was a little kid I always wanted to play soccer professionally, but there was no professional soccer for women. Now we have such a cool opportunity to do something that we love, so I’m really excited. But I have no idea where I’ll go or who will take me, so I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.”
Press, who is rated just behind Morgan on the list of top forwards, will likely go high in the draft, but she also knows even though she sliced through college defenses like a ripe avocado this season, some bigger, stronger, faster and wiser defenders await in WPS.
“I expect fast-paced, organized soccer from WPS,” said Press. “I expect that characteristically tough defensive style that we have in America and that will make my job all that much more challenging.”
The last word on the draft goes to the player likely to go first. That would be young Ms. Morgan, who owns four goals in her first eight national team caps.
“It’s really an exciting time for my class coming out this year,” said Morgan. “Right now, our plans are very open-ended and after the draft we will really have a better grasp on the next year of our lives. From a personal perspective, I'm just excited to finally be a part of the WPS after watching games these last two years.”