Dissecting the NWSL Draft: Sky Blue FC added important pieces to the puzzle

draft picks

By TOM SLATER

Dissecting winners and losers of any college draft may not be obvious until several years following the selections. But suffice it to say, Sky Blue FC officials in Los Angeles left the 2017 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) College Draft very happy.

For the second year in a row, the Sky Blue management feels they have picked the players who can have an immediate impact on the field.

“I know everyone says they’re thrilled with who they picked but we got exactly who we went after,” said Sky Blue coach Christy Holly. “The six players we drafted can help us this summer. Some will be starters, some could come off the bench. But they all have qualities that we need. And all six players have the personalities to fit in with our club.”

Last year, Holly hit the jackpot with four starters — second overall pick Raquel Rodriguez from Penn State, defender Erica Skroski, striker Leah Galton and goalkeeper Caroline Casey. Because Sky Blue was decimated by retirements and decisions not to play in the NWSL, their needs were quite different.

“We had a lot of needs in 2016,” Holly admitted. “We were drafting the best player available for each selection. This year we could draft player who have characteristics that we don’t have. Being greedy, I thought we got the best at each position as well. If you look at our depth chart and I know every coach will say they got what they wanted, but we got exactly what we wanted.”

With two first round picks, Sky Blue drafted two defenders from the NCAA champion USC squad: outside back Kayla Mills and central defender Miranda Freeman.

The New Jersey club then made four more selections over the remaining three rounds, where it selected Clemson goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan (number 23 overall), Rutgers forward Madison Tiernan (number 24 overall), Clemson midfielder Catrina Atanda (number 30 overall) and Boston College forward McKenzie Meehan (number 34 overall).

Mills was named the 2015 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and received All-Pac-12 First Team accolades this past fall while helping Southern California to the NCAA College Cup championship. The West Covina, Calif. native had an outstanding tournament and was named to the All-College Cup Team. Additionally, Mills has been a regular within the U.S. Youth National Team system, and she most recently participated in a U.S. U-23 Women’s National Team camp the past week alongside her now Sky Blue FC teammate Skroski.

Mandy Freeman was selected as the 2016 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year for her efforts in co-anchoring the Southern California back line to the NCAA College Cup. The West Palm Beach, Fla. native was twice named to the Pac-12 First Team, including her recent senior campaign. Additionally, she received NSCAA All-America Second Team accolades in 2016. Currently a member of the U.S. U-23 Women’s National Team, Freeman helped the American side win the Istria Cup last March, playing alongside Skroski in that tournament.

According to Holly, Mills speed and athleticism will allow her to play either as an outside back but also to move into the attack. Freeman is someone who can fit in immediately on the backline and made a n impact with her first touch.

“I see Mills as a fullback on the outside,” Holly said. “She can play right or left. I think she is an incredible personality; a supreme athlete and a very technical soccer player. She does have the ability to move around and gives us a lot versatility in our formation.”

Freeman might be the most complete player Sky Blue drafted. She’s an accomplished center back from the NCAA champs and she can also slip in to the midfield as a holding midfielder.

“She’s very composed, very unflappable,” said Holly. “We watched her in college and nothing seems to phase her. Everybody raves at her physical attributes but we also see her ability on the ball and to play the ball out of the back.”l

Two defenders also give Sky Blue breathing room while the status of captain and national team legend Christie Rampone remains unknown. Rampone turned 41 last June and removed herself from the national team pool. She played every minute of every game for Sky Blue in 2016, providing leadership to a young team as well as a high level of skill.

“Yeah, that gives people something to talk about,” Holly said. “That will be her decision and there’s no timetable on that. Christie always said that she didn’t want to leave Sky Blue in a bad place when she retires. We drafted two defenders so Christie can do what’s best for her. But either way, Christie Rampone will be involved with Sky Blue.And who better to learn from than Christie Rampone.”

While most experts had Sky Blue picking Stanford goalkeeper Jane Campbell in the first round, Sky Blue waited until the third round to take Sheridan.

Sheridan made her debut for the Canada Women’s National Team in March 2016, and she has been a member of their youth program since she was 15 years-old. Before arriving at the senior team, the Ontario native played for the U-17, U-20 and U-23 sides. While backstopping the Clemson Tigers, Sheridan made 76 appearances, recording 229 saves and 28 shutouts. The Canada international received an NSCAA All-America Third Team nod in 2015 while also receiving All-ACC honors after each of her four seasons at Clemson.

“Personally, we feel like we got the best goalkeeper in the draft,’ said Holly. “Jane Campbell is a fantastic goalkeeper and she’s going to have a great career but we felt we got whose best for us.  Sheridan has a fantastic personality. We have a great relationship with the Clemson coaching staff, even before the draft. Her attitude fits the culture we’ve been developing here.”

Sheridan is expected to challenge incumbent goalkeepers Caroline Stanley and Caroline Casey. Both split the goalkeeping duties in 2016.

For the second straight year, Sky Blue chose a Rutgers player in the third round. A native of Voorhees, N.J., Tiernan played three seasons alongside former Rutgers and now Sky Blue FC teammate Skroski before leading the Scarlet Knights with 28 points on 11 goals and six assists this past fall. After her senior campaign, she was named to the NSCAA All-Great Lakes Region Second Team, as well receiving All-Big Ten Second Team accolades.
“We’ve been familiar with her actually since her high school days,” said Holly.
She brings some attributes to her that we need. Madison has a good physical presence. She can score from outside the box and inside the box. She has told us that she always wanted to play for Sky Blue and that’s worth 15 to 20 percent right there.”

With Atanda, Sky Blue got a left midfielder who has vision and the ability to play one- and two-touch.

“Catrinaa offers something we don’t have,” said Holly. ‘She gives us something a little different. She put up amazing numbers in what is considered the most competitive conference in the country.”

Atanda is a from Belle Mead, N.J. native now heads back home to the Garden State, where she won four state championships with Sky Blue FC development academy partner PDA. This past fall, she paced the Clemson attack with a team-leading 12 goals and four assists, helping the team to a Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA College Cup. Additionally, she received an NSCAA All-America Third Team nod, All-ACC First Team honors, as well as being selected to the Top Drawer Soccer Best XI Third Team. For her college career, Atanda recorded 30 goals, good enough for eighth all-time in Clemson history.

The most intriguing pick was the final selection Sky Blue. Meehan was a strong offensive playmaker at Boston College, finishing her collegiate career as their all-time leader in points (124) and goals (58). Additionally, she recorded the best mark in Boston College history for a single season when she tallied 20 goals as a sophomore. She finished off her senior campaign this past fall with an All-ACC First Team selection.

She also suffered an injury and had to sit out a season, which may have driven her chances down to the fourth round of the draft.

“All she does is score goals and goals win games,” said Holly. The strength and depth that we added to an already talented roster is something that gives us some very exciting prospects for the 2017 season. We feel that every player we selected fits into the culture and foundation of our club, and we cannot wait to get everyone into New Jersey so we can get started on what will surely be a fantastic season.”

Sky Blue will have open tryouts before camp begins in March.