Jim Gabarra (Howard C. Smith, ISI Photos)
Women's Professional Soccer held its draft on Friday at the NSCAA Convention in Kansas City. Without an expansion team for 2012 to steal away the first pick, 2011's bottom of the table finisher Atlanta Beat grabbed UCLA striker at Sydney Leroux at number one. Sky Blue FC finished fifth in 2011, one spot on the table - but a full 12 points - above the Beat, and thus had the second pick. The New Jersey side also picked at four, nine, 15 and 19, giving the team five of the 23 total picks.
Unlike 2011 where Alex Morgan was the obvious choice to go first, 2012 featured a stronger overall draft class and a lot more uncertainty about who would go at number one. Well, maybe not that much uncertainty - Atlanta scored a league-worst seven goals last season and will enter the 2012 campaign riding a 757 minute goalless streak, so a quality striker was kind of important. The Beat wasn't the only team that went offensive through the first round though, five of the seven picks were forwards, including Sky Blue's first.
And now, all of Sky Blue FC's 2012 draft picks...
Melissa Henderson, F, Notre Dame (2nd overall): Sky Blue's current roster isn't exactly overflowing with offense at the moment, with former occasional Western NY Flash striker Gemma Davison and new-to-WPS Dutch striker Manon Melis the only confirmed firepower so far. Add to that the departures of Adriana and Allie Long to Western NY, Heather O'Reilly's decision to ship up to Boston, and the current free agent status of the rest of 2011's offense and, well, a forward seems even smarter. Not to mention the fact that Melis could miss some time while the Netherlands participates in qualifiers for the 2013 Euros, or that Sky Blue's two previous attempts with Dutch players have gone badly. Henderson netted 70 goals and one national championship while at Notre Dame. She'll need some of that goal scoring prowess, and could be called on to play a big role in her rookie season, especially considering just about every Sky Blue striker ever has fallen victim to either some kind of strange injury problem or suffered a serious case of malaise.
Camille Levin, D, Stanford (4th overall): Because there is seemingly nothing that the Atlanta Beat love more than trading away draft picks, Sky Blue ended up with what was originally the Beat's pick, which was originally magicJack's but it's all very complicated, in exchange for the 10th pick this year and Sky Blue's first round selection in 2013. Levin was one of just two non-forwards who went in the first round (2011 MAC Hermann winner and Levin's Stanford teammate midfielder Teresa Noyola went to Western NY at seven). Sky Blue's defender situation is almost as complicated as the pick's provenance. Candace Chapman, Becky Sauerbrunn, Anita Asante and Nikki Marshall are all on board for 2012, which is a pretty solid backline. Except Chapman is a member of the Canada national team, Sauerbrunn plays for the US, Asante is an England international and there's this thing called the Olympics happening this summer and the women's tournament, unlike the men's, features the senior national teams. Which leaves Nikki Marshall - and Carrie Dew if this bit of news from her alma mater is accurate - as the only ones sure to be around during the Olympics. Levin was all over the field in Stanford's 2011 national championship victory over Duke and can play just about anywhere, which is good news for a Sky Blue side that will be hit hard by international call-ups. More good news for the Levin-Sky Blue relationship: the last first round pick Sky Blue FC made? Brittany Taylor, another defender, who went sixth overall in 2010 and has played every minute of every game since.
Ingrid Wells, M, Georgetown (9th overall): One of the day's stranger selections. On its face, this is a pick that seems brilliant. Wells tallied 31 goals and 46 assists at Georgetown. She's a midfielder, which Sky Blue desperately needs. And she's from New Jersey and Sky Blue FC loves signing local players maybe even more than Atlanta loves trading draft picks. A brilliant move by Jim Gabarra and a steal of a pick all the way down at number nine. Except that Ingrid Wells already signed a contract to play with Koparbergs/Goteborg FC...in Sweden. According to Sky Blue FC's press release, the team will "own her rights for the next year." So, if she gets homesick or whatever...
Jillian Mastroianni, GK, Boston College (15th overall): After the two biggest goalkeeper prospects went undrafted through the first two rounds, Philadelphia opened round three with Santa Clara keeper Bianca Henninger. Sky Blue followed suit, using the very next pick on Mastroianni, who, at the very least, now earns the honor of being the eleventh keeper to be associated with the team. The tenth is Karina LeBlanc, who Sky Blue picked up earlier in the offseason to replace the main goalkeeping tandem of now-retired Jenni Branam and Sweden-bound Karen Bardsley. LeBlanc is a member of the Canadian National Team, so she'll likely be headed for London this summer, leaving a very big hole in a very important position. Mastroianni picked up 44 clean sheets during her time in Boston and now suddenly seems on the fast track to a starting job in the pros.
Laura Heyboer, F, Michigan State (19th overall): Sky Blue's final pick, and it's another forward. Heyboer is Michigan State's all-time leading scorer, with 57 goals and 25 assists. Sky Blue seems to have a knack for finding good utility players in the later rounds. A year ago the team grabbed Alyssa Mautz at 16 - she made the squad and made a handful of appearances, scoring one goal and spending all the rest of her 236 minutes very nearly scoring another. Heyboer could easily fill the same kind of utility striker role and when all the other strikers fall into some kind of weird funk or pick up some kind of wacky injury.
Drafting a player who's already signed with a team in Sweden aside, a solid, smart draft from Sky Blue. The loss of the last original Sky Blue players in O'Reilly, Branam and Bardsley certainly hurts, but Jim Gabarra and company did well to fill at least some of those holes, most notably with a strong goalkeeper and striker, plus one very good defender. There are still a ton of free agents, including some very big names, floating around - and of course a lot of questions about whether some of those players, who also happen to be US National Teamers, will commit to WPS teams with the Olympics looming. But tasked with building a team virtually from scratch, Gabarra has, on paper at least, done well so far.