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Sky Blue NWSL Draft Preview

We break down the top prospects to look at as the evolving league welcomes its newest class of talent

Canada v Venezuela: Group B - FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Jordan 2016
Canada youth national team standout Sarah Stratigakis (left) is on Sky Blue’s radar
Photo by Christopher Lee - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

Following the trade of captain Sarah Killion Woldmoe and attacker Mallory Pugh to Chicago, Sky Blue FC enters the 2021 draft with a stockpile of seven total picks and a team in need of a major reload. With an aging defense and a midfield core in need of both immediate talent and backup depth, one would expect Sky Blue to all but certainly add some pieces to the spine of the lineup, namely at the center back and defensive midfield position.

Other potential areas Sky Blue could look to bolster could include a box to box replacement for the departed Woldmoe, an attacking midfielder to groom behind an aging Carli Lloyd, or another attacker to bring some fresh legs to a forward unit that is largely unproven. The only real consensus is that a goalkeeper will likely not be top priority, with Canadian international Kailen Sheridan returning alongside second-year understudy Mandy McGlynn.

We’ve compiled a list of several top players we might be seeing Sky Blue select, as well as a few potential sleepers:

Previews - FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Jordan 2016
Sydney Zandi (left) while with the US Under-17 national team in 2016
Photo by Boris Streubel - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

Name: Sydney Zandi

Position: Central Midfielder

College: Virginia

With one of the deficits of Sky Blue’s midfield depth being at the six, Zandi would supply the team with a well-rounded skill set from a deep-lying role. She’s comfortable acting as the lynchpin for her side, providing her defense an outlet between the half-spaces and progressing the ball forward on the dribble. Zandi’s extensive passing range will provide Sky Blue with a player capable of breaking defensive lines and hitting switch-field passes to her wingers and full backs. Ifeoma Onumonu and Margaret Purce developed into dynamic attackers for Sky Blue last season and would benefit from having a player who could get the ball to their feet quickly.

Defensively Zandi is no slouch either. While she is not a strict ball-winning midfielder, she does provide the extra bit of defensive bite needed for Sky Blue to maintain a higher press in possession. She can also provide an ample fill-in at the box-to-box role for Sky Blue, but her quality in transitional periods in the game could help ease the transition the team undergo without Mallory Pugh in the front line or Carli Lloyd coming back into the midfield.

COLLEGE WOMENS SOCCER: OCT 25 Michigan at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Name: Sarah Stratigakis

Position: Attacking Midfielder

College: Michigan

Stratigakis presents an interesting skill set as the most advanced midfielder and seems to have the potential to play as a false nine as well. Though Lloyd is coming back into the team, she’s already shown that injuries could be a potential pitfall in relying on her to be their primary creative outlet from midfield despite her obvious quality. In Michigan’s Canadian midfielder, Sky Blue will find a pure creative playmaker who can expose gaps between opposition’s midfield and defense and keep her composure under pressure to play the final ball.

One of the key indicators to how well Stratigakis can penetrate stubborn defensive structures is simply in the unique positions she finds herself in once Michigan transitions into attack. While her starting position may not seem effective at first, Stratigakis brings her teammates into the play with short interplay and a bit of individual dribbling ability to push the ball up the field. She finished her junior season as one of the best creative midfielders in college women’s soccer and while Stratigakis will have to adjust to the professional as all draft picks do, her quality will provide any team that picks her in the draft with talent worth the time investment.

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Name: Emily Fox

Position: Defender/Midfielder

College: North Carolina

Perhaps one of the most blue-chip defensive prospects available on the board, Fox’s injury concerns (she’s torn her ACL twice) tend to obscure the fact that she’s a tremendously talented outside back who was considered a heavy favorite to eventually break into national team ranks just years ago. The major question mark with Fox concerns her speed, and how it may or may not be affected by her most recent tear. But with many mocks projecting her as a first round pick, it would appear that teams believe she still has the pace that made her such a gamebreaker on the flanks.

Her college coach, the former national team manager Anson Dorrance, has praised her tactical knowledge, a factor that could prove crucial to a team like Sky Blue who could be rotating her through different positions to see where she’d aid them best. Fox’s natural technical flair, combined with her ability to slot in at center back or out wide in a midfield would certainly serve her well in a Sky Blue system that continues to place more value on ball possession than years prior, and her aforementioned speed will ensure she has as much value in transition going forward and backward as she does when she’s on the ball. She has an underrated final ball as well, posting 20 assists over her career in spite of multiple long term injuries derailing two separate seasons in 2017 and 2019.

Name: Mikayla Colohan

Position: Central Midfielder

College: BYU

An offensive minded box-to-box midfielder, Colohan could provide Sky Blue with an industrious ball carrier. Colohan is the type of player teams build their starting lineups around and if Sky Blue can find the right pair of midfielders to sit below her to take away the majority of her defensive responsibilities, she’s going to run rampant in the final third. Unlike Stratigakis, Colohan’s specialty lies in her finishing ability rather than her creative passing and movement. Though she is far from a ball hog in that sense, it does give Sky Blue a prospect with a proven knack for scoring from midfield and another threat to bolster their offense.

Investing in Colohan through the draft, however, will require head coach Freya Coombe to have some leniency in her development this year. The challenge will be getting the defensive contributions out of Colohan to prove that she can contribute on either side of the ball before letting her have free reign as the most advanced midfielder. One is perhaps reminded of Eden Hazard’s growth under Jose Mourinho when the Portuguese manager returned to Chelsea for a second stint. If Colohan can show her commitment to the team defensively as well as offensively, then, like Hazard, she’ll have her opportunity to free roam throughout Sky Blue’s offensive transitions.

Name: Kim Rodriguez

Position: Center Back

College: Oklahoma State

Rodriguez enters the draft as a full fledged international for Mexico and as one of the top center back prospects within the draft pool. As a four-year starter at OSU, Rodriguez has established herself as a reliable and efficient defensive presence in her backline. Despite a poor 2020 fall season from the team, Rodriguez was instrumental to OSU’s run to the NCAA Championship Round of 32. Given the complexity of domestic and international schedules across all competitions, Rodriguez could prove her worth early on as the team rotates to keep fresh legs.

Though just 5’6,” Rodriguez is tenacious in the air and an exceptional tackler. Her positioning compensates for the physical disadvantages she may find herself in against bigger and stronger opposition as well. Rodriguez is a no nonsense defender in the way she goes about extinguishing potential fires which would serve Sky Blue well when teams counter against them. Question marks still hang over her ability to play on the ball and progress into midfield on the dribble, but those are qualities typical of a young player that should iron themselves out as she gets minutes under her belt.

Name: Sam Coffey

Position: Attacking Midfielder

College: Penn State

Should Sky Blue look to make a major splash with their first pick, Sam Coffey might just be the choice. Though Coffey would be a potentially risky pick, given that she hasn’t made clear her intentions for the draft and may stay in college for the spring season, her talent would be well worth the selection if the Spirit allow her to pass through to SBFC at the #3 spot. Though Catarina Macario dominated much of the spotlight on attacking mids from this draft class, Coffey’s a standout prospect in her own regard.

After winning ACC midfielder of the year with Boston College as just a sophomore, Coffey elected to transfer to a bigger name program in Penn State prior to the 2019 season. She proceeded to terrorize the Big Ten, playing the role of the heavily involved #10 that’s become more and more popular in the modern game. She has the workrate to influence games in the defensive phase and does a great job of moving the ball with purpose. She has a great eye for finishing moves, racking up 11 goals and 10 assists last year. But perhaps the most impressive of all the Nittany Lion star’s strengths is her set-piece deliveries- she can hit a dead ball better than perhaps anyone else in college soccer- at one point scoring an Olympico equalizer her sophomore year. Coffey has Tri-State roots too, hailing from Sleepy Hollow, New York

Name: Sarina Jones

Position: Defender

College: Monmouth

With uncertainty over whether certain players will choose to immediately depart the college level and join NWSL rosters looming, it wouldn’t be a surprise if many teams chose to focus on local prospects to ease development and transitions. Sarina Jones fits the team’s draft goals in that aspect, as well as many more.

A former track relay state champion out of Timber Creek High in South Jersey, Jones has proven over her high school and college career to be a tremendously versatile player. She’s previously played every field position, and has earned accolades as both an All-State striker with a school record 31 goals at Timber Creek before becoming an all-conference defender at Monmouth. She was named Most Outstanding Player of the 2019 MAAC Championship, and helped anchor a Hawk defense that was one of the nation’s best her junior year. Though conventionally an outside fullback, it’s clear Jones can be used in many ways which could make her an asset for Sky Blue should Head Coach Freya Coombe look to bolster her aging center back core.

Name: Taryn Torres

Position: Central Midfielder

College: Virginia

The second Virginia midfielder to make the list, Torres plays a rather understated role in the Cavaliers tactical system, but a crucial one nonetheless. Another very versatile midfielder, Torres has experience as both a number 10 spearheading attacker and a number 6 lying back as a deep creator. Her diverse skill set, highlighted by her ability to advance the ball no matter where on the pitch she receives it would serve her well on a team like Sky Blue that has been looking to implement a more possession-based style under Freya Coombe.

Though not as flashy or highly ranked as some of the other prospects available, Torres is a technically sound and intelligent player that should be able to contribute immediately when she chooses to enter the league, perhaps giving her the edge over players who might be considered projects by clubs to develop.

This year’s draft will likely be one of the most fascinating in recent memory. With prized prospects like Catarina Macario and Malia Berkley possibly heading to France instead of the NWSL, and scores more entirely unclear on their future plans in the league or in college, this draft will feature a lot of guesswork and hopefulness by the clubs.

Teams will have to try to figure out which players will be immediate contributors and which will head off to college for another season or even a full year. It wouldn’t be surprising if in more than a few cases raw talent will be spurned by clubs in favor of a local player that would be easier to monitor, or a perhaps less-prolific prospect who the club knows can contribute immediately.

Sky Blue has seven picks to build out a new core of a roster that was reduced heavily in prior months, so every pick is critical. One thing to keep an eye on however- Draft Day tends to be a lighting rod for trades. If Sky Blue don’t have a specific player they’re enamored with at a certain pick or even from the get go, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that they start looking into wheeling and dealing some of their surplus of picks for an already-established league player.