BALTIMORE, Md. -- Look at the rankings at one prominent website that follows women’s college soccer, and Morgan Weaver is well down the list – just short of the teens on Top Drawer Soccer’s big board. Even if you felt that was a little low, the Washington State forward wasn’t being discussed as one of the 2020 NWSL College Draft’s top picks in the weeks leading up to Thursday’s selections. Sophia Smith was, as was Ashley Sanchez, who eventually went fourth. Weaver, however, was flying under the radar.
That radar cracked at just after 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time. That’s when it was announced that the day’s second selection had been traded not once by twice: from Sky Blue FC to the Chicago Red Stars; and then from the Red Stars on to Portland Thorns FC. The target of the Thorns’ fancy? The forward mock drafts had slotted outside the first round.
“I’m still managing to get my head around the fact that we got Morgan Weaver at number two,” are words Mark Parsons will be remembered for after the draft, uttering them before explaining his swerve from conventional wisdom.
“You look at her tenacity, personality on the pitch, she has quality, pace, power,” he offered. “I was there live watching probably two of the better center-back partnerships in the country not know what hit them during the College Cup semis. And then watching her day-in, day-out with some of the best players in the country [at U.S. identification camp in December], you get to see the person up close.
“She’s somebody who will need time, support, development, and we’re putting her in a fantastic environment with great professionals, with great people that want to see people do the best they can.”
As the Thorns positioned themselves to take that talent, that talent had little idea what was happening. It was only minutes before the draft officially started, as players talked to each other and family in their private area on the draft floor, that Weaver found out from her agent that Portland had made the move. Two picks and allocation money later meant the former Cougar would land Oregon.
“I had no idea, to be 100 percent honest,” she said, when asked to think back to where she thought she’d go, as of three days before. “My mind was everywhere, from so many different rumors, looking on Twitter. So many different things. I heard Portland every once in a while. I was like, ‘Maybe I’ll go to Portland.’ ‘Yeah, maybe. Who knows? I don’t know!’ And then I got the call and I was like, ‘Oh, wow. It’s real.’”
She had a brief conversation with her new teammate, Smith, on the draft floor. Speaking to her agent before the selection, she decided to keep her podium speech short. Smith had the luxury of knowing where she’d go, and she prepared accordingly. Weaver’s rise carried a surprise element.
Backstage, she caught up with Smith again, as well as her new head coach and general manager, Parsons and Gavin Wilkinson. Rows of reporters and interview obligations were swept through amid introduction after introduction, to new team and league representatives. Her parents and sister stayed close by.
Such pageantry culminated her rise, one Weaver concedes, felt quick. Before the NCAA tournament, the mock drafts may have been sage. After, Weaver’s profile was different.
“I thought to myself, ‘One day I want to go into the draft,’ when I first started to play soccer, when I was little ...,” she remembers. “It kind of just started being real when I talked to [Washington State head coach] Todd [Schulenberger] about it, at the beginning of this year. He was like, ‘Hey, we really need to start thinking about the draft.’ I was like, ‘Todd! That’s so long from now. We have nothing to worry about!’”
Weaver now admits that, during her final year in Pullman, her professional future played a defining part in her collegiate finale.
“There was a little bit of a drought in season, when I wasn’t playing [well], wasn’t scoring, wasn’t doing anything. And then I just told myself, ‘You need to pick it up.’ … It was like, ‘It doesn’t matter. I just need to stop thinking about what I want to do. I need to stop thinking about the draft. What matters is right now.’ My teammates helped me a lot through that process, where it was really like ‘eh.’ We kind of took it over. It was amazing.”
Through the first 16 games of her final year at Wazzu, Weaver scored five times. Over her final eight games, she tallied 10 goals, and over the course of five NCAA tournament games, the new Thorn scored four times, including once in the national semifinal against the University of North Carolina. She’d finish her collegiate career with 43 goals, including 28 over her final two seasons – a run that allowed her to realize a goal as she turned professional.'
“I wanted to play in the U.S. I wanted to play close to home,” the University Place, Washington, resident said. “Portland is only a two-and-half-hour drive from my house.
“My Dad is very excited. He gets to wear Portland gear in Seattle. He loves showing it off, now. Obviously, the Reign are in Tacoma, and I live five minutes from Tacoma. He’s like, ‘I’m going to be wearing my Portland stuff everywhere.’”
That proximity might be why Weaver seems so familiar with the Thorns, and why it was so easy for her to explain why see feels, “Portland is perfectly right for me.”
“The atmosphere. The fans,” she said, with little hesitation. “Being able to play in front of such a big crowd has been a dream. Washington State … it’s awesome, but it’s not what Portland has. Portland’s stadium is full. Watching some of the games on TV, online when I’m at school, I’m like, ‘Wow. I want to play for a crowd like that one day.’ Knowing that I’m going to be playing with a crowd like that, I’m very excited. I’m very excited by the opportunity.”
That opportunity might involve a learning curve, with competition among Portland’s attackers making it unclear how quickly Weaver will claim a starting role. For Parsons, though, Weaver is “another fantastic fit where, again, we have to be a little more patient … but what that patience can reward is exciting and fun to think about.”
It’s a reward, too, that could leave mock drafts reconsidering Weaver’s fit at the next level.
“Everyone has different options,” Parsons admits, “The ones that have traditionally done a great job, and I hope that we’re in that conversation, no doubt have her [high]. The fact that we could get into that position is probably our biggest achievement. It’s incredibly exciting to bring Morgan to the Thorns.”