When Portland Thorns FC traded for the first-overall pick in the 2016 NWSL Draft, they did so as part of the team’s plan to rebound from their first playoff-less season. Four years later, the Thorns traded into the top spot again, albeit after a year that saw the team reach the NWSL’s semifinals.
Two other teams have held the NWSL's first pick on two occasions, but only the Thorns have traded into that position twice. As much as any other team, Portland has seen draft day as a chance to make moves.
That view was again evident last month when Portland traded into the first round of the 2021 draft. While sending midfielders Emily Ogle and Gabby Seiler to the Houston Dash, the Thorns acquired two additional picks, the highest of which will see them select seventh overall on Wednesday night (4 PM PT, Twitch).
Whether the team keeps that pick or uses it to fuel more moves, this year’s acquisitions will be added to a list that includes the names like Menges, Smith and Weaver, among others. 2021's picks will be part of the Thorns’ draft history.
Here’s a look at that history, one that began with a key part of the league’s first title-winning team.
2013: An early anchor
Kat Williamson is still lovingly remembered by fans who were with the Thorns from the start, and with good reason. The last pick of the draft’s inaugural first round (eighth overall), the University of Florida defender was among the league’s best rookies that season, holding down a starting job throughout the campaign and playing a vital role as the team claimed their first star.
Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer-Portland Thorns FC
Other 2013 picks: Nicolette Radovcic (second round; 16th overall), Amber Brooks (third round; 24th overall), Roxanne Barker (fourth round; 32nd overall)
2014: Legend in the third
Even with a history of picks higher up, the Thorns’ best selection may have come in a third round. That’s because Emily Menges, originally thought destined for the Washington Spirit with 2014's 26th pick, went 25th overall, coming west after another person with Long Island ties, then-Portland head coach Paul Riley, decided to move for the Georgetown star. 126 appearances later, Menges is the best defender in team history, as well as an enduring part of the team’s core.
Other 2014 picks: Elisabeth Sullivan (fourth round; 31st overall)
Is it a coincidence that the year Portland didn’t make a pick was also the only year they missed the playoffs? Yes, it probably is. But it also led to an era in which the Thorns have been much more aggressive with the draft. That approach has produced some years where the team’s assets have been depleted (2017, 2019); others where Portland has defined the draft’s course.
2016: Starting a pattern
Photo: Amy Stroth-isiphotos.com
Emily Sonnett was going to be 2016’s first-overall pick whether the Thorns traded up for her or not. Having already broke into the U.S. senior women’s national team while at the University of Virginia, the Marietta, Georgia-native was a major factor in the deal that sent Alex Morgan to Orlando. Eventually, Sonnett would end up with the Pride, too, but only after she played key parts in teams that won an NWSL title (2017), claimed an NWSL Shield (2016), and make one another championship game appearance (2018). In 2019, Sonnett was part of the United States team that claimed a second-consecutive World Cup.
Other draft picks: MacKenzie Berryhill (third round; 21st overall)
2017: The odd-year effect?
Though Portland didn’t have a high pick in the 2017 draft, they did have quantity: four picks between 14 and 40 - the draft’s final selection. Tyler Lussi, the third of those picks, is still with the team today, accumulating 42 appearances in her four professional seasons and crafting at least one unforgettable moment:
Other draft picks: Rachel Hill (second round; 14th overall), Savannah Jordan (second round; 18th overall), Caroline Flynn (fourth round; 40th overall)
2018: Thinking local
When Bella Bixby (née Geist) went in the third round of the 2018 draft, she was feel-good, hometown story, having graduated from Milwaukie, Oregon’s Rex Putman High School before her time at Oregon State University in Corvallis. Now, after last summer in Utah, 2018’s feel-good story looks like a potential NWSL starter.
Photo: Rob Gray/ISI Photos
Following a two-year apprenticeship behind Adrianna Franch and Britt Eckerstrom, Bixby broke out at the NWSL Challenge Cup, starting and excelling in the Thorns’ first four games before a knee injury ended her season. She may have been selected in the third round, but Bixby may yet return first-round value.
Other draft picks: Sandra Yu (first round; eight overall), Gabby Seiler (first round; ninth overall)
2019: Keeping powder dry
Continuing the team’s new, even-/odd-year trend, the Thorns had a quiet 2019 draft, making only one selection on the floor in Chicago. Over the course of two seasons, Emily Ogle (24th overall) made eight all-competition appearances for the Thorns, increasing her minutes total from 93 in 2019 to 233 last year.
2020: Holding top two
Ah, yes. That 2016, 2018 energy, but even stronger. In picking Sophia Smith and Morgan Weaver numbers one and two, the Thorns became the first team to make the first two selections in an NWSL draft, choosing an early entrant out of Stanford and a fellow Pac-12 product - one who led Washington State on a late-season run. Both attackers scored their first professional goals during the 2020 season.
Other selections: Meaghan Nally (third round; 25th overall)
2021: Bucking the trend?
If it's an odd year, the Thorns are supposed to be quiet, right? Apparently not. Not only do the Thorns have the seventh pick in Wednesday's draft, but they also how the night's 12th-overall selection, as well as three other picks in later rounds. Whether the Thorns end up selecting five players, the night portends to be an active one for Portland.