NWSL teams target NC players at draft; Courage take Canadian Deanne Rose in 1st round

UNC defender Emily Fox went first overall to incoming Racing Louisville FC, one of six players from North Carolina schools selected

UNC defender Emily Fox, pictured in 2019 playing with the U.S. Women’s National Team, was selected first overall in last week’s NWSL Draft by Racing Louisville FC. (David Vincent / AP Photo)

If you’re a professional women’s soccer expansion team looking to build a solid foundation for your franchise, you could do a lot worse than building around players from the nation’s most successful college program.

That’s the approach Racing Louisville FC took last week during its first National Women’s Soccer League draft.

The league’s newest team selected Tar Heel defender Emily Fox with the No. 1 overall pick, then added her college teammate, midfielder Taylor Otto, with the opening pick of the second round.

They will join fellow UNC alumnus and expansion draft selection Tobin Heath on the roster of a team that is scheduled to begin its inaugural season when the NWSL begins its 2021 season this spring.

“We had a very clear set of plans that we wanted, and we’re delighted with the players we’ve acquired,” Racing Louisville coach Christy Holly said. “I think our situation is a little bit unique compared to the other nine teams in the sense that we need players immediately.

“That’s the approach that we took. We were looking for the best possible players immediately available for preseason as opposed to planning down the line for those that may come out in the spring or this time next year.”

Fox and Otto were among a group of six players from North Carolina colleges taken in last Wednesday’s draft.

Fellow Tar Heel Brianna Pinto was also a first-round pick, taken No. 3 overall by the Newark, N.J.-based Sky Blue FC. UNC Wilmington goalkeeper Sydney Schneider was taken in the third round (29th overall) by the Washington Spirit, while Wake Forest’s Hannah Betford (37th overall to the Portland Thorns) and Duke’s Tess Boade (40th overall to Sky Blue FC) went in the fourth round.

Boade, a midfielder, bookended Fox’s selection at No. 1 by becoming the final player taken in the draft.

Also of note was the second overall selection. Sandwiched between UNC’s Fox and Pinto, the Washington Spirit took forward Trinity Rodman of Washington State, the daughter of former NBA star Dennis Rodman.

Fox is a three-time first-team All-ACC selection who overcame two ACL tears to lead UNC to NCAA College Cup appearances in 2018-19. She led the Tar Heels with 11 assists in 2019 while becoming a semifinalist for the Hermann Trophy as the nation’s top college player.

The Ashburn, Virginia, native also has an extensive international resume that includes her current assignment to the U.S. National Team, on which her new coach, Holly, is a member of the staff.

“I’m super excited,” Fox said in a Zoom conference following her selection with Racing Louisville. “I know Christy from when he was on the national team as an assistant, so talking to him and him telling me about the culture and everything that they have in store — the facilities, the girls on the team.

“Especially since it’s a new club, I feel like it’s a very unique opportunity for me to be able to go in there and try to do as best as I can and work my way up and do anything I can for the team.”

She is the second Tar Heel to go No. 1 in the draft’s nine-year history. The Washington Spirit took Crystal Dunn with the first pick in 2014.

This also marks the third time and second year in a row in which UNC had two players taken in the first round.

Unlike Fox, however, Pinto will wait before turning pro. With one more year of college eligibility remaining, the All-ACC midfielder plans to play the spring 2021 season with the Tar Heels.

One of five finalists for the 2019 U.S. Soccer Young Female Player of the Year Award, Pinto has 23 goals and 16 assists in 65 career games for UNC.

“It is an honor, a privilege, and a dream come true,” Pinto said of her selection. “It’s going to be something that I remember forever.”

While other teams turned to North Carolina to add to their rosters, the team based in Cary looked north of the border with its first-round selection.

Picking 10th out of 10 teams, the NC Courage took forward Deanne Rose. A member of the Canadian national team since the age of 15, she became the youngest player in Olympic soccer history to record a goal when she scored against Brazil while helping her country to a bronze medal in 2016.

In addition to her international experience, Rose scored 17 goals in 46 games while playing for the University of Florida.

“She’s a full international in the first round and that’s huge for us and, obviously, we really like her,” Courage coach Paul Riley said. “She’s a really good player, a smart player, and a good athlete too. She has a huge upside and we’re excited to have her.”

The Courage’s other two picks were Auburn defender Alyssa Malonson and Vanderbilt defender Myra Konte, the 2020 SEC Tournament MVP.