The excitement is real for the 23 games, eight NWSL teams and the first U.S. professional league to begin play. The NWSL will return and many key players will be participating, but the real talk is the new faces who will get their opportunities at a professional debut. Some fan favorites will be competing with their respective teams such as, Crystal Dunn, Sam Mewis, Julie Ertz, Debinha, Christine Sinclair and many more. Not only are we excited to see familiar faces, but it is the recent 2020 top college draft picks that will really keep us on our toes.
Several youngsters will lace up for the first time in their teams uniforms and play on the biggest stage of their careers. The nerves, excitement and eagerness to finally be able to show off their skills and make their dreams come true will be a true test for some of these new professional athletes. Many have played in NCAA Championship games, participated on their national teams and have played with some of the best in the world, but they all have a common ground: They are all looking to make their NWSL debuts.
Here are some NWSL rookies that fans should keep their eyes on during the Challenge Cup.
NWSL Rookies To Watch During Challenge Cup
(May or may not make her debut due to left knee injury)
Club: Portland Thorns
That’s another #NWSLDraft in the books. We’re excited to see what No. 1 pick @sophsssmith of the @ThornsFC and the draft class brings to the league and the future of the game. pic.twitter.com/Ya5xeLDcZH— SOCCER.COM (@soccerdotcom) January 16, 2020
At just 19 years old, Smith went from an NCAA champion at Stanford to the No. 1 pick in the NWSL college draft. Forgoing her last two seasons at Stanford, she just became the first-ever teenager to be the first pick in the NWSL, no big deal. She is a stellar forward who knows how to find the back of the net under any circumstance. She has USWNT experience and she will definitely make her mark in the NWSL. I mean the Thorns offense is going to be hard to defend between Smith, Sinclair, Lindsey Horan and Morgan Weaver; good luck to the opposing backline.
Club: Portland Thorns
Six days. pic.twitter.com/LspsZMbp9g— Portland Thorns FC (@ThornsFC) June 21, 2020
The No. 2 overall draft pick by the Thorns in the 2020 College draft, Weaver looks to make her mark at the next level. After her four years at Washington State University, Weaver tallied 85 career starts, 43 goals and 12 assists and is the second highest-drafted player in WSU athletics history and the highest-ranked soccer player drafted in program history. A dangerous forward will help the Thorns alongside fellow rookie Smith.
Club: OL Reign
"We had to put the pieces together as quickly as possible. But I think we have a really good chance of doing well in the tournament, so I think morale is pretty high over here."@olreign defender, @whatz_cookin, gave us her thoughts about the upcoming NWSL Challenge Cup.— Just Women’s Sports (@justwsports) June 23, 2020
Another Stanford standout and NCAA champion, Cook is a solid defender and also has USWNT experience under her belt. Recently, she joined OL Reign on loan from PSG where she has a three-year contract and spent her first year as a professional post-college. As she brings her Division I and international experience to the U.S., she will be a force to be reckoned with in the final third.
Club: North Carolina Courage
— NC Courage (@TheNCCourage) March 15, 2020
The second overall 2019 NWSL draft pick for Sky Blue FC, Mace opted to go play abroad instead of joining the NWSL. A UCLA alum signed with Melbourne City and Swedish champion FC Rosengard for her first year as a pro. She decided to return back to the U.S. and make her NWSL debut when she signed with the N.C. Courage in January. Looking forward to seeing her goal scoring mentality up top.
Club: Utah Royals FC
Welcome to Royalty, Tziarra King!pic.twitter.com/dmEyeglnG3— Utah Royals FC (@UtahRoyalsFC) January 16, 2020
The first-ever first-round draft pick for the Utah Royals already made history without ever stepping on the field. She is also the first NC State player to be drafted into the NWSL. The midfielder will look to carry on her stellar collegiate career to her professional career. King finished her career with the Wolfpack with 88 career starts, 48 goals, 115 total points and more than 31 conference, regional and national accolades. She is predicted to be a strong asset to the frontline for the Utah Royals.
Club: Washington Spirit
— Washington Spirit (@WashSpirit) June 25, 2020
Similar to Smith, Ashley Sanchez decided to give up her senior year at UCLA to pursue her dream of playing professionally. The standout forward had 66 career starts, 23 goals, 42 assists and has several awards under her name. A USWNT player and fourth-overall draft pick will look to make her mark at the professional level with the Spirit.
Club: Houston Dash
@bridgetisaten has signed with the club.— Houston Dash (@HoustonDash) May 14, 2020
The former Tar Heel forward, who had 93 career starts, 28 goals and 21 assists, was the 18th overall draft pick for the Dash. Her versatility and speed will make her a player to watch on either the right or left wing.
There are several more rookies that will be looking to make their professional debuts during the Challenge Cup, so we're very prepared to see what the youth can bring to the NWSL.