LOS ANGELES — The Boston Breakers loaded up on offence at the National Women's Soccer League draft Thursday, taking four attack-minded players in the first round starting with Wisconsin star midfielder Rose Lavelle.
Three players from the NCAA champion USC Trojans were taken in the first round.
Former Canadian under-20 forward Lindsay Agnew (Ohio State) went in the second round (19th overall) to the Washington Spirit while Canadian international goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan (Clemson) and forward Nichelle Prince (Ohio State) were chosen in the third round. Sheridan was taken 23rd overall by New Jersey-based Sky Blue FC and Prince 28th by the Houston Dash.
The lure of big money and big-name teams in Europe removed Canadian star defender Kadeisha Buchanan (Olympique Lyonnais) and midfielder Ashley Lawrence (Paris Saint-Germain) in advance of the 10-team draft.
"We would be thrilled to have Ashley and Kadeisha in this league," commissioner Jeff Plush told reporters. "But I also know that there's a lot of great players who have joined this league today and I have a lot of confidence that we're still the best league in the world.
"But to stay there, we can't be complacent. We have to continue to invest more in our players, invest more in our training environments and that's what we're working to do — is getting better every day."
Prior to Thursday, five Canadians had been selected since the inaugural NWSL draft in 2013.
There were still 15 Canadians among the 208 names on the draft-eligible list, as well as players from the U.S., Belgium, Brazil, Costa Rica, England, Germany, Jamaica, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Scotland and Spain.
Agnew was not at the draft, the league said.
"Thank you to the Washington Spirit for making my dreams since I was a little girl come true," she tweeted.
A co-captain, Agnew led the Buckeyes with 10 goals and eight assists in 2016. She was born in Kingston, Ont., where her father Gary Agnew was coaching the OHL Kingston Frontenacs. He went on to serve as an assistant coach in the NHL with Pittsburgh, Columbus and St. Louis.
Sheridan, who allowed just 16 goals in 21 games for a .77 goals-against-average at Clemson in 2016, was an Olympic alternate last summer for Canada.
"As soon as I heard (the announcement), I was super-excited. I just kind of sat for a second and took it in. Took a deep breath," said Sheridan, who has won one cap for Canada. "I'm glad my mom was here and my coach was sitting right behind me, so I couldn't be happier."
The 21-year-old from Whitby, Ont., will compete with Caroline Casey and Caroline Stanley, who split goalkeeping duties for Sky Blue FC last season when the 7-8-5 team gave up 30 goals — tied for second-worst in the league.
Prince, who had 27 career goals and 20 assists at Ohio State, was a member of John Herdman's Olympic roster. The 21-year-old from Ajax, Ont., has six goals in 21 appearances (four starts) for Herdman's team.
In Houston, Prince will team up with fellow Canadian international Janine Beckie who was taken sixth overall in last year's draft.
"Attention Houston: this is a GREAT pick!" tweeted Beckie, who has 17 goals in 25 games for Canada.
Houston moved up to get Prince, sending a 2018 second-rounder to Chicago.
"That's one that we're excited about," said Houston coach Randy Waldrum. "A young player already with an Olympic bronze and a national team player. I think she's one that brings some things a little but different than what we have up front."
Agnew and Price both hold Canadian-U.S. dual citizenship.
The draft preceded the league's fifth season.
"We're pleased by where we are but we're not satisfied by any stretch of the imagination," said Plush.
The Breakers, who started the day with five of the first 11 picks, opened proceedings by taking Lavelle, a 21-year-old from Cincinnati who led the Badgers in points (16), goals (6), shots (74), shots on goal (31) and game-winning goals (2) in 2016.
Boston needs offence. The Breakers finished last in the NWSL last season with a 3-15-2 record while being outscored 47-14.
The North Carolina Courage, who won the league last season as the Western New York Flash, took BYU forward Ashley Batch with the second overall pick before Boston chose USC midfielder Morgan Andrews, who took the time for a selfie with Plush at the podium.
Andrews, a U.S. under-23 player and finalist for the Missouri Athletic Club's Hermann Trophy won by Buchanan, helped the Trojans dispatch West Virginia's Buchanan and Lawrence in the NCAA tournament final.
Sky Blue took USC defender Kayla Mills and FC Kansas City rounded out the top five with Duke defender-midfielder Christina Gibbons.
Lavelle, Gibbons and Stanford goalkeeper Jane Campbell, the first 'keeper taken in the draft at No. 15 by Houston, have already earned invitations to the U.S. national team camp starting Friday.
Stanford defender Maddie Bauer was chosen sixth by Seattle Reign FC. North Carolina then took UCLA forward Darian Jenkins.
Boston used the eighth and ninth picks to load up on firepower, selecting forwards Ifeoma Onumonu and Margaret Purce from Cal and Harvard, respectively. Sky Blue wrapped up the first round by taking USC defender-midfielder Miranda Freeman.
Head coach Matt Beard moved to revamp his defence prior to the draft, acquiring Canadian international fullback Allysha Chapman as well as Americans Megan Oyster and Amanda Frisbie.
The North American league has suffered from some defections in recent days.
With the 2020 Olympics well in the distance, established NWSL stars like Crystal Dunn, last year's league MVP with Washington, and Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride) have left to join Chelsea and Lyon, respectively.
"We had two of the U.S. national team leave, not 24 — two," said Plush. "And one's coming back (to the NWSL) for sure."
Morgan is slated to rejoin Orlando once Lyon's season ends in May.
American forward Savannah Jordan (Florida) put her name forward for the draft but was rumoured to be looking to France. Portland traded up to take Jordan with the 18th overall pick.
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