Angel City FC selected 18-year-old forward Alyssa Thompson as the first overall pick in the 2023 NWSL Draft on Thursday.
Thompson, a senior at Harvard-Westlake in Los Angeles, becomes the first high school player to be voted No. 1 in NWSL history.
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“It’s honestly really surreal,” Thompson told ESPN. “I’m proud to be mentioned among other firsts like Naomi Girma, Sophia Smith, Andi Sullivan. They’re all amazing players and it’s so great to be another name on this list.
“I never would have thought, even a year ago, that I would be the first high school student to hold this position.”
Following Thompson’s selection, NY/NJ Gotham FC traded the No. 2 pick to the Kansas City Current in exchange for USWNT player Lynn Williams, and the Current used that pick on Duke forward Michelle Cooper. Orlando Pride selected Florida State defender Emily Madril at No. 3 and Gotham FC used No. 4 to take her teammate Jenna Nighswonger, a midfielder.
Angel City eventually acquired the pick used on Thompson in a three-team trade last week with the Portland Thorns and NY/NJ Gotham FC, trading the club’s 2023 first-round pick (No. 5), a 2024 second-round pick and cap money to acquire midfielder Yazmeen Ryan from the Thorns.
Angel City then sent Ryan and an additional $250,000 in allocation money to Gotham FC for the first overall pick, completing the deal. The Thorns used No. 5 from Angel City on Alabama midfielder Reyna Reyes, the 2022 SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
“It’s an incredible statement that we’re making to bring Alyssa to Angel City as our No. 1 pick, and also what we did to get No. 1. Because we didn’t have that,” Angel City CEO Angela Hucles Mangano told ESPN.
“We wanted to look at both the short and long term in our strategy … so being able to bring in a player like Alyssa allows us to do all of that.”
Thompson, who won the 2021 Gatorade National Girls Soccer Player of the Year, made her national team debut in September as a 17-year-old. At 83 minutes in a friendly against England, Thompson lined up for Megan Rapinoe and earned her. first international cap.
Last June, Thompson and her younger sister Gisele made history as the first high school athletes to sign a name, image and image relationship with Nike.
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Hucles Mangano added: “He is a player who can make an impact in the present, who can elevate our environment and bring us closer to the goals of winning the championship much sooner than a long-term strategy.
“And he’s got years ahead of him; he’s a player who can continue to develop. He’s our phenom, a generational player who can come to Angel City. … For us, it was a no-brainer.”
Thompson, who verbally committed to play at Stanford next year, said his decision to play professionally was a difficult one. Just days before the NWSL draft registration deadline last week and after much deliberation with her family, Thompson said she has decided to go pro. He had been communicating with Angel City for the past couple of months.
“It was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make,” Thompson said. “But ultimately I think it came down to what’s best at the moment.”
Thompson told ESPN that his decision hinged largely on the ability to pursue a higher education while playing professionally, something Angel City has emphasized since its initial discussions.
“From the beginning, it’s always been something that if I’m going to go pro, I’m still going to get an education,” Thompson said. “I still want to get better, and since I still have the chance to go to college, why wouldn’t I?”
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According to Thompson’s parents, the decision to go pro was made more streamlined by having a tentative path to playing professionally while pursuing a degree. Thompson’s father, Mario, added that they are still working through the plan and where Thompson will attend classes next year, but the steps to make it happen are in motion.
When the NWSL season begins March 25, Thompson will take online courses to finish her senior year of high school and attend classes at Harvard-Westlake in person when her schedule allows.
As for not only supporting him through the rest of the year, but also his college studies, Angel City said that even though they’re only in their second year, they want to set the standard to make sure the club supports their players both during and outside of the tournament. area.
“We’re definitely very intentional and we want to be that club and that environment where you have the opportunity to develop no matter who you are or what stage you’re at in your career,” Hucles Mangano said.
“It could be someone at the end of their career; it could be someone coming out of high school. But you still have an opportunity to improve. And I think that’s on the court and off the court.”
He added: “Understanding where [the Thompson family] is something that was very easy for us to say that Angel City wants to do it for you, Alyssa. But also all our players.”
Last September, Thompson, who hails from Los Angeles, attended his first Angel City game as a fan. Watching Angel City face off at Racing Louisville’s home stadium, Banc of California Stadium, Thompson sat in the stands with family and friends and got to enjoy the full Angel City experience.
“I was shocked because I’ve never been to a game like that, especially women’s soccer. The fans were so loud and there’s a whole fan section there,” Thompson said. “I got to see everything up close and it was amazing to watch.”
According to Thompson, it was also one of the first moments he thought about what it would be like to play for the home team.
“Watching them, I was just like, ‘Wow, this would be cool to play here.'” Thompson said. “And now that I get to play there in front of my family, friends and fans, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Despite missing the NWSL playoffs last season, Angel City played in front of four sellouts and averaged 19,105 fans in its 11 home games.
Angel City told ESPN it expects Thompson to adjust quickly to the professional environment and compete right away because of the potential return of Christen Press, who tore her ACL last season, and all-stars, including one of Thompson’s idols, Sydney Leroux, this spring. for the start time.
“I expect him to come in and compete,” Hucles Mangano said. “He’s going to help raise the bar for everybody else with his competitive nature. And that’s exactly what we want to create and what we want in terms of our culture because that’s what we need to create and become champions. type of team.”
On the court, Thompson said she is confident in her ability to go one-on-one because of countless hours of training with her younger sister and junior national team defender Gisele Thompson.
“I hope that I can be a goal scorer for them, that I can continue to get better and continue to grow as a player,” said Thompson, who compares his game to France’s Kylian Mbappe.
“I think with my speed I would be able to beat defenders on the wing anywhere in the front line, also run behind the back line, take on defenders, shoot a lot to create scoring chances, assist my teammates a lot and we can defend and come back if I lose the ball so we can be on the offensive .”
Thompson, who remains hopeful of making the U.S. women’s national team’s 2023 World Cup squad in New Zealand and Australia, says she knows the pressure of being the No. 1 pick. But he added that he feels “ready for this moment.”
“I’ve put a lot of hard work into this and I just have to remind myself that I can do this and I’m ready for this,” Thompson said. “Pressure makes diamonds, so I’m just hoping to be successful.”