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Boston Breakers pick three in NWSL 2016 college draft

The Breakers have strengthened their roster at several positions.

Stephanie Yang

The Boston Breakers selected three players in the 2016 NWSL college draft. Their choices were:

#3 Christen Westphal, D, Florida

#17 Brittany Ratcliffe, M/F, Virginia

#37 Abby Smith, GK, UT Austin

Though the Breakers initially were slated to go 17th in the draft, NWSL announced new allocation rules just before the draft began, which gave the Breakers the leverage to trade for the #3 draft pick from Sky Blue FC.

"It all happened sort of last night and this morning," said head coach Matt Beard of the new subsidized player rules. "All the prep work we had done looking at 17, seeing what players we could bring in, and then looking at 32 and 35 - obviously nice surprise for us this morning to get a very talented player at pick three. It was a nice surprise. I've been here a month; had my birthday, Christmas, New Year, and then I get a little present this morning picking in the first round."

With that third pick, the Breakers chose Christen Westphal from University of Florida, who could play as a fullback or could move up into a holding mid role for Boston.

"What I did in Florida was kind of been able to be part of the attack and the defense, so I definitely think I can bring that to Boston, and be able to not just be effective on defense but be able to affect the offense as well," said Westphal at the draft. "I'm open to [playing] at this point, but I've played holding mid in high school before so I would never say no to that."

"Obviously we didn't plan to [pick Westphal] because of we had pick 17," said Beard. "We didn't think she would be available. We had a list of players for whatever reason, if they were there at 17 we would take them, but we've recruited certain types of players to build a team around. We needed a defender, we needed someone that can play outside back, and we needed someone that could cover potentially center back as well."

Beard added, "We've specifically looked at her as an outside back. Her athleticism allows her to play in other positions but one thing that I looked at last year, a lot of players played that position and that's why we ended up where we ended up. When you're playing in the top level in any country you can't have four, five, six players playing not in their natural position. Every player we've recruited so far has been to give us the right balance within the team. She fits the bill perfectly for what we want and the direction we want to go in."

Things returned to schedule when Boston picked 17th overall in the second round, choosing Brittany Ratcliffe from University of Virginia.

"Someone's that got pace, someone that can beat a player," Beard said of Ratcliffe. "Again that's an area that we were looking at because we've got some technically gifted players up front. I think she's going to give us something a little bit different to play in a different way."

Ratcliffe is a forward who could provide attacking width for Boston, either pushing left or perhaps providing depth on the bench behind Stephanie McCaffrey. If McCaffrey ends up making the Olympic roster either as part of the main 18 players selected or, more likely, as an alternate, then the Breakers would definitely have a gap in their offense.  Don't forget that Kyah Simon may also be gone for a while if Australia qualifies for the Olympics, so despite head coach Matt Beard's obvious desire to beef up the Breakers defensively, the team may have very real needs in the attack.

"It's too early to say [where Ratcliffe will play]," said Beard. "I've said to every player that it's a clean slate for everyone. The other players have got to come and press in preseason. Going to have some tough decision to make over that first ten, fifteen-day period."

With their third and last pick, acquired from Chicago in exchange for Boston's fourth round picks, the Breakers chose goalkeeper Abby Smith from UT Austin. Abby Smith was widely regarded as the obvious pick to be the first goalkeeper off the board in the draft, but in a fairly surprising move, the Western New York Flash went with Britt Eckerstrom from Penn State, leaving UT Austin's Abby Smith for the Breakers to draft.

Smith is a big shotstopper who can distribute deep and also, interestingly enough, has three career goals. She has plenty of experience with USSF's youth system and has been in a USWNT camp, though not recently. Assuming Jami Kranich will remain on the roster, the Breakers will now carry three GKs with Libby Stout at #1 and Kranich and Smith competing for the second spot.

"We wanted to not throw our eggs in one basket," said Beard. "I spoke to Abby's coach at Texas and heard good things. I've looked at clips of her; I think she's going to be an immense talent in the future. I feel it's important that you have competition right across the board. Again with the goalkeepers it's a clean slate, everyone's got an opportunity to earn that slot to be playing from the first whistle."

Beard seemed satisfied with Boston's draft class. "I've got numerous options now with what I can do, with what system I can play," he said. "I think we've got some good strength and depth now with the players that we've recruited so far and the direction we're going in."