In the Spirit
San Diego selects Wagner first in WUSA draftPosted: Sunday February 02, 2003 1:08 PM
Updated: Monday February 03, 2003 7:02 PM
ATLANTA (CNNSI.com) -- The San Diego Spirit surprised nobody with the first pick in the 2003 Women's United Soccer Association draft. (Full Results)
The Spirit selected Santa Clara's Aly Wagner, 22, a starter as a playmaking midfielder on the U.S. national team.
"Aly is the most talented player coming out of college and is the player we have been focusing on since we traded for the No. 1 pick," said Spirit head coach Omid Namazi.
The draft went ahead without a collective-bargaining agreement with the league's players. A league source indicated on Sunday that a labor agreement was close to being finalized.
In December, the league postponed the waivers date and subsequent waiver draft due to collective-bargaining negotiations. Labor talks will affect considerations such as the league salary cap.
Offense was the theme of the draft, as 22 of the 32 total selections were either forwards or midfielders.
San Diego swapped first-round picks with the New York Power as part of a five-player trade in September. In the largest deal in the league's two-year history, the Spirit sent midfielders Shannon Boxx and Sherrill Kester and defender Margaret Tietjen to New York in exchange for the top pick, midfielder Jan Lalor and forward Wynne McIntosh.
The Power drafted Penn State forward Christie Welsh with the second pick, and another Santa Clara player, Devvyn Hawkins, was taken next by the Boston Breakers.
Santa Clara made it to the NCAA women's final before losing to Portland 2-1 in double-overtime on Dec. 8.
Santa Clara and North Carolina led all schools in representation in this year's draft, with three selections each. The Tar Heels remain the most represented school in the WUSA draft history with 20 total selections.
Hawkins was called into U.S. national team camp and played for April Heinrich's squad at the Four Nations Tournament in China, where she scored her first career international goal in a 1-0 victory over Germany last week to give the U.S. the title.
The Philadelphia Charge took goalkeeper Hope Salo of Washington with the No. 4 pick, one of three first-round selections they had. They chose forward Deliah Harrington of Clemson with the sixth pick, and midfielder Mary McVeigh of Dartmouth with the seventh.
Midfielder Callie Withers of Stanford went at No. 5 to the Atlanta Beat, and the Carolina Courage took defender Breanna Boyd of Nebraska with the eighth and final pick of the first round.
Teams drafted 32 players over four rounds. Four trades were made on the day. San Jose and Washington did not have a draft pick until the second round due to offseason trades.
Soccer America magazine has called Wagner "the most gifted playmaker the United States has produced."
"I'm extremely excited to be given this opportunity," Wagner said. "Since the league's inception, my heart has been set on playing for the Spirit. It's a perfect place to play and I'm going to a team where I think I'll fit right in. My brother lives in nearby San Clemente and I'm looking forward to him being my neighbor."
Wagner has 36 caps, 8 goals and 16 assists for the American squad. She earned first-team NSCAA All-America honors her junior and senior seasons and second-team All-America honors her freshmen and sophomore campaigns at Santa Clara.
"I think my style will work well with the likes of Mac [Shannon MacMillan], Julie Fleeting and the other forwards," Wagner added. "And the leadership on this team is amazing. Players like Julie [Foudy) and Joy [Fawcett] are people I can learn from every day. These are players who will make my transition that much easier."
It's the second straight year a player from Santa Clara was the top selection; Carolina chose Danielle Slaton in 2002. Wagner, the 2002 MAC Hermann Award winner, also was a high school teammate of Slaton's.
"Aly is one of those players," veteran Julie Foudy recently told Soccer America. "It's, like, sometimes you catch yourself watching her on the field. You're like, 'Wait. C'mon, play.' ...
"She's one of those players a forward will run for anywhere, because you know the ball is going to be at your feet wherever you go. And you can see: When she gets the ball, the forwards just light up. Because they know."
"There's no doubt," said San Jose CyberRays defender Brandi Chastain, "that she can pass when she has time and space."
"The key for Aly will be when we play teams like China and teams like Norway and teams like Germany. What can she do in those circumstances?"
That was before Wagner played a key role in helping the U.S. win the Four Nations Tournament, with Wagner assisting on all three goals in a tournament opening 3-1 win against Olympic champion Norway.
"Aly possesses unique qualities in her game that make her teammates better and will compliment our team very well," said Namazi. "She has an amazing feel for the game and where the ball should go to create the most danger for the opponent. You can't coach that.
"It's just something innate. I know her style will provide great entertainment for the San Diego fans will contribute to winning games."
The WUSA will kick off its third season April 5.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.