- Associated Press - Thursday, January 10, 2019

Defender Tierna Davidson, who decided to skip her senior season at Stanford to play professionally in the National Women’s Soccer League, went to the Chicago Red Stars with the No. 1 pick in the league’s draft Thursday.

Davidson, named U.S. Soccer’s Young Player of the Year for her play last season, is also a hopeful for the team that will represent the United States at this year’s World Cup in France.

“I’m very excited to start my club career in Chicago - it’s my kind of town,” Davidson said in a recorded message that was played at the draft in Chicago.

Davidson, 19, is currently training with the U.S. team in Portugal ahead of two European exhibition games. The defending World Cup champions play France on Jan. 19 and Spain on Jan. 22.

She explained her decision in a conference call with reporters following the draft.

“There were a couple of factors and of course numerous conversations but I would say the biggest factor was putting me in the best position to develop as a soccer player in these coming months before the World Cup, and then beyond looking at the very busy women’s national team schedule between now and the end of 2020,” Davidson said.

Sky Blue selected defender Hailie Mace out of UCLA with the second pick in the four-round draft. Stanford’s Jordan DiBiasi went with the third overall pick to the Washington Spirit. The Spirit also got the No. 4 pick, taking Clemson defender Sam Staab. USC forward Leah Pruitt went to the North Carolina Courage to round out the top five.

Davidson played mostly at center back in her 12 appearances last year with the national team, all starts, and she belied her age with her composure on the ball and technical savvy. She scored her first goal, a header off a corner kick, against Chile.

But then Davidson’s junior season with Stanford was cut short when she fractured her ankle in a game against North Carolina in September.

Now well on the way to full recovery, Davidson told The Associated Press last month that she was focused on making the U.S. roster and was concerned about how to juggle that with Stanford’s rigorous academic requirements.

She said Thursday she still plans to return to Stanford for her degree.

The NWSL adopted rules this year that allow players who are 18 to enter the draft with college eligibility remaining.

The league announced Wednesday that it was also going to allow for increased salaries and roster size, as well as a greater salary cap, ahead of the 2019 season.

Rosters will be allowed to expand to a maximum of 22 players. Teams will also be allowed four supplemental roster spots for players at the league minimum that won’t count against the cap.

The salary cap for the coming season was set at $421,500 (up from $350,000 last year) while salaries were set at $16,538 at minimum (up from $15,750) and $46,200 at maximum (up from $44,000). National team allocated players are paid by their federations.

“It’s really important that we continue to grow the compensation areas and the benefits we provide to the players,” league managing director Amanda Duffy said. “They’re employees of NWSL and we want to continue to build the relationship and create the right environments, and environments that do allow them to be successful.”

The nine-team NWSL enters its seventh season in 2019.

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