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UA's Burdett up for women's pro soccer draft

Arizona and FC Tucson standout a possibility for NWSL draft

When the National Women's Soccer League has its draft on Thursday afternoon, among the choices for the teams will be University of Arizona and FC Tucson goalkeeper Lainey Burdett.

"Obviously, I'm super excited to see what happens," said Burdett, a Las Vegas native. "What ever opportunity comes my way... that's what I want to do. It's a waiting game at this point."

Should she be taken by a pro team, Burdett, the all-time shut-out leader for Arizona, would be the first Wildcat to get drafted. It's not by chance, says Arizona head coach Tony Amato.

"She came in talented and she built off of that talent every step of the way," said Amato. "(Assistant) Paul (Nagy) has done a great job working with her. She's gotten better in all areas, from shot stopping to taking crosses in traffic, more direct communication."
"She's got the mindset to be pro. That's what she wants...that goes a long way," he added.

In addition to normal on-field training, Burdett worked with both a nutritionist and a strength and conditioning coach so that she'd be prepared for the rigors of the professional game.

Another special help was Nagy, who was a professional goalkeeper for the Dallas Burn. Nagy gave her advice from the perspective of an undrafted player that had to prove himself in various team camps before getting picked up.

"He's been my comfort through all of this," she said.

Burdett still has a few classes to complete before graduating from the University of Arizona. This will make the experience a bit different from the NBA and NFL prospects gathered in a ball room watching the draft.

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"I'm going to have it on during class," she said.

Don't mock this draft

Trying to game out the draft is tricky. Although Burdett is on the draft list, players could be added until Wednesday afternoon. Late entries upend coach's plans and make much punditry on the matter superflouous. As an example, Stanford defender Tierna Davidson threw her name into the draft as the deadline neared. She's a national-team prospect and most coaches are probably trying to figure out how they can make room for her on their draft lists.

The guessing game is a bit more difficult for goalkeepers like Burdett. A field player may get drafted even if there are others in that position because there may be a need to change formations and they can get subbed out of games easily. Not so with keepers. In addition, NWSL rosters, for the most part, only include two instead of the usual three netminders, which cuts down on possible spots for wannabe goalies. 

For example, Chicago Red Stars, which up until this afternoon had three of the nine first round draft positions due to trades, picks first. Their starting keeper is Alyssa Naeher, who is the national team's keeper. They also already have a back-up. That's not a team looking for a third keeper.

But, and I promised this was complicated, Naeher could be playing for the U.S. national team in the World Cup this year. That's probably eight weeks gone between training camp and playing in France. Would a team like the Red Stars want to go ahead and put a third keeper on their roster to accommodate for that?

There are a number of teams with U.S.-capped keepers that could be in the same situation. Even if undrafted, Burdett could be called to try out for after to fill a gap.

History lesson

Although she'd could be the first draft pick, she wouldn't be the only Wildcat to play at the top flight of American women's soccer.

Wildcat standout Analisa Marquez played for the Boston Breakers and the Atlanda Beat of the WPS, and also played for the Buffalo Flash of the second division W-League. The Salpointe grad returned to Old Pueblo soccer for two seasons with FC Tucson.

Renae Cuéllar played three seasons at Arizona before finishing her college career at Oklahoma. She started her NWSL career at FC Kansas City, but was not drafted. Instead she was allocated as a Mexican national team player. She also played for the Seattle Reign and Washington Spirit. Although not on a club roster, she played in two friendlies for Mexico in 2018.

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Curtis Dutiel

Lainey Burdett makes a save in a playoff match against the University of Denver on Nov. 9, 2018.