When there’s a chance to start the new year off right — especially after a year such as 2020 — you’ll seize whatever opportunity’s thrown at you. For former Cal women’s soccer defender Emily Smith, the 2021 National Women’s Soccer League, or NWSL, college draft proved to be just that — a golden opportunity.
As the 31st overall pick, Smith may join Racing Louisville FC, a newly created NWSL expansion team that is set to begin play for the first time ever later this year. Since Smith is a Division 1 student-athlete, she is allowed to report to her new club immediately or at the end of her spring collegiate season – a new NWSL rule that was approved by the NCAA this past December.
As potentially the 29th former Bear to go pro, Smith’s selection comes nearly a month after news of former teammate Luca Deza signing with Sevilla FC.
During her time with the Bears, Smith was an anchor on the blue and gold backline. As a freshman, she was a regular on the field, finishing third on the team in overall minutes played and helping to post 10 shutouts over the course of the year.
For her sophomore season, Smith started 15 games after making 16 appearances and accumulated three different academic-related awards: a Golden Bear Award at Cal for having the highest GPA on the team, a First Team Pac-12 All-Academic honor and a spot on the Google Cloud Academic All-District First Team.
Come junior year, which would prove to be her last with the blue and gold, scouts started to take special interest. Starring as a co-captain for Cal, Smith’s 2019 season was, by many metrics, a success. She allowed just 15 goals in total and helped lead the Bears to a 0.692 goals against average. In culminating her collegiate career, Smith was crowned with both First Team All-Pac-12 and First Team All-Region honors. She also tacked on three Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week recognitions, becoming the first player in conference history to do so in a single season.
Smith joins five other players in being drafted by Racing Louisville FC: Emily Fox, Emina Ekic, Taylor Otto, Kirsten Davis and Parker Goins. Should they choose to skip their spring collegiate season, players will report to camp on Feb. 1, with the first competition – the NWSL Challenge Cup – planned for mid-April.
Ryan Chien covers women’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected].