From the moment Tom Sermanni signed on to become the new head coach of the Orlando Pride, there was a long-term plan in place. Even before the former USWNT and Australia women's national team coach agreed to be a part of the new NWSL organization, the foundation had been laid for women's pro soccer.
Since 2012, one year after Orlando City first started in USL, the club put a lot of focus into developing young talent, both for men and women. The ECNL program, or Elite Club National League, has teams from the ages of 14 to 18 that are the highest level of girls' youth soccer in the country. It is an intense travel team league that has produced players that have gone on to successful college careers around the country, as noted in our latest academy college roundup.
With the women's team now having signed its cornerstone players, it becomes both Sermanni's and GM Paul McDonough's job to fill out the rest of the roster. Sermanni touched on what he is specifically looking for in players yesterday at the press conference.
"We're looking at two things. We're looking at the type of player as in on-field, but we're also looking at the character of the player, to fit in with the culture we want to build around the club," he said. "It's hard to specify because you're looking for a blend. You're looking for both types of players. You're looking at a balance of young players and experienced players."
The experienced players will most likely be coming through the expansion draft coming up on Nov. 2, but the young players will be coming at the beginning of next year through the NWSL College Draft. There will be four rounds of picks from all women's college players in the U.S. that the Pride will be able to choose from. While how many picks the Pride will have is uncertain, Sermanni has already made it clear where he will be looking first in terms of future players for his team.
Sermanni has made it a point to begin looking around the general Orlando area and scouting future players. He went to the most recent UCF women's soccer game against USF and talked to their head coach, Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak, a former USWNT star in the 1990s.
"I'll certainly be going out and casting an eye around there," Sermanni said of local talent. "If there is a local player playing at a local college that we can bring in, then that would certainly be a priority for us."
As of right now, there aren't too many local products that are ready to graduate, however, there are five Orlando City ECNL products at Rollins College as of right now -- all of them juniors. There is also a multitude of players from the Orlando area over at UCF, although only one of them, Darbi Filliben, comes out of the ECNL academy.
While it may be a year or two before we see any local products take the field for the Orlando Pride, it's encouraging to know that the organization is making it a point to keep tabs on these players and bring them to the pros when their time comes.