The Orlando Pride no longer have a pick in the 2018 NWSL College Draft. The Pride have now traded away all four of their selections in the last few weeks as they try to piece together their roster ahead of the 2017 season, trying to fill their various holes and shortcomings after some unexpected roster turnover.
But for an expansion side that finished second-to-last in 2016 to struggle trying to put together nearly the same roster, it was a bit of a concern. But there were naturally going to be some questions that needed to be answered given the way the roster was assembled after the team’s performance.
The club has dealt its draft picks at lightning speed since joining the NWSL. Of their 12 available selections between 2016-2018, they’ve traded away seven, not to mention that they traded back into the first and second rounds of 2016. The first pick in club history, Sam Witteman, was traded to North Carolina. Tom Sermanni and company have been averse to building through the College Draft, but now they’ve left themselves with a squad full of question marks and playoff goals.
The NWSL Draft is not like its MLS counterpart; clubs often rely on their draft picks to contribute in their rookie seasons and the player pool is far larger and among the best sources of young talent in women’s soccer. By giving up their selections for the entirety of 2018, the Pride have disposed of a safety net of top young talent for a win-now mindset. With how they have mortgaged their future during their first two seasons as a franchise, failure may not be an option. They no longer have the excuses of an expansion franchise. By retaining the bulk of their inaugural roster, the onus is on the team.
But the improvements from last year’s squad that finished 13 points below the playoffs have been minimal. The defense has been the biggest benefactor of the off-season, adding USWNT fullback Ali Krieger and NWSL Champion and Matildas regular Alanna Kennedy. Pairing those two with star Steph Catley and Australia teammate Laura Alleway should make for a formidable back line for the Pride. Losing Josée Bélanger will hurt, but the combination of Krieger and Brazilian defender Camila should be more than enough to make up for her contributions.
For a Pride defense that was nowhere near the worst in the league even with copious injuries and international absences, it should be the strength of the club going forward. Catley and Kennedy are both under 24 and can be fixtures for Orlando for years to come; both have championship pedigrees in NWSL and compete consistently on the highest stage of women’s soccer.
The elephant in the room is how the club will replace Alex Morgan, who will miss several months while with Olympique Lyonnais. Even with Sarah Hagen already on the roster, the Pride have spent all four of next year’s draft picks trying to bolster their forward line. For a club that struggled with offense even with Morgan, adding in relative unknowns for all of those assets is a big risk. Orlando gave up both their first and fourth-round selections for Rachel Hill, drafted No. 14 overall in January. While Hill was a MAC Hermann Award finalist at the University of Connecticut, two picks is a steep price to pay.
Comparatively, Chioma Ubogagu was a steal for only a 2018 third-rounder. She has at least had experience with Arsenal and the Houston Dash, though she has yet to realize her potential. Even so, the 24-year-old British-born striker has all the makings of being a solid option to lead the line in due time. She had a good goal-scoring record in England but struggled to translate that to NWSL with the Dash; the question is if she can change that and step in and become a contributor immediately for Orlando.
The Pride gave up their final 2018 pick by acquiring an international spot from the Chicago Red Stars, remedying their surplus of international talent and lack of space on the roster. They’ll be able to keep all of their Australians in the fold now, notably veteran forward Lisa De Vanna. De Vanna, at 32 years old, is the epitome of the Pride’s win-now mindset. Giving up the chance to take a top-20 college talent for aging forward depth — even if she’s one of the best strikers Australia has seen — is a calculated risk for the club.
If the combined talents of Hagen, Hill, Ubogagu, and De Vanna can’t elevate the Pride’s offense while Morgan is away, Orlando is left with few assets and limited methods to rebuild depth. With the aging Krieger and De Vanna as key components of the game plan, their window for success is already closing.