The 2020 NWSL College Draft takes place tomorrow at 11 a.m. This is an incredible time for many collegiate athletes who will be drafted and get the opportunity to earn a professional contract. The draft takes place at the United Soccer Coaches Convention in Baltimore and will stream on Facebook, YouTube, and the NWSL website.
Similar to MLS, many of the later round draft picks will fail to make it onto the game day rosters. Under Tom Sermanni, the Orlando Pride traded the majority of their picks, including the club’s first-ever pick in a package deal to get Alex Morgan. That same year, Orlando drafted Dani Weatherholt in the fourth round, a clear steal. Last year, the Pride drafted Erin Greening and Marisa Viggiano in the third and fourth rounds, respectively. In total, Orlando has only made eight picks in four drafts.
Marc Skinner talked for most of 2019 about the importance of building from the draft. This turnover in philosophy led to Orlando having six picks tomorrow, including three in the first two rounds.
Skinner’s done a tremendous job in giving young players a chance in his first season in charge. Part of the reason for it though is that he did not have a choice. With so many players missing due to the World Cup, the team naturally had to find the next player to step up.
“The one thing that we can never give an excuse for, and we will not give any excuse for is a team outrunning us. And that’s what will happen next season,” Skinner said after the 2019 season finale. “I want to be as much as we can with the ball, but because the league is so transitional, I now know the physical nature of the character that I need to bring in. We definitely need to improve the physicality of the team so that we are not passive in defending that we can press and press again.
“I’m going to make sure that we build a team-like machine. That has to happen. We can be technically beautiful, you can be tactically beautiful, but if you can’t run and if you can’t physically affect this league, you won’t be effective in this league, and I think we have to marry both.”
The players coming in will almost certainly have that physical aspect to their game. That is an area where the Pride were weak last season, as Skinner mentions. Bringing in Emily Sonnett and, possibly, Caitlin Foord helps in this part of the game. However, Sonnett will miss time because of the World Cup, and Arsenal has shown interest in Foord.
The Pride will likely be making more trades and bringing in more players, and so the roster is nowhere near completed. But, this year’s draft will be a vital step in that rebuilding process.
The biggest thing Orlando needs right now is depth players who are not on their respective international teams. This is where the draft comes in handy. The Pride had nine players out during the World Cup last season — the most in the league — and have only added more this off-season. The draft is where the Pride will be able to bring in players who will not leave for the Olympics in 2020.
There really isn’t any single position that Orlando must fill as there is depth at each position right now. However, no position, except perhaps goalkeeper, was truly strong last season and forward is probably the most significant position of need.
The Pride scored the third-fewest goals and allowed the most. Top striker Morgan missed much of last season and will likely miss most of 2020 as well. Sydney Leroux missed nearly all of last season but should be good to go for the start of this season.
Skinner played midfielders like Abby Elinksy up top ahead of forwards Danica Evans and Caitlin Farrell, which didn’t bode well for either of them. With Evans already gone, that leaves no true strikers on the team.
Other than forward, Orlando will likely draft players based on their skill set. Players need to be flexible in their positions anyway under Skinner, and last season saw their versatility put to the test. Especially in the later rounds, look for Orlando to draft more versatile players that have the physical attributes. Maybe the skills aren’t quite there yet, but they are hardworking and coachable players.
It will also not be a surprise if Orlando pulls off some more trades. While Skinner has been adamant last season about the importance of building from the draft, trading picks to move up or for a player is always an option.