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Orlando Pride’s Open Tryouts Are an American Sports Oddity, Also an Opportunity

The Orlando Pride’s open tryouts are a rather unique opportunity.

SOCCER: OCT 12 NWSL - Reign FC at Orlando Pride Photo by Joe Petro/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Orlando Pride will be holding open tryouts from Feb. 1-2 at Seminole Soccer Complex. It only costs $100 to register, and players need to have proof of medical insurance, sign a waiver, and have previous college or professional soccer experience. This isn’t the first time that the Pride have done this, with the team holding open tryouts in years past.

To be blunt, the team hasn’t really gotten a ton out of previous iterations of open tryouts. Back in 2016 Kim Reynolds won an invite to preseason training after impressing in the open tryouts, and while she came back for camp in 2017 she did not make a first team appearance.

The open tryout in American sports is a very curious thing. At the highest levels of football, basketball, hockey, and baseball, the open tryout doesn’t really exist in the capacity of which the Pride’s tryout does (although USL teams also often do this). While Major League Baseball holds a vast number of tryout camps, each of MLB’s 30 teams has anywhere from three to seven affiliate teams, and in all but the rarest of cases any player impressing at a tryout camp would be signed to one of those minor league affiliate teams.

NHL teams will occasionally hold open tryouts but many times a player must be invited to training camp on a Professional Try Out, rather than simply registering, showing up, and trying to impress. There are obviously exceptions, and it isn’t uncommon for lower league hockey teams to hold open tryouts but it isn’t a typical occurrence at the NHL level. The NFL holds regional combines every year, but specific teams typically don’t hold tryouts that anyone can come to every summer.

NBA G-League teams hold open tryouts before preseason every year and there have even been stories of G-League tryout success stories making it to the NBA; but with the small nature of rosters and wealth of basketball players at the highest level, don’t expect the Orlando Magic to be holding tryouts to make their full-fledged NBA team anytime soon.

MLS is a pseudo-exception to the above examples, with various teams holding open tryouts in recent years, although as far as I can find there haven’t been any players signed directly to a Major League Soccer roster following an open tryout. The best example of a success story would be Diedie Traore, who was signed by the LA Galaxy II following an open tryout in 2018, made four appearances with the first team in 2019, and is still a member of the team. USL Championship, USL League One and USL League Two teams hold open tryouts every year but they’re obviously on the lower levels of the pyramid.

The point is that the opportunity that the Pride are giving to players in the beginning of February is a pretty unique one in American sports. There isn’t another league in which college and former professional players can show up and play with the chance of being signed to a professional contract with a team at the highest level of the sport. Now to be fair, part of the reason that’s the case is that NWSL teams generally don’t have minor league affiliates or “B teams” like Orlando City B or how the Harrisburg City Islanders were once the USL affiliate of the Philadelphia Union.

There isn’t a place for the Pride to send players to develop and try to come up to the first team — either you’re on the Pride’s roster or you aren’t. While that’s undoubtedly a bad thing for the overall development of women’s soccer in the United States it does present an opportunity that can’t really be found anywhere else in American sports.

In theory an overlooked college player who goes undrafted in January could turn up on Feb. 1, impress Marc Skinner and the Pride staff, and find herself contributing to the first team in competitive games a little over a month later. History tells us that’s something that is extremely unlikely, but stories like Diedie Traore’s have to make that little voice in the back of your head say, “what if?”