The 2021 NWSL Draft is set to take place tomorrow night at 7 p.m. (Twitch). Last week I went in-depth about the history of the Orlando Pride in the NWSL drafts. The Pride have not had many picks in their history, but under Head Coach Marc Skinner the team is trying to use the draft to create a more balanced team.
The Pride currently are heavy with international players. This is an issue during World Cup and Olympic years, as the bulk of the lineup misses extensive time. Orlando is left with a young, inexperienced squad. Skinner has wanted to change this since he took charge. He has publicly stated it might be better to build the core of the team around players not on their respective national teams. Then, to add the internationals in where there are holes to boost the quality of the team.
Orlando currently has 14 players under contract and three players allocated by the U.S. Soccer Federation. They offered a handful of players contracts at the end of the 2020 NWSL Fall Series, but not all of those contracts have yet been signed. At the time of this writing, Sydney Leroux, Kristen Edmonds, and Camila are the last players yet to re-sign. 2020 draftee Phoebe McClernon has also not signed a contract.
Below are the contract statuses for the Pride:
Ashlyn Harris — Federation allocated.
Brittany Wilson — Under contract.
Erin McLeod — Under contract.
Ali Krieger — Federation allocated.
Shelina Zadorsky — Federation allocated, with Tottenham until the end of the WSL season and the Pride own her NWSL rights should she decide to return in May.
Courtney Petersen — Under contract.
Konya Plummer — Under contract.
Ali Riley — Under contract.
Toni Pressley — Under contract.
Carson Pickett — Under contract.
Phoebe McClernon — Not under contract. Pride own her rights if she chooses to play in the NWSL.
Carrie Lawrence — Under contract.
Chelsee Washington — Under contract.
Taylor Kornieck — Under contract.
Jade Moore — Under contract.
Camila — Contract offer extended.
Emily van Egmond — Contract offer extended, with West Ham United until the end of the WSL season and the Pride own her NWSL rights should she decide to return in May.
Marisa Viggiano — Under contract.
Meggie Dougherty Howard — Under contract.
Alex Morgan — Federation allocated.
Marta — Under contract.
Kristen Edmonds — Contract offer extended.
Sydney Leroux — Contract offer extended.
Looking at the roster, Orlando’s potential starting XI is not bad. There is plenty of quality in the defensive and forward lines and the midfield looks better. Orlando lacks depth all over though, particularly in central defense.
Ashlyn Harris is the number one goalkeeper and there is good depth behind her.
Pressley and Krieger appear to be the starters at center back. Lawrence did well in the Fall Series and could get the nod at right back. Pickett also has done well at times for Orlando at fullback but Riley is the presumed starter option at left back and Petersen will compete for minutes. The Pride are thin in the middle of the back line after parting ways with Morgan Reid, Julie King, Alanna Kennedy, Emily Sonnett, and perhaps Zadorsky this off-season.
McClernon has been playing overseas with Växjö DFF in Sweden. If she is signed, she can play on defense as well as in the midfield.
Midfield appears to be improved. Marta will likely line up as a forward, but she can play in the midfield if Orlando adds some help up top. Kornieck will likely be a starter as she has been exciting with MSV Duisburg. Camila has struggled to see the field the past few years, so it will be interesting to see how she is used in 2021 if she re-signs with the Pride.
Viggiano re-signed with the Pride yesterday. She started all four games in 2020 and played all 360 minutes. As a rookie, she played in 19 matches and got better as the year went on. Viggiano is likely a starter at this point. Ideally, she is a bench option but she could be in the starting XI more often than not.
The addition of Dougherty Howard could be huge. She is not a big name but is excellent on the ball and will likely play as a defensive midfielder. However, she has been a leader in creating scoring chances with the Washington Spirit, so she also helps in the attack. Chelsee Washington will play her first full season after getting Fall Series minutes in 2020 and the Pride are counting on big contributions from England international Moore.
The Pride are also still interested in having van Egmond return after West Ham’s season ends, and if that happens, Orlando’s midfield could be deeper and more talented than it’s ever been.
Orlando has excellent quality up top with Morgan and Marta — both world-class players. The Pride would like to re-sign Leroux, who is extremely dangerous when she is fit. She showed signs of that in the Fall Series but with husband Dom Dwyer parting ways with Orlando City, her future in Central Florida is a bit of a question mark at the moment.
Orlando also needs depth up top. Morgan and Marta will both miss time because of the Olympics unless the pandemic ends up pushing it again. Orlando needs to add some quality players who can fill in at forward. Edmonds can play on the wing, and Camila can too in a pinch, although she might be part of Brazil’s Olympic squad. Kornieck may be tasked with playing up top when the internationals are out, as she scored 39 goals and added 24 assists in her four years at Colorado while in college.
The draft is never a sure way to find prospects. In the NWSL, the first round is key. There are often good players who fall into the second round, but historically players who fall into the third and fourth rounds do not create much of an impact.
Here are some of the best prospects in this year’s draft:
2021 NWSL Draft Big Board Top 100 (this will be pinned, bottom of the board in a reply)— Chris Henderson (@chris_awk) December 31, 2020
This is the only "all seniors in" board I'm putting out (those already announcing a 2021 return not included).
A updated board with confirmed entrants will be out eventually. pic.twitter.com/QjiHlJ6s4C
Catarina Macario was the top-rated player in the draft. She got her U.S. citizenship and has a future with the USWNT. There was always some doubt that Macario was going to play in the NWSL. It now appears that she is finalizing a deal with Lyon. She likely would have been the first pick, so her likely destination was Racing Louisville had she decided to play in the NWSL.
Orlando has the ninth pick in this year’s draft. The Pride also have two picks in the second round — Nos. 14 and 18 overall. With three picks in the first two rounds, Orlando should, at the very least, be able to add some depth to the back line and maybe select one player each at forward and midfield.
While Skinner will want to build through the draft, another option for Orlando is working some trades. Adding Dougherty Howard has the potential to be one of the better moves of the off-season. The Pride will likely have more luck this year in finding game-ready players through trades than the draft.
So what can be expected in this year’s draft? In the draft, Orlando should target the best players available, regardless of position. Even though central defense lacks depth, the midfield and forward lines could use an upgrade as well.
Skinner will want physical players who are good on the ball. Orlando has a history of turning the ball over in the middle of the field and of players making individual errors. Ball possession will be key in 2021 if Orlando is to take a step forward toward making the postseason. The Pride started that improvement with Dougherty Howard and need to bolster it even more in the draft.