The 2021 NWSL Draft finished last week and the Pride drafted four players. Pride Head Coach Marc Skinner was happy with the selections — Viviana Villacorta, Mikayla Colohan, Kerry Abello, and Kaylie Collins. Skinner will hope his new players can contribute, because while Orlando only played four games in 2020, the 2021 season is expected to be a busy one.
The new NWSL season starts Feb. 1, when players are due to meet for preseason. The regular season won’t start until the middle of May, with all 10 teams scheduled to play 24 matches.
Before the season starts, the league will continue with the NWSL Challenge Cup. Orlando did not participate in the inaugural Challenge Cup because of positive COVID-19 tests. The Pride will hope they’ll be able to play the second time around.
While the NWSL should have a packed 2021 season, it will also be impacted by international duty. The Olympics are scheduled for July 21 to Aug. 6, and it is unclear if the league will take a break during the Olympics right now as the schedule hasn’t yet dropped. The United States Women’s National Team will report to camp from June 30 to July 4 to prepare for the Olympics. The SheBelieves Cup is scheduled for Feb. 8-25. The USWNT should also play games in the April (4-13) and June (7-15) international windows.
With 2021 set to be another year heavily impacted by international call-ups, especially for the Americans, the Pride will need other players to step up. Below are three players who could be key for the Pride in 2021.
Meggie Dougherty Howard
Orlando traded Emily Sonnett to the Washington Spirit for Dougherty Howard, two first-round draft picks, and $140,000 in allocation money. It was a fantastic deal for Orlando, and the picks and money alone could prove to be substantial in the future. On the other hand, Dougherty Howard is a player who can come in and help Orlando on day one.
She is a defensive midfielder who should start for Orlando. She is good in possession, and Pride fans should see her making many key passes up the field. The University of Florida product looks to fit perfectly with Skinner’s system and style of play. She could sit at the base of the Pride’s midfield and help control the play. Dougherty Howard has the potential to be one of the Pride’s best player this season.
Viggiano is another midfielder who could have a huge season for Orlando. She started out her rookie season slowly but grew throughout the season. By the end of 2020, Viggiano had become one of the coaching staff’s most trusted players. Viggiano is still young but continues to grow and improve, leading the team in goals in the 2020 Fall Series. If that trend continues, she could finish the season with Orlando’s most minutes in 2021. She is another player who is good in possession and could help provide some much-needed ball control. Orlando has struggled in possession the past few years. Still, Viggiano’s improved decision making and ability on the ball could be a significant upgrade for the Pride.
She’ll need to be re-signed first, but Leroux is obviously a player with substantial quality. She scored six goals with Orlando, all in 2018. The 2021 season could see her reach double digits in goals. No player scored in double-digit figures for Orlando since Marta’s 13 goals in 2017. But Leroux is finally fit, and Orlando’s midfield should be able to provide her decent service. With Marta and Alex Morgan both set to miss extended time because of the Olympics, Leroux will spearhead the Pride’s offense. If in form, Leroux could be one of the league’s best players during the international breaks. When Morgan and Marta are in, the three could make things extremely difficult for the opposition.
Who do you see stepping up for the Pride this season?