The 2021 NWSL is set to take place a week from tomorrow, on Jan. 13. The draft starts at 7 p.m. and can be viewed on Twitch. The Orlando Pride have four picks this year.
The team often traded away draft picks for other assets while Tom Sermanni was the head coach, so five is a high number of selections for the Pride. From 2016 to 2019, the Pride drafted just eight players. After Marc Skinner’s first full season as coach, the Pride loaded up on draft picks and had seven picks in the 2020 draft, including four in the first two rounds.
Orlando selected Taylor Kornieck, Courtney Petersen, Konya Plummer, Phoebe McClernon, Cheyenne Shorts, Abi Kim, and Chelsee Washington in 2020. Because of the weird nature of 2020, a handful of these players have not played for the Pride yet. Kornieck and McClernon went out on loan to MSV Duisburg and Växjö DFF, respectively, and McClernon hasn’t been signed officially. Meanwhile, Petersen has played every available game for the Pride so far — all four in the NWSL Fall Series — and joined Ali Krieger, Marisa Viggiano, and Marta as the only players to play all 360 minutes for the team in 2020. Washington made two starts in 2020 and provided an assist.
With so few games under their belts, it has still yet to be seen how the players from the 2020 class will perform and how they will fit in with the rest of the team and Skinner’s system.
The 2019 class saw much more action. In a World Cup year, the pair drafted were thrown into first-team action. The Pride had a horrendous 2019 season, and Erin Greening and Marisa Viggiano both had up-and-down years. Greening got a final grade of 4.5 from The Mane Land staff for the 2019 season. She had some rookie moments throughout the year, but also did well in one-on-one defending. In some games, she looked like she locked down the starting spot, while there were times that her age and inexperience showed. Greening played in 17 matches (16 starts) and scored one goal, before being waived in 2020.
Viggiano was a prominent figure in 2019 and made 19 appearances and scored one goal. She grew into the season as it went on and continued to improve. Viggiano was the only player on the Pride to score multiple goals in 2020, netting two. As a fourth-round pick, expectations were not high for the former Northwestern midfielder. However, she has become one of Skinner’s go-to players in the midfield.
In 2018, the Pride had just one selection. Orlando drafted Nadia Gomes with the third pick of the third round. Gomes did not play for the Pride. There was certainly some intrigue with this pick, as she got called up and scored for the Portugal national team, but did not do enough to impress former coach Sermanni.
While 2018’s draft class did not pan out, 2017 was little better. The Pride drafted Danica Evans in the third round and Nickolette Driesse in the fourth. The pair combined for 615 minutes, two goals, and one assist. The large majority of those stats came from Evans — 566 minutes, and both goals and the assist. Driesse was waived before the 2018 season. Evans stayed around a little longer but was never able to see significant game action. She was waived at the start of 2020 and later picked up by the North Carolina Courage. She played just 82 minutes in the Fall Series with North Carolina and did not register any shots.
The Pride’s first-ever draft saw Sam Witteman, Christina Burkenroad, and Dani Weatherholt selected. Burkenroad was on the team in 2016 and 2017 but had little impact. She saw the field for just eight minutes in her second season. As a rookie, Burkenroad had seven appearances and two starts. Witteman was a little more successful. She was on the Pride for just her rookie season, but she put up over 1,000 minutes. Witteman was traded to the Courage in exchange for Alanna Kennedy.
No story about the Orlando Pride’s draft could be complete without mentioning Weatherholt. Selected in the fourth round of that 2016 draft out of Santa Clara University, Weatherholt defied most expectations. A year ago this month, Weatherholt was traded to Reign FC. At the time of the trade, Weatherholt left the Pride as the leader in all-time appearances, had the third most starts, and the second most minutes played. She still ranks in those places today due to the short 2020 season.
Those are all of the players that Orlando has drafted. However, the Pride did have Rachel Hill on the team in her rookie season. Hill was initially drafted by the Portland Thorns, but Orlando traded for the attacker just days after the 2017 draft. Orlando traded Hill, allocation money, the 19th pick in the 2020 draft, and a 2021 first-round draft pick to the Chicago Red Stars. In exchange, Orlando got the third and 26th picks in the 2020 draft. Those picks turned into Kornieck and Kim.
In her time in Orlando, Hill was one of the Pride’s best attacking options. Hill ranks fourth on the Pride’s all-time goal-scoring list, but scored just 11 times in her three seasons in Orlando.
Since Skinner has taken over, the Pride have made a conscious effort to build better out of the draft. Skinner often praises teams that build their squads in the draft. Historically, there is not much value in the third and fourth rounds of the draft. Obviously, there are exceptions (Weatherholt being a prime example). Still, if Orlando wishes to continue to get young, quality players, it will need to happen in Orlando’s first three picks next week.
Orlando Pride Draft History
- Round 1, pick 9
- Round 2, pick 4
- Round 3, pick 4
- Round 4, pick 4
Round 1, pick 3: Taylor Kornieck, Midfielder, University of Colorado
Round 1, pick 7: Courtney Petersen, Defender, University of Virginia
Round 2, pick 1: Konya Plummer, Defender, University of Central Florida
Round 2, pick 5: Phoebe McClernon, Defender, University of Virginia
Round 3, pick 3: Cheyenne Shorts, Defender, University of Denver
Round 3, pick 8: Abi Kim, Forward, University of California
Round 4, pick 3: Chelsee Washington, Midfielder, Bowling Green State University
Round 3, pick 7: Erin Greening, Midfielder, University of Colorado, Boulder
Round 4, pick 3: Marisa Viggiano, Midfielder, Northwestern University
Round 3, pick 3: Nadia Gomes, Forward, Brigham Young University
Round 3, pick 2: Danica Evans, Forward, University of Colorado, Boulder
Round 4, pick 2: Nickolette Driesse, Midfielder, Pennsylvania State University
Round 1, pick 10: Sam Witteman, Defender, University of California, Berkeley
Round 2, pick 5: Christina Burkenroad, Forward, California State University, Fullerton
Round 4, pick 1: Dani Weatherholt, Midfielder, Santa Clara University