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Orlando Pride Lose Top Draft Pick to Mexican Side Tigres

UCLA’s Mia Fishel opted to play in Mexico instead of Orlando despite her existing relationship with the Pride’s head coach.

California v UCLA Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images

The Orlando Pride will have to come up with a Plan B after losing top draft pick Mia Fishel to Tigres Femenil. The Mexican side announced the signing today.

Fishel, who is part of the January U-23 USWNT camp, was the Pride’s first selection (No. 5 overall) in the 2022 NWSL Draft. With Fishel’s college coach, Amanda Cromwell, now in charge in Orlando, it seemed a natural fit. Cromwell obviously knows what Fishel can do and how she works within her system.

However, the club released a statement to some members of the media that the Pride were unable to come to terms with the player.

As our first pick in the 2022 NWSL Draft, we envisioned Mia as an important and impactful player for the future of the Orlando Pride.

However, we were unable to come to terms with Mia and we understand her desire to pursue this alternative career opportunity.

While we are very disappointed Mia will not be suiting up in purple this year, we wish her good luck in Mexico and we look forward to having the opportunity to welcome her as a member of the Pride in the future.

You can look at that statement any way you like, but it ultimately reads like the Pride were either unable or unwilling to make an offer sufficient to prevent Fishel’s departure to Mexico. It may have only been money (and the Pride have acquired quite a bit of allocation money) or there may have been other components, but the bottom line is that this is a bad look for both the Pride and the NWSL — mostly for the Pride. Orlando ultimately squandered a top-five draft pick on a player with a history of playing for the Pride’s new coach.

This comes on the heels of the Pride losing Alex Morgan and Jodie Taylor, who represent eight of the 27 goals the club scored in 24 league games in 2021. The Pride’s current strike force consists of Sydney Leroux, little-used second-year player Abi Kim, and the newly acquired Darian Jenkins.

Kim has scored one goal, which came in the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup, but registered none in the regular season in six appearances. Jenkins has scored seven times in an NWSL career that has already spanned three teams and more than 50 appearances. Leroux scored eight in last year’s regular season alone. This team needs to rebuild its forward line and that gets more difficult with Fishel’s absence.

At least the Pride went forward heavy in the most recent draft. After drafting Fishel with the No. 5 pick, the Pride added defender Caitlin Cosme at No. 10 and Santa Clara forward Julie Doyle at No. 11. Orlando also added forward Jada Talley in the third round.

What It Means for Orlando

Doyle and Talley will both have a better shot at making an impact in their first year now that Fishel is out of the picture. But there’s a reason Fishel was a higher selection. She’s viewed by most experts as one of the top offensive talents in the recent draft. While Doyle and Talley may both end up having excellent professional careers, there will always be a “what if” when it comes to Fishel, especially if she excels with Tigres.

The Pride have a lot of work to do to turn around a team that scored 27 times and conceded 32 goals in 24 games last year. Orlando must be better on both ends of the pitch — and a lot better in the middle of it. There’s even more pressure on the Pride now to sign Doyle and 2021 draft pick Mikayla Colohan, a talented attacking forward who can help facilitate the attack while also providing goals of her own.

And it wouldn’t hurt for the Pride to make a splash signing to take some of the sting out of losing Fishel. Orlando should be able to do that after soaking up a league record $275,000 in the Morgan trade. The Pride sent $75,000 of that, and a second-round pick, to Kansas City in the trade for Jenkins, which seems a bit high for a player with her statistical history as a pro. We’ll have to wait to see how Orlando plans to use the rest of that cash since it wasn’t used to sweeten the deal to keep Fishel. And it’ll be interesting to see if Jenkins can finally have a breakout year as a pro under Cromwell.

The Pride retain Fishel’s NWSL rights for the time being. Fishel will become discovery eligible at the start of the 2023 NWSL preseason. Until that time, Fishel’s rights are a tradable asset for Orlando should the club find a team willing to give up something to get them.