Leading up to the 2023 NWSL Draft, the Orlando Pride were ready to use the college allocation process to rebuild their team. The project had begun in earnest last off-season when former Pride general manager Ian Fleming sent several aging veterans away, picking up Allocation Money and draft picks in the process. A deep draft allowed the Pride to have a seemingly excellent night, despite only having two picks in the first two rounds. But only time will tell whether the draft was as good as it seems.
The first trade Fleming made as general manager was trading Emily Sonnett to the Washington Spirit. The return for the USWNT player included the second overall pick in the 2023 NWSL Draft. As a result, the Pride had two of the top three picks, guaranteeing they’d have a pair of the best players available. However, the Pride traded that No. 2 pick a week before the draft, leading some to wonder how effective the draft would be in Orlando’s rebuild.
Fortunately for the Pride, and likely part of the reason they were willing to trade the pick to NJ/NY Gotham FC, the 2023 NWSL Draft was very deep. The NCAA gave players an additional year of eligibility during 2020, when some players decided not to play for safety reasons. As a result, more players were available in this draft.
The Pride went into this year’s draft needing help in defense, attacking midfield, and a goal scorer. If the Pride had kept their two original picks, one of those would likely have been used on Duke forward Michelle Cooper. The 20-year-old Detroit native was so coveted that the Kansas City Current traded up to the second spot on draft day to grab the attacker. The Pride held onto the third pick and selected Florida State center back Emily Madril, who most expected would be taken in that spot.
Giving up the No. 2 pick in the draft during an extensive rebuild was an unpopular decision, and it’s still unknown whether the decision will come back to haunt the team. But despite the controversial move, things fell the right way for the Pride, allowing them to grab multiple players with a lot of potential.
The Pride also selected North Carolina center back Tori Hansen in the third round, adding a second defender on draft day. While they didn’t get the best forward in the draft, they were able to snag TCU forward Messiah Bright in the second round. Bright was a player who many had as the second-best forward available and going in the first round.
After trading two of their three picks in the third round, the Pride were able to make what might turn out to be the steal of the draft. Like Bright, Washington midfielder Summer Yates was expected to go in the first round. However, the midfielder began to slip, becoming one of the best available players — and possibly the very best — in the final two rounds of the draft.
The Pride ended up taking Yates with the third pick of the fourth round and 39th overall. While Yates’ defensive play is a question, she was one of the nation’s best chance creators in college. At 36 years old, Marta won’t be the Pride’s number 10 forever and Yates could take over that role in a couple of years.
Overall, while there is no guarantee when it comes to draftees, the draft seems to have worked out well for the Pride, who picked up some of the best available players in positions of need. However, how the draft is viewed in the future will depend not only on how the players selected will perform, but also largely on future moves.
Trading the No. 2 pick allowed the club to acquire $350,000 in Allocation Money before the draft even started. The Pride picked up a further $75,000 from the Spirit for the 29th and 34th picks. The club was fortunate that Yates remained on the board in the fourth round after trading away two earlier spots.
Whether the 2023 NWSL Draft is a true success for the Pride will depend on how they use their Allocation Money. The club reportedly wanted to sign Debinha, who previously announced she wouldn’t return to the North Carolina Courage, but the Brazilian ended up signing for Kansas City. This $425,000 adds to a large sum of Allocation Money already acquired by the club. Some of that was used to re-sign Marta, but Fleming previously said the club already had about 50% more than the other clubs in the league.
If the Pride end up signing a high-profile player with the acquired Allocation Money, you can add that signing to this draft class in a sense. In that case, it could be the best draft the Pride have had in their eight-year existence. But if they don’t end up using that money in the near future, it will raise questions as to why the club didn’t hold onto that second pick and take Cooper, who could’ve helped the Pride this season.
Regardless of what happens in the coming weeks and months, the Pride appear well set up for the future. They added depth at several positions, some of which already have multiple young players. We’ll soon see if the decisions made around the draft prove to be correct.