Predicting the Pride: Pre-NWSL Draft

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Head Coach Tom Sermanni’s first season in the NWSL fell short of the team’s pre-season expectations with a ninth place finish. The less-than-stellar result can be attributed mostly to the team failing to win a match after the long Olympic break. Looking for a quick turnaround in the 2017 season, however, the NWSL’s new kid on the block has already made one big move this off-season.  In a much-critiqued trade with the Washington Spirit, the Pride picked up defender Ali Krieger, and hopes that she will be able to bolster its backline, one that gave up thirty goals in its first season.  As far as its existing roster goes,  the team hedged its bets by offering contracts or picking up the options of all the players except for backup goalkeeper, Kaitlyn Savage.

But, Sermanni’s off-season work is not done. Going into the draft on Jan. 12, fans should expect more roster moves and news. Here are three options the team might take.

Option One: Full International

Sermanni hasn’t been shy about utilizing all five international spots on his roster. However, four of the spots are already full; Australian defenders Steph Catley and Laura Alleway hold two, as well as Brazilian defender Monica, and, a late addition to the inaugural season, Lisa De Vanna, captain of the Matildas, who only notched 154 minutes for the Pride in 2016. All of the internationals but De Vanna are currently playing in the Australian W-League, while De Vanna is focused on her coaching license. Still, without a midseason loss of national team players to a major competition like the 2016 Rio Olympics, or even next summer’s women’s Euro, Orlando could feel that 2017 is the year to load up on foreign talent.

But the Pride’s worst kept secret is their desire to sign talented attacking Australian Caitlin Foord. It would not be a surprise if Foord is wearing Orlando purple next season once her rights with Sky Blue lapse. Even if the team fails to add Foord, expect Sermanni’s international connections come into play in finding another overseas player. Additionally, ownership could look to add another Brazilian player to join the squad such as, former Florida International University standout and one time teammate of Monica while at Ferroviária, Thaisa Moreno. 

This view has players like Kristen Edmonds and Jasmyne Spencer maintain a high level of production for the team, while Dani Weatherholt and Sam Witteman, coming off a loan with Apollon Limassol, continue their development by earning more minutes on the pitch and working their way into the starting XI. The Pride would also look to have Maddy Evans back in Orlando as the team is in contract negotiations for her return next season while she spends time on the W-League’s Brisbane Roar. Even by embracing the team’s full complement of international players, the Pride will still the domestic players on the roster to contribute.

Option Two: Wheeling and Dealing

While this year’s college draft is deep with talent at almost every position, Orlando’s ability to take advantage of this is somewhat limited right now, as they won’t see any picks from the highly-sought-after first two rounds. Granted, there’s no way to know know which players will declare themselves available for the NWSL, but a team like 2016’s last place Boston Breakers–who currently hold seven of the first twenty picks this year–are in a good position to boost the talent on their roster. And Orlando could use a similar boost.

Yet even though Coach Sermanni was pleased with his first draft class and his ability to identify young talent is something he’s known for, the only way they’re going to get a chance at any of the highest-ranked players is to trade for draft picks.  Sermanni has shown that he is interested in making trades, but if the Pride want to jump into the first or second round, he’s going to have to let go of more than just their spot in the Distribution Rank Order.

Since Orlando only have a third and fourth round picks, are there any players the team is likely to part ways with in exchange for a draft pick? Someone who might be valuable enough for another team to enter into negotiations?

One name which stands out is Lisa de Vanna. De Vanna is still a talented player with pace who is great with the ball at her feet. She can quickly bring leadership and a veteran presence to a team locker room. 

Another player to use as trade bait this off-season is Josée Bélanger. With the acquisition of Ali Krieger, Bélanger’s role on the roster becomes ambiguous. A versatile player, Bélanger has speed to get forward as she’s playing on wide, and could be a valuable player on the trading block. As an added bonus, she’s a federated player, so she wouldn’t impact the team financially. That being said, she is also worth keeping for those same reasons, not to mention the possibility of Sermanni moving her into the midfield to aid the Pride’s attacking capabilities.

Option Three: Roll the Dice Draft Style

The final option for Sermanni and the Pride is the most simple one.  They could release some of the least productive players and add others, and then fill other needs with smart picks in the third and fourth round of the draft. Fourth round draft pick Dani Weatherholt who played 786 minutes for the team is proof that quality players can still be found in the later rounds. Sermanni himself has come out and publicly praised Weatherholt a number of times for her development, versatility, and work ethic. He rewarded her efforts with nine starts in twelve appearances for Orlando. Essentially, it wouldn’t be out of the question to keep the players the team has and identify a few key players in the later rounds of the draft.

But who could the Pride draft that would benefit their 2017 roster? Well, we’ll talk more about that in our draft preview.