Interview With Paul Riley on NWSL Draft & Player Development
Diane Scavuzzo of SoccerToday interviewed North Carolina Courage’s head coach Paul Riley prior to the 2019 NWSL College Draft in Chicago. The event was held at the annual United States Coaches Convention in Chicago with media in attendance to capture a memorable moment for these standout college soccer players.
The road to becoming a professional soccer player in America is always evolving. While the value of the MLS SuperDraft is in question, the importance of the NWSL Women’s College Draft is still evident although it is clear the game would benefit from more talented U17/18s making the move straight to the professional game.
NWSL Soccer News: The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) College Draft was held on Thursday, January 10, 2019, in Chicago with the top female players in college soccer celebrating the next steps of their careers.
Diane Scavuzzo caught up with North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley to hear his thoughts on the 2019 draft class as well as the success of the women’s game and our youth player development structure. Riley is the NWSL 2018 Coach of the Year and has just signed a new multi-year contract with the NC Courage.
Diane Scavuzzo: What are your thoughts on the NWSL College draft class for 2019?
Paul Riley: It’s a pretty good draft. For us, the 2015 draft was very good and is the core of our team.
The 2014 NWSL College Draft was also really a good one too, but sometimes players work out differently than you anticipate. I think that’s what will happen in this draft. I don’t think it will be immediate.
You won’t know the quality of this draft until two or three years down the road.
Diane Scavuzzo: Is that dangerous? How do you select the players to draft?
Paul Riley: Yes, I think it is. You’re picking players for the future, really.
I think obviously, with the FIFA Women’s World Cup and the Olympics in the next two years, you are looking at the players at the draft having the opportunity to play more than others from recent drafts.
These players are going to get more opportunities which will help their growth and development.
I think immediately after this draft, there will be the winners and losers according to the pundits, but I don’t think the real winners and losers will emerge until three years down the road.
Diane Scavuzzo: Which players were your favorites?
Paul Riley: I think there are a lot of good players. Obviously, for example, Stanford’s Tierna Davidson who is coming into the draft — if I had the first pick there is no question who we would pick. Also, Leah Pruitt is very good and Hailie Mace as well.
Davison was selected by Chicago Red Stars as the #1 2019 Draft pick. UCLA’s Mace was selected by Sky Blue FC as the #2 Draft pick in the First Round. NC Courage picked USC’s Pruitt, who went as the 6th pick. NC Courage also selected Pepperdine’s Hailey Harbison for their #9th pick, Lauren Milliet, M/F, Colorado College in the Second Round and Kaycie Tillman, M/F, Florida State in the Fourth Round.
You can go on and on. There were a few wild cards in the draft. Hailey Harberson being one of them.
Our players that played in the International Champions Cup (ICC) last year were drafted in the fourth round. They did well for us. The draft can be filled with surprises.
There is a great video of Ryan Williams celebrating when she got picked. It was the last pick of the draft but it was one of those moments that you look back on.
Now you look at Williams 12 months later, a much better professional. She got stronger, quicker and better with the ball. And that is from playing with Sam Mewis every day. From chasing Lynn Williams, Debinho and Crystal Dunn.
Playing with great players — That’s how you get better.
So you don’t know what is going to happen to these players until you put them in your environment.
That’s when you find out what they are made of. Sometimes, it’s not the first round pick. Sometimes its those from the third or fourth round that just end up being able to develop. Maybe they come from smaller schools and they don’t have as much visibility.
I am looking forward to finding the diamond in the rough that we can develop …
Like what we have done with Morgan Reid and Williams. Hopefully, those lower picks will help us out. That is what I think the draft is for.
Diane Scavuzzo: What do you think of your draft picks for the 2019 NWSL College Draft?
Paul Riley: We are super happy with the additions from the draft and with it being a World Cup year there is a fantastic possibility for all four to make the roster, contribute and further develop their skill set.
Development continues every day and with our training environment and the competitive nature of our group, these new players will be pushed out of their comfort zone and there are no limits to where they can reach.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do you think U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy is doing enough to develop players for you? What do you think needs to be changed to help the women’s game?
Paul Riley: I think the college rules need to be changed.
I think college soccer needs to be two seasons — one in the spring and the other in the fall.
They need to play more games — I think a 30-game season over the entire school year would be fantastic for the players. I think schools should come in July, play games in the fall, have a break, and come back and play 10 to 14 games in the spring
We need better development opportunities provided to the college coaches.
With such a short season, college coaching is about recruiting and not about training and coaching players. I think a lot of college coaches would love to have that aspect back to them. I think it would be much more beneficial for the players.
I think we would get better players coming out of the draft because of it.
Right now, there are too many games in too short a time — a three-month span.
I think it’s impossible to develop players because you play too much. There are too many games back to back. If you could spread those games out I think it would be much more effective for players.
Another benefit is players then could work on their game then too. There could be a break in the middle during winter. You could have a plan for the second half of the season. You could really work on a lot of things.
Diane Scavuzzo: Why is it so hard to achieve? To improve college soccer?
Paul Riley: Because the NCAA has so many sports. The rules are based on all the sports and not just one. I think it’s hard to change the one sport.
Diane Scavuzzo: Isn’t soccer an international sport, as opposed to other sports in the that are domestic?
Paul Riley: Yes, it is, but I don’t know if they think like that. NCAA thinks in general terms.
For me, the success in our league will be when Mallory Pugh becomes the normal thing.
When 17-year-olds sign with the North Carolina Courage and get a $250,000 check for college and to become a professional. This is the one thing where the rest of the world is starting to inch ahead of us.
Other countries have kids who are 16 or 17 years old playing professional and we don’t. All over the country, we are playing in splintered youth leagues — ECNL or DA — where the competition is up and down every week. The competition is not consistent. In contrast, these European players are playing professionally.
Imagine the NWSL clubs getting 17-year-olds, instead of them going to college? How can a kid not get better playing with players from the senior National team as compared to college?
But the question is, how do we get to that point?
The men just started to get it over the last couple of years, and MLS has been around a long time. I feel we are still a few years away from that point.
When players like Pugh becomes a normal thing, that is when I think the league and U.S. Women’s National Team will get better. I think out national team can still improve, and I think it will when that happens.