Scrub back to July 20th of last season, the Orlando Pride host Sky Blue FC in a key bottom of the table battle. The game is deadlocked at 0-0. 4th round draft pick out of Northwestern Marisa Viggiano picks the ball up on the left touchline about 40 yards from goal. A ripple of expectation and intrigue reverberates around Exploria Stadium. Some sections of the support are already on their feat as the Sky Blue defence stands off, Viggiano continues to advance before cutting inside and drilling the ball past Kailen Sheridan and into the top corner. The Canadian keeper is beaten all ends up and Exploria stadium explodes in delight. It was the culmination of a lot of hard work, practice and determination for the Troy, Michigan native. Not a massive amount was expected from the midfielder when the Pride picked her up in the 4th round at 30th overall. A draft class that included the likes of Hailie Mace and Tierna Davidson was always going to be one that was tough to break into the opening two rounds. Having traded away their first and second round picks previously, and with a new GM and head coach coming in to the club who were still new to the NWSL, it's fair to say that the Pride weren't pinning all of their hopes on the 2019 draft. They knew that they were going to be in for slim pickings. The challenge was to find a diamond in the rough, which is always easier said than done.
Whilst the strike against Sky Blue FC was the only goal Viggiano was able to chalk up this season, her positivity and enthusiasm to get on the ball and make things happen in the final third cannot be denied. And the stats back this up. Her energy both on and off the field is infectious, and you get the feeling she is only going to further establish herself as a key player both on and off the field for the Pride moving forward. Her driving runs forward have the ability to put the Pride on the front foot, and create dangerous opportunities in the final third. A good example of this would be against, you guessed it, Sky Blue FC but this time in New Jersey (see below). Viggiano picked the ball up on the left wing and drove at the backline before cutting a ball back across the face of goal which found the back of the net via a Sky Blue defenders' shin pad. It is this kind of drive and determination which will allow Viggiano to create further opportunities for her teammates in the coming season.
Now I mentioned that the stats backed up Viggiano's positive play for the Pride in 2019. And they certainly do if you delve in a little deeper. During her rookie season Viggiano attempted 439 total passes across 19 starts (1,222 minutes-Viggiano was subbed off in 9 of these starts). She was able to complete 336 passes out of those 439 making for a 76.5% pass rate. In its own right you may not think these stats are particularly impressive. But that's where you'd be wrong. And to illustrate my point i'm going to compare these performance statistics to two other well established NWSL stars in Carli Lloyd of Sky Blue FC and Kealia Ohai of the Houston Dash. Carli Lloyd registered 8 goals across 14 starts in 2019, whilst Kealia Ohai registered 2 goals from 22 starts and 1 substitute appearance for the Dash. That being said, it's not really their respective goal scoring statistics that i'm interested in. Where I think Marissa Viggiano compares favourably to well established stars like Lloyd and Ohai are the forward passes she makes.
*Stats and photos provided courtesy of NWSLsoccer.com.
As I mentioned previously Viggiano attempted pe across 19 starts for the Pride, of which 35.3% of these were forward balls. By comparison 41.8% of Lloyd's 447 passes across 14 games for Sky Blue were forward balls, and only 27.1% of Ohai's 387 total passes were played forward for Houston. She also has a higher pass completion percentage on passes played in the opponent's half (65.8%) than either Lloyd (54.5%) or Ohai (46.1%). These statistics reflect very well on Viggiano, in a struggling Pride team she was always keen to get on the ball and make things happen. She has tremendous confidence, and hasn't shied away from the spotlight since transitioning from college soccer to the NWSL. She is also a player that has the ability to go past defenders, as you can see not only from the goal she scored against Sky Blue FC but also from her college highlights reel.
It's also interesting to see how Viggiano matches up against more established players in the league, relative to her position on the field. Viggiano is a rookie, and as such she doesn't have the experience at club level that players like Lloyd and Ohai have amassed over the years. Viggiano is still finding her feet at this level, still adapting to her surroundings in Orlando. By the time the 2020 season comes around she will have had another fun pre-season under her belt, as well as having spent more time in the locker room with experienced internationals such as Marta, Sydney LeRoux and Ashlyn Harris. This experience can only stand her in good stead, and give her the confidence to build on her rookie season. As such, you get the feeling that 2020 could be a huge year for Viggiano. The Pride applied themselves well in the 2020 NWSL Draft and were able to acquire the likes of Taylor Kornieck who will provide stern competition in the attacking midfield roles for the Pride this season. Not to mention the plethora of talent the Pride already have in the attacking third of the pitch with the likes of Marta and Claire Emslie. Viggiano will be feeling confident that she can retain her place in the side and build on last season's impressive debut season. And I for one can't wait to see how it all pans out.