Odds are, if you are a loyal Mane Land reader, you are a soccer nut. You're probably also very familiar with most of the USL and MLS teams, since Orlando City has played in both leagues. You know the general gist, the narrative about the teams. Who's good, who's bad, who has standout players. But women's soccer is still relatively unknown – even for mainstream soccer fans .
Much will be written over the next few months, especially here at The Mane Land, covering the National Women's Soccer League and its 10 teams (yes, there's only 10!). It makes sense to do a primer now, so that as the big news from around the league hits us, you're at least familiar with the actors and can water-cooler-it-up and dazzle your coworkers with your NWSL knowledge. So let's go.
The National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) is the top-tier women's soccer league in the United States. It is the functional equivalent of MLS and is a member of CONCACAF. Founded in 2012, the league succeeds several prior attempts at a professional women's league through the Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) 2007-2012, and the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA) 2000 – 2003. The WUSA was the world's first women's soccer league in which all of the players were paid professionals.
Like previous attempts to form a men's professional league, some of the teams from WPS hung around from the WPS to the NWSL and one team, the Boston Breakers, actually hails back to WUSA days. And like previous attempts at Orlando having a professional soccer team, Orlando nearly had a WUSA team back in 2001 called the Orlando Tempest, which was relocated to North Carolina due to an inability to secure a home stadium.
The inaugural 2013 season saw a regular season average attendance of 4,270, with Portland's Thorns blasting the numbers with a high of 17,619. The 2014 season average attendance was 4,137 with Portland again crushing the average with a regular season attendance average of 13,362. Portland also managed to break an attendance record of 19,123 that year. In 2015, average attendance rose to 5,046 with Portland again leading the charge in regular attendance at 15,639. The final home game of the Thorn's season, after the World Cup, had a sell-out attendance of 21,144 at Providence Park, the first ever in the NWSL.
It is no coincidence then, with Orlando mirroring Portland's success with engaging soccer fans on the MLS side, that Phil Rawlins and the Orlando City front office would not see the same potential draw for fans to the rally behind the women's side.
The 10 teams are spread across the country, with Portland and Seattle as the only teams west of the Rockies, Houston, Kansas City, and Chicago in the Midwest, and Boston, Rochester, New Jersey, D.C. and Orlando representing the Eastern time zone. Each club is allowed a minimum of 18 and a maximum of 20 players on their roster at any time. Each team is also given three allocation slots for American national team players and two Canadian National team players. For the Pride, Alex Morgan and Ashlyn Harris both occupy allocation spots for the U.S. and Kaylyn Kyle and Josée Belanger occupy slots for Canada. Additionally, each team is allocated limited slots for international players, with Lianne Sanderson (England), Monica Hickmann Alves (Brazil), Steph Catley (Australia) occupying those spots for Orlando. The remaining team slots are made up through domestic players from either draft or discovery signings.
The Boston Breakers play their home matches at Soldiers Field Soccer Stadium on the Harvard University Campus, which they share with the Harvard men and women's soccer teams. The team was founded in 2008 under with same name as the previous Boston Breakers who played until 2003 when WUSA dissolved. Boston finished out the 2015 season at the bottom of the league, with a 4-13-2 (W-L-D) record. Perhaps on the back of this upsetting season, the team's former manager stepped down at the end of the season and The Breakers picked up former Liverpool Ladies coach, Matt Beard. Boston is hoping that its third-overall draft pick, Christen Westphal, and new manager can help bring success to Beantown.
Chicago's Red Stars play their home matches at the Sports Complex at Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. The Red Stars finished their 2015 season in second place, behind the Supporter's Shield winning Seattle Reign. Their record was 8-3-9 with 33 points, just one point ahead of third place but 10 points behind the Reign. The Local 134 is the Supporters Group for the Red Stars, the first in WPS to organize a group. The top goalscorer for the Red Stars in 2015 was USWNT player Christen Press, with 10 goals and two assists. Red Stars' Danielle Colaprico picked up the 2015 Rookie of the Year award, so good things are expected from her. Their head coach is Rory Dames, who has been with the club since 2011.
A 2014 expansion side, the Dash are one of the few league teams to play on the same pitch with their MLS counterparts–the Dynamo–at BBVA Compass Stadium. Although the stadium holds 22,000 people for regular Dynamo matches, the Dash's seating is scaled back to accommodate approximately a third of that, at 7,000 seats. Despite its finish at the bottom of the league in its inaugural year, the Dash managed to sit firmly in the pack at fifth place for the 2015 season. The manager is Randy Waldrum, a former New York Cosmos player himself, who has coached college level women's soccer for over three decades and is concurrently the women's national team head coach for Trinidad and Tobago. Houston is home to FIFA Women's World Player of the Year, Carli Lloyd.
FCKC finished out its 2015 season one point behind the Red Stars and qualified for the playoffs, where it ultimately beat the Seattle Reign for the league championship for the second year running. The game MVP, who scored the winning goal was Amy Rodriguez, a U.S. national player who has 129 caps with the USWNT. The team plays at Swope Soccer Village, the Sporting KC-owned training ground, the same location as the new USL side, Swope Park Rangers, set to debut in 2016. With a total capacity of 3,557 for league matches, attendance is clearly throttled and so larger matches are played at Sporting Park with attendance topping out in 2015 at 8,849 for opening day. Vlatko Andonovski, a former indoor soccer player, manages FCKC while simultaneously coaching an indoor league men's team–the Missouri Comets. With top league goal scorer for 2015 Lauren Holiday and USWNT defender Leigh Ann Robinson both retiring this off-season and off-season acquisition Sydney Leroux out for the season due to pregnancy, it will be interesting to see how the team recovers for 2016. This is also Sarah Hagen's former team so hopefully she will bring the winning formula with her to the Pride next season.
Arguably the most successful team in NWSL, the Portland Thorns play in Providence Park, the same location as the Portland Timbers. The Thorns are the first team in league history to sell out their home stadium and are also responsible for many other season and club attendance records throughout the league. Along with Houston and now Orlando, Portland is the only other club with MLS affiliation. The Thorns are truly a model for how this league can grow, with Portland doing all the right things in terms of merchandising, social media (their own hashtag: #BAONPDX), a strong supporter’s group, the Rose City Riveters, and Merritt Paulson‘s front office willing to spend money to bring the best talent, including Tobin Heath, England international Jodie Taylor, and off-season pick-ups Meghan Klingenberg, Emily Sonnett, and Lindsey Horan. Mark Parsons manages the team, having spent six years in multiple coaching roles in England, including time as head coach of Chelsea Ladies Reserve. As with our Orlando City side, any away visit to Portland will prove to be intimidating.
The Reign may not play in the most luxurious of stadiums, it being a high school stadium built in the late 1940s, but what the Reign lack in venue, it certainly makes up for in squad depth and strength. In the 2014 and 2015 seasons, Seattle captured the Shield. In 2014, Seattle managed a league record of 16 games unbeaten–most likely on the strength of household names Sydney Leroux, Megan Rapinoe, and Hope Solo. The league and team top goal scorer for 2015 was Kim Little, an England international who is currently on loan with Australian side Melbourne City. The Reign's coach is former England national player Laura Harvey, NWSL Coach of the Year in 2014 and 2015. She previously coached Arsenal LFC and has served as assistant coach at the junior level for England's national squads. A strong foundation for success, the Reign continue to grow in squad depth, with four players named to the 2015 NWSL Best XI. 2016 is going to be a challenging year for the Reign, as Megan Rapinoe tore her ACL on USWNT duty in December during the victory tour.
Along with the Breakers and Red Stars, Sky Blue is one of the old guard from WPS days gone by. Playing on the Rutgers University campus field in New Jersey, the team finished second from the bottom, ahead of Boston and behind the Flash. Uniquely, Sky Blue is part of Sky Blue Soccer, an organization which sources its own development program and promotes players from within. Sky Blue recently promoted its assistant coach, Christy Holly to the head job, after former head coach Jim Gabarra departed in a mutual release with the club at the start of the off-season to head back to his home turf with the Washington Spirit. Despite problems off the field, Sky Blue boasts some talent on its team with Defender Christie Rampone and 2015 NCAA MAC Hermann Trophy winner and 2016 draft second-overall pick Raquel Rodriguez.
The Washington Spirit started out as DC United Women with the W-League, the second-tier professional women's league. It was affiliated with DC United but was operated independently of the MLS club. In order to join the NWSL in 2013, the team re-branded itself as the Spirit. Even with 2015 Golden Boot winner, Crystal Dunn, the Spirit have previously been mired in the middle of the table with a fourth place finish in both 2014 and 2015 after advancing into playoff contention and falling both years. Average attendance has grown year after year, with 4,087 coming out to see the Spirit play in its home stadium at the Maryland Soccer Plex, located about 30 miles outside of D.C. The current squad boasts some well-known players such as Ali Kreiger and Canadian international Diana Matheson. The Spirit Squadron are the supporter's group.
The Flash play in Rochester, New York in Sahlen's Stadium, the same location as USL men's side Rochester Rhinos, although as fun trivia, the team is based out of Elma, a Buffalo suburb. The team was originally named the Buffalo Flash, starting back in 2009 but with the move from USL's W-League into WPS, it changed the name to Western New York Flash. Kiwi Manager Aaran Lines, who had been with the team since its inception, stepped down in January and the club is currently without a coach. The team has a tremendous history of fielding strong talent and then selling it onwards. The first round pick in the WPS 2011 draft was Alex Morgan, having also signed WPS MVP and Golden Boot winner Brazilian national Marta, who has scored 92 goals in 92 appearances for her country. The Flash has had a remarkable list of strong players, including past players Carli Lloyd, Christine Sinclair, Ali Riley and recent retiree Abby Wambach, who is the all-team leading international goal scorer. With a young roster with many rookie pickups and no coach, keep an eye on this team whose dynamic is always changing.
Now that you are caught up, look forward to more in depth analysis and coverage as we march toward an exciting 2016 NWSL season. Stay tuned to The Mane Land throughout the season, and be sure to check out our preview of the Pride's opening few games!
Five Questions About the Orlando Pride in 2024
What are the top five questions for the Orlando Pride heading into the 2024 NWSL season?
The Orlando Pride have begun their preseason training for the 2024 NWSL season and will play their first preseason scrimmage on Thursday afternoon. The team nearly made the playoffs last year for the first time since 2017, narrowly missing out on the final day of the season. The team’s been busy this off-season, looking to improve the squad. However, there are still some questions to be answered before the competitive games start.
Here are five burning questions about the Pride for 2024.
Who Will Start in Goal?
The Pride signed English goalkeeper Anna Moorhouse from French side Bordeaux on Jan. 31, 2022 to back up Erin McLeod. When the Canadian left after the 2022 season, Moorhouse was elevated to starter. She played well at times last year, but was inconsistent. However, Pride Head Coach Seb Hines showed confidence in the 28-year-old, starting her in 19 of the team’s 22 regular-season games.
In December, the Pride traded backup Carly Nelson to the Utah Royals for Allocation Money. The move came 11 days after they signed Finnish goalkeeper Sofia Manner, indicating the club was planning for the departure. While Moorhouse will undoubtedly start the season as the team’s number one, Manner could claim the position if Moorhouse’s inconsistency returns. It will be something to keep an eye on this year.
Who Will Start in the Defensive Midfield?
The Pride focused on the team’s back line last year, but much of the effort this off-season has been on the defensive midfield. The team traded for Haley McCutcheon on Aug. 18, 2022 and it appeared as though she would start in the position. However, Hines moved her to right back last year, where she’s become the regular starter. It then looked like recent draft picks Viviana Villacorta and Mikayla Cluff would be the duo, but Cluff was traded to Utah on Nov. 15 for Expansion Draft protection and Villacorta tore her ACL late last year.
The club focused on the position this off-season, bringing in Brazilian internationals Angelina and Luana, along with USWNT player Morgan Gautrat. All three will battle to start in the defensive midfield, especially since Villacorta is injured and fellow defensive midfielders Cluff and Jordyn Listro are gone. But it’s still unknown who will start in those positions. It’s a question that will likely be answered in the coming weeks as the Pride build for the start of the regular season in March.
Where is Ally Watt Best Suited?
After tearing down the roster in a full rebuild, the Pride made two significant acquisitions in August 2022. In addition to trading for McCutcheon, the Pride dealt Allocation Money to OL Reign (now Seattle Reign FC) for forward Ally Watt. The speedy attacker quickly became the second option up top for the Pride, typically playing behind rookie Messiah Bright last year and starting the odd game. However, that’s not the only position she played.
Hines has shown he values versatility and illustrated that with Watt last year. In addition to playing up top, Watt was deployed on the right side of the midfield. Her speed and ability with the ball was an asset in the position, and she was praised by teammates in the role. They love having her on the right and Julie Doyle on the left, the two fastest players on the team. The questions now become: which position is she best at, and where does she best fit in with this team?
Who will Replace Messiah Bright?
Possibly the biggest question for the 2024 season is who will replace the starting striker. The Pride drafted Bright with the 21st overall pick of the 2022 NWSL Draft out of TCU, and she quickly became the focal point of the attack. Her six regular-season goals last year tied Adriana for the team lead. However, the forward requested a trade this off-season, citing personal reasons, and was shipped off to Angel City FC.
The club did sign Simone Charley, most recently with Angel City, who could replace Bright. However, she’s coming off a season-ending injury and wasn’t as effective in Los Angeles as she was in Portland. Other options include Canadian international Amanda Allen or Argentina international Mariana Larroquette. Watt might be the most likely to start the season up top as it stands, with Pride Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Haley Carter recently telling our SkoPurp Soccer podcast that 2024 will be “the season of Ally.” But it remains to be seen who will be the Pride’s new number nine.
Will We Discover the Pride’s New Number 10?
Marta has been the Pride’s number 10 since she arrived in 2017 and the team’s most prolific player. She leads the team all-time in appearances (102), starts (95), minutes (8,456), goals (31), and assists (18) in all competitions. However, she’s on the final year of a two-year deal that’s widely expected to be the last for the soon-to-be-38-year-old midfielder. If she does depart the club following the 2024 season, they Pride will need to find her replacement.
The club could go outside and find her replacement for 2025, but there are options in the current squad. The most talented player on the team currently is Brazilian international Adriana, who has typically played on the right side of the midfield, causing problems for defenses. She’s also switched with Marta at times, moving central, and has played there at the international level. The club also has Summer Yates, the former Washington Husky drafted in 2023. Yates slipped to the fourth round, where the Pride grabbed her, and Carter recently said she’s seen significant development in the second-year player.
While the primary focus is on this season, Hines could show his hand with who plays the most minutes behind Marta in the attacking midfield. While a final decision will probably be left to the 2025 preseason, we can get an idea of who might be in line for arguably the most significant role on the team during the 2024 campaign.
The Pride enter the 2024 season with more expectations than the last two years. They narrowly missed out on the playoffs in 2023 and will be looking to improve this season. While most of the team is intact, there are some questions to be answered during preseason and the coming regular season. It will tell us a lot about the team’s 2024 season and the coming years.
Orlando Pride’s Summer Yates and Amanda Allen in Line for Breakout Seasons
Summer Yates and Amanda Allen could have breakout seasons for the Pride.
The Orlando Pride are in the third year of a full rebuild, although there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Last season saw multiple young players take big steps forward in their development and this year will undoubtedly see more. Two players who currently look like they’ll play bigger roles in the team are midfielder Summer Yates and forward Amanda Allen.
Yates and Allen are two young players with bright futures that the Pride brought in during 2023. They drafted Yates out of the University of Washington with the third pick of the fourth round (39th overall) of the 2023 NWSL Draft. You usually don’t find this level of talent that late in the draft, but Yates was expected to go much higher. She began slipping through the second and third rounds, enabling the Pride to complete what could be the steal of the draft.
Rather than coming in through the draft, the Pride were able to sign Allen directly. The teenager made her way through the Canadian national team system, making her senior team debut in November 2022. She was seen as a player for the future but didn’t see much of the field last year.
It’s not a surprise to see young players in this team see significant minutes, as the Pride have focused on it over the past few seasons. It’s something that Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Haley Carter spoke about with The Mane Land’s SkoPurp Soccer podcast last week.
“I think you develop through meaningful match minutes,” Carter said on SkoPurp. “Even if you look at some of the signings that we’ve made, young athletes, you look at Amanda Allen for instance, making sure she’s getting meaningful match minutes is really important to us.”
Yates and Allen are both likely to see more minutes this year but face different situations. Yates saw more time on the field during her rookie season, making 10 league appearances and recording 108 minutes. She made a further six appearances (two starts) in the NWSL Challenge Cup for 259 minutes and recorded two assists in the competition.
The Pride signed Marta to a two-year extension following the 2022 NWSL season, so this could very well be the last year of her career. Once the star is gone, the Pride will be looking for a long-term replacement and Yates could be that player. Carter even told SkoPurp that she’s seen development in the midfielder this off-season.
“(Yates) is flying, by the way. Summer Yates is chef’s kiss flying,” Carter said. “She had an unbelievable off-season. She’s like a whole new player this year.”
The midfielder was the primary playmaker for Washington in college and played that role when she appeared for the Pride last year. It wouldn’t be surprising to see her play more minutes this season, especially since the club will likely lose Adriana at times to international duty.
Allen is in a different position than Yates but might have a similar opportunity to prove herself this season. At the end of last year, she was the fourth striker on the depth chart behind Messiah Bright, Ally Watt, and Mariana Larroquette. However, Bright asked for a trade this off-season due to personal reasons and was shipped to Angel City FC. The club could still bring in a veteran striker to replace the young forward, but Carter said it’s not a major concern for the team at the moment.
“We feel like we’re in a good place,” Carter said about the striker situation. “It’s not something that we’re terribly concerned about.”
However, she also said that the club has worked at strengthening the back line and midfield positions over the past two seasons. Now it’s time to look for goal scorers that can push the team to be a contender in the NWSL.
“If you look at it from a strategy standpoint, how we’ve approached the last year, we got to improve the back line. And that’s what we did first,” Carter said. “And then the priority became the midfield. And that’s what we did in the beginning of the off-season. And now we’re looking for established goal scorers.”
Watt was the starter at the forward position last year when Bright wasn’t available or needed rest. While it’s fair to assume she would simply move up to the number one spot on the depth chart, Carter further indicated the veteran would be the team’s nine.
“I feel like this is going to be the year of Ally,” Carter said about the forward.
The Pride emphasize versatility, something they’ve shown the past few seasons. While Watt will likely be the starting forward when the season starts, she also played on the right in 2023. Following her appearances last year in the midfield, her attacking teammates gave glowing reviews about having the speed of Watt on the right and Julie Doyle on the left.
The club’s focus on Watt up top might seem like a negative for Allen’s playing time. After all, the teenager didn’t appear much last season, only making three league appearances for nine minutes. She didn’t play much more in the NWSL Challenge Cup, making three appearances, with one start, for 91 minutes.
However, Allen has two things going for her. One is that the club values providing meaningful minutes to young players and Allen is seen as part of the future of this team. It’s also not easy to find proven goal scorers. Unless the club can find a proven goal scorer by the trade and transfer deadline on April 22, Allen will move up on the depth chart.
The focus for the Pride this season is improving on last year and making the playoffs for the first time since 2017. However, they also have an eye on the future with the team still being young. Last year, we saw young players like Bright and Emily Madril prove themselves at the professional level. This year we could see Yates and Allen make a similar jump.
Orlando Pride Rebuild Resembles Orlando City’s
The Pride are taking a page from the Lions on building a winning club.
Building a winning club is not an easy thing to do. If it was, everyone would be doing it. Of course, there are different ways to go about it. You can spend a ton of money on flashy, big-name players who you throw together and hope something comes out of it. The Orlando Pride already tried that and it didn’t work. One other way is to take your time to build something from scratch. It isn’t as quick, and takes patience, but it is usually more sustainable.
Just like with Orlando City, it started with a coach. Seb Hines took over as interim head coach following the departure of Amanda Cromwell under less-than-ideal conditions. Oscar Pareja has built a culture with the Lions and now Hines is doing the same for the Pride. The arrival of Haley Carter has resulted in a partnership that aims to bring more wins for the club.
One of the key factors in Orlando City’s rebuild was the addition of Robin Jansson and Antonio Carlos to create a stable center back pairing. Now, the Pride look like they have done the same thing with Rafaelle and Emily Madril. Rafaelle is signed through the 2025 season, and Madril through the 2026 season. Those two, along with Haley McCutcheon, Carrie Lawrence, Megan Montefusco, and Kylie Strom, among others, have stabilized a defense that was pretty porous in the past. It is the foundation.
I don’t think that the Pride have the equivalent of a Pedro Gallese in goal, but there will be plenty of competition between Anna Moorhouse, Sofia Manner, and Kaylie Collins. With Collins on loan in Australia, Moorhouse and Manner will battle it out for the starting role.
We saw the difference that Facundo Torres, Cesar Araujo, and Wilder Cartagena made in the Orlando City midfield. The Pride have beefed up their midfield over the last year, adding Brazilians Angelina and Luana, as well as the recent additions of Morgan Gautrat and NWSL Draft pick Ally Lemos. The plan is for the Pride to be able to work the ball up the field rather than having to lump it over the top all the time. This will create chances for the forwards to get more service from the midfield and thus score more goals.
Speaking of the attack, the Pride have several options despite the departure of Messiah Bright. Ally Watt is coming off her first fully healthy season and is looking to prove she is the person for the job. Adriana was my player of the year for the Pride in 2023 and I expect even more from her in 2024. There is also Julie Doyle, Mariana Larroquette, Amanda Allen, and the newly acquired Simone Charley. That is a lot of potential firepower now that the midfield is in better shape.
I know that some supporters get a little jealous when other clubs like NJ/NY Gotham FC are making splashy, big-name signings, but remember, it wasn’t those signings that won Gotham the title last season. I also know that having a fan favorite like Bright head off to another club seems like a big blow. We’re all a little sensitive that the Pride have been snubbed by the likes of Mia Fishel, Debinha, and others.
We interviewed Haley Carter on the SkoPurp Soccer PawedCast the other day, and one thing she said really stuck with me. I’m paraphrasing, but basically it was to be glad for all the players who want to be here. They are putting in the work. They have bought into the culture that the club is building. They are signing contract extensions because they believe. To quote Ted Lasso, “I believe in believe,” and it might be the hope that kills you, but I’m pretty excited about what is being built in Orlando right now.
Also, consider this: the transfer window doesn’t close until April. The Pride might not be done making moves. Let me know your thoughts in the comments, and please listen to the interview with Haley Carter if you haven’t already. Vamos Orlando!
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