Last season, Orlando Pride goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe appeared to have a good opportunity to show what she could do. Starter Ashlyn Harris would be going off to Brazil to join the United States Women’s National Team for the Rio Olympics, giving Bledsoe the chance to shine.
But Bledsoe suffered a broken leg during training in June and missed the remainder of the 2016 NWSL season. It was a tough blow for the Cincinnati native, who came to the Pride from Sky Blue FC in the final round of the 2015 NWSL Expansion Draft. Bledsoe would have to wait for her opportunity.
That chance came in 2017, when Ashlyn Harris sustained a quad injury while taking a goal kick against the Seattle Reign on May 21. Ironically, Bledsoe was again hurt at the time, having sustained a concussion on a freak play while warming up at halftime of the previous home game. Emergency goalkeeper Caroline Stanley finished the game at Seattle — a 1-1 draw — but Bledsoe was cleared to play in time for the next Pride game on May 27 on the road against her old team, Sky Blue.
Bledsoe went on to play in 11 consecutive matches while Harris recovered from injury, and the Pride didn’t miss a beat. Since today is Aubrey’s birthday, it seems a good time to give her season grade, since it’s a good one.
Bledsoe went 5-4-2 over her 11 appearances in the net — all starts — from May 27 to Aug. 8, including shutout wins at home against Boston and Washington. She played a total of 990 minutes, allowing 15 goals and making 35 saves on 51 shots on goal, with a save percentage of 70% and a 1.36 goals-against average. She made a season-high six saves at Sky Blue on May 27, but in a losing effort as the hosts won, 2-1.
She also nearly scored a goal in 2017. While down 1-0 late to Chicago, Bledsoe came forward on a set piece and headed one on frame that was cleared off the line by a defender.
Bledsoe faced eight shots, but stopped all three that were on frame in a 2-0 home win over the Boston Breakers on June 3. It was a rainy, sloppy day and yet Bledsoe was able to keep her first ever NWSL clean sheet.
Despite not having to make many spectacular saves, and few stops overall, Bledsoe commanded her penalty area and kept the defense organized throughout the match — half the battle for a goalkeeper. She certainly made tougher saves and more stops in other games but it was the Pride’s first shutout of the season and an important bounce-back win for Bledsoe’s confidence after a blown lead at Sky Blue the week before, because it was the 25-year-old’s (now 26 as of today) first win of the year.
Final 2017 Grade
The staff at The Mane Land gave Bledsoe a very solid 7.5 composite grade for the 2017 season. In terms of saves, save percentage, and goals-against average, Bledsoe put up similar numbers to Harris this season, albeit in two fewer games. From a goalkeeping perspective, the Pride hardly missed a beat with Bledsoe between the posts instead of their captain and U.S. international. The only real knock would be the disparity in results (Harris went 6-2-5 to Bledsoe’s 5-4-2) but that’s admittedly not entirely on the keeper since the team was without Alex Morgan when Bledsoe took over and just starting to bang on all cylinders when Harris returned.
Tom Sermanni and the Pride exercised the club’s option on Bledsoe following the 2017 season, so she’s under contract for 2018. Provided nothing unforeseen happens in regard to Harris this off-season, Bledsoe will be the backup again next season. But we’ve seen over the last two years how valuable that position can be. Harris isn’t getting any younger at age 32, and as a U.S. international, she’s often called away for national team duty — which can play havoc with the league schedule at times. Now that Bledsoe is a proven commodity, Sermanni has some flexibility to rest Harris when she’s done some international traveling and the Pride have a reliable player to fill a vital role when needed.