The Orlando Pride fell behind early but equalized through Marta’s penalty and the teams split the points in a 1-1 draw in front of a nice opening day crowd of 9,017 at Orlando City Stadium. Marta’s first of the season was vital, after Gunnhildur Jonsdottir gave the visitors a lead just three minutes into the match. But the Pride (0-0-1, 1 point) responded well and both teams proved difficult to break down, especially in the second half.
Orlando and Utah (0-0-1, 1 point) each was lacking in sharpness, as is typical early in the NWSL season. With teams not getting many preseason tests, or having some of their players in camp at all due to international duty, the offensive precision can suffer and that seemed to be the case on this night, with each team only mustering seven shot attempts and creating just five chances.
“It was kind of the game we expected. We knew they would come out, be well organized, and start to really press us and work really hard to get a result here,” Pride Head Coach Tom Sermanni said after the match. “They’re a new franchise and they kind of brought that enthusiasm to the game.”
With everyone except Camila (knee surgery) and Australian internationals Alanna Kennedy and Emily van Egmond available, Sermanni deployed his squad like this:
— Orlando Pride (@ORLPride) March 24, 2018
Utah struck first on the game’s first scoring chance. After a pair of Pride corners went nowhere, Utah finally got out of its own end and headed into the attacking third. Diana Matheson sent a dangerous cross into the box just as Jonsdottir made a run through the Orlando defense. The Icelandic attacker got her foot on the end of the cross to volley it past Ashlyn Harris to make it 1-0 in the game’s third minute. It was the first goal in Utah Royals FC history.
— Planet Fútbol (@si_soccer) March 24, 2018
“I thought we got just a little bit disorganized. Our two center backs got dragged out to our left hand side, probably a little bit too far across — both of them,” Sermanni said of the early defensive breakdown. “And that left us a little bit short in numbers at the center in the back there and Dani kind of filled in but didn’t probably get in there quite quick enough. And then the second thing is that we allowed the cross to come in a little too easily.”
The Royals’ midfield dictated play in the first half, as Christine Nairn, Toni Pressley, and Dani Weatherholt had difficulty maintaining possession in traffic. Kelley O’Hara tried to double the Utah lead in the 15th minute but her shot was comfortable for Harris. Two minutes later, Ali Krieger fired just over the bar off a corner kick that found her at the top of the box.
In the 19th minute, left back Carson Pickett fired a cross into the box for Weatherholt that the Pride midfielder hit on the volley, the ball smashed off of Utah defender Becky Sauerbrunn and a penalty was awarded for handball. Whether it hit the USWNT captain’s arm or not, it definitely hit her in the face and she needed a moment to gather herself. After she did, Marta slotted home the Pride’s first goal of the season to level the score in the 21st minute.
— Orlando Pride (@ORLPride) March 25, 2018
“It was a credit to Carson’s vision to see me running in behind there,” Weatherholt said of the play that led to the penalty. “Our coaches tell us as midfielders to make runs past the forward line. Carson played an incredible ball and I wish it went in but we got a handball out of it, and Marta placed it.”
Orlando looked a threat to score a second in the 28th, when a ball over the top was flicked on by Sydney Leroux to Alex Morgan, who race in and fired on target but Abby Smith made a diving save. In the 37th minute, Leroux got to the end line and fizzed a cross to the back post for Marta, but the shot got deflected out for a corner.
That was the last good chance for either team in the half but it wasn’t the last significant event. In the 45th, Morgan tried to reach a long ball over the top but Smith got there at the same time. The two players collided and Morgan got the worst of it. After receiving attention from the training staff, the striker walked off under her own power straight to the locker room. She is undergoing concussion protocol.
The Pride held 55% of the first-half possession, completed 75.5% of their passes (to Utah’s 69.8%), and led in shots, 5-4 (2-2 on goal).
Chioma Ubogagu started the second half in place of Morgan, but it was Leroux who almost started the second half with a bang. A well-timed run on a long ball from the back got her in behind the defense. However, she took a heavy touch just inside the top of the box and the ball got too far out in front, allowing Smith to come off her line and collect.
“I think it just got away from me,” Leroux said. “I took an extra touch and I should have actually just hit it with my left foot, but first game…hopefully that won’t happen next game.”
“I thought if we had scored, I think, early in the second half when we had a couple good chances, we’d have gone on and won the game quite comfortably,” Sermanni said. “But the more it stays at one each, the more they defended and dug in and kept well organized.”
Two minutes later, the Royals got a free kick and the cross in started ping-ponging around the box before Harris caught it while backing toward her far post.
Leroux got her head to a ball in the box in the 49th minute but could only make glancing contact with it, making for an easy stop for Smith.
That was just about it for the decent chances in the game. Both coaches used up their three substitutions as the players grew more fatigued in the game’s final half hour. Second-half sub Rachel Hill probably had the biggest impact of the replacements, crossing in a ball for Leroux in the 75th minute that Smith got to first, and then sustaining a big collision in the box in the 81st minute — that play somehow ended in a Utah free kick even though it appeared a 50/50 challenge and Hill got by far the worst of it, having to get treatment.
Jonsdottir got the last look at goal in the fifth minute of stoppage time, getting onto a failed clearance but firing over the bar. The final whistle blew moments later and both teams shared the spoils.
Shots were 7-7 (3-2 on target to the Pride), with Orlando holding 54% of the possession and winning in the passing game, 75%-68% and earning more corners (4-1).
All in all, it was a sloppier game than we’re used to from Orlando, but it looked like a typical opener. The defense did fall asleep on the early goal but after that Utah didn’t create much danger.
“It was a hard-fought game,” Leroux said. “It was hard to get a rhythm. I felt like there were a lot of stoppages. But I feel we can build on this and move forward.”
The Pride are back in action next Saturday on the road against the Washington Spirit. Pregame coverage starts at 3:30 p.m. on Lifetime. Marta, Poliana, and Monica will not be part of that game, as the three Brazilian internationals are leaving for national team duty.
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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