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Orlando Pride vs. North Carolina Courage: Final Score 3-0 as Turnovers Kill the Pride



After a brief 30-minute delay to start the match, the Orlando Pride (6-5-4, 22 points) committed countless turnovers. North Carolina (11-1-3, 36 points) did not fail to capitalize on these opportunities and beat the Pride 3-0 in Orlando City Stadium in front of 4,017 fans. This win just solidifies North Carolina’s lead at the top of the table, but results later in the day could see the Pride drop down to fourth place.

“Frankly, we were just beat by a team that is better than us,” said Head Coach Tom Sermanni. “Significantly better than us on the day, probably in all areas of the field. They were quicker to do things, they were more dynamic, they were more alert, they did things, football fundamental things, better than we did and we got ourselves a little bit rattled.

“We knew it was going to be a tough game. Probably the real disappointing thing of the performance was the manner and timing of losing the three goals. Particularly, the reaction to the first goal and then the reaction to the second goal. For a team of our caliber and professionalism is very poor. Sometimes you have to walk away from a game and say the other team was better and North Carolina this year have been better than everybody and today they showed it.”

After missing the past four games, Ali Krieger returned to the starting XI after suffering a right knee sprain in Orlando’s 5-2 win against the Chicago Red Stars. Sermanni brought Rachel Hill and Sydney Leroux into the starting lineup, after using them as substitutes on Wednesday, but Hill lasted just 45 minutes.

“Obviously, I have to be smart. As I get older, too, my body has changed over the year, but I’ve always been a fast healer,” Krieger said of her return. “As soon as I was injured I knew that process immediately started the next day, even after the game. I had a new job to do and that was my nine-to-five recovery, and doing my PT [physical therapy] and being on-field and doing my running. And as soon as I could I did everything I could, even at home, all the little details.”

It took just eight seconds into the game for North Carolina to get a shot off and it looked like it was going to be ugly from the start. However, the Pride hung in there early on and made a game out of it. Still, the visitors were on the attack for most of the first half. 

The Pride found the back of the net in the 21st minute off a corner. Marta put the ball in and it deflected in off a North Carolina defender, but Alex Morgan was called for a foul and the game remained 0-0. Orlando stuck with it, won another corner, and this time, on the third ball in, Shelina Zadorsky got a shot away, but it was too soft and Katelyn Rowland had no trouble with it. 

North Carolina kept the attack going but the Pride were defending well until the 37th minute. Monica and Emily van Egmond both failed to clear the ball and Debinha took a quick shot that rolled under Ashlyn Harris. 

Two minutes later, Krieger made a great pass to the wrong team and Denise O’Sullivan started the counter attack that ended with Merritt Mathias taking a shot from distance that deflected off Poliana and put the Courage up, 2-0.

Just a minute after the second goal, Dunn put a perfect through ball that fed McDonald into the area and one-on-one with Harris. Harris had no chance and McDonald flicked the ball into the upper 90. With her goal, McDonald became the second player in NWSL history to score 40 goals.

The Pride tried to bounce back after going down 3-0 and Hill did some work down the right hand side, however, the visitors defended well and the first half ended 3-0. North Carolina took just eight shots, compared to the 17 in the first half in the previous meeting, but scored on three of them. Possession was fairly even with the Pride holding 48% but it was turnovers that put them in a hole. 

Sermanni made a change at half, opting to take out Hill for Dani Weatherholt. Weatherholt immediately came in and brought a much-needed energy with her.

“I think we saw what Dani [Weatherholt] brings to the team. She brings energy, she brings running, she brings changes, she breaks things up, she starts moves off, she chases the front line, she chases the back line, and she just brings that extra energy to the team and I think you saw that in the second half,” said Sermanni. “We need more Dani Weatherholts to do that to change the game. And in fairness to Rachel [Hill], I could have taken 10 players off at halftime. The reason we took Rachel off was we had to tweak the shape a little bit.”

The Pride looked a better team in the opening of the half and had a plethora of chances. Van Egmond’s header off a corner went wide in the 50th minute. Three minutes later, Poliana’s shot from distance went into the arms of Rowland. Orlando then had four corners in the next three minutes, including one that Marta nearly put directly in but Rowland got a slight touch on it and it hit the crossbar. 

Morgan took a pass from Leroux and nearly got Orlando on the board in the 60th minute but Rowland again got just enough of the shot to knock it off the woodwork.

Orlando did a decent job of keeping possession for most of the second half but, on a three-goal lead, North Carolina was clearly happy with the game. Instead, the league leaders just waited for Orlando to make mistakes and turn it over. The game plan worked perfectly as the Pride continuously gave the ball right to the opposition and this led to North Carolina counter attacks, though nothing came of them. 

“I just think our mentality changed [in the second half]. We are not about to roll over and die, we want to fight until the end. But obviously I think that needs to happen from the start,” Alanna Kennedy said. “Not that we didn’t go out and weren’t prepared and weren’t mentally ready to give it a go. It was more so that it took those goals for us to give that extra gear, and I don’t think that’s what we need to be doing. We need to be starting the game like that.”

After Sermanni used all of his substitutions, Morgan walked off the field in the 81st minute and the Pride played the rest of the match with 10 players. TV reports from Lifetime said Morgan told the trainer she could no longer sprint. The Pride were unable to do much after Morgan left the field and the game ended 3-0 after a scoreless second half.

“[Morgan] felt her calf being tight,” said Sermanni. “It doesn’t look too serious. I don’t know at this state but it wasn’t something that she felt pull. She just started to feel it real tight. When that happens and the game is in the state that it was, there’s no point in keeping someone in the game that could do themselves more severe damage. Hopefully, it’s nothing serious and we get her fixed up quickly.”

With so much more of the ball in the second half, Orlando won the possession battle, holding it 55% of the game. The Pride had the better passing accuracy (76%-70%) on 70 more passes, and shots were even at 15 apiece, although the Courage had the edge in shots on target (7-5).

“We just need to be better and when we do go down a goal, not to drop our heads, and I think, obviously, the second half was much better,” Kennedy said. “We fought til the end but you’ve got to give credit to the Courage. They are a good team but I think we just made it real hard for ourselves tonight.”

The Pride return to action again on July 7 when they take on the Washington Spirit to close out what has so far been a disappointing 0-2-0 home stand.

Orlando Pride

Orlando Pride Sign Kylie Strom to Three-Year Deal

The Pride have signed starting left back and free agent Kylie Strom to a new three-year contract.



Image courtesy of Orlando Pride

The Orlando Pride announced this afternoon that the club has signed starting left back Kylie Strom to a new three-year contract. The defender became a free agent following the 2023 NWSL season, but the Pride said they were in negotiations to bring her back.

“Kylie is coming off the best season of her professional career, a season in which she was one of the most underrated defenders in the league, and we believe she deserves much more recognition than she’s received,” Orlando Pride Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Haley Carter said in a club press release. “It means a lot to us that she has not only seen what we are building here, but she has completely bought into it and has chosen to stay in Orlando. She is a vital leader within the locker room and on the field, and we couldn’t be more excited to keep her onboard. Our goal is to build off last season’s success and ensuring her return was a key aspect of that.” 

The Endicott, NY, native joined the Pride from Spanish side Atletico Madrid on July 5, 2021, where she spent two seasons. Her initial contract with Orlando was a two-year deal with an option for a third year. The club picked up her option after the 2022 NWSL season and she became a free agent this off-season. However, she says her intention was to remain in purple and be a part of what the club is building.

“I have said it since the beginning of last year, what we are building here throughout the Pride is really special,” Strom said in a club press release. “I think the team that we have, from the players to the people, is all really exciting and I am just excited to continue to be a part of it. I think we can achieve a lot after coming up just short last year. Moving forward, we have learned and grown and have a lot to look forward to.” 

In her first three seasons with the Pride, Strom has made 58 appearances in all competitions, with 46 starts, and has played 4,163 minutes. She made her debut on July 9, 2021 in a 1-1 draw against Racing Louisville. Her Pride career began on the bench, but she took over the starting left back job from Courtney Petersen midway through last season. This year, she started 26 of the team’s 28 games in all competitions and all 22 of the Pride’s leagues games.

The 30-year-old had a breakout year in 2023, starting 26 games and recording 2,281 minutes. She had a goal and an assist, playing the second-most minutes on the team behind center back Emily Madril. Additionally, she was named to the NWSL Team of the Month for both May and August.

What It Means for Orlando

The signing of Strom means that the Pride will have their starting back five returning next season. They previously signed goalkeeper Anna Moorhouse and center back Madril to new contracts, so the next one up is right back Haley McCutcheon. Everyone else is under contract through at least the 2025 NWSL season (McCutcheon is currently signed through 2024).

Finding the right defensive unit has been a struggle for Pride Head Coach Seb Hines since he took over the role on an interim basis midway through the 2022 season. But he settled on Strom, Madril, Rafaelle, and McCutcheon in front of Moorhouse last season. The Pride’s 28 goals conceded last year was sixth in the 12-team league, but they showed improvements as the season went on. They only gave up multiple goals once in their last five games, though it was a key 3-2 loss to Racing Louisville, eventually knocking them out of the playoffs.

Regardless, the team sees this defensive unit as essential to the team’s success next season and there was little question Orlando wanted Strom back. The only free agent from last year’s team now is defensive midfielder Jordyn Listro, who is a restricted free agent. With the club having traded Mikayla Cluff to the Utah Royals for expansion draft protection, bringing Listro back likely becomes the club’s new top priority.

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2023 Orlando Pride Season in Review: Messiah Bright

The Pride’s rookie striker made a name for herself in 2023.



Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

The Orlando Pride selected Messiah Bright with the ninth pick of the second round (21st overall) in the 2023 NWSL draft, and she may have been the steal of that draft. The Pride then signed Bright to a three-year deal on March 2. The Dallas, TX native started all 102 matches she played at TCU during her college career.

Let’s take a look at the rookie striker’s 2023 season with the Orlando Pride.

Statistical Breakdown

Bright appeared in 22 regular-season matches, starting 16, logging a total of 1,379 minutes. She scored six goals on 41 shots with 12 on target and 10 blocked. She did not have an assist, but she made seven key passes. Bright completed 184 of her 273 total passes (67.4%). She was accurate on 52.7% of her passes in the opponent’s half, and 83.7% in her own half. She was three of four on her long passes (75%). She also completed two of her 25 crosses. Defensively, she made one interception and five blocks, won 14 of her 26 tackles (53.8%), won 99 of her 211 duels (46.6%), and won 38 of her 64 aerial duels (59.4%). She also committed 20 fouls, suffered six fouls, and was booked twice.

The 23-year-old made six appearances in NWSL Challenge Cup play, starting three games and playing 307 total minutes. Bright scored one goal on seven total shots with three on target. She attempted four crosses, though none were successful, and registered no assists. Bright completed 48 of her 72 total passes (66.7%). She was accurate on 58.5% of her passes in the opponent’s half, and 73.9% in her own half.  Bright was one for three on her long passes (33.3%), and made nine key passes. Defensively, she won two of her four tackles (50%), 20 of her 45 duels (44.4%), and eight of her 14 aerial duels (57.1%). She also committed four fouls, suffered one foul, and was not booked in the tournament.

Best Game

Bright’s best match was the 5-0 win over the Chicago Red Stars on Aug 20. She scored the first brace of her professional career with the first goal coming in the 23rd minute on this absolutely stunning volley into the upper right corner of the goal.

Bright followed up that goal with her second early in the second half. In the 49th minute she received a gorgeous through ball from Marta, went around the keeper and then calmly put it inside the left post past the surging defenders. 

Bright only played 60 minutes, but she made the most of each minute. Her goals came on four shots with three on target. She also completed seven of her eight passes (85.7%) on 19 touches, committed no fouls, suffered no fouls, and was not booked.

2023 Final Grade

The Mane Land staff gave Bright a composite rating of 6 out of 10 for the 2023 season. She had a very solid rookie season, but she was still a rookie and thus made some mistakes. Bright has all the tools to be a great striker in the NWSL and perhaps eventually for the USWNT. Given this was Bright’s first season, she did not receive a grade in 2022.

2024 Outlook

Bright is signed through the 2025 season, though if she continues to develop as expected she may get a new contract before then. She will be a consistent starter for the Pride in 2024 as she was in 2023, and I expect her production to increase despite teams now knowing what she is capable of doing. Her size and strength can’t be taught, though she can learn to use those attributes more effectively.

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2023 Orlando Pride Season in Review: Emily Madril

The first-year defender played almost every single minute available in the 2023 season.



Image courtesy of Orlando Pride / Mark Thor

The Orlando Pride selected former Florida State defender Emily Madril with the No. 3 overall selection in the 2023 NWSL Draft. The 5-foot-7 Navarre, FL native decided to forego her last season of eligibility in Tallahassee to begin her professional career. A two-time national champion (2018 and 2021), Madril left FSU, signing a contract with the National Women’s Soccer League through 2025 and was loaned to Swedish side BK Hacken FF.

Following a standout first NWSL season in which she played all but three minutes in the regular season, Madril was rewarded by the Pride with a new contract through 2026.

Let’s take a look at her first season with the Orlando Pride.

Statistical Breakdown

Madril started all 22 of the Pride’s regular-season games in 2023, leading all rookies in minutes played (1,977), and coming off only moments before the end of the club’s season finale against the Houston Dash when the Pride were desperately trying to score a game winner to stay in playoff contention. The defender did not record a goal or an assist on the season, attempting just one shot, which was off target. Madril completed 814 of her 953 passes (85.4%), 46 of her 103 long passes (44.7%), and one of her three crosses, while recording five key passes. There wasn’t much drop-off in her passing rate related to position on the field, as Madril completed 88.7% of her passes in the defensive half and 75.6% in the attacking half. Defensively, she added 19 blocks and 19 interceptions, won 17 of her 28 tackles (60.7%), and was successful on 76 of her 122 duels (62.3%). She also won 54.5% of her 33 aerial duels. She won 23 fouls while conceding only nine and was booked twice during the regular season.

In the NWSL Challenge Cup, Madril appeared in five of the team’s six matches (all starts), and played 450 minutes. She did not score a goal or assist on one and did not attempt a shot. She completed 193 of her 224 passes (86.2%), including 13 of her 25 long passes (52%). Madril passed at an 89% rate in her own half and a 78.3% in the attacking half, recording one key pass, but not attempting a cross in the competition. She recorded 10 blocks and four interceptions on defense, winning 55.6% of her tackle attempts, 68.1% of her duels, and 71.4% of her aerial duels. She committed five fouls, drawing six on the opposition, and was not booked in the tournament.

Best Game

With a number of standout games to choose from, I’ll go with the Pride’s 1-0 win over OL Reign on July 7. Paired with Megan Montefusco as the center back tandem, Madril and her teammates limited the Reign to just five shot attempts (two on target) across the 90+ minutes of the game. Madril had 55 touches and completed 89.1% of her 46 passes. She recorded two tackles and drew two fouls on her opponents while not committing any. Madril and her teammates helped Messiah Bright’s 16th-minute strike hold up over the remainder of the match without constantly being under siege. It was a complete performance and one of the team’s best defensive efforts of the year. It was also just the Pride’s second win ever against OL Reign.

2023 Final Grade

The Mane Land staff gave Madril a composite rating of 6.5 for the 2023 season. There were several shaky moments early in the year for the first-year NWSL defender that prevented that score from rising higher (such as conceding a penalty against Angel City), but as the season progressed and she became more comfortable with Seb Hines’ system, the league, and her teammates, Madril was a solid player on the Pride’s back line. She showed her versatility in being able to play both center back positions as well as right back for a couple of matches. A 6.5 is a good rating for a first-year NWSL center back, and Madril showed that she has the potential to develop into one of the league’s best defenders.

2024 Outlook

Madril is obviously highly regarded by the organization and has a huge upside. She has expressed on multiple occasions how happy she is to be with the Pride, and I would expect her to be in Orlando until/unless the Pride get an offer they can’t refuse from a bigger club or if Madril decides to leave once she’s eligible for free agency. Madril should be a starter on the back line for the Pride in 2024 barring something unforseen.

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