Facing a must-win match against the winless Sky Blue FC (0-13-4, 4 points) in Orlando City Stadium should have been an easy three points for the Orlando Pride but they struggled in the final third and made too many defensive mistakes in a 2-2 draw. Dani Weatherholt’s hustle was the reason why the Pride (8-6-6, 30 points) were even able to come away with a single point and Marta missed a penalty kick in the 97th minute that would have won it. Luckily for Orlando, the North Carolina Courage beat the Portland Thorns, winning the NWSL and helping the Pride move into third place in the NWSL standings.
“I think today’s game was probably a snapshot of our season,” said Pride Head Coach Tom Sermanni. “We had more than enough possession to win the game, we had, certainly, more than enough chances to win the game, probably hit the woodwork three or four times. We dominated large parts of the game but we just don’t put the game away. And then we seem to be again just defensively frail to give up easy opportunities that really shouldn’t happen.
“We could’ve gotten ourselves out of jail, for lack of a better word. Obviously, with having the penalty in the last minute. But again that’s been our season so far. I wish I had an answer. We need to be able to put games to bed when we dominate them so much. But we also need to stop giving up chances that are so easy for our opponents. I’m at a loss to be able to know how to remedy both of those to be honest.”
After an extended rest because of international break, Sermanni brought his team out with a few surprises in the starting XI. Alanna Kennedy, who played all three games in the Tournament of Nations as a center back for Australia, played the same position for the Pride tonight. Rachel Hill got her sixth start of the year and Chioma Ubogagu played as a wingback.
— Orlando Pride (@ORLPride) August 5, 2018
The first 45 minutes can be described in one word — uneventful. Orlando dominated the half but only got one shot on goal. This shot came from a free kick set up by Marta. The Brazilian was about 25 yards from goal, in front of the entire Sky Blue defense, but had no help from her teammates. Marta used some fancy footwork to win a free kick. She then took the set piece, which was deflected off the wall and hit the crossbar. Dani Weatherholt was able to get a foot on the rebound but her shot was easily caught by Sky Blue goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan.
Ashlyn Harris was forced to make one save in the first half in the 28th minute. Savannah McCaskill threaded the Pride defense and played Imani Dorsey perfectly into the box. Harris was quick to react though and made the one-on-one save.
Ubogagu was one of the better players in that first half. While she still had a couple of turnovers, she continuously took players on and put the ball into good areas.
“One of the reasons why I love football so much is the creativity aspect and that’s one of the things I really try to help the team,” said Ubogagu. “I want to create, I want to help score and assist goals. My teammates are doing a good job at getting the ball in good positions and I had space to try and find people. Rachel [Hill] and Marta were creating space and getting in the box. I think the team, we were using our system really well and in the second half the space was opening up for Kristen [Edmonds] to do the same thing. So I think the more and more we play this formation we’ll know our tendencies and what’s open and where to play the ball.”
Orlando led Sky Blue in possession (58%), shots (4-1), corners (2-0), passes (275-207), and passing accuracy (83%-71%) but the Pride could do nothing in the final third.
“We need to just continue building our chemistry with whoever is up top, and building relationships and knowing what each other likes to do on and off the ball,” said Ubogagu. “We just got to keep going. We all really want to make the playoffs. As frustrating as this result is we still got a point out of it.”
Where the first half was uneventful, the second 45 kept everyone on their toes. It started out with Orlando using a high press to immediately win the ball. The Pride then played fast and got into the box but Ubogagu collided with Christina Gibbons, and both stayed down, ending the attack.
The Pride kept up this intensity and Weatherholt’s hustle created the first goal of the match. She got off her shot, which hit the post, and Marta was there to reap the rewards and put the Pride up 1-0 in the 51st minute.
— NWSL (@NWSL) August 6, 2018
The visitors then hit straight back two minutes later. Kennedy collided with Ali Krieger trying to defend in the box, and was extremely slow in getting up. This led to Dorsey being left wide open at the six-yard box, where she had no trouble finding the back of the net.
— NWSL (@NWSL) August 6, 2018
“There are things that are out of everybody’s control,” Sermanni said. “But if I go back to the goal, we shouldn’t have been in that position that we were in. We had enough defenders behind the ball, with enough players back there. We should have been organized better. So the fact that Alanna [Kennedy] fell, for me, is a little bit immaterial because the goal came about purely by bad defending.”
Following the goal, Carli Lloyd entered the game and changed the momentum in favor of Sky Blue. Just three minutes after coming on, Lloyd played a perfect ball across the field to find the head of Savannah McCaskill, who used her head to play it back across goal and Shea Groom put it away to give Sky Blue a 2-1 lead. Groom landed awkwardly on the play and had to leave the game after her goal.
— NWSL (@NWSL) August 6, 2018
The second that Orlando went down, Sermanni looked to his bench and brought on Alex Morgan and Camila. The Pride then started to get more of an attack going and clearly were searching for two more goals to grab three points.
They got halfway there in the 73rd minute. Camila dribbled the ball towards the Sky Blue box before being fouled. The referee was about to blow his whistle for a foul when he saw that Weatherholt got on the end of the loose ball and he played advantage. Weatherholt then did the rest and kept on fighting to put the ball in the back of the net and level the game at two each.
— NWSL (@NWSL) August 6, 2018
“I’ve said this before but we need 10 Dani Weatherholts on the field,” said Sermanni. “She’s the person that has really dragged our team along in games quite often. Whether that’s been a decisive tackle, a decisive run, a decisive goal, like it was tonight, or whatever, she has just been magnificent this year. I need 10 players doing that and if we had 10 players doing that I think we would be a little bit further up the table.”
The Pride kept on pressing in search of a needed third goal but the visitors would not break until the dying minutes when the game rested on the foot of Marta from the penalty spot. After a corner, the ball was bouncing around in the box and Lloyd was given a straight red for swatting the ball out of the air with her hand on the goal line. Marta, at the spot, in the 97th minute of a tied game sounds like three points in the bag for Orlando. However, her kick was poor and Sheridan was able to make the game-saving stop.
So. A lot happened in stoppage time. Lloyd sees red for a handball in the box, Marta takes the PK, Sheridan makes the save. It is still 2–2. 🎢#ORLvNJ | #NWSL | Stream: https://t.co/6j8Kty2LhT pic.twitter.com/MhGZ2tV246
— NWSL (@NWSL) August 6, 2018
Marta played extensively for Brazil in the Tournament of Nations and played the entire match. Perhaps a more rested player should have taken the spot kick, but Marta generally comes through.
The Pride finished with 21 shots, but were only able to get eight on target. they led in possession (54%-46%) and total passes (403-362) but need to improve in the final third and stop making defensive mistakes.
“Ultimately, we played well but we need to be more efficient and better in the final third,” Weatherholt said. “I think we had a lot of chances but we didn’t put them away. I think any time you dominate a game and possession and you have the ball a lot in their final third. We were creating, we just didn’t finish and that’s on the whole unit.”
The Pride are back in action next Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET against the Portland Thorns in Orlando City Stadium.
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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