We’re just a month out from the Orlando Pride’s 2019 NWSL season opener against the Portland Thorns and the team held its annual preseason Media Day event at Orlando City Stadium. The event featured a press conference with Pride GM Erik Ustruck and Head Coach Marc Skinner, with six players made available to the media in a roundtable format.
The players who spoke to media members today were almost all internationals, with former USWNT automatic selection Ali Krieger being the only player of the six not currently involved in her national team setup. The five current internationals were Ashlyn Harris and Alex Morgan of the U.S., Alanna Kennedy of Australia, Marta of Brazil, and Chioma Ubogagu, who has recently been getting England call-ups.
The players unanimously lauded the atmosphere, attitude, and attention to detail that Skinner has brought to the Pride this preseason and seemed energized.
Here are the highlights from today’s event.
Ustruck/Skinner Press Conference
- Skinner said he was “over the moon” at being selected as the Pride’s head coach and said he was “proud and privileged to be here.”
- Initial interviews with players are nearly complete, as Skinner is finally getting to sit down with the international players who were late to arrive.
- The buzz around camp, according to Skinner, is “really, really something that energizes you as a person.”
- Skinner said he’s identified his targets and what his ideal team would look like, however, he said he’s still identifying the abilities of his players and giving players an opportunity to show what they can do.
- Although Skinner said Tom Sermanni is a wonderful person and is sure he’ll do well at New Zealand, he’s here to bring a new direction to the club and said he coaches to allow his players to make decisions on the field because they have to know what they’re doing even when they can’t hear the coach in hostile environments.
- Skinner spoke often of getting to know the players’ character, as well as treating the players as people first, and players second, regardless of whether they’re stars. He said he thinks of the players as he would if they were his daughters, and works with them to make them as successful as possible.
- Ustruck said he hasn’t yet spoken with club partner Wolfsburg on the women’s side. He said he’d like the Pride to explore options such as bringing them over during their preseason period or to look at potential player loan opportunities.
- Skinner, who has watched all of last year’s games, said the team was far off from performances last season but not far off in results. He stressed that there is some time involved in getting the team to play the way he wants it to play and that it might seem a bit high risk at first.
- Both Skinner and Ustruck said the team will play an attractive brand of football and the GM said he expects that will help bring more fans to the stadium.
- Skinner said the athleticism in the NWSL is massive but the transition part of the game could be better. “We have to re-educate players or just switch on their senses to do that. That’s what we’ll be doing in training.”
- “I’m 100 percent sure that our players will love how we’re asking them to play,” Skinner said. “But they have to be brave. If you want to do something different and you want success to come to Orlando then they’re going to have to be brave. And that’s how I will expect them to be. My job is to support them through that process.”
- Skinner said he’s not just here to coach players to win, but to improve as players.
- The idea of having North Carolina (on the preseason schedule) was to get the Pride up to speed in playing an NWSL team, said Skinner.
- “We will play fixtures that will challenge the players in different ways,” Skinner said of the preseason schedule. Ustruck said the full preseason schedule will be out in the next few days.
- Ustruck mentioned that the North Carolina game in preseason would give the club an opportunity to learn how far they still need to go to get to the level of the defending champs.
- Ustruck said the idea of a preseason invitational tournament would be difficult due to the MLS side having started its season but it’s something the club might look into if they can find the right location or if the stadium was available.
- Skinner said his team likes to play tactically and force the other team into playing a way in which is to Orlando’s advantage.
- Ustruck said Camila is still in Brazil because she’s working on getting her green card. Her interview was scheduled for today and she’s expected back by the weekend.
- There will be a recognized Orlando Pride supporters group this year, said Ustruck. He said he wasn’t at liberty to speak about it just yet, however.
- “There needs to be patience for this team to understand what we want them to do,” Skinner said. He added that he’s seen a desire from the players to buy into that.
- “I have to say that I’ve been blown away by Marc,” Harris said about her new coach. “I’m very, very impressed with what he has brought just in the short amount of time that I’ve met him.”
- Harris said the spark and enjoyment are back at training this preseason. “It’s like a breath of fresh air. This is a chance for people to start over and have new energy and a new opportunity.”
- Harris said Skinner demands excellence and is detail-oriented. “He’s very organized and very, very specific about things.”
- Harris said the international players are used to being in and out of the lineup but admitted this year would be challenging due to the time demands of the World Cup.
- Last year is in the past for Harris and she wants to focus all her energy on 2019 and not what didn’t work in 2018. “We have a fresh start and I want to enjoy that taste in my mouth.”
- “Marc is going to bring an element to this organization that people are going to be proud of and I’m excited to be on that train,” Harris said.
- Harris said that Skinner sent her video clips from every touch from every game with notes attached, he has drones flying overhead every practice to record the players, and he frequently texts with thoughts as they occur.
- Harris said that the feeling of unity hasn’t quite been there the last few years but that’s what Skinner is restoring in Orlando.
- Krieger said that players can only change the culture of a team by bringing their best and control their work ethic and attitude each day.
- “I think it’s so great to have somebody come in that makes every player feel like they’re the most important player,” Krieger said of Skinner. “I think that if we continue to create that positive atmosphere that will translate for sure on the field.”
- Krieger said last year the team played more individually than as a collective group and expects the opposite this year.
- Skinner creates an atmosphere where everybody feels important, said the veteran defender.
- “Little specific movements, footwork stuff, the way your body is angled, or the pace of your pass,” – Krieger on the details that Skinner notices and brings to the team.
- Skinner is “bringing the fun back into the game.”
- Krieger reiterated Skinner’s statements in the presser about treating each person individually based on their needs.
- “I don’t mind playing the underdog role,” she said. “If people think they’re going to come in here and it’s going to be easy-breezy, then good on them because we’re going to just crush it.”
- Having a new coach will be an advantage for the Pride because no one in the league is going to know what to expect from Orlando.
- “I like it here,” the Brazilian legend said. “I like the club. I like the atmosphere we have here. I like the city, the players. I think we have so much potential to [have] a very good season.”
- Marta said her first impression of Skinner was good. “I see the energy he brings to the training and the ideas he brings to the players [are] good.”
- Sermanni and Skinner are different. Skinner wants to keep the ball more and having the ball more means more opportunities to score.
- “It’s about how we work together when we have the ball and when we don’t have the ball,” Marta said of the team’s philosophy.
- Marta said players have to play hard and do their best for their club or they risk not being ready when called up to the national team. So there is no benefit in taking things easy with the club side to stay healthy for the World Cup.
- When asked if she would continue to play internationally after this World Cup, Marta responded, “Let’s live day after day, you know?” She said if she feels good with her club and her teammates she can continue to do so with Brazil, too.
- Marta said she was a little sad to see Monica and Poliana leave the club and hopes that they find a good new club to play for because that’s also important for the Brazilian national team.
- When asked if she had any goals for the season, Marta replied, “Make more goals!”
- Marta said Skinner’s system allows the freedom to roam and feel the game, so that she can play as both a midfielder and a forward, moving to spaces wherever she’s needed. “Not whatever I want,” she laughed, “but to produce good for the team.”
- “I’m just eager to be coached by [Skinner], and for him to just implement his style, and for us to apply that in games,” Morgan said.
- Morgan said she was happy with Ustruck’s decision to bring in Skinner to take the job.
- “In previous years, just playing college teams is really difficult because that’s a hard gauge to see on like where we are in terms of how ready we are for the season,” Morgan said of the preseason. “So going in and playing North Carolina, obviously having them be the reigning champions from last year, it’s going to be just right away we’ll know what we still need to work on, where we are in terms of fitness, and in terms of Marc’s style being adapted by the team. So I’m really happy we’re making this trip.”
- The team not having a lot of turnover is a good thing, Morgan said.
- Morgan said the challenge for the Pride is the number of international players leaving for a big chunk of the season.
- Younger players can learn from the internationals’ professionalism and they have to be eager to learn.
- Morgan lauded France’s acceptance of women in sport as “exciting to see” and was glad to see the number of tickets sold for the World Cup games.
- “I’m hopeful that we look very organized and have clear direction,” she said.
- Morgan said she was impressed with Ustruck and his ability to bring in someone like Skinner.
- She said she feels there’s still room for her to learn and grow as a player and she’s looking forward to Skinner helping her do that.
- “I really like his direction and his philosophy,” Kennedy said of Skinner. “It’s something that’ll make all of us better, hopefully, as a collective.”
- Kennedy talked about having surgery “thrown in there” during a six-week break. She said she’d played about 80 games in the previous 12 to 18 months. She said she’s now feeling good and is excited to be back in Orlando.
- “When you’re in a positive environment, your well-being is taken care of, that’s when you’re able to thrive on the field,” she said. “I’ve loved every minute of the couple days I’ve been here.”
- Kennedy said she thinks that with the style of play Skinner will have, she’ll be able to play both midfield and defense. She said she loves her midfield role but also loves her role on defense with Australia, because that’s where the team needs her and she can thrive there.
- Kennedy noted the team has always had the personnel to succeed but needed to have more of an identity.
- “To know your role and to know what’s expected of you every minute is important and that’s something Marc will bring with his experience and his personality,” she said.
- “You don’t really” get used to all the international travel, Kennedy said. But she added that it’s helpful when you have people in place to take care of you, as the Pride have.
- When asked what kind of Chioma Ubogagu the Pride are getting back, as opposed to the one who left to go play in Australia at the start of the off-season, she replied, “I think just someone who understands even more now the definition of being a professional.”
- She said she learned more about recovery, watching film, and working on details while playing in Australia.
- Ubogagu said that coming in from overseas, she was expected to be an impact player in the W-League, and that challenged her and she learned how to deal with pressure.
- Having three nationalities — English, American, and Nigerian — she said all three are very important to her and she feels connected to all three and they combine equally to make her who she is.
- “That experience to put on the England kit and represent the Lionesses is something I’ll never forget,” she said of her time with the England national team.
- Ubogagu said she got the call on her birthday that she’d be getting her first call-up to England and it was the best birthday gift ever.
- She said her national team coach, Phil Neville, texts the whole team and he told her to train hard this preseason.
- Ubogagu said she met with Skinner yesterday. She said he’s very intelligent and noted that he showed her an iPad with screen shots and detailed notes on it.
- “I think everyone has been really impressed with training sessions and the detail and energy,” she said “[Skinner is] always saying ‘brains over brawn.’ He wants us to make sophisticated decisions with the ball.”
- “I don’t want to label myself a leader because I think I’m learning every day,” she said.
- “Last year, if we’re going to be frank [the North Carolina Courage] killed everyone in the league. They scored the most goals. I think they had the fewest goals against. They had this confidence, this swagger on the field that you weren’t going to touch them when you’re on the field,” Ubogagu said. “So I think that’s awesome that one of our first preseason games is going against the defending champions. We’re going to see what we’re about early on in the preseason. It’ll be really cool to see how we adapt and how we come out against a team like that.”
- Ubogagu said she wanted to help with the game so she became the players union representative for the Pride. She said her main job was to bring information back to the club so the players had a voice on things like, for example, when the league would break for the World Cup.
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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