The Orlando Pride are in transition. After only one playoff appearance in three seasons, they come into 2019 with a new head coach and renewed vigor. Fans will get a chance to see the team for the first time under new boss Marc Skinner when the Pride take to Orlando City Stadium for their final of three preseason outings. Reigning Liga Puerto Rico Femenino champions Puerto Rico Sol will visit for a friendly open to the public for free next Sunday, April 7 (tickets here). It’s been a tough preseason to assess so far, but it hasn’t been without its talking points.
NWSL preseason camps officially started on March 4 and senior internationals have been in and out with national team duty, something that will continue to be a factor across the entire NWSL season with the impending FIFA Women’s World Cup and preceding warm-up fixtures. The missing players don’t make for ideal conditions for implementing an entire new philosophy. Skinner, when asked about his playing style at media day, said he doesn’t put any great emphasis on shape or formation but instead sets his team up to play in a way that “makes people want to come and watch” and one the players will “enjoy playing.”
He has cited Maurizio Sarri and Pep Guardiola as influences, admiring their sides’ positional fluidity, high press, and control of space on the field. Despite the world class talent among the ranks, the Englishman has warned that it may take time to get it right and it is as much about creating good habits as it is being talented — as seen in Orlando’s 4–0 defeat to the North Carolina Courage, a game where the score line doesn’t tell the story and was ultimately decided by Pride mistakes rather than Courage quality according to Skinner and his players.
The team had a much better showing in the 6–0 victory over USF, the biggest margin of victory across the four preseason meetings between the sides over the years. Regardless of the opposition, putting the principles into practice to such a clinical extent is good to see. The Pride’s highest competitive goal total to date is five and no player has ever scored a hat trick, something Rachel Hill managed in five minutes at the weekend. Remember, it was only last year that the Pride lost to college opposition in the preseason.
It is not just the players who are learning. Skinner comes to the NWSL for the first time and is still getting used to the league. Playing the reigning NWSL champions, who have a league-leading 2.208 points per game average over the last two seasons where they appeared in consecutive championship games, was called a litmus test at Media Day by both Skinner and new Pride General Manager Erik Ustruck. It also gave Skinner a chance to see his opposition in person instead of on tape and provided all the staff with the experience of the type of travel involved in the league. While others may have seen the result as a setback, Skinner and the Pride only saw it as valuable learning experience against the toughest opposition they could find.
Transfer Business…or Lack Thereof
On the surface, it had seemed worryingly quiet this off-season with the head coach position remaining vacant until after the NWSL College Draft in January. However, contact had been made with Skinner (who was still under contract with Birmingham City at the time) before Christmas. Perhaps the lengthy hiring process, coupled with many players heading out to Australia to compete in the W-league, delayed any player movement. It wasn’t until March 4, the opening day of preseason camp, that we found out the five remaining players who were not yet under contract, had been re-signed. But so far those are the only signings the team has made, although Skinner was keen to emphasize his role in the draft, saying, “the players that were selected were my players. I selected them. I was part of everything. I made the decisions.”
Currently, rookies Erin Greening and Marisa Viggiano, although neither have signed with the club yet, along with the seven trialists, remain the only prospective additions in an off-season that saw three regular starters depart (although defender Mônica is not only still training with the Pride, but also started in the friendly over the weekend — more on that below). Heading into a season with a team that missed the playoffs and one that will see the team decimated by international call-ups, it’s a risky strategy to say the least.
However, Skinner has already said that he doesn’t want to rush, bring in bodies to fill gaps, and have them be the wrong players. He wants to assess what he has already and eventually select the right players to improve the squad, also likely hinting that he will wait to sign at least one player he is familiar with from his time in England, especially given the acquisition of a 2019 international roster slot in the Christine Nairn trade, but only after their season ends on May 11.
Skinner spent a lot of time in youth development and coaching prior to his senior appointment in England, which should be a boost to the younger members of the squad, particularly given the chances that will be presented to them this year. Rachel Hill (23) and Dani Weatherholt (25) are both coming off the back of successful spells in Australia with their confidence high and they are likely to be given more senior roles in their third and fourth seasons, respectively.
Of the seven trialists currently with the team, Lainey Burdett, Leah Mohammadi and Caitlin Farrell are undrafted rookies, while Bridget Callahan, Abby Elinsky, and Joanna Boyles all graduated in 2018 and enter their second years as professionals. A trademark of Birmingham City is its productive youth setup and Skinner wasn’t shy in bringing that through. A former goalkeeper coach, he entrusted teenagers with the starting goalkeeper job on two separate occasions to great effect following the departure of his first choice. Add to that the increased roster size and additional supplemental roster now available and it might be worth remembering a few names if Skinner’s Media Day response was anything to go by: “The name of today isn’t the name of tomorrow”.
Reigniting a Spark
It’s a colloquialism of today’s coaching carousel, but many believe a lot of coaches only have a shelf life of two or three seasons before their message grows old and players start to tune out. Jose Mourinho was the perfect example of the so-called third season syndrome and there are many more tales of a sophomore slump. Obviously, there are logical arguments in favor of long-term stability and building for the future but perhaps the departure of Tom Sermanni, although never pleasant, has renewed the fire and hunger in the squad.
Veteran defender Ali Krieger, newly engaged to Pride teammate Ashlyn Harris and back with the U.S. Women’s National Team for the first time since 2017, said the following on opening day of training camp: “I feel like I’m 25. I feel good. I’ve been training my ass off this whole off-season and am really preparing for this day.”
Alex Morgan has already sung the new man’s praises following a two-hour conversation they had over coffee: “It was pretty exciting to see a coach just so eager to dive in and really coach, and I’m looking for that in my club team. I think he’s going to be the perfect fit.”
Skinner also takes a physiological and humanistic approach to coaching, publicly reminding the media that his players are first and foremost normal people and he must treat them as such. He also sent short questionnaires to each of his players prior to his arrival in order to get a better sense of what makes the person behind the athlete tick.
The Brazilian center back and three-year Pride veteran said her goodbyes to Central Florida in the off-season as she decided to decline Orlando’s contract offer with reports suggesting she was moving back to Brazil. As mentioned above, the club confirmed she has been training with the Pride, something not unusual for out-of-contract players as they like to keep their fitness up and teams find it useful to have extra players to play training matches with.
However, the major talking point was that Mônica unexpectedly earned minutes in the victory over USF — significant minutes in fact, playing the full 90. With the Pride currently at risk of losing four of their six listed defenders to international duty, defensive reinforcement is essential, but Mônica would not be a solution as she too will also be in France, so it’s confusing to say the least.
Orlando Pride Place Megan Montefusco on Season-Ending Injury List
The Orlando Pride have placed center back Megan Montefusco on the season-ending injury list following surgery on her right foot.
The Orlando Pride announced this afternoon that center back Megan Montefusco has been placed on the season-ending injury list. The defender had off-season right foot surgery, performed by the club’s official medical team, to repair a long-term problem.
“This is an unfortunate situation for Megan, though we’re happy she was able to address an issue that has plagued her for some time, and we are confident she will come out of this a stronger athlete,” Orlando Pride Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Haley Carter said in a club press release. “Our club is fully behind her and will support her throughout her rehab process, as will our amazing partners at Orlando Health. Our goal is to help Megan get back on the field as safely and smartly as possible, and we are behind her every step of the way. We look forward to seeing her back out on the pitch as soon as she is ready.”
The Pride originally acquired the defender in a trade with the Houston Dash on Jan. 28, 2022 that saw Marisa Viggiano go the other way. She was a regular starter at center back that year and through most of 2023, but lost the starting position when the club signed Brazilian international Rafaelle. Montefusco has made 45 appearances (42 starts) for 3,773 minutes in all competitions over her two seasons in Orlando, scoring one goal.
The 31 year-old signed a new contract with the Pride on June 15, 2023 through the 2024 season with an option for 2025. As one of the team’s main representatives alongside fellow center back Carrie Lawrence, Montefusco appeared at Orlando City’s preseason game against the New England Revolution, signing autographs and taking part in a question-and-answer session while wearing a walking boot.
What It Means for Orlando
This news is a bit of a blow to Orlando’s depth on the back line. Montefusco was the first center back off the bench late last year and was expected to have the same role this year. However, her absence will make room for Lawrence, who missed the 2023 season after suffering a torn ACL during preseason, and Tori Hansen, who is currently on loan with Melbourne Victory FC in Australia. The duo will now compete for the third center back spot unless the club replaces Montefusco with another veteran, as the NWSL transfer window remains open.
This injury could also open up a spot for the Pride to sign 2024 second-round NWSL Draft pick Cori Dyke, who the club took at No. 22 overall out of Penn State. Dyke has experience at center back in college. She played as a central midfielder for the first four years in college, but moved to center back for her final season. Despite moving to the back line, the 2023 season was her most productive offensively, as she recorded five goals and six assists.
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.
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