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Orlando Pride vs. Puerto Rico Sol: Final Score 5-0 as Pride Win Final Preseason Match

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The Orlando Pride played their final preseason game of the season and beat Puerto Rico Sol FC 5-0 in front of 2,137 fans in Orlando City Stadium. Orlando was clearly the better team and the visitors only had one shot on goal — a 40-yard shot that Haley Kopmeyer easily grabbed. Orlando held possession well, took players on in one-on-one situations, and quickly won the ball back when the Pride lost it.

“It’s a wonderful, wonderful learning experience, which is exactly what I wanted,” Orlando Pride Head Coach Marc Skinner said after the match. “I had no idea what the team would be like and they banked up with as many players as they could get behind the ball. And that is a wonderful challenge because first off, we didn’t meet that challenge. Second half, once we adjusted at halftime, I thought we were much better and that’s something to be really proud of.”

There were two words to describe the game: narrow and free-flowing. Skinner sent his team out in a 4-3-3, and, for the most part, Orlando stayed in that shape. However, players were constantly swapping positions with each other all game. Carson Pickett could often be found in the midfield, Danica Evans dropped to right back at one point, and Camila was just about everywhere on the field. 

“I think if you’re a 90-minute player, or a sub off the bench and never play, I think you’re going to grow under Marc,” said Pickett. “I think he’s going to make us individually better and make the team much stronger than last year. I think that no matter what position you’re in you’re going to be rotated a ton, so you’re not stuck to one side. And I think, to be honest, as a defender my whole life, going into the midfield and forward line has already taught me so much more than I’ve ever learned in soccer.”

Skinner was very conscious about this player movement and it was a key point in what he sent his team out to do. There needed to be little tweaks, and there is still much work to be done to improve this system, but the player movement is going to continue.

“We work off principles, not positions,” said Skinner. “It’s about movement. We know that if somebody is in a static line the only way you can really get away is through width and rotation through the middle. Plus, if I’m a player that’s receiving the ball and you expect me to be there, and somebody else appears, how do you deal with that? That’s what we’re trying make the opposition think about what they're going to do.”

Orlando held possession well, and Puerto Rico Sol rarely got into the other half of the field. The Pride had many chances on goal, but the visitors fouled hard and often. Pickett took the majority of the set pieces, while Camila took some as well, but Orlando had trouble getting on the end of its services.

There was a scary moment in the 11th minute. Kopmeyer, who touched the ball just once at this point, went to the ground away from the ball. The training staff came on, and she was able to stay in the game. 

The fouls ended up coming back to haunt Puerto Rico Sol, though. In the 42nd minute, Orlando won a corner. Pickett sent the ball in, and there was a collision in the box. The referee awarded a penalty kick and Camila buried it into the back of the net. The Pride took the 1-0 lead into halftime. 

“[In the second half] we repositioned the players,” Skinner said. “We didn’t need as many players in defense. We pushed our fullbacks up a little higher, we kept more width — which meant they had to shuffle quickly. So, we had better connections, the passes were quicker, the details of the passes were quicker.”

There were a couple of more goals, and a lot fewer fouls in the second half. Rachel Hill nearly doubled the lead seconds into the second period. Camila used some nifty footwork to create separation between her and the defender. She put a cross into the box, but Hill just missed it. 

About 10 minutes later, Evans should have scored. Her header was goal bound but Puerto Rico Sol goalkeeper Christina Holguin made a fantastic goal line save to keep the score 1-0. 

Orlando finally got its second goal in the 59th minute. Erin Greening put the ball on a platter for Pickett, who was the farthest Pride player up the field. Pickett headed the ball into the bottom corner, out of the reach of Holguin. It hit the inside post and rolled in. 

“Getting higher up the pitch is always fun for a defender,” said Pickett. “ that’s what Marc wants. It’s good because when I get high I have a lot of cover behind me, which I think other years when I've gotten high I've been left to sprint 50 yards back. So, it’s good to get up there and it’s good to know I have cover in the back.”

Just 13 minutes later, in the 72nd minute, Bridget Callahan made it 3-0. Hill played a good through ball, and Callahan was one-on-one with Holguin and passed it into the back of the net. 

In the 83rd minute the Pride scored again, this time from Hill. Orlando used great ball movement to get Hill open in the box. The striker then dribbled around Holguin and scored into the open net. 

Camila made it 5-0 three minutes later. She had time and space in the center of the field from about 25 yards out. She of course ripped it from that position and Holguin had no chance at keeping it out of the net. 


With preseason now in the books, Orlando will look forward to its season opener next week. The Pride host Portland on Sunday, April 14 at 5 p.m. in Orlando City Stadium.  

Orlando Pride

The Orlando Pride Midfield Rebuild: Key Stats Through Three Matches

Going inside the numbers on the Pride’s rebuilt midfield and overall team play.

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Image courtesy of Orlando Pride / Mark Thor

The Orlando Pride embarked on the past off-season with a clear plan of rebuilding in the center of the pitch. Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Haley Carter described this as the second step of a back-to-front roster overhaul. To that end, the Pride signed Morgan Gautrat and Angelina from elsewhere in the NWSL and veteran Luana from her native Brazil.

Reviewing the profiles of these players, the skills recruited are clear. They are versatile athletes who are comfortable playing with the ball at their feet, passing through the lines to connect play, and doing the dirty work defending out of possession. They were brought in to act as the heart of a team that challenges for the playoffs in the 2024 season. Now, admittedly with just three matches played, it is time to take a look at the early performances of the new midfield compared to the prior season and evaluate the improvements so far, the areas for continued attention, and what it all means for the long season ahead.


Play Style and Roster Shakeup

Head Coach Seb Hines has a clear vision of what he wants from his midfield. Orlando almost always lines up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, where there are two central midfielders (CMs) in front of a traditional back four defense. The role of these CMs, sometimes dubbed defensive or holding midfielders, is twofold. When not in possession, they act as an additional line of defense in front of the center-backs in order to break up the play and stop the opponents’ progress forward. In possession, they are tasked with receiving the ball from the defense or goalkeeper, playing in congested spaces, and progressing the ball forward to the attacking players. 

In 2023, Mikayla Cluff, Viviana Villacorta, and Jordyn Listro garnered the lion’s-share of minutes at CM, featuring in 53 combined NWSL matches. Of this trio, Cluff was traded to Utah, Listro’s contract expired without her being re-signed, and Villacorta is still recovering from the ACL tear that cost her the end of the 2023 season. While everyone wishes Villacorta a swift recovery, it will be important for the Pride staff to bring her along slowly as she recovers from her third season-ending injury in as many seasons. This group, with the occasional fill-in player due to a lack of depth, helped the Pride finish seventh in the NWSL with a record of 10-11-1, just missing out on the playoffs due to goal difference. 

The new additions for 2024 — Gautrat, Angelina, and Luana — have each appeared in every match so far. Gautrat has started at CM three times and Luana twice, while Angelina has started each match, but twice in a more attacking, wide-midfield role to accommodate absences around the pitch. Evaluating the new CMs requires a statistical review of their performances in three key areas — defensive interventions, passing and possession, and attacking contributions. This is followed by a look at overall team performance to assess how the job done by the CMs fits into the bigger picture.


Defensive Metrics

The first set of metrics used for comparison between the 2023 and 2024 central midfielders is their defensive contributions. While there is no one-size-fits-all statistic to analyze individual players perfectly, combining several “defensive action” statistics can help. Clearances, blocks, interceptions, and successful tackles have been tallied for the six primary CMs from the past two seasons and normalized per 90 minutes to create the chart below. The calculated number of “Defensive Actions per 90 Minutes,” shown at the top of the bar for each player, summarizes how many times per match the chosen player is breaking up the opponent’s attack in these ways.

Of the six CMs, Luana is the most productive defender by this metric. The player typically starting beside her, Gautrat, is contributing significantly on the defensive end as well, providing a robust tandem in front of the back line. Combined, they are contributing three more defensive actions per 90 minutes than Cluff and Villacorta, the most common CM pairing in 2023. Lastly, Angelina’s defensive contributions should be taken with a grain of salt, as she has spent more minutes as a wide midfielder than a central one so far in 2024, which places her farther from the defending. Taken together, the 2024 CMs are showing promising improvement on the defensive end relative to the prior campaign.


Passing and Possession

Up next are two of the most important metrics for midfielders, starting with individual passing, and then team-wide possession metrics. To compare the passing abilities of the Pride CMs, the plot below shows how often and how accurately a player passes the ball. These numbers, again normalized per 90 minutes, are plotted on the horizontal and vertical axes, respectively.

Looking at the data above, it is immediately apparent that each CM from the 2024 squad is attempting more passes per game than the 2023 squad. Not only that, they are doing so more accurately, on average. Individually, Luana is passing at a similar statistical level to Cluff,  while Angelina is completing her passes at a slightly higher clip on much greater volume. Gautrat’s security with the ball is especially striking, demonstrating the composure expected of a player heavily involved with the U.S. Women’s National Team prior to several injury-marred seasons. It is important to note again that Villacorta, the most accurate passer from the 2023 trio, could have a role to play this season when she recovers from her injury.

Beyond the individual statistics, the impact of the improved passing abilities of the new midfielders can be seen in the full-team passing and possession data. The table below compares Orlando’s possession per match and the same passing metrics from above on a team-wide basis, as well as the Pride’s relative ranks in the NWSL.

Pride Possession and Passing in NWSL Matches 2023 to 2024
2023 Team % (League Rank)2024 Team % (League Rank)
Possession %46.4% (12th)53.7% (6th)
Passing %73.8% (5th)78.6 (4th)
Passes per Match302 (10th)395 (4th)

Reviewing the table above, not only have the pride improved in each of the passing and possession metrics from last season to this one, they are now in the top half of the league for all three statistics and the top third of the league for passing. It is credit to the new midfielders that they have made such an immediate impact on the overall style of play for the Pride in 2024. This is something Seb Hines and Haley Carter would’ve been keen to see implemented on the pitch after the squad lacked the appropriate skills for more possession-based play in prior seasons.


Attacking and Results

The last piece of the statistical puzzle for the central midfield rebuild is attacking contribution. Unfortunately, there is little data to this point in the season. Through the whole of the 2023 campaign, Cluff, Villacorta, and Listro combined for two goals and two assists — total — with three of the four goal contributions coming from Cluff. In 2024, the new-look midfield has assisted once so far, as Angelina fed Marta from a corner. Angelina also created an own goal from a corner that does not appear in the statistics. The 2024 CMs have only attempted two shots, placing one on target and not scoring. It may be a safe assumption that Hines and staff hope the occasional goal can be scored from the CM role, but so far in 2024 that has not been the case. Considering the number of absences from the back line to start the year, more conservative play from the likes of Gautrat and Luana may have been necessary to alleviate stress on the makeshift defense.

Lastly, looking beyond the individual performances, the most important metric for the Pride is whether they are playing well, creating goal-scoring chances, and preventing them at the other end. To evaluate this, the table below looks at the expected goals (xG), expected goals against (xGA), and points accrued per match between 2023 and 2024.

Pride xG, xGA, and Points Earned in NWSL Matches 2023 to 2024
2023 (League Rank)2024 (League Rank)
Expected Goals per Match1.40 (5th)1.00 (9th)
Expected Goals Against per Match1.31 (7th)1.20 (6th)
Points per Match1.41 (7th)1.00 (7th)

The table above paints the picture of a team that is defending marginally better than it did last year but attacking with less effectiveness. As for points, the Pride are undefeated with three draws from three games, two in comeback fashion, and sit seventh, the same as the end of 2023.  

The goal of this table is not to say that the team is worse off now than it was a year ago. Context matters, and just the opposite may be true. The context is that in the days leading up to the season, Megan Montefusco and Simone Charley suffered season-ending injuries, hurting both the defense and attack. Starting center back Rafaelle was also injured, but has since returned to training. Lastly, marquee summer signing Barbra Banda will be arriving after the international break and should be the game-charger that sparks a so-far listless attack.

Considering the early adversity faced, the rebuilt midfield has acquitted itself well to start the long NWSL campaign. The new CMs have been better equipped to pass and possess the ball, and the defensive metrics have shown an uptick individually and as a team. The final step is to turn these improvements into better results, and there is every reason to believe that this midfield can be the foundation to build off and push for a spot in the postseason.

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Orlando Pride

Orlando Pride Overcoming Early Adversity in 2024

The Pride’s response to adversity has seen them claim points in each of their first three games.

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Image courtesy of Orlando Pride / Mark Thor

The Orlando Pride have gotten off to a solid start to the 2024 NWSL season, drawing their first three games. It’s a much better opening to the season than last year, when it took five games before they claimed their first point. This year’s team has also had to deal with more adversity than previous seasons — some of it the Pride created for themselves — playing games without multiple key players.

Pride Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Haley Carter and Head Coach Seb Hines have been building the team from the back forward. Last year, they determined the best back line would feature Kylie Strom, Emily Sams, Rafaelle, and Haley McCutcheon. However, Rafaelle fractured her left foot while representing Brazil at the inaugural 2024 Concacaf W Gold Cup. Usually she would’ve been replaced by Megan Montefusco, but the veteran center back had surgery during the offseason, ending her 2024 campaign.

Things got worse for the defensive unit during the season opener when Strom was sent off for a second yellow card in the 62nd minute. Despite being down a player, the Pride came back from a 2-1 deficit, drawing 2-2 through a Summer Yates conversion in the 86th minute. But the sending off meant the Pride were without another defender against Angel City FC in the home opener.

“You have to be versatile,” Hines said about being without multiple defenders for the Angel City game. “You know, to play on this team you have to be versatile and so players is just football is right now. And it’s really important that we put a group of players together that can go out there and perform and play to our best and stick to who we are and our identity. And…we have to maybe shuffle a few things around, but we have our full trust and belief in the players and they can go out there and give absolutely everything, and hopefully we’ll get the reward and performance and the result that we all want.”

In addition to losing Strom and Rafaelle, center back Sams was out with an illness against Angel City. As a result, McCutcheon was the only regular starting defender against one of the most talented attacking units in the league. Bri Martinez, Kerry Abello (a midfielder who played center back in college), and Celia took the place of the three usual starters in a makeshift lineup.

The unit only gave up one goal in that game, a penalty conceded by Angelina that was converted by former Pride attacker Claire Emslie. The Pride out-shot their opposition 14-12 and had three more shots on target. In the 88th minute, Marta volleyed an Angelina corner kick inside the near post, enabling the Pride to pull out their second straight draw.

“Overall, the back line, they were brilliant. They were fully together,” Hines said after the game. “They were communicating really well, they were confident in everything that they did, and it’s really important that we have those sort of characteristics amongst the group. It doesn’t matter, again, if you’re right back, you know, can you fill in at center back. And I thought with the absentees with Rafa, Kylie, Emily all missing, and I thought those two were terrific tonight.”

In the most recent game against the Chicago Red Stars, the Pride back line was missing multiple players again. While Rafaelle was still out with her foot injury, Martinez got the start in place of McCutcheon. The young defender wasn’t as successful in her second start, coming off at halftime for the veteran. However, the Pride once again held the opposition to one goal and even had their first lead of the season.

The resilience of the back line has been noticeable early in the season due to the injuries, but it’s not the only part of the team. Messiah Bright had a fantastic rookie season in 2023, but asked for a trade during the off-season, eventually landing with Angel City. The club signed Simone Charley and Zambian international Barbra Banda to replace the young striker, using the second-highest transfer fee in league history for the latter. However, Banda is attempting to help her national team qualify for the 2024 Summer Olympics and has yet to play for her new club. Charley could’ve stepped in, but suffered a season-ending injury during preseason.

Once again, Hines has used the versatility of his players to fill in for the absences. Ally Watt would be the most obvious starting forward, but she was out for the season opener. As a result, midfielder Adriana got the start up top. Watt returned for the next two games, but didn’t find the back of the net. During the most recent game against Chicago, Watt, Marta, and Adriana all spent time up top for the Pride.

While the Pride have only scored four goals in the first three games, they’ve been putting pressure on the opposition. They’ve had more possession in each contest and more shots in two of the three games. The only one in which they didn’t create more chances than the opponent was against Racing Louisville when both teams had eight shots.

Even with several players missing, the Pride will consider the three points disappointing. They probably should’ve beaten Angel City and Chicago in their first two home games, but only put 10 of their 35 shots on target. Better shooting accuracy would likely have seen this team near the top of the standings.

While there is some disappointment to the start of the 2024 season, the resilience of this team is undeniable. On the defensive end, multiple players have been thrown into the starting lineup and placed in unfamiliar positions. The strong performances by these replacements will serve the team if other injuries occur during the season.

The Pride got off to a terrible start last year, losing their first four games while scoring only once and conceding 10 goals. They still climbed back and nearly made the playoffs. The 2024 campaign has gotten off to a much better start, claiming points in the first three matches. The resilience of this team when facing adversity has already been on display this year and will greatly impact any success they have this season.

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Lion Links: 4/8/24

USWNT advances to SheBelieves Cup final, Brazil loses to Canada, MLS weekend roundup, and more.

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Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Hello, Mane Landers. I hope all is well with you down in Florida and that you had a great weekend. I was busy getting the broadcast operations setup prepared with NISA clubs for their opening matches this past Saturday, but I got through matchday one. Besides that, I got to cover some water polo and catch up on some shows. There is plenty to cover today (and please don’t stare directly at the eclipse today, wherever you are), so let’s get to the links.

USWNT Defeats Japan to Advance to SheBelieves Cup Final

The U.S. Women’s National Team defeated Japan 2-1 before a record breaking crowd in Atlanta to advance to tomorrow’s SheBelieves Cup final. Jaedyn Shaw extended her goal-scoring streak as she became the first USWNT player to score a goal in each of her first five starts. We also saw Mallory Swanson and Catarina Macario return to action on the pitch after being out with injuries. Lindsey Horan converted her penalty kick late in the second half to seal the match for the USWNT, and the Yanks will play Canada in the final tomorrow night in Columbus.

Brazil Loses to Canada on Penalties in SheBelieves Cup Semifinals

Brazil lost 4-2 on penalties to Canada after a 1-1 draw in the other semifinal match of the SheBelieves Cup. Orlando Pride forward Marta and midfielder Angelina came off the bench late in the second half. Brazil got off to a good start, getting a penalty kick goal from Tarciane in the first half. However, in the second half, Canada got the equalizer from Vanessa Gilles to tie the match. In penalties, Marta was her country’s first shooter — after Canada had missed — but her kick was poor, and it was saved by goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan. Canada then converted four straight penalties, while Antonia missed another for Brazil to give the Canadians the edge and move on to the final to face the USWNT. Brazil will play Japan in the third-place match tomorrow afternoon.

MLS Weekend Roundup

Orlando City wasn’t in action this weekend, but there were plenty of good MLS games to watch. Let’s start in California, where LAFC beat the LA Galaxy 2-1, giving its rival its first loss of the season. The New York Red Bulls fought back from being down 1-0 to defeat FC Cincinnati 2-1 and stay at the top of the Eastern Conference. The most entertaining match from the weekend was down in Texas, as Austin FC and the San Jose Earthquakes went back and forth, trading goals in a thrilling match. However, late in stoppage time, Sebastian Driussi scored to give Austin a 4-3 victory over the Earthquakes and a second consecutive win for his team. The lone MLS Sunday match saw the Portland Timbers come back from a 3-0 deficit to tie Sporting Kansas City 3-3.

Manchester United and Liverpool Draw

Another marquee matchup with Premier League title implications took place in England at Old Trafford, as Liverpool’s title hopes took a hit. Luis Diaz put Liverpool ahead early in the first half. Bruno Fernandes and Kobbie Mainoo scored for Manchester United in the second half to put the Red Devils in front 2-1. Mohammed Salah then scored a late equalizer for Liverpool from the penalty spot, as Liverpool and Manchester United each got a point in a 2-2 draw. That result means Arsenal stays in first and Liverpool is in second, with both sides tied at 71 points, but Arsenal is ahead on goal difference. Manchester City is right behind both clubs, in third with 70 points, while Manchester United stays in sixth with 49 points.

Free Kicks

  • Orlando Pride midfielder Ally Lemos recorded an assist for the U.S. U-20 Women’s National Team in its 3-1 win against Canada in a friendly.
  • Former Orlando Pride head coach Marc Skinner, who coaches the Manchester United Women’s Team, may not be offered a new contract with the club after this season. His side is in fourth in the Women’s Super League and the club hierarchy reportedly has doubts about Skinner taking the team to the next level.
  • Flamengo has withdrawn its U-17 squad from the Generation Adidas Cup after a 2-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union in the semifinals. MLS Next has launched an investigation following accusations that both teams had allegedly engaged in misconduct including discriminatory language.
  • Fenerbahce players walked off the pitch after one minute in their Turkish Super Cup match against Galatasaray and forfeited the match.

That will do it for me today, Mane Landers. Enjoy your Monday, and I’ll see you next time.

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