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Report: Orlando Pride Trading Emily Sonnett to Washington Spirit

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According to a report by the Washington City Paper’s Kelyn Soong, the Orlando Pride are in the process of trading USWNT defender Emily Sonnett to the Washington Spirit for the No. 9 pick in January’s 2021 NWSL Draft, the Spirit’s 2023 first-round pick, midfielder Meggie Dougherty Howard, and allocation money. Soong’s story cites an unnamed source with knowledge of the trade. Neither the Pride, nor the Spirit, have officially announced the trade as of this writing.

Sonnett, who was acquired from the Portland Thorns on Jan. 8 in exchange for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft (Sophia Smith), hasn’t played a game for the Pride due to the pandemic (although she has trained with Orlando) and the exodus of top NWSL players to Europe to get games in 2020. Acquiring Sonnett in January appeared to be part of the Pride’s rebuild after an awful 2019 campaign. Per the club’s press release:

“Acquiring not only one, but two players with the domestic and international resumes of Emily and Caitlin, plus additional draft picks for 2020, puts the club in a strong position to continue building for both short and long-term success,” Orlando Pride GM Erik Ustruck said in a club press release. “Emily and Caitlin are two players we have targeted for a while and we are incredibly happy to come to terms on this deal.”

Orlando also received the rights to Caitlin Foord — which were subsequently snatched by Racing Louisville in the NWSL Expansion Draft — and the Nos. 7 and 14 picks in 2020. The Pride selected Courtney Petersen and Phoebe McClernon, respectively, with those picks. Neither has played for the Pride yet and McClernon is unsigned as of this writing, although her NWSL rights are retained by Orlando, so that could change.

Sonnett went to play in Sweden on a short-term deal after the Pride pulled out of the NWSL Challenge Cup, appearing in 10 matches (eight starts) and helping Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC win a league championship. Prior to her acquisition, Sonnett played four seasons with the Thorns, scoring eight goals in 78 appearances (regular season plus playoffs). She scored a goal in the 2017 NWSL semifinal match-up against the Pride at Providence Park. She has won the NWSL Shield and the 2017 NWSL championship with Portland.

She was, ironically, selected by Portland with Orlando’s first ever draft spot in 2016. The Thorns picked the former Virginia Cavalier No. 1 in the 2016 NWSL College Draft using a draft pick that the Pride traded to Portland in exchange for Alex Morgan and Kaylyn Kyle. Orlando also sent an international slot to Portland for 2016 and 2017 in that trade.

With Virginia, Sonnett was named the 2015 espnW Soccer Player of the Year, 2015 ACC Defensive Player of the Year, NSCAA First Team All-American, 2014 College Cup Most Outstanding Defensive Player, First Team All-ACC, and was a finalist for the 2015 MAC Hermann Trophy.

The 5-foot-7 native of Marietta, GA, has 46 caps with the United States Women’s National Team. She was on the 2019 side that won the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France. 

Howard, 25, is a native of Largo, FL, over in the Tampa Bay area. She attended St. Petersburg Catholic High School and played college soccer at the University of Florida. Howard appeared in 94 matches from 2013 to 2016 and scored 14 goals for the Gators as a defensive midfielder, earning 2016 All American, 2016 All-SEC First Team, and 2016 All-SEC Tournament MVP honors. While in college, she won a title playing with the Washington Spirit Reserves in the W-League and made that league’s all-star team in 2015.

Washington selected Howard with the 29th overall pick in the 2017 NWSL College Draft. She made her Spirit debut against the Pride, coincidentally, coming on as a sub on April 22, 2017 in a 1-1 draw. That was the Pride’s first match at what is now known as Exploria Stadium. Howard has scored one career NWSL goal and registered one assist in 68 appearances with Washington, playing 5,436 minutes since entering the league.

What it Means for Orlando

Sonnett, 27, was going to be part of the solution for a back line that made a lot of mistakes in 2019 and leaked a lot of goals. She’s versatile and can play both central defense or fullback. The Pride have struggled to find solid starting fullbacks in the past and presumed starting center backs Ali Krieger and Shelina Zadorsky are 36 and 28 years old, respectively. So Sonnett’s presence would certainly help the Pride if this trade doesn’t come to pass.

If the trade happens as reported, the Pride will get back into the first round in the 2021 NWSL Draft after trading their natural first selection in January to move up and select Taylor Kornieck at No. 3 overall. Orlando would also have a second first-round pick in 2023, which is never a bad asset to have. The unknown is the amount of allocation money that Orlando would reportedly receive, which could be used to great effect.

Orlando will also benefit from having a player who can be a true No. 6 in Howard, who will be coming home to Florida. Jason Anderson, who covers the Spirit for Black and Red United, said this of her:

“MDH is a really solid DM. she can play the 6 or the 8. Good long-range passer, good vision, really tough tackler. Led the team in key passes her rookie year playing as an 8. Probably should have been Rookie of the Year but lost out to (Ashley) Hatch due to Hatch getting to score goals for North Carolina. for the Spirit her problem was going to be that with (Andi) Sullivan around, she can’t play her best spot as a 6, and they’ve got (Bayley) Feist and (Dorian) Bailey looking for time, and most likely (Tori) Huster too if they change formations like I think they’re going to. She’s a good kid, very interested in helping out the Spirit’s off-field causes, and also on her own (she made like 60 masks for a local children’s hospital during the early lockdown days).”

As for the rest of this reported trade, the true ramifications won’t be known for some time and are complicated because this ultimately involves Smith’s NWSL career and potentially the future of Foord, should she return to the NWSL — because that’s what Orlando gave up to get Sonnett to begin with. The future draft picks are also important to how this trade is ultimately viewed, as is the way the Pride use any allocation money that comes to Orlando in the deal.

With so many moving pieces, it will ultimately be difficult to look back and get a clear view of how to evaluate this trade from the Pride’s perspective. It hurts to lose a valuable player like Sonnett. But the Pride have a long way to go to become contenders again and this trade, if it goes down as reported, could help with that in the future.

Orlando Pride

Orlando Pride vs. Utah Royals: Final Score 6-0 as Pride Destroy Royals in Historic Performance

The Pride thumped the Utah Royals 6-0 in record-setting performance.

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Image courtesy of Orlando Pride / Jeremy Reper

The Orlando Pride (9-0-5, 32 points) got back to their winning ways and extended their unbeaten run to 14 games with a club-record 6-0 win over the Utah Royals (2-11-1, 7 points) tonight at Inter&Co Stadium. Barbra Banda and Marta each scored twice while Summer Yates and Ally Watt added one.

Pride Head Coach Seb Hines deployed the same lineup that played to a scoreless draw with the North Carolina Courage last weekend. Anna Moorhouse was in goal behind a back line of Kerry Abello, Kylie Strom, Emily Sams, and Bri Martinez. Haley McCutcheon and Yates were the defensive midfielders behind an attacking midfield of Julie Doyle, Marta, and Adriana. Banda was again the lone striker.

The Pride dominated this game from the opening seconds. They constantly threatened the Utah goal and had little to do defensively for most of the contest. Their impressive accuracy of putting 21 of 28 shots on target was key as they netted a team-record six goals and won by the largest margin in team history.

The Pride created the first chance of the game in the second minute when Abello sent Doyle down the left. The speedy midfielder tried to get around Zoe Burns in the box, but the defender did well to slide in and knock the ball out of play. The ensuing set piece by Yates found the head of McCutcheon at the near post, but she sent the redirection over the goal.

The Pride’s high press forced a turnover from the goal kick, winning back possession and creating another chance. Receiving a pass from McCutcheon, Adriana played the ball across the field for Abello. The left back took a long-distance shot into the arms of Royals goalkeeper Mandy Haught.

It looked like the Pride might strike in the ninth minute through a defensive mistake. Lauren Flynn played the ball back for Haught who misplayed it. Banda darted for the loose ball, arriving at the same time as Haught. While the forward went down, Haught got to the ball first.

The Royals created their first decent chance in the 19th minute when Ally Sentnor played the ball wide for Madison Pogarch and made a run to the far post. Pogarch’s cross found Sentnor, but she could only head it back, where it ended up with Amandine Henry outside of the box. The French international’s shot was deflected by McCutcheon, giving the visitors a corner kick.

The ensuing set piece by Sentnor was headed towards goal by Pogarch. Kate Del Fava put a body on Moorhouse, but the Pride goalkeeper was able to grab the ball and end the threat.

The Pride quickly went the other way with Doyle dribbling down the left. She played the ball to Adriana near the top of the Royals’ box and the Brazilian continued it on for Banda on the right. The striker was looking for the far post with her shot, but the ball rolled wide.

In the 26th minute, Sams sent a beautiful long diagonal ball for Doyle on the left. Dribbling inside, the midfielder took an ambitious shot towards goal, but it went straight to Haught.

The Pride’s pressure kept the ball in the Royals third of the field and they quickly created another chance. Marta sent a dangerous ball in front of the goal where Adriana was running in. The pass was a bit too far in front of her, but Banda retained possession for the Pride on the right. The forward found Adriana in front of goal, but Haught was there.

The Royals goalkeeper should’ve been able to collect the ball, but spilled the chance, forcing Del Fava to clear it out for a Pride throw-in. Off of the restart, Abello sent the ball to the back post where Banda got her head to it and put it in to give the hosts a much-deserved 1-0 lead.

“The first goal, header back post. We talked a lot about her coming into this game being in the width of the goal, being in goal-scoring positions when we’re in crossing positions,” Hines said about the first goal. “And so she took that information on and she put herself in a threatening position.”

“The main target is to score in the first minutes because it keeps the game so easy when you score first,” Banda said about the Pride scoring first. “And I think for me, I feel scoring early goals is more important to the team when we keep calm, so that we are not pressured. So, I think we really wanted that goal.”

The goal was Banda’s ninth of the season, tying her with Portland’s Sophia Smith for the league lead.

In the 37th minute, Macey Fraser’s cross towards the far post was headed away by Martinez. Pogarch came flying into the play, taking Martinez out. The ball went to Ana Tejada, who sent a hard shot towards goal. It was on frame, but Moorhouse did well to get down and make the stop. In the meantime, Martinez remained on the ground after the hard contact. While she required attention, the right back eventually got up and was able to continue.

Following the restart, the Pride nearly got a second through an excellent effort by Yates. The second-year midfielder used her change of pace to beat Michele Vasconcelos and shoot. The ball was dipping under the crossbar, forcing Haught to tip it over.

The Pride took advantage of a terrible mistake in the back by Agnes Nyberg in the third minute of first-half stoppage time to double their lead. After receiving the ball, Haught played a short pass to Nyberg. She was looking to send it wide for Del Fava, but it was a weak pass. Yates took possession and beat Haught to give the Pride a 2-0 lead.

In the sixth minute of first-half stoppage time, Doyle played Adriana forward. A late challenge by Tejada saw the Brazilian go down and the defender was booked. The ensuing set piece by Adriana was tipped by Haught off the crossbar, but the referee determined that it went directly off the crossbar and issued a goal kick.

It was a dominant first half by the Pride, who had the advantage in possession (63%-37%), shots (12-4), shots on target (9-3), corner kicks (5-1), crosses (22-3), and passing accuracy (91%-77%).

“The message to the players at halftime is 2-0 is always a dangerous score line,” Hines said about his halftime speech. “We’ve got to make sure we get that third goal.”

The Pride continued their domination over Utah at the start of the second half, scoring just two minutes after the restart. Adriana’s cross was headed out by Tejada, but only to Marta at the top of the box. After controlling it with her left foot, the Pride captain sent her second touch inside the near post to give the Pride a commanding 3-0 lead.

“To get it so quickly after halftime was really important for us,” Hines said about the early second-half goal. “And I think that momentum kind of settled us into the rest of the game.”

The Royals attempted to get one back on the other end when Paige Monaghan found Henry with space in the 50th minute. The midfielder attempted a long-distance shot, but it never challenged Moorhouse. The bouncing ball was straight to the Pride goalkeeper, enabling the English shot-stopper to make an easy save.

The Pride nearly got a fourth in the 57th minute when Adriana lifted the ball wide for Banda. The Brazilian made a run to the middle of the six-yard box while Strom headed for the back post. Banda sent a dangerous ball across the mouth of the goal, just missing the foot of Strom.

Shortly after the chance, the Pride made their first two changes in the 59th minute. Cori Dyke and Angelina came into the game for Abello and Doyle.

Utah didn’t create many good chances in this game, but had one in the 64th minute when Henry played a great ball forward for Monaghan, sending her behind the back line. Monaghan dribbled into the box and sent a low cross through the six before Dyke could catch her. Halftime substitute Hannah Betfort was making a run, but couldn’t get to it, enabling the Pride to clear the danger.

In the 64th minute, Martinez went down off the ball. The right back required treatment, resulting in lengthy delay. During the stoppage, the Pride made two more substitutions. While Martinez was able to leave the field under her own power, she was replaced by Carrie Lawrence. Additionally, Ally Lemos came into the game for McCutcheon.

Adriana used a nice piece of skill in the 71st minute to flick the ball behind the Utah back line for Yates making a run into the box. However, Del Fava did well to get a touch to the ball, enabling Haught to collect it. Yates stuck a foot in trying to knock it past the Royals goalkeeper, but she was too late.

The teams headed to the sidelines in the 79th minute for the second-half hydration break. Hines took that time to make his final substitution of the night, replacing Yates with Watt.

The Pride almost took advantage of another bad pass by Utah in the 81st minute when Tejada sent the ball straight to Lawrence. The defender sent a long pass behind the Royals back line for Banda to run onto, putting the striker in on goal. She attempted to beat Haught to her near post, but the goalkeeper made an excellent one-handed stop, knocking it wide.

Lemos made her first significant impact in the 84th minute, when she played Watt through with the outside of her foot. Watt sprinted past her defenders and into the box, but Haught came off her line to claim the ball before the forward could get a decent shot off.

Banda took advantage of another bad pass in the back to score her second of the game in the 86th minute. Pressured by Adriana, Pogarch cut back and played a pass behind her to Tejada. The center back took her eye off the ball, resulting in it going behind her. Banda beat the defender to the loose ball, dribbled around Haught, and put it in to make it 4-0.

“Second goal is just raw talent,” Hines said about Banda’s second goal. “You know, her speed is incredible. She makes something out of nothing and having the calmness to go around the keeper and slot it with her left foot.”

The goal by Banda saw her take the league lead in goals with 10 on the season.

“I think when I get a chance, I have to put the ball at the back of the net,” Banda said about her scoring mentality. “If anything I didn’t score, then I just have to go back to my drawing board and work hard so that the next time I can find a goal.”

Just two minutes later, the Pride scored their fifth of the night. Again, Lawrence played a nice ball down the right for Banda, who sprinted behind Tejada. She found Marta wide open in the box and the Brazilian probably should’ve taken it first time. However, she took a touch before sending it past Haught and increasing the lead to 5-0.

Banda was looking to become the first Pride player to net a hat trick in the first minute of second-half stoppage time. She dribbled past a clearly tired Tejada and tried to beat Haught to her near post, but hit the outside of the net.

In the fifth minute of second-half stoppage time, the Pride took the largest lead in team history. It started when Marta backheeled the ball with a defender on her back for Banda. The forward sent a cross into the box that was very well taken by Watt. Her perfect first touch beat Flynn and the substitute put it past Haught to give the Pride a 6-0 lead.

The Pride nearly scored a seventh goal in the eighth minute of stoppage time. It came from a corner kick after Flynn knocked the ball out of play. Strom outjumped a pair of defenders to get her head to the ball, hitting it off the crossbar. That was the last chance as the final whistle blew seconds later, securing the Pride’s historic 6-0 win.

The Pride finished the game with the edge in possession (63%-37%), shots (27-11), shots on target (20-9), corner kicks (8-4), crosses (31-8), and passing accuracy (89%-78%).

“It’s an outstanding performance. Flawless really. You know, the amount of goals that the players scored and to get a clean sheet. I think most importantly, it was for the fans tonight,” Hines said about the game. “I think when you look at the fixtures and you look at days like today, you know, it means a lot to the community and so we had to do our job tonight. And the players fully did that. You know, they put a real show on for the fans and the supporters who have supplied and gone through, you know, moments of adversity eight years ago. And so we’ve thought that performance epitomizes what this team is about, and the determination, their grit, and the relentlessness to go after it and get a comprehensive win.”

“We talked so much about it and I think everybody thinks about the last two games that we did and they were not happy with the results and not happy with our performance,” Marta added. “We created but we didn’t score enough and especially in the last game. Tonight, we were determined to do something different, to score all of the goals that we didn’t score last game. So, I think we did a good job when we talk about defensive and when we go to attack or we have so much passion and hunger to score. So, I think this makes a huge difference tonight.”

The 6-0 win is the largest win in team history. Previously, the Pride had beaten Sky Blue FC 5-0 on Aug. 12, 2017 and the Chicago Red Stars 5-0 on Aug. 20, 2023.

“We had a good chat after the North Carolina game because we left the game feeling disappointed that we weren’t able to score the goals that we created. But you can see tonight there was a real passion, a real hunger to put the ball back in the net,” Hines said about the six goals. “And there were some really good goals tonight. And I still think we left some on the table as well, which is remarkable, but to end the game with Adri, Ally, Barbra, Marta as a front four is pretty scary. And as the game went on, you could see the spaces and the opportunities that present themselves.”

While the focus will be on the most lopsided win in team history, the Pride extended their club record and league-leading unbeaten run to 14 games. They’re now only six results short of the NWSL record of 20, set by the Washington Spirit between 2021 and 2022. It would be another league record after they set the longest win streak earlier this season.

“Of course, we know there’s going to come one point we’re going to lose games too. But so long no happen,” Marta said about the unbeaten run. “Let’s enjoy the situation because it’s so good to be involved in situations like that. Especially with Orlando how we’ve never had a run like this one before.”

This was a record-setting game on the field and in the stands. In addition to the most goals scored in a game in club history and the highest margin of victory in club history, the attendance of 9,656 is the highest attendance ever for a game not on opening day. It was also the second-highest attendance for a Pride game at Inter&Co Stadium and the third-highest attendance in club history. The Pride previously drew 14,525 in their first game at their current stadium and 23,403 in the first game in club history at Camping World Stadium.


Having returned home and gotten back to their winning ways, the Pride will now head back out on the road for a three-game league road trip. It starts Sunday, June 30 when the Pride visit Angel City FC in Los Angeles, CA.

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Orlando Pride vs. Utah Royals: Preview, How to Watch, TV Info, Live Stream, Lineups, Match Thread, and More

The Pride return home and welcome the last-place Utah Royals.

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Image courtesy of Orlando Pride

Welcome to your match thread as the Orlando Pride (8-0-5, 29 points) return home to face the last-place Utah Royals (2-10-1, 7 points). This is the second and final scheduled meeting between the two teams during the 2024 NWSL regular season.

Here’s everything you need to know about tonight’s game.

History

The Royals first played in 2018 and 2019 before the team was purchased and relocated to Kansas City. The new owners of Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake bought an expansion side, so it’s the first season the two teams have met since 2019, although this is an all-new side. The Pride are 2-3-2 against the Royals all-time, with all games coming in the NWSL regular season.

The last time the Pride met the Royals was on April 12 in Sandy, UT. Marta started on the bench and came on for Adriana in the 62nd minute. It didn’t take long for the Pride captain to make an impact, netting the game’s lone goal in the 68th minute as the visitors left the Beehive State with a 1-0 victory.

The 2019 season was the final one for the original Royals and the Pride faced this opponent three times. The first game between the teams was on April 27 and the difference was Christen Press, who netted the lone goal early in a 1-0 result. On May 25 in Utah, Amy Rodriguez opened the scoring from the penalty spot and Makenzy Doniak made it 2-0 late. The third meeting was on Aug. 17 in Orlando. Press gave the visitors the lead in the 60th minute and Rodriguez doubled the advantage late as the Royals won 2-0.

The 2018 campaign was the Royals’ inaugural season, and Orlando got the better of the newcomers, going unbeaten in three matches (1-0-2). In the 2018 season opener, Utah and Orlando played to a 1-1 draw. The Royals scored on their first chance of the game. They had an excellent spell of possession and, in the third minute, Diana Matheson put in a cross, and Gunny Jonsdottir — who later played for the Pride for two seasons in 2021 and 2022 — volleyed it into the back of the net. Marta tied things up from the spot in the 21st minute, and the game ended 1-1. 

About a month and a half later, the teams met again, playing to a 0-0 draw, this time in Rio Tinto Stadium. It was a relatively dull night with no goals and the majority of the action in the middle of the field. Both teams struggled on the attacking end. There were no shots on target in the first half and just three in the second.

While those first two matches ended in draws, the last meeting of 2018 finally saw a winner. On July 14, 2018, there was end-to-end action, and both teams saw chances in front of the net. Utah found an early goal from Rodriguez, and then Alex Morgan tied it up with a penalty kick just before halftime. In the second half, a good through ball from Ali Krieger found Kristen Edmonds one-on-one with Utah goalkeeper Abby Smith, who was caught out of position. Edmonds chipped the ball past Smith for the game-winner, and Orlando got its first-ever victory against the Royals.

Overview

The Pride enter this game after ending a two-game road trip that saw their league record eight-game win streak come to an end, but the extension of their season-opening unbeaten run to a club-record 13 games. They drew 1-1 with San Diego Wave FC and played to a scoreless draw with the North Carolina Courage, becoming the first visiting team to get points in North Carolina this season.

The two most recent games have seen the team’s defense remain strong. The Pride held a 1-0 halftime lead in San Diego and ended up conceding just once against a potent offense. The Pride backed that up by keeping the Courage — who’d won their first five home games — off the scoreboard.

In the two games prior to the North Carolina contest, Barbra Banda came off at halftime. The team’s star striker played until the 90th minute in this one, a positive going into tonight’s matchup. However, she didn’t score or create any goals against the Courage. It was the first time in nine games that Banda didn’t score a goal, assist on one, or draw a penalty.

The Royals are coming off four straight 1-0 results. The first three were losses to the Courage, Kansas City Current, and Washington Spirit. They flipped the trend on June 16 by beating fellow league newcomers Bay FC away from home.

Tonight’s opponent has struggled offensively and defensively this season. Utah is the only team in the league to have scored single-digit goals, with seven, and one of four teams with more than 20 goals conceded. The Royals’ 21 goals against are third most behind Bay FC and Seattle Reign FC, both with 25.

As you might expect from a team with only seven goals on the season, nobody has stood out as an attacking threat. Kate Del Fava and rookie Ally Sentnor lead the team with two goals each. Meanwhile, Cameron Tucker, Olivia Griffiths, and Dana Foederer have one each. Sentnor has also been the most prolific provider for Utah, recording a team-leading three assists.

Utah’s defensive unit has been much better in recent weeks. The Royals conceded multiple goals in six of their first nine games, including a season-high five goals against Racing Louisville FC on April 20. However, they’ve only given up one goal in three of their last four games and are coming off a shutout.  The recent success can be attributed to a defensive unit that’s getting used to playing together. The last three games have seen the same four in front of goalkeeper Mandy Haught, including Lauren Flynn, Ana Tejada, Del Fava, and Zoe Burns.

“We’re excited to be back at home in front of our fans,” Pride Head Coach Seb Hines said about tonight’s game. “It’s been a while, so it’s exciting. Friday night should be nice, should be good. You know, after Utah’s last result, we can’t take them for granted. We have to be on top of our game. After the game against North Carolina, we were disappointed not to come away with three points. But the performance was terrific. You know, their attitude, the commitment going into an environment like that. I am proud of them and I was really impressed with the players. So we have to continue with that same attitude, same mentality against Utah, and hopefully get a couple of goals and the three points.”

The Pride will have to win those points without several players, including Celia (hip), Simone Charley (leg), Morgan Gautrat (concussion), Luana (illness), Megan Montefusco (heel), Rafaelle (leg), and Viviana Villacorta (knee). 

Utah will be without four players for tonight’s game, including Imani Dorsey (Achilles), Olivia Griffiths (hamstring), and former Pride players Carly Nelson (excused absence) and Mikayla Cluff (foot).


Official Lineups

Orlando Pride (4-2-3-1)

Goalkeeper: Anna Moorhouse.

Defenders: Kerry Abello, Kylie Strom, Emily Sams, Bri Martinez.

Defensive Midfielders: Haley McCutcheon, Summer Yates.

Midfielders: Julie Doyle, Marta, Adriana.

Forward: Barbra Banda.

Bench: McKinley Crone, Angelina, Amanda Allen, Ally Lemos, Mariana Larroquette, Alex Kerr, Carrie Lawrence, Cori Dyke, Ally Watt.

Utah Royals (3-5-2)

Goalkeeper: Mandy Haught.

Defenders: Lauren Flynn, Ana Tejada, Kate Del Fava.

Midfielders: Zoe Burns, Agnes Nyberg, Amandine Henry, Macey Fraser, Madison Pogarch.

Forwards: Ally Sentnor, Michele Vasconcelos.

Bench: Hannah Betfort, Dana Foederer, Emily Gray, Addisyn Merrick, Paige Monaghan, Brecken Mozingo, Cristina Roque, Frankie Tagliaferri, Cameron Tucker.

Referees

REF: Alyssa Nichols.
AR1: Ethan Buege.
AR2: Rhett Hammil.
4TH: Russell Miller.
VAR: Laura Rodriguez.
AVAR: Kaili Terry.


How to Watch

Match Time: 8 p.m.

Venue: Inter&Co Stadium — Orlando.

TV: None.

Streaming: Prime Video.

Twitter: For live updates and rapid reaction, follow @TheManeLand and the Orlando Pride’s official Twitter feed (@ORLPride).


Enjoy the match. Go Pride!

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The Pride’s Favorite Hunting Ground Is the Middle of the Box

A look into the Pride’s goals in 2024 and why it is really not a riddle why so many of their goals have come from the middle.

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Image courtesy of Orlando Pride / Jeremy Reper

In my article last week I took a look at Orlando City’s offense, or lack thereof, and so this week I am going to focus on a far more pleasant topic — the undefeated Pride and where their goals have been coming from thus far this season. Let’s take a look at this heatmap (the darker the red, the more goals in comparison to other locations) that I made below, sourced from data I took from fbref.com for the distance away from the goal and from espn.com for the general location on the field for each goal:

Now, a few things you’ll notice about this heatmap:

  • The Pride have scored 19 goals themselves thus far this season (opponents have gifted them two own goals), and 16 of the 19 (84%) have been from inside the 18 and pretty much right in front of the net. The one goal from outside the 18 was a rocket from Emily Sams on May 19 at Seattle, and that too was basically from the center of the goal, just 23 yards away, so it shows up in that very pale pink stripe outside the 18-yard box.
  • Most of the goals were scored from in between the six and the 18 (average distance for those 14 goals in the dark red = 11 yards).
  • The Pride have not scored any goals on the left side of the field all season. This is interesting, because they do have several offensive players who are left-foot dominant (you may have heard of Marta, for example), but at least through 13 games, nobody has been able to get loose on the left side of the box and finish into the net.
  • The heatmap looks like it came from Microsoft Excel…because it in fact did come from Microsoft Excel. I know that there are programs and websites out there that can provide better graphics and which may have much more detailed tracking on the exact locations shots were taken. Our team at The Mane Land will happily do all the research and share what we find. All you have to do is buy us some coffees and we will invest that right into giving you the content you desire!

Being that most of the goals scored this season by the Pride have all been in that same central location, there is not a lot of suspense in looking at the leaders in goals by location. As you surely guessed, since she leads the team in goals, Barbra Banda also leads the team in goals scored in the center of the box. What I found more interesting, however, was how those goals came about.

The website fbref.com’s shot tracking, provided by Opta, includes the last two offensive actions prior to the goal for every goal scored in every match. They call these “goal creating actions,” and here are the possible actions: live-ball pass, dead-ball pass (i.e free kick), take-on (beating a player off the dribble), taking a shot, drawing a foul, and stealing/intercepting a ball while on defense. Shown below are all 16 of those goals scored in the middle of the box, listed in order from the start of the season, and what you will see is that every goal pattern is unique, highlighting the diversity of ways the Pride have put the ball into the back of the net:

  1. Pass (Live) by Amanda Allen – Goal by Summer Yates.
  2. Pass (Dead) by Angelina – Goal by Marta.
  3. Shot by Kerry Abello – Goal by Summer Yates.
  4. Pass (Live) by Barbra Banda – Goal by Angelina.
  5. Pass (Live) by Julie Doyle – Goal by Barbra Banda.
  6. Foul Committed on Barbra Banda – Goal by Summer Yates (penalty).
  7. Pass (Live) by Barbra Banda – Goal by Ally Watt.
  8. Pass (Live) by Ally Watt – Goal by Barbra Banda.
  9. Take-On by Barbra Banda – Goal by Barbra Banda.
  10. Pass (Live) by Emily Sams – Goal by Barbra Banda.
  11. Foul Committed on Barbra Banda – Goal by Adriana (penalty).
  12. Pass (Live) by Marta – Goal by Barbra Banda.
  13. Shot by Haley McCutcheon – Goal by Barbra Banda.
  14. Shot by Rafaelle – Goal by Barbra Banda.
  15. Take-On by Barbra Banda – Goal by Barbra Banda.
  16. Pass (Live) by Barbra Banda – Goal by Julie Doyle.

While there are no goal patterns that have emerged yet for the location on the field where the Pride score the most goals, there is a name that jumps off the page when you look at that list — the aforementioned leading goal scorer, Barbra Banda. The Zambian is clearly far more than just a clinical finisher, though. She also drew two fouls that led to penalties, took on and beat two defenders to give herself openings to score, and also played three passes in open play for goals, including the most recent goal scored by the Pride — a Julie Doyle volley on a beautiful cross from Banda.

For the season, Banda is third in NWSL in total goal creating actions with 10, and first in goal creating actions per 90 minutes (GCA90) with 1.39, a value that is more than double the player currently in eighth (let me repeat, she is averaging more than double the person ranked in eighth!) place in the NWSL. Her GCA90 of 1.39 is also 16% higher than that of Chelsea’s Fran Kirby, who finished ranked first in England’s Women’s Super League last season with a GCA90 of 1.2. This article was not originally intended to be a Banda lovefest, but it is quite difficult to write about the Orlando Pride’s offensive success without a brief trip down the middle of the rabbit hole to look at just how good she has been this season.

Channeling my inner yoga instructor and returning us to center, the last piece to look at around the Pride’s goal scoring is to look at their shot locations and how they are doing from all sections on the field. The side-by-side heatmaps below use different colorings. The left heatmap shades from white to red as the total shots taken increases, and the right heatmap is styled more as hot/cold, with low percentages of success being blue and high percentages of success (read: goals) turning red.

I expect that were we to look at the heatmaps of most soccer teams, they would all likely look very similar to the Pride’s heatmaps above. It is highly likely that teams will try to shoot most frequently from the middle of the areas closest to the goal, and it is highly likely as well that they will achieve higher percentages of success from shots in the middle of the field and close to the goal. Just like teams in the NBA have identified that corner 3-point shots and shots in the paint are the primary places that they want to look for their shots, most soccer teams are game-planning their offenses around creating shots right smack in the middle of the 18.

Opposing teams know this, of course, and that is where the battle of wills and wits comes into play that we love watching so much. So far this season, the Pride have clearly been winning these battles, as evidenced by the fact that even though defenses are trying to stop them, they have still managed to take 76 of their 195 shots (39%) from the most dangerous spots on the field and have scored 16 goals on those shots, a conversion rate of 21%.

If they keep up their current goal-scoring pace the 2024 Pride are on pace to surpass their total goals scored from 2023 (27 goals) within the next 4 games, and they have an outside chance to score the most goals of any Pride team ever (current leader = 2017 Pride with 45 goals) if they can slightly increase their goals/game rate during the second half of the season. I think they have a legit chance to do this, and if they do I expect it will be because they continue to excel at pouncing on the opportunities they create in the center of the box.

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