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Orlando Pride vs. Kansas City: Final Score 1-0 as the Pride Stay in First Place in the NWSL

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The Orlando Pride remain undefeated in the NWSL after a 1-0 win against Kansas City (0-2-2, 2 points) in front of 4,044 fans at Exploria Stadium. Marta scored her first goal since Oct. 12, 2019, and Alex Morgan got a goal contribution for the fourth consecutive game with an assist. With the win, the Pride (3-0-1, 10 points) stay in first place in the league and are the only unbeaten team in the NWSL.

“That’s probably the best win,” Orlando Pride Head Coach Marc Skinner said. “Not technically, but the attitude, commitment to play for Orlando Pride, to change the ethos of the culture of the club has just been the most refreshing wind for our team that we can even imagine. So wonderful, wonderful, collective effort. I said it last time, I couldn’t be prouder of them but you’ve got to win ugly — especially on a three-game week. To take nine points is something that we couldn’t have done in year one, but now we can and I’m so proud of every single member of staff and every single player.”

Skinner made just one change from Wednesday’s 2-1 victory over the Portland Thorns. Meggie Dougherty Howard started on the bench. Marisa Viggiano started in her place. Skinner used mostly the same starting XI in the three games over the last week. After the game, he said, “it tells you about our mentality more than our physicality.”

The first real chance of the game came in the 15th minute. Ali Riley got the ball out wide. She played a great cross into the box, and Morgan headed it towards goal. Kansas City goalkeeper Abby Smith was in a perfect position to make the save.

The Pride had a few corners after this until Orlando finally broke the deadlock. Courtney Petersen sent in a cross and Morgan was first to head it towards goal. It bounced in front of the net, and Marta flicked it on. It looked like Smith made the save, but the assistant referee said it crossed the line, and the Pride went up 1-0. It was Marta’s first goal since Oct. 12, 2019.

“I thought [Marta] was great tonight,” said Skinner. “We had to play some situations that don’t necessarily suit Marta and the way she plays but what she did brilliantly was find the spaces away from the ball.”

Not much happened in the remainder of the half. It was a sloppy period. Both teams held possession for periods before turning it over — especially in the final third.

In the first half stoppage time, it looked like Orlando won a penalty kick. Alex Morgan had the ball in the box. She cut in, and Elizabeth Ball stuck out her leg to defend. Ball missed the ball, and there was clear contact with Morgan. The referee, however, waved play on.

The first half ended 1-0. Orlando had the better of opportunities and could have scored more. Kansas City rarely threatened, and Ashlyn Harris did not have to make any saves. The Pride held 51% possession and outshot the visitors 11-3 (4-0 on target).

Kansas City started the second half out strong. Orlando was defending deep, and Kansas City had a few half chances. But the visitors never managed to get a shot off, and the Pride defended well.

“They were 1-0 down so we knew they were going to put numbers up to try to get that goal,” Gunny Jónsdóttir said. “I know they were wanting to win and came here for those three points, so we knew they were maybe going to put more pressure on us and we just knew we needed to weather the storm — which we did.”

Morgan got revenge for the penalty call in the first half. The forward made a dangerous run in the 65th minute before she was taken down by Katie Bowen. Morgan took the spot kick and shot to her right. She beat Smith but hit the post, and the game remained 1-0.

Like the end of the first half, much of the rest of the game was played in the middle of the field. Kansas City made a few attacking substitutions to try to get the tying goal, but the Pride’s defense held strong.

“I have an incredible back line, and we have incredible depth, and I’m very proud of the players in front of me,” said Harris. “I don’t think it’s just the back line. I think all 10 players in front of me are willing to defend and it starts with our attack. Our attacking players are working back, 360 degrees defending. People don’t realize a lot of our defenses started from the attacking players. When they work back and poke balls and make it difficult and disruptive, it helps the success of the team collectively as a defensive unit.”

On the other end, Orlando had little going. The Pride kept players back to defend the lead, and this left little in the attacking department. Like Wednesday, Morgan tended to be the lone player in the middle of the field as the rest of the team defended deep.

Kansas City had some success in creating havoc by sending long, direct balls into the area from distance but couldn’t fashion a clear-cut chance, despite some nervy moments. In the final 10 minutes, Orlando could do little with the ball except kick it down the field and wait for the next attack.

As a result of lying so deep and not even trying to work the ball up the field in the game’s late stages, Orlando finished the game with 44% possession but dominated the rest of the stats. Orlando had more shots (15-10), shots on goal (5-0), duels won (53-52), and clearances (22-11). Harris was not forced into any saves.

“It’s been an incredible week for our club and for the players of this team,” Harris said. “We’ve put in a lot of hard work, and I’m happy to see us finally getting results. We knew how important finishing this week off with nine points in three wins. So, super, super happy for the team and happy about the clean sheet tonight.”


Orlando’s next game is away against the Washington Spirit on June 6.

Orlando Pride

Orlando Pride Sign Midfielder Viviana Villacorta to New Contract

The Pride have signed defensive midfielder Viviana Villacorta to a new one-year contract with a mutual option for a second year.

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Image courtesy of Orlando Pride / Jeremy Reper

The Orlando Pride announced this afternoon that the club has signed midfielder Viviana Villacorta to a new contract. The one-year extension keeps her in Orlando through the 2025 NWSL season with a mutual option for 2026.

“Viv has shown she has the potential to be one of the best midfielders in the league but has been unable to fully showcase that due to last season’s late injury,” Pride Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Haley Carter said in a club press release. “Despite the setback, she has persevered, put in the work to get back on the pitch, and has remained an incredible teammate throughout the entire process. She has proven to be a difference maker when on the field, and we are looking forward to seeing her return soon.”

The Pride selected Villacorta with the ninth pick of the first round in the 2021 NWSL Draft. She decided to play her final season at UCLA but tore her ACL in the first game against Pepperdine, ending her collegiate career and delaying her professional debut.

Villacorta finally made her debut on May 1, 2022 against NJ/NY Gotham FC, replacing Gunny Jonsdottir in the 72nd minute. She soon became a regular starter under former head coach Amanda Cromwell and continued that role for Seb Hines, earning a new two-year contract on Dec. 7, 2022. During the 2022 and 2023 seasons, the defensive midfielder made 36 appearances (30 starts), recording 2,475 minutes and an assist. Unfortunately, the injury bug wouldn’t let her go.

The 25-year-old injured her ankle on Aug. 26, 2022 against OL Reign, requiring surgery and forcing her to miss the final five games of the season. Villacorta returned to her starting role for the 2023 season and almost made it through the entire year injury-free. But she tore her ACL again in a late-season training session, resulting in her missing the final three games and being placed on the season-ending injury list for 2024. Despite the setbacks, the Pride still feel she can contribute when healthy and have shown that belief with a new contract.

“I am so grateful for the club and staff for believing in me and giving me this opportunity,” Villacorta said in the club’s press release. “To be able to continue my journey with this incredible group of people supporting me, means the world. Orlando has been home for the past three years and I can’t wait to get back out on the field and give everything I have.”

Prior to being drafted by the Pride, Villacorta made 72 appearances for UCLA with 60 starts, recording seven goals and 16 assists. She was named to the MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List in 2020 and was Second-Team All-Pac 12 in 2018 and 2019.

Internationally, Villacorta represented the United States at the youth levels and started in the 2018 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.

What It Means for Orlando

The Pride made three significant moves to build depth in the defensive midfield this season, signing Luana, Angelina, and Morgan Gautrat. However, Luana was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma early in the season and Gautrat is 31 years old and has spent a lot of time on the injured list, so the Pride need defensive midfielders next season.

Villacorta has yet to prove that she can stay healthy, suffering severe injuries each year since being drafted. Despite these setbacks, she’s shown her ability while on the field. The two Pride head coaches in that time saw her as a regular starter and spoke highly of her skillset. If she can stay healthy, Villacorta can be an essential part of the Pride lineup moving forward.

While Villacorta might not return to action until 2025, the Pride want to see how she’ll fit in with this team when healthy. The one-year deal isn’t very risky as the team has built plenty of depth at all positions. If she can remain uninjured throughout the 2025 season, the club will likely pick up her option and possibly offer another extension. With the uncertainty of Luana’s absence, that could be key for the team’s future success.

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How to Win the NWSL Shield

Comparing the Orlando Pride and other 2024 NWSL shield contenders to previous winners.

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Image courtesy of Orlando Pride / Jeremy Reper

“We want to win the shield.”

That was the answer Orlando Pride defender Kerry Abello gave when asked what the team’s goals are for the rest of the 2024 season. She didn’t just stop there, adding that the team wants to win the NWSL championship as well. “We have proved that is our potential and we plan on going for it.”

There is little doubt that the Pride are now the favorites for the shield after defeating the Kansas City Current on the road (while down a player for more than half the game) in their final match before the Olympic break. The shield is the trophy awarded to the team with the highest point total after the regular season, while the NWSL championship is awarded to the team that wins the playoffs.

The shield is often considered a better indicator of best team from a given season, as it requires solid performances over the full season and not the final three games. With 16 matches played and 12 to go, the Pride are the only undefeated team in the league and they boast a three-point lead at the top of the table. Looking at the 10 NWSL shield winners to date, a clear picture emerges on what it takes to turn Orlando’s goal into a reality.

The Pride defeating the other shield hopefuls is a big part of why they’re in such a strong position just past the halfway point in the season. The matches against their peers in the table are sometimes called “six-pointers” because the points gained by the Pride are subsequently lost by their opponents. While Orlando won both road matches against Kansas City and the Washington Spirit, the return home matches against those opponents on Sept. 13 and Oct. 6, respectively, will be just as important as the season gets closer to the end, as will the two matches still to come against defending champion NJ/NY Gotham FC, currently in fourth.

Beyond the big matches, the NWSL is a league known for its parity, and any match can pose a challenge. Take, for example, the 2023 shield-winning San Diego Wave, who were able to claim the trophy with just 37 points, a tally already surpassed the 2024 Pride. In 2023, the gap between the teams at the top and bottom was so small that Orlando missed the playoffs with only six fewer points than the wave, and the last-place Chicago Red Stars were only seven points behind the Pride.

To put the current NWSL season into historical context, the graph below shows the points per match won by each prior shield winner, compared to the Pride, Current, and Spirit this season.

First and foremost, the graph above shows that the 2024 Orlando Pride are on pace to break the record for points in a season. That record was set by the 2018 North Carolina Courage team that earned 57 points en route to winning both the shield and the NWSL championship. Considering that Orlando is on pace to surpass that record, it is impressive that both the Current and the Spirit are almost stride for stride with the Pride and performing better than the average shield-winning squad as well.

Looking at historic shield winners and runners up, the competition in the NWSL is clear. The average gap between first and second place in the table over the past 10 seasons is just five points. In the past three seasons, the league was even closer, with gaps of two, one, and two points from 2021 to 2023, respectively. With four points currently separating first and third position in this season’s table, the trend of tight finishes is likely to continue.

Despite the similar records by the best teams this season, they are each racking up points in different ways. Kansas City has built a reputation based on a high-powered attack and willingness to simply outscore opponents. Orlando, on the other hand, has a defense-first mindset coupled with enough star power from Barbra Banda and Marta to win matches more pragmatically. Washington, for its part, lies somewhere in the middle, neither leading the league in attack nor defense but winning matches nonetheless. Reviewing how past teams won the shield can identify important themes for shield-winning sides, even though it doesn’t guarantee how the current season will play out.

Below, goals scored and conceded per match are plotted for previous shield winners to see how they won their trophies. The 2024 Pride, Current, and Spirit are added to assess the current shield race.

When it comes to attack, the Current are on another level entirely, leading all clubs in goals per match at 2.5. This performance, if it continues, would lead to the highest scoring season in league history. However, the plot once again shows the strength of the NWSL in 2024. Despite a clear offensive leader in Kansas City, the other teams fighting for the 2024 shield are well above average for prior winners and more than capable of scoring enough to win matches.

Between the points, goals, and goals conceded per match, it is the latter where the most clear differentiation can be seen. With only 0.75 goals conceded per match, the Pride’s defensive strength in 2024 is not far behind the best performing defenses in league history. Of their opponents, the Spirit have defended well this season, but not to the level of prior shield winners, and Kansas City is well below the defensive metrics of prior winners. 

In the first 10 seasons of the NWSL’s existence, only the Seattle Reign in 2015 conceded more than one goal per match on average and won the shield. Out of all that have done it, four led the league in both goals scored and fewest conceded. Three additional teams boasted the best defense, but only one team — again, Seattle in 2015 — scored the most goals without having the best defense, showing the limits to an attack-first approach.

Taken together, the prior seasons of the NWSL show that having a strong defense has been the most reliable path to an NWSL shield. Compared to the previous winners, the Orlando Pride have one of the best defenses in league history. They pair this strong defense with a potent attack exceeding the output of a typical NWSL shield-winning side. This combination has the team in first place in the table and on pace to win the shield with one of the highest point tallies of all time. 

Nothing can be taken for granted, however; Orlando’s opponents this season are setting records of their own and plan to push the Pride to the final weeks of the season. The Pride just need to keep their focus on the match in front of them. So far, they have shown the talent and the belief required of a shield-winning team, and the way to secure the trophy is to keep playing they way they did to get here.

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Orlando Pride Sign Midfielder Summer Yates to New Contract

The Pride have signed midfielder Summer Yates to a new two-year deal though 2025 with a mutual option for 2026.

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Image courtesy of Orlando Pride / Jeremy Reper

The Orlando Pride announced this afternoon that the club has signed midfielder Summer Yates to a new contract. The deal keeps the second-year professional in Orlando through the 2025 NWSL season with a mutual option for 2026.

“Summer’s growth over the last season has been evident, and her contributions on the field this year are a clear result of the work and dedication she has put into both herself and the team,” Pride Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Haley Carter said in a club press release. “She is incredibly deserving of this new contract, and we are thrilled to reward her with it. We’re excited to see what Summer will achieve over her career here in Orlando and thankful to have her as part of our club for the foreseeable future.”

While many thought Yates would be a first- or second-round selection in the 2023 NWSL Draft, the University of Washington product dropped to the fourth round, where the Pride took her with the third pick (39th overall). It was seen by some as possibly the steal of the draft. Despite her low selection, the club signed her to a two-year deal with an option for 2025 on March 7, 2023.

Yates played sparingly during her rookie season, primarily seeing time during the NWSL Challenge Cup. However, she’s had a breakout year during her sophomore campaign, becoming a key contributor to the team. After making 10 league appearances in 2023, she’s made 15 appearances this year with 11 starts, scoring four goals.

The 24-year-old made her professional debut on March 26, 2023, coming on for Marta in the 53rd minute of the season-opening 4-0 loss to the Portland Thorns. She made 10 appearances and recorded 108 minutes in league play a year ago. The rookie was more prominent in the NWSL Challenge Cup, appearing in six games (two starts), while recording 259 minutes and two assists.

This year, Yates came on in the 70th minute of the season-opening 2-2 draw against Racing Louisville for Morgan Gautrat, scoring the equalizing goal in the 86th minute. She earned her first start on April 12 in a 1-0 win over the Utah Royals. Following her late goal that secured a point in the season opener, Yates scored the lone goal of a 1-0 win over San Diego Wave FC on April 19 and converted the eventual game-winning penalty against the Washington Spirit on April 26. Those performances have earned her the opportunity to extend her stay in Orlando.

“I am so honored to be staying in Orlando,” Yates said in the club’s release. “From day one, this organization has believed in me and helped me develop my game in so many ways. This team is so special, and I am grateful that I get to continue to be a part of it. Vamos Pride!”

Prior to being drafted by the Pride, Yates was the playmaker of the Washington Huskies. She made 93 appearances (86 starts) during her collegiate career, scoring 27 goals and recording 23 assists in five years. She was named to the All-Pac-12 team four times, Second Team All-American by the United Soccer Coaches, and twice named to the All-Pacific Region Team.

Internationally, Yates has appeared on the United States U-20 Women’s National Team, helping the side win the 2020 U-20 Concacaf Championship.

What It Means for Orlando

Yates was a low-risk and high-reward draft pick for the Pride. She was expected to go in the low first round or early second round, but continued to fall as the draft continued. Fortunately for Orlando, she was still available in the fourth round, where the Pride were able to take what might be the steal of the draft.

It was tough to judge Yates with her limited playing time in 2023, but she’s taken a major leap this season. She had the tough task of replacing Marta and Adriana earlier in the year when the Brazilians were out, taking advantage of those opportunities. She’s also been asked to take on more defensive roles due to multiple injuries to defensive midfielders.

Marta is currently on the final year of a two-year deal, so this could be the final season for the 38-year-old superstar. When the Pride captain does decide to end her career, Yates is an option to take over the number 10 role. She’s proven she can play the position and, at only 24 years old, still has room to grow.

Regardless of her future role in the team, Yates has proven this year that she can be a key contributor. The Pride’s recent success has been based on hitting on several trades and draft picks, both by Carter and former general manager Ian Fleming. Yates is another one of those good selections and has now dedicated herself to the Pride for the near future.

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