The Orlando Pride entered a new era last week as interim head coach Becky Burleigh took over after the departure of Marc Skinner. The players and their new head coach have now had a week to get used to each other and so far it seems to be a good fit.
The last couple of weeks have been difficult for the Pride. The loss of Alex Morgan, Marta, and Ali Riley to the Olympics have caused players to switch positions and resulted in the lack of two of the team’s most important attackers.
Prior to the loss of those players, the team started the season on a seven-game undefeated streak, which included four wins. The team lost in Morgan’s final match before leaving for the USWNT camp and has since gone winless in an additional five matches, losing three of those five.
Already struggling on the field, the situation became worse when Skinner resigned to take the head coaching role for Manchester United’s women’s team, taking one of the assistant coaches, Carl Green, with him.
The Pride didn’t waste any time bringing in an interim coach. The day after Green coached the Pride to a 2-0 loss to OL Reign, the club announced that Burleigh would take over the team for the remainder of the 2021 season.
The former University of Florida head coach, who had retired in February, brought Alan Kirkup with her, who had been her assistant in Gainesville for 15 years. The club retained assistant coach Seb Hines and goalkeeping coach Lloyd Yaxley.
Burleigh revealed early on that she was a players’ coach.
“I think that the fact that we spent the whole first day just trying to gather information, both from the players and from the staff, I think they appreciated that platform,” Burleigh said during her introductory press conference. “Ultimately, my goal would be to create a platform for the players to coach themselves. Soccer is a players’ game, not a coaches’ game. And we need to give the tools so that they’re prepared for that. But at the same time, some of these women, most of these women, have so much experience and are so competent. Now it’s just providing the structure for them.”
The players seem to appreciate these aspects of Burleigh and indicate that there’s already been a change from Skinner’s tenure. One of the biggest differences for the players is having a coach they feel wants to be with the team. While Skinner was excited about the opportunity when he first arrived, he had been separated from his partner and child for long stretches during the pandemic and a return to England had been speculated for weeks leading up to his resignation.
“I guess the feeling of someone wanting to be here for us,” forward Sydney Leroux said about why the team feels so strongly about Burleigh. “I think everyone feels that and that’s what that can do for us, so it was really exciting for me to play under them tonight. And the rest of the team.”
While Burleigh wanting to coach the Pride has been noticeable to the players, they also say that they feel more prepared than they did under Skinner.
“This coaching staff is exactly what we needed,” vice captain Ali Krieger said after Saturday night’s game. “They’ve been tremendous in only the few days, preparing us for this season. And we’ve felt the most prepared we have all year so far.”
“We didn’t really have a lot of time to prepare under Becky,” Leroux added. “But I think she prepared, again, like Krieger said, this was the most prepared we’ve gone into a game.”
The passion for their new coach and preparedness they feel heading into games should help the Pride going forward. The 1-1 draw with the North Carolina Courage Saturday night saw the team temporarily move into one of the six playoff places before Sunday’s results dropped the team back to seventh in the standings. With the Olympics winding down, the team will also soon experience the returns of Morgan, Riley, Marta, and backup goalkeeper Erin McLeod. Those players will give the Pride a boost as they look to make the playoffs for the second time in team history.
Burleigh has only been with the Pride for a week but it seems she has already impacted the culture. With the return of star players on the horizon and a renewed willingness to fight for each other, the Pride could make a run similar to the one they made at the start of the season.
“Everyone had a willingness to win and to fight and to support each other,” Krieger said after the game Saturday night. “And that is something that we haven’t seen since the beginning of the season. So I think we’ve hit the restart button, and refresh button, and this coaching staff is exactly what we needed.”
Orlando Pride Sign Midfielder Kerry Abello to New Contract
The Pride have signed midfielder Kerry Abello to a new three-year contract.
The Orlando Pride announced this afternoon that the club has signed midfielder Kerry Abello to a new three-year contract. The deal keeps Abello in purple through the 2026 NWSL season.
“We are thrilled to keep Kerry in Orlando through 2026. Since joining the club, she has proven to be a reliable and versatile player for our team,” Pride Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Haley Carter said in a club press release. “In a few short years, she has grown into a leader in our locker room and sets the standard for professionalism and accountability, two values we center our culture around. Ensuring she remains a part of what we are building here, both on and off the field, was a priority for us in the off-season. We are happy to bring that to fruition and look forward to her continued growth and performance.”
Abello was initially drafted by the Pride with the 24th pick of the 2021 NWSL Draft, but decided to return to school for a fifth season. The club finally signed the Penn State product to a two-year contract on Jan. 28, 2022. The midfielder signed another two-year deal on Feb. 23, 2023, with a club option for 2025. Just over a year later, she’s now inked a third contract, ensuring her stay in Orlando will run through 2026.
Initially coming off the bench, Abello became a regular starter late in her rookie season. Over the past three years, she’s seen time at attacking and defensive midfield, showing her versatility. In total, Abello has made 49 appearances (31 starts) in all competitions and recorded 2,835 minutes. She’s scored one goal and contributed one assist.
Last year, the 24-year-old midfielder made 25 appearances (18 starts), recording 1,642 minutes, and adding a goal and an assist. She participated in all but two league games and five of the team’s six Challenge Cup contests.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there is truly no place I’d rather be. Thank you, Orlando, for having me for the next three years,” Abello said in a club press release. “I’m feeling full of joy, gratitude, and inspiration. There’s work to be done, and I can’t wait to put my whole heart into this season and all the rest. Vamos!”
The Batavia, IL, native was a part of the United States youth set up at the U-14, U-15, U-17, U-18, and U-19 levels. She received a call up to the U-23 U.S. Women’s National Team for the 2022 Women’s U-23 Three-Nations Tournament, scoring in a 3-0 win over Sweden.
Prior to being drafted by the Pride, Abello was a three-time All-Big Ten selection, helping Penn State win three Big Ten championships. She was also named to the All-North Team twice in her five collegiate seasons.
What It Means for Orlando
Similar to her last contract, this deal ensures that Abello will continue her stay in Orlando beyond the upcoming season. She originally started on the bench under former Pride head coach Amanda Cromwell, but won over Seb Hines with her versatility in the midfield. During her first two professional season, she’s played extensively at attacking and defensive midfield. However, she can also play on the back line, having been a center back in college.
Following the 2023 NWSL season, Carter told The Mane Land’s Skopurp Soccer podcast that the club focused on the back line last off-season and was focusing on the midfield this off-season. Signing Abello, who has been a crucial part of the club’s rebuild, was always going to be part of that plan.
Between the re-signing of Abello and the new additions to the team, the midfield has more depth than before. Abello’s presence could be crucial, because the midfield’s Brazilian internationals will likely miss time due to international call-ups. Abello can fill in multiple positions, ensuring there won’t be a significant drop-off when the internationals depart.
Orlando Pride Unveil New Kits Ahead of 2024 NWSL Season
The Pride take part in the NWSL kit reset with new primary and secondary jerseys for the 2024 season.
The Orlando Pride unveiled their two new kits today ahead of the 2024 NWSL season. The jerseys are part of the league-wide kit reset, launched by the NWSL and Nike. The club’s new Phoenix Kit features the Pride’s two recognizable colors, purple and blue, and the secondary Citrus Kit has an all-new color scheme, paying tribute to Florida’s citrus industry. Both jerseys will be formally unveiled on Wednesday, Feb. 28 at “The Kit Party presented by Orlando Health,” taking place at the Orlando Regional History Center.
Replicas of the two new jerseys are available for purchase at ShopOrlandoPride.com, in The Den at Inter&Co Stadium during regular business hours, and on NWSLshop.com. Replica goalkeeper jerseys will also be made available during a late spring release.
“We are proud to share two new, powerful kits with our fans and honored that we are again able to share the story of one of the pillars of our community and the state of Florida,” Pride Chief Marketing Officer Pedro Araujo said in a club press release. “Each year, it is important for us to use our platform to celebrate those that laid the foundation for our city, and this year is no different. We hope our fans are as excited to wear the Citrus Kit and the Phoenix Kit as we are, and to proudly represent Orlando both at home and outside of Central Florida. This new partnership with Nike is a very exciting moment for the league. We’re grateful for their continued support of the Orlando Pride and the NWSL as a whole and are excited for the future opportunities this new, refreshed commitment will bring to our kits and team performance gear.”
The Citrus Kit features a new orange and iced-out green scheme, a first for the Pride, with inspiration taken from Central Florida’s citrus industry. The jersey features oranges and leaves, with letters and numbers featuring the same iced-out green coloring. The design of the kit takes direct inspiration from the historic packaging of citrus crates and labels, unique to each grove. The back of the socks features a hand-drawn “Pride,” which is also inspired by the labels. Meanwhile, the “Outer Pride” on the lower corner of the jersey is a stylized “OP” with an orange cross-section and orange blossom leaves and flowers.
The primary home jersey this season will be the new Phoenix Kit, which is more recognizable to fans. The jersey features the club’s traditional colors of purple with blue letters and numbers. The jersey features a unique two-toned purple gradient that runs diagonally from the top right to the bottom left of the jersey. The club’s shirt sponsor, Orlando Health, remains in white, but the letters, numbers, and Nike logo on the darker purple are the team’s second color, “Eola Blue.”
The new kits are part of the NWSL’s league-wide kit reset, the first time a women’s professional soccer league has presented refreshed primary and secondary uniforms for all of its teams. Each club is receiving jerseys that reflect the club’s identity and joyful expression and celebrate the team’s community.
The Pride’s unveiling has been in cooperation with Hollieanna Groves, a local and family-owned grower, harvester, packer, and shipper of Florida citrus. The Maitland-based company is a fourth-generation packing house and sales room, providing the backdrop for one of the club’s kit photo shoots.
Here are some photos of the Pride’s newest kits courtesy of the Pride:
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.
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