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Orlando Pride vs. NJ/NY Gotham FC: Final Score 3-2 as Pride’s Late Comeback Falls Short

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An early first-half goal and two early second-half strikes doomed the Orlando Pride (7-7-7, 28 points) as they fell 3-2 to NJ/NY Gotham FC (7-6-8, 29 points) at Exploria Stadium. After falling behind 3-0, the Pride climbed back into the game on goals by Erika Tymrak and Marta, but it wasn’t enough as they fell by a goal.

The Pride had placed themselves in a difficult position after a strong start to the season. Sitting in the final playoff spot, they were just one point ahead of the Washington Spirit and two points ahead of Gotham FC heading into this key match-up. The loss was a crucial one in the race for a playoff spot.

Pride interim head coach Becky Burleigh made two changes from the team that lost 3-0 to OL Reign two weeks ago. Marisa Viggiano, who replaced Meggie Dougherty Howard at halftime of that game, entered the starting lineup. Additionally, Marta re-entered the lineup after starting on the bench in Tacoma.

It was yet another poor start by the Pride, something that has become a trend with this team. Despite kicking off, the Pride soon gave the ball away in their own third when Ashlyn Harris sent a clearance straight out of play.

It didn’t take long for the visitors to take advantage of the slow start. In the third minute, Ifeoma Onumonu was able to turn Ali Riley, sending the ball across the top of the box. Caprice Dydasco’s first touch was a layoff to Gaetane Thiney, who quickly fired on goal. The long-distance shot appeared to deflect slightly off the head of Amy Turner — just enough to avoid the outstretched hand of Harris.

The game paused in the sixth minute as all players met in a circle at midfield in a show of solidarity after the recent events plaguing the league. In addition to the sixth-minute display, Pride players refused to answer any questions not directly related to the recent events or changes within the NWSL.

“That’s really a great show of solidarity,” Burleigh said about the midfield moment. “And you’ve seen it, not just in this league, but now even some of the European teams have also followed suit. And I think that’s so impressive to see such unanimous support for something that’s happening in this league, it’s amazing.”

When the game restarted, Onumonu immediately created a chance on goal, but missed the target.

The Pride had their first and best first-half chance in the 12th minute. Receiving the ball in the box, Alex Morgan created enough space to get a shot off. It was on target, but Gotham goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan was able to palm it away.

Two minutes later, Riley sent a long cross toward the back post, aimed for Sydney Leroux, who was charging in. However, Sheridan did well again, getting her hand to the ball and knocking it away from the oncoming Leroux.

Gotham nearly doubled its lead in the 18th minute. Carli Lloyd sent Midge Purce in behind the Pride defense and into the box. As Purce set up to shoot, Harris did well to cut down her angle. The shot was at the body of the Pride goalkeeper, who made herself big, and the ball was eventually deflected out of play for a corner kick.

The Pride nearly had a similar chance in the 20th minute. An excellent ball into the box looked like it would get through for Jodie Taylor, giving the striker a chance at her first goal since Aug. 14. But Gina Lewandwoski made a last-ditch diving header to clear it out of play and avoid a one-on-one between Taylor and Sheridan.

As the game drew closer toward halftime, both teams had a few chances. In the 30th minute, a long ball was searching for Morgan, but it was headed away. Three minutes later, Gotham played a dangerous ball into the box. It reached Onumonu, who had gotten behind Turner, but her shot was nowhere near the target.

In the 42nd minute, Purce created another opportunity, sending a dangerous ball across the six-yard box. No Pride players were able to clear it, but there weren’t any Gotham players in the box to get on the end of it. It ended up with Dydasco at the top of the box and the defender sent it well over the target.

The Pride had their chances, but the visitors led in most important categories. Gotham led in shots (9-3), corners (3-2), passing accuracy (84.5%-83.2%), and possession (50.6%-49.4%). The game was only close because Gotham only put two of their nine shots on target.

While the Pride had a tough start to the first half, it was even worse in the second. Just two minutes into the second period, a foul set up a Gotham free kick just outside the box. Thiney stepped up to take the kick, which went directly on target. Harris got a hand to it, but a bit too late and she didn’t get enough on it, as the ball bounced off her hand and into the corner of the goal.

It got worse for the Pride in the 49th minute, when Onumonu found Purce wide open in front of goal. It was an easy finish for the attacker, with no Pride defenders anywhere near her. The defenders lifted their arms to claim offside, but the referee determined that she was at least even with the last defender.

The third Gotham goal seemed to wake the Pride up, but by that point it was too late. Finally, the Pride played with a sense of urgency, realizing that the game had gotten out of reach. In the 53rd minute, Leroux brought a long ball down in the box and created enough space to get a shot on target. However, it was right at Sheridan who made the stop.

Two minutes later, Marta took a low, hard shot on goal. It was a better chance than Leroux’s, but Sheridan did well to get low and make the save.

The best chance for the Pride came in the 61st minute. Marta lost the ball near the end line, but won it right back with no other defenders near her. Carrying the ball into the six, she attempted to beat Sheridan high, but the ball bounced off the crossbar. The ball landed at the feet of Morgan, who was all alone at the back post. She quickly fired on goal, but was slightly off balance and the shot sailed high of the target.

Three of the four primary Pride scorers had good opportunities early in the second half and Taylor got hers in the 64th minute. Diagonal runs by teammates distracted defenders, creating a lane to the top of the box. Taylor sent a low, curling shot toward the far post that was beyond the reach of Sheridan. Unfortunately, the ball wrapped around the outside of the far post, and the Pride just missed getting one back.

The Pride finally got their first goal of the game in the 85th minute, with some help from Gotham’s usually dependable goalkeeper. It started with a poor goal kick taken by Sheridan that went directly to Erika Tymrak. The Pride’s second-half substitute quickly found enough space to take a shot, which was right at the Canadian international. Fortunately for Tymrak and the Pride, the ball bounced awkwardly off Sheridan’s hands and rolled into the corner.

A game that appeared to be over got much more interesting two minutes later when Estelle Johnson took down Morgan in the box and referee Brad Jensen pointed to the spot. Marta stepped up and sent Sheridan the wrong way, cutting the deficit to one.

As the game entered injury time, both teams had chances. Four minutes into the added time, great individual skill by Lloyd set up Brianna Pinto, who took a shot that appeared to be headed to the corner. But Harris got down and blocked it wide.

The Pride desperately went to the other end, trying to find the equalizer. They nearly did with the last kick of the game. A long ball into the box by Harris landed at the foot of Toni Pressley, who fired on goal. The deflected shot hit the post and bounced right to Harris, who had continued forward after the set piece, but her shot was blocked. Petersen had a third chance, but was heading away from goal and wasn’t able to get much on it.

The late flurry was the final chance for the Pride to equalize as the referee blew the final whistle once the ball was cleared.

“As far as the match tonight, I felt like it was tough giving up the deflection early,” Burleigh said after the game. “It sort of is difficult to give up a goal that early, but I thought our team bounced back well. I think the things to take from this game were that we really had a lot of fight in the end of the game. I thought the people who came into the match really did a good job of sustaining pressure and creating pressure and were game changers. And I think the big thing is we’ve got to figure out, is our defensive identity to mid block and then counter out of it? Is our defensive identity to press? And, obviously, you give up something different with each of those. And that’s I think where we are right now is figuring out what is the best solution for this particular group.”

After the third Gotham goal, the Pride had a much better second half. In the end, the Pride led in shots (18-16) and shots on target (9-5). However, in addition to goals, Gotham led in most statistical categories, including corners (5-4), duels won (59-52), total passes (461-425), passing accuracy (79.8%-79.3%), and possession (52.3%-47.7%).

The result, combined with a Spirit win over Racing Louisville at the same time, moved the Pride from sixth to eighth, two spots below the red line. In addition to taking maximum points from the final three games, the Pride will need some help if they have any hope of qualifying for the NWSL playoffs for the second time in team history.


The Pride will take the field again on Wednesday night in Bridgeview, IL as they take on the Chicago Red Stars at 8 p.m.. The game was recently rescheduled after last weekend’s league games were postponed.

Orlando Pride

Orlando Pride Sign Midfielder Ally Watt to New Contract

The Pride have signed forward Ally Watt through the 2025 NWSL season with a mutual option for 2026.

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Image courtesy of Orlando Pride / Mark Thor

The Orlando Pride announced this afternoon that the club has signed forward Ally Watt to a new contract. The deal runs through the 2025 NWSL season and includes a mutual option for 2026.

“Over the last couple years, we have really seen Ally grow both on the field and off. She has worked incredibly hard to be the fittest she has been in her career, and it shows through the impact she brings to our front line,” Pride Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Haley Carter said in a club press release. “Ally brings great competitiveness to the forward position on our team, while also being a great influence on our team culture. We’re excited for her to continue pushing herself and her teammates to be the best versions of themselves, and to have her continue as a vital part of what we are building.”

The Pride initially acquired Watt in a trade with OL Reign (now the Seattle Reign) on Aug. 15, 2022 in exchange for $125,000 in Allocation Money. The Watt trade was among the first that indicated the Pride were ready to begin dealing the assets they acquired for some of their older talent traded following the 2021 season.

Watt made her debut for the Pride on Aug. 20, 2022, coming on for Julie Doyle in the 64th minute of a 2-1 win over NJ/NY Gotham FC. She scored nine minutes later to create the dream debut for her new club, earning a new deal at the end of the season that kept her with the Pride through 2024. In nearly two years in Orlando, Watt has made 46 appearances (18 starts) in all competitions, recording 1,958 minutes, six goals and two assists. She also scored the fastest goal in team history, converting after 39 seconds on Sept. 17, 2023 against the North Carolina Courage.

So far this season, Watt has made 15 appearances with seven starts, recording 657 minutes. She has scored two goals and added an assist. Her most notable game this year was on May 1, when Pride Head Coach Seb Hines switched from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2, teaming Watt with Barbra Banda. Watt scored the opener and assisted on Banda’s second goal in a 4-1 win over the Courage.

“We’re building something very special here in Orlando and I am grateful that I get to continue to be a part of it,” Watt said in the club’s press release. “I feel I have only grown since I’ve been here, and I’m more than excited to keep developing my game. This team and organization are my family, and staying here in Orlando to play in front of some of the best fans makes me so happy. Vamos Pride!”

Watt was initially selected with the ninth overall pick of the 2020 NWSL Draft by the Courage out of Texas A&M. She played professionally in Australia for Melbourne City before joining North Carolina for the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup. However, she tore her ACL minutes into the first game, sidelining her for an extended period.

The Courage traded the speedster before the 2021 season to the Reign, where she made five appearances after returning from injury. She became a regular in 2022, playing in 21 of the Reign’s 22 games, recording a goal and an assist, before being dealt to the Pride.

What It Means for Orlando

Whether she starts with Banda in a 4-4-2 formation or comes off the bench later in the game, Watt has proven to be a valuable part of the Pride’s success since joining the club. Injuries were a concern since she’d had a previous ACL tear, but she’s remained healthy and has continued to be one of the fastest players in the NWSL.

The forward is already having her best season with the team this year, and there are still 10 games left in the regular season. With Banda away at the Olympics, Watt should get plenty of time starting during the upcoming NWSL X Liga MX Femenil Summer Cup, providing valuable minutes.

While this signing provides depth at the forward position, Watt also has the versatility that Carter and Hines crave. In addition to playing striker, Watt’s speed has been utilized on the right side of the midfield before, matching the similarly fast Doyle on the left for a dangerous pairing. Her attributes make this signing an expected one as the Pride look to build on their historic season.

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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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