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Orlando Pride Trade Sydney Leroux to Angel City

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The Orlando Pride have traded forward Sydney Leroux to Angel City FC in exchange for ACFC’s natural first-round pick in 2024, $75,000 in Allocation Money, plus the potential for an additional $10,000 in 2022 Allocation Money and another $10,000 in 2023 if the forward meets certain performance-based criteria.

Leroux’s departure continues the roster gutting that began this past off-season. The House of Pride has been just about leveled to its foundation for this rebuild, but for that to happen, the club has got to start bringing in talent with the Allocation Money raked in from multiple deals and signing players who will be part of the team’s new core.

“Sydney gave all she could for the club every time she pulled on the jersey. We want to thank her for everything she has done for both our team and our community,” Orlando Pride General Manager Ian Fleming said in a club press release. “We’ll miss having Sydney and her family here in Orlando, but we believe this trade is best for all parties. We wish Syd the best of luck in this next chapter.”

“I’d like to thank the club, the fans and the community for embracing me and my family over the past five seasons,” Leroux said in the club’s release. “We had many exciting memories and moments throughout my time here, and I always will remember my time in Orlando fondly.”

Leroux, 32, was acquired from the Utah Royals on Feb. 2, 2018 in exchange for a first-round pick in 2019. The club re-signed Leroux on Feb. 3, 2021 to a new three-year deal with a club option that could have kept her in Orlando through the 2024 season. At the time, it was the maximum length deal available to NWSL teams and its players in a league that didn’t often sign players for more than one to two seasons.

During her time in Orlando, Leroux made 63 appearances (54 starts) across all competitions, playing 4,936 minutes, while scoring 18 goals and adding five assists.

In her first season in Orlando, Leroux was the Pride’s top goal scorer, finding the net six times and adding two assists in 20 appearances (15 starts), missing just a few games due to an illness and a concussion. However, those six goals came in just four different matches. She led the team in shots on target and tied Morgan for the most shots, but more was expected and she earned a rating of 6.5 out of 10 from The Mane Land that season in our end-of-year Pride player grades.

For most of the 2019 season Leroux was on maternity leave while ushering her second child into the world. As a result, she appeared in just three matches that year (no starts) and played only 28 total minutes as she worked her way back. She did not score or assist on a goal or even register a shot attempt in her limited action. As a result of playing so few minutes, she did not qualify for a TML player grade for the 2019 season.

As the Pride played only in the NWSL Fall Series in 2020, Leroux didn’t see a lot of action the following year either, playing in three games (all starts) for a total of 270 minutes. She scored one goal with no assists.

The following year was Leroux’s best in Orlando. She scored one goal in four appearances in the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup in all four of the club’s matches (all starts), playing 351 minutes. During the regular season, Leroux returned to the top of the Pride’s goal-scoring list, netting eight goals to go along with two assists in 23 of the team’s 24 games (all starts), logging 2,018 minutes. The Mane Land gave Leroux a good rating of 7 out of 10 for her 2021 campaign.

After a fairly quiet 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup (no goals or assists in three games — all starts — playing 270 minutes), Leroux was the Pride’s co-leader in goals so far in 2022, with just two, tying with Mikayla Cluff, adding one assist in her seven appearances (six starts), as she played 568 minutes.

It was thought that adding the forward to a roster featuring attacking talent like Marta and Alex Morgan would elevate the Pride the season after the club’s only NWSL playoff appearance — a one-and-done postseason that saw Orlando ousted by the Portland Thorns. Leroux was also a player that could provide some cover while some of the team’s attackers were away on international duty.

Rather than improving and becoming an even bigger contender for a league title in 2018, the Pride’s fortunes turned the other way. Orlando went just 8-10-6 that year, which included a six-game winless skid to close the season, burying any hopes of a second consecutive playoff appearance. The Pride were terrible in 2019, going just 4-16-4 and finishing that year on a seven-match skid (0-5-2). The 2020 Fall Series saw the team go 0-2-2 in four matches, running the winless streak to 0-7-4 and covering more than a full calendar year.

Orlando finally won again in the third match of the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup, with Leroux providing the only goal in a 1-0 win over the Washington Spirit, snapping the club’s 0-8-5 record across all competitions. The Pride got off to a great start in the 2021 regular season, with a club-record, seven-match unbeaten streak to begin the year (4-0-3). The roof caved in a bit once rumblings surface of then-coach Marc Skinner entertaining the idea of returning to England to manage Manchester United. The team righted the ship a bit in midseason under interim coach Becky Burleigh, but again the Pride fizzled down the stretch, finishing with five consecutive losses to fall out of playoff contention and turn a 7-5-7 record into a dismal 7-10-7 campaign.

A poor 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup (0-4-2) indicated things weren’t likely going to get better, particularly after an off-season of unloading veteran players without bringing in proper reinforcements to replace them. But the team got off to a solid 2-1-1 mark to begin the regular season and things were potentially looking up until the suspension of Head Coach Amanda Cromwell and Assistant Coach Sam Greene.

What It Means for Orlando

As one of the veterans that the Pride didn’t move in the off-season, Leroux was one of the faces of the team in 2022 and, outside of Marta, who was injured during the Challenge Cup prior to the regular season, she was the highest profile player on the squad. On the field, Leroux’s work rate was an important part the Pride’s play. Losing her at this point in the season likely won’t make anything too much worse in the win/loss column. The team may score slightly fewer goals, but results are unlikely to change much until the roster can be improved.

For her part, Leroux has not finished at a high enough rate in 2022. She has gotten herself into good scoring positions with the ball several times this season in which she should have done better. During those moments, she’s either hit her shot directly at the goalkeeper’s chest or missed the net entirely. All strikers go through periods where they aren’t lethal enough, but the Pride needed more from a player of her stature.

The team seemed to fracture around the time of the Cromwell and Greene suspensions and results have gotten worse. In the wake of those suspensions, the club subsequently bought out the contract of defender Amy Turner, who had a solid 2021 season on the Pride’s back line but inexplicably couldn’t find her way onto the field in 2022. Speculation has run rampant that whatever Cromwell and Greene are being investigated for, it may have been related to Turner not being on the field. We won’t speculate on that in this space; however, it wasn’t a good look for the team when Leroux was liking fans’ social media posts asking why Turner wasn’t in the lineup in Chicago — a game for which the Pride had no center backs on the bench.

The thin Orlando roster now gets stretched even further without a player of Leroux’s caliber. That in itself isn’t a reason to keep a player if they are creating or enhancing divisiveness in the locker room — and I want to stress that we have no evidence (even circumstantial) that this was the case. The team will have even more available money to make roster improvements, but it’s worth noting that having Allocation Money or the means to add players hasn’t been the issue since the Wilf family took over ownership. The front office simply hasn’t gotten the job done, regardless of the reason.

The roster — at forward and elsewhere — is not likely to improve until the Cromwell situation is resolved. It’s much easier to bring in players if they know who who they’ll be playing for when they arrive. The Pride have a lot of holes to fill on the roster and the means to do it, which was true before trading Leroux, but the coaching situation makes things more difficult in the short term.

In the end, Orlando loses a player who led the team in scoring for both of the seasons in which she was available for most of the scheduled games. She was also popular with the fans, which won’t help the club with marketing efforts or ticket sales, although those effects might be minimal in the end.

Ultimately, this move will be judged by what the team adds with the resources it received — most notably the draft pick, for which the team will have to wait until 2024, unless it uses that asset to address needs sooner. Less obvious will be how the Allocation Money ends up being spent as it has simply been added to a growing pool that has yet to be used.

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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