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Erin McLeod and Gunny Jonsdottir Leaving Orlando Pride

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The Orlando Pride announced this afternoon that goalkeeper Erin McLeod and midfielder Gunny Jonsdottir are leaving the club. Married on Jan. 2, the pair will depart the NWSL and move to Jonsdottir’s home country of Iceland.

“Both Gunny and Erin have been incredibly important members of, not only the Pride, but of the NWSL as a whole,” Pride Head Coach Seb Hines said in a club press release. “Their impact, skill, and professionalism will be missed both within our locker room and in our community, but this next step of their lives is an exciting one that we are also celebrating. On behalf of the entire organization, we thank both Erin and Gunny for everything they have given to the club and wish them all the best in this next chapter together.”

McLeod initially joined the Pride in 2020 to back up Ashlyn Harris. The Canadian international made her debut for Orlando in 2021 and became the starter last season when Harris was traded to NJ/NY Gotham FC. She signed a one-year contract extension early in the 2022 season, that ran through 2023. In two regular seasons, McLeod played in 26 games (25 starts) and recorded 2,273 minutes. She saved 81 of 129 shots (63%) and conceded 48 goals. Her four clean sheets are second in team history behind Harris’ 14, and she ended her Pride tenure with a record of 8-10-7.

The Edmonton native was on Canada’s roster for four World Cups and three Summer Olympic Games. The 39-year-old most recently won a gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo games, adding to her bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics in London.

“This decision was one of the hardest of my career, but as I have gotten older, my dreams and priorities have shifted. Now it is time to begin the next chapter of my life with my wife,” McLeod said in the press release. “I am inspired and excited by the work this club has done in the off-season, led by the Wilf family, which has made this decision even harder. I believe, now more than ever, there are great things ahead for this club. A new identity, a new Pride. To the fans and the Black Swans, thank you for showing up, no matter what. Without all of you, this club wouldn’t exist.”

Jonsdottir joined the Pride, along with the rights to Erika Tymrak, prior to the 2021 season in a trade with the Utah Royals that saw Kristen Edmonds go the other way. A regular starter during the 2021 season, the Icelandic international was named captain ahead of last season when Marta went down with a torn ACL during the NWSL Challenge Cup. In two seasons with the club, Jonsdottir made 48 appearances (42 starts) and recorded 3,700 minutes. She scored five goals and provided two assists in all competitions.

The 34-year-old has been a regular on Iceland’s national team since 2011. She recently played in the 2022 UEFA Women’s Euro Championship and the 2022 SheBelieves Cup.

“Orlando has been my home for the past two years and it is not easy saying goodbye,” Jónsdóttir said in the club’s release. “Thank you to the players. It was a privilege to have the opportunity to step on the field with you. Thank you to the staff. You were always so welcoming and willing to help in any way possible. And last but not least, thank you to the fans for their endless support, especially to the Black Swans, who always showed up and supported us through the thick and thin. I wish the Pride the best of luck this season and I will be cheering you on from afar.” 

Off the field, Jonsdottir was the Pride’s Nationwide Community Impact Ambassador. She represented and raised money for Special Olympics Florida and supported the athletes at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando.

What This Means for Orlando

The most noticeable absence will be McLeod, who started 20 of the team’s 22 NWSL regular-season games last season. The starting role will likely now go to English goalkeeper Anna Moorhouse, who was signed last season from French club Bordeaux. Including the NWSL Challenge Cup, Moorhouse started five games last year, saving 23 of 36 shots (64%) and conceding 13 goals. Giving up 2.6 goals per game is not a recipe for success, but there was more than just goalkeeping at fault.

The only other goalkeeper on the Pride roster is Kaylie Collins, so they’ll be looking to sign a third before the start of the 2023 season.

Jonsdottir had a tough 2022 season, missing five games due to minor injuries and international duty. When she returned to action, she came off the bench, but started the final three games of the season. The Pride will miss the Icelandic midfielder’s leadership in the middle of the field, as shown by her captaincy early in the season. She was also a willing late runner into the box to help the attack, which is something the younger players will have to add to their game.

While Marta is returning, the loss of a veteran midfielder like Jonsdottir especially hurts after Meggie Dougherty Howard signed with the San Diego Wave as a free agent. The team does have the experienced Haley McCutcheon, but the young team will miss the additional leadership.

Orlando Pride

The Orlando Pride Midfield Rebuild: Key Stats Through Three Matches

Going inside the numbers on the Pride’s rebuilt midfield and overall team play.

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Image courtesy of Orlando Pride / Mark Thor

The Orlando Pride embarked on the past off-season with a clear plan of rebuilding in the center of the pitch. Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Haley Carter described this as the second step of a back-to-front roster overhaul. To that end, the Pride signed Morgan Gautrat and Angelina from elsewhere in the NWSL and veteran Luana from her native Brazil.

Reviewing the profiles of these players, the skills recruited are clear. They are versatile athletes who are comfortable playing with the ball at their feet, passing through the lines to connect play, and doing the dirty work defending out of possession. They were brought in to act as the heart of a team that challenges for the playoffs in the 2024 season. Now, admittedly with just three matches played, it is time to take a look at the early performances of the new midfield compared to the prior season and evaluate the improvements so far, the areas for continued attention, and what it all means for the long season ahead.


Play Style and Roster Shakeup

Head Coach Seb Hines has a clear vision of what he wants from his midfield. Orlando almost always lines up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, where there are two central midfielders (CMs) in front of a traditional back four defense. The role of these CMs, sometimes dubbed defensive or holding midfielders, is twofold. When not in possession, they act as an additional line of defense in front of the center-backs in order to break up the play and stop the opponents’ progress forward. In possession, they are tasked with receiving the ball from the defense or goalkeeper, playing in congested spaces, and progressing the ball forward to the attacking players. 

In 2023, Mikayla Cluff, Viviana Villacorta, and Jordyn Listro garnered the lion’s-share of minutes at CM, featuring in 53 combined NWSL matches. Of this trio, Cluff was traded to Utah, Listro’s contract expired without her being re-signed, and Villacorta is still recovering from the ACL tear that cost her the end of the 2023 season. While everyone wishes Villacorta a swift recovery, it will be important for the Pride staff to bring her along slowly as she recovers from her third season-ending injury in as many seasons. This group, with the occasional fill-in player due to a lack of depth, helped the Pride finish seventh in the NWSL with a record of 10-11-1, just missing out on the playoffs due to goal difference. 

The new additions for 2024 — Gautrat, Angelina, and Luana — have each appeared in every match so far. Gautrat has started at CM three times and Luana twice, while Angelina has started each match, but twice in a more attacking, wide-midfield role to accommodate absences around the pitch. Evaluating the new CMs requires a statistical review of their performances in three key areas — defensive interventions, passing and possession, and attacking contributions. This is followed by a look at overall team performance to assess how the job done by the CMs fits into the bigger picture.


Defensive Metrics

The first set of metrics used for comparison between the 2023 and 2024 central midfielders is their defensive contributions. While there is no one-size-fits-all statistic to analyze individual players perfectly, combining several “defensive action” statistics can help. Clearances, blocks, interceptions, and successful tackles have been tallied for the six primary CMs from the past two seasons and normalized per 90 minutes to create the chart below. The calculated number of “Defensive Actions per 90 Minutes,” shown at the top of the bar for each player, summarizes how many times per match the chosen player is breaking up the opponent’s attack in these ways.

Of the six CMs, Luana is the most productive defender by this metric. The player typically starting beside her, Gautrat, is contributing significantly on the defensive end as well, providing a robust tandem in front of the back line. Combined, they are contributing three more defensive actions per 90 minutes than Cluff and Villacorta, the most common CM pairing in 2023. Lastly, Angelina’s defensive contributions should be taken with a grain of salt, as she has spent more minutes as a wide midfielder than a central one so far in 2024, which places her farther from the defending. Taken together, the 2024 CMs are showing promising improvement on the defensive end relative to the prior campaign.


Passing and Possession

Up next are two of the most important metrics for midfielders, starting with individual passing, and then team-wide possession metrics. To compare the passing abilities of the Pride CMs, the plot below shows how often and how accurately a player passes the ball. These numbers, again normalized per 90 minutes, are plotted on the horizontal and vertical axes, respectively.

Looking at the data above, it is immediately apparent that each CM from the 2024 squad is attempting more passes per game than the 2023 squad. Not only that, they are doing so more accurately, on average. Individually, Luana is passing at a similar statistical level to Cluff,  while Angelina is completing her passes at a slightly higher clip on much greater volume. Gautrat’s security with the ball is especially striking, demonstrating the composure expected of a player heavily involved with the U.S. Women’s National Team prior to several injury-marred seasons. It is important to note again that Villacorta, the most accurate passer from the 2023 trio, could have a role to play this season when she recovers from her injury.

Beyond the individual statistics, the impact of the improved passing abilities of the new midfielders can be seen in the full-team passing and possession data. The table below compares Orlando’s possession per match and the same passing metrics from above on a team-wide basis, as well as the Pride’s relative ranks in the NWSL.

Pride Possession and Passing in NWSL Matches 2023 to 2024
2023 Team % (League Rank)2024 Team % (League Rank)
Possession %46.4% (12th)53.7% (6th)
Passing %73.8% (5th)78.6 (4th)
Passes per Match302 (10th)395 (4th)

Reviewing the table above, not only have the pride improved in each of the passing and possession metrics from last season to this one, they are now in the top half of the league for all three statistics and the top third of the league for passing. It is credit to the new midfielders that they have made such an immediate impact on the overall style of play for the Pride in 2024. This is something Seb Hines and Haley Carter would’ve been keen to see implemented on the pitch after the squad lacked the appropriate skills for more possession-based play in prior seasons.


Attacking and Results

The last piece of the statistical puzzle for the central midfield rebuild is attacking contribution. Unfortunately, there is little data to this point in the season. Through the whole of the 2023 campaign, Cluff, Villacorta, and Listro combined for two goals and two assists — total — with three of the four goal contributions coming from Cluff. In 2024, the new-look midfield has assisted once so far, as Angelina fed Marta from a corner. Angelina also created an own goal from a corner that does not appear in the statistics. The 2024 CMs have only attempted two shots, placing one on target and not scoring. It may be a safe assumption that Hines and staff hope the occasional goal can be scored from the CM role, but so far in 2024 that has not been the case. Considering the number of absences from the back line to start the year, more conservative play from the likes of Gautrat and Luana may have been necessary to alleviate stress on the makeshift defense.

Lastly, looking beyond the individual performances, the most important metric for the Pride is whether they are playing well, creating goal-scoring chances, and preventing them at the other end. To evaluate this, the table below looks at the expected goals (xG), expected goals against (xGA), and points accrued per match between 2023 and 2024.

Pride xG, xGA, and Points Earned in NWSL Matches 2023 to 2024
2023 (League Rank)2024 (League Rank)
Expected Goals per Match1.40 (5th)1.00 (9th)
Expected Goals Against per Match1.31 (7th)1.20 (6th)
Points per Match1.41 (7th)1.00 (7th)

The table above paints the picture of a team that is defending marginally better than it did last year but attacking with less effectiveness. As for points, the Pride are undefeated with three draws from three games, two in comeback fashion, and sit seventh, the same as the end of 2023.  

The goal of this table is not to say that the team is worse off now than it was a year ago. Context matters, and just the opposite may be true. The context is that in the days leading up to the season, Megan Montefusco and Simone Charley suffered season-ending injuries, hurting both the defense and attack. Starting center back Rafaelle was also injured, but has since returned to training. Lastly, marquee summer signing Barbra Banda will be arriving after the international break and should be the game-charger that sparks a so-far listless attack.

Considering the early adversity faced, the rebuilt midfield has acquitted itself well to start the long NWSL campaign. The new CMs have been better equipped to pass and possess the ball, and the defensive metrics have shown an uptick individually and as a team. The final step is to turn these improvements into better results, and there is every reason to believe that this midfield can be the foundation to build off and push for a spot in the postseason.

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Orlando Pride

Orlando Pride Overcoming Early Adversity in 2024

The Pride’s response to adversity has seen them claim points in each of their first three games.

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Image courtesy of Orlando Pride / Mark Thor

The Orlando Pride have gotten off to a solid start to the 2024 NWSL season, drawing their first three games. It’s a much better opening to the season than last year, when it took five games before they claimed their first point. This year’s team has also had to deal with more adversity than previous seasons — some of it the Pride created for themselves — playing games without multiple key players.

Pride Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Haley Carter and Head Coach Seb Hines have been building the team from the back forward. Last year, they determined the best back line would feature Kylie Strom, Emily Sams, Rafaelle, and Haley McCutcheon. However, Rafaelle fractured her left foot while representing Brazil at the inaugural 2024 Concacaf W Gold Cup. Usually she would’ve been replaced by Megan Montefusco, but the veteran center back had surgery during the offseason, ending her 2024 campaign.

Things got worse for the defensive unit during the season opener when Strom was sent off for a second yellow card in the 62nd minute. Despite being down a player, the Pride came back from a 2-1 deficit, drawing 2-2 through a Summer Yates conversion in the 86th minute. But the sending off meant the Pride were without another defender against Angel City FC in the home opener.

“You have to be versatile,” Hines said about being without multiple defenders for the Angel City game. “You know, to play on this team you have to be versatile and so players is just football is right now. And it’s really important that we put a group of players together that can go out there and perform and play to our best and stick to who we are and our identity. And…we have to maybe shuffle a few things around, but we have our full trust and belief in the players and they can go out there and give absolutely everything, and hopefully we’ll get the reward and performance and the result that we all want.”

In addition to losing Strom and Rafaelle, center back Sams was out with an illness against Angel City. As a result, McCutcheon was the only regular starting defender against one of the most talented attacking units in the league. Bri Martinez, Kerry Abello (a midfielder who played center back in college), and Celia took the place of the three usual starters in a makeshift lineup.

The unit only gave up one goal in that game, a penalty conceded by Angelina that was converted by former Pride attacker Claire Emslie. The Pride out-shot their opposition 14-12 and had three more shots on target. In the 88th minute, Marta volleyed an Angelina corner kick inside the near post, enabling the Pride to pull out their second straight draw.

“Overall, the back line, they were brilliant. They were fully together,” Hines said after the game. “They were communicating really well, they were confident in everything that they did, and it’s really important that we have those sort of characteristics amongst the group. It doesn’t matter, again, if you’re right back, you know, can you fill in at center back. And I thought with the absentees with Rafa, Kylie, Emily all missing, and I thought those two were terrific tonight.”

In the most recent game against the Chicago Red Stars, the Pride back line was missing multiple players again. While Rafaelle was still out with her foot injury, Martinez got the start in place of McCutcheon. The young defender wasn’t as successful in her second start, coming off at halftime for the veteran. However, the Pride once again held the opposition to one goal and even had their first lead of the season.

The resilience of the back line has been noticeable early in the season due to the injuries, but it’s not the only part of the team. Messiah Bright had a fantastic rookie season in 2023, but asked for a trade during the off-season, eventually landing with Angel City. The club signed Simone Charley and Zambian international Barbra Banda to replace the young striker, using the second-highest transfer fee in league history for the latter. However, Banda is attempting to help her national team qualify for the 2024 Summer Olympics and has yet to play for her new club. Charley could’ve stepped in, but suffered a season-ending injury during preseason.

Once again, Hines has used the versatility of his players to fill in for the absences. Ally Watt would be the most obvious starting forward, but she was out for the season opener. As a result, midfielder Adriana got the start up top. Watt returned for the next two games, but didn’t find the back of the net. During the most recent game against Chicago, Watt, Marta, and Adriana all spent time up top for the Pride.

While the Pride have only scored four goals in the first three games, they’ve been putting pressure on the opposition. They’ve had more possession in each contest and more shots in two of the three games. The only one in which they didn’t create more chances than the opponent was against Racing Louisville when both teams had eight shots.

Even with several players missing, the Pride will consider the three points disappointing. They probably should’ve beaten Angel City and Chicago in their first two home games, but only put 10 of their 35 shots on target. Better shooting accuracy would likely have seen this team near the top of the standings.

While there is some disappointment to the start of the 2024 season, the resilience of this team is undeniable. On the defensive end, multiple players have been thrown into the starting lineup and placed in unfamiliar positions. The strong performances by these replacements will serve the team if other injuries occur during the season.

The Pride got off to a terrible start last year, losing their first four games while scoring only once and conceding 10 goals. They still climbed back and nearly made the playoffs. The 2024 campaign has gotten off to a much better start, claiming points in the first three matches. The resilience of this team when facing adversity has already been on display this year and will greatly impact any success they have this season.

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 4/8/24

USWNT advances to SheBelieves Cup final, Brazil loses to Canada, MLS weekend roundup, and more.

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Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Hello, Mane Landers. I hope all is well with you down in Florida and that you had a great weekend. I was busy getting the broadcast operations setup prepared with NISA clubs for their opening matches this past Saturday, but I got through matchday one. Besides that, I got to cover some water polo and catch up on some shows. There is plenty to cover today (and please don’t stare directly at the eclipse today, wherever you are), so let’s get to the links.

USWNT Defeats Japan to Advance to SheBelieves Cup Final

The U.S. Women’s National Team defeated Japan 2-1 before a record breaking crowd in Atlanta to advance to tomorrow’s SheBelieves Cup final. Jaedyn Shaw extended her goal-scoring streak as she became the first USWNT player to score a goal in each of her first five starts. We also saw Mallory Swanson and Catarina Macario return to action on the pitch after being out with injuries. Lindsey Horan converted her penalty kick late in the second half to seal the match for the USWNT, and the Yanks will play Canada in the final tomorrow night in Columbus.

Brazil Loses to Canada on Penalties in SheBelieves Cup Semifinals

Brazil lost 4-2 on penalties to Canada after a 1-1 draw in the other semifinal match of the SheBelieves Cup. Orlando Pride forward Marta and midfielder Angelina came off the bench late in the second half. Brazil got off to a good start, getting a penalty kick goal from Tarciane in the first half. However, in the second half, Canada got the equalizer from Vanessa Gilles to tie the match. In penalties, Marta was her country’s first shooter — after Canada had missed — but her kick was poor, and it was saved by goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan. Canada then converted four straight penalties, while Antonia missed another for Brazil to give the Canadians the edge and move on to the final to face the USWNT. Brazil will play Japan in the third-place match tomorrow afternoon.

MLS Weekend Roundup

Orlando City wasn’t in action this weekend, but there were plenty of good MLS games to watch. Let’s start in California, where LAFC beat the LA Galaxy 2-1, giving its rival its first loss of the season. The New York Red Bulls fought back from being down 1-0 to defeat FC Cincinnati 2-1 and stay at the top of the Eastern Conference. The most entertaining match from the weekend was down in Texas, as Austin FC and the San Jose Earthquakes went back and forth, trading goals in a thrilling match. However, late in stoppage time, Sebastian Driussi scored to give Austin a 4-3 victory over the Earthquakes and a second consecutive win for his team. The lone MLS Sunday match saw the Portland Timbers come back from a 3-0 deficit to tie Sporting Kansas City 3-3.

Manchester United and Liverpool Draw

Another marquee matchup with Premier League title implications took place in England at Old Trafford, as Liverpool’s title hopes took a hit. Luis Diaz put Liverpool ahead early in the first half. Bruno Fernandes and Kobbie Mainoo scored for Manchester United in the second half to put the Red Devils in front 2-1. Mohammed Salah then scored a late equalizer for Liverpool from the penalty spot, as Liverpool and Manchester United each got a point in a 2-2 draw. That result means Arsenal stays in first and Liverpool is in second, with both sides tied at 71 points, but Arsenal is ahead on goal difference. Manchester City is right behind both clubs, in third with 70 points, while Manchester United stays in sixth with 49 points.

Free Kicks

  • Orlando Pride midfielder Ally Lemos recorded an assist for the U.S. U-20 Women’s National Team in its 3-1 win against Canada in a friendly.
  • Former Orlando Pride head coach Marc Skinner, who coaches the Manchester United Women’s Team, may not be offered a new contract with the club after this season. His side is in fourth in the Women’s Super League and the club hierarchy reportedly has doubts about Skinner taking the team to the next level.
  • Flamengo has withdrawn its U-17 squad from the Generation Adidas Cup after a 2-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union in the semifinals. MLS Next has launched an investigation following accusations that both teams had allegedly engaged in misconduct including discriminatory language.
  • Fenerbahce players walked off the pitch after one minute in their Turkish Super Cup match against Galatasaray and forfeited the match.

That will do it for me today, Mane Landers. Enjoy your Monday, and I’ll see you next time.

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