The Orlando Pride (3-4-1, 10 points) handed the Washington Spirit (4-1-3, 15 points) their first loss of the 2023 NWSL season, beating them 2-1 at Exploria Stadium. A 23rd-minute penalty by Marta gave the Pride the lead, but the Spirit answered in the 28th minute through Sam Staab. The Pride found a winner in the 77th minute when a Marta corner found the head of Kylie Strom, securing the team’s fourth consecutive result.
Pride Head Coach Seb Hines made one change from the team that had remained the same for the last three games. Kerry Abello got her first regular-season start since April 15, replacing Erika Tymrak. He also changed from a 4-2-3-1 formation to a 4-3-3 setup. Anna Moorhouse was in goal in front of the now-normal back line of Strom, Emily Madril, Megan Montefusco, and Haley McCutcheon. Mikayla Cluff, Viviana Villacorta, and Abello were in the midfield behind a forward line of Marta, Adriana, and Messiah Bright.
“We had to respect Washington and there are some really good individuals on that team and we changed the way that we pressed tonight,” Hines said about the team’s formation and style. “It was a little bit different. We went with a 4-3-3, and it does require a lot of work in that pressing, but, you know, the players fully bought into what we’re trying to do. And it was a little bit unusual for them because they hadn’t experienced it and we did some work in training leading up to this game.”
Despite facing a Spirit team atop the NWSL standings, the Pride created more chances in this game. However, they were unable to hit the target with most of those chances, keeping the opposition close. Fortunately, Moorhouse had arguably her best game of the year to maintain the lead and eventually claim the win.
The game got off to a rough start when McCutcheon collided with Trinity Rodman eight seconds after kickoff. McCutcheon’s elbow appeared to contact the back of Rodman’s head, so Washington’s medical staff came on to look at the star forward. After taking her off the field for a few minutes for a concussion test and to test her mobility, she returned to the field.
The Pride had the first dangerous attack in the eighth minute when Cluff won the ball near midfield. Bright picked it up and dribbled down field, attempting to play it around Tara McKeown. She beat the center back, but Amber Brooks did well to catch up from behind and clear it away.
In the 18th minute, the Spirit got their first chance of the game, when Paige Metayer lifted the ball to the far post from the top of the box. Ashley Sanchez was left unmarked and shot on goal from a tough angle. But Moorhouse was there to make the easy save.
A minute later, Bright had a chance on the other end. Dribbling into the box on the right, the striker’s first shot was blocked by Staab. But it went right back to the rookie, providing a second attempt. Similar to Sanchez’s shot, it was from a tight angle, enabling Aubrey Kingsbury to make the relatively easy stop.
The Pride broke through when Adriana made a nice run down the left in the 21st minute. She used her speed to beat Brooks, forcing the right back to make a desperate dive to stop the Brazilian. Adriana immediately went to the ground and referee Thomas Snyder pointed to the spot.
Unsurprisingly, Marta stood over the ball, ready to take the penalty. Kingsbury dove to her left and the Pride captain sent the ball the other way, giving the hosts a 1-0 lead. It was the Brazilian’s first goal since she tore her ACL during the 2022 Challenge Cup, keeping her out all of last season.
“I’m so happy that I scored my first goal,” Marta said about her first goal for the Pride since 2021. “You know, I just didn’t think about it so much, maybe because of the moment in the game. And I just think like, ‘Yes, we score.’ I scored a penalty, you know? I think it’s more like double pressure because if you miss, you don’t know how the game is gonna be for you and for your team. So I was so happy that I did (score).”
“Any forward wants to get that feeling back, and it’s a testament to her and her recovery coming back from a longterm injury,” Hines said about Marta’s penalty. “And you don’t want anyone else stepping up for that penalty other than her. She’s been in them moments so often, on the biggest stage, so we have full confidence in her hitting the back of the net in that moment.”
It’s the second time this year that the Pride have scored first against the Spirit. On May 10, it was Tori Hansen scoring a backheel in the Challenge Cup. This one was more expected, as it was created and converted by two of the Pride’s best attacking players.
Unfortunately, the lead didn’t last long as the Spirit answered right back. In the 28th minute, Marta wasn’t quick enough to the ball near the top of the box, giving the ball up to Brooks. The right back’s cross was deflected out by Adriana for a corner kick.
Ashley Hatch took the corner, playing it short to Ines Jaurena. The French midfielder sent a cross into the box that found the head of Staab. Cluff was defending the center back, but fell as the ball came in. Since Cluff was between Montefusco and Staab, the center back couldn’t challenge for the ball, and Moorhouse initially decided to come out, then changed her mind, getting caught in between decisions, as Staab put it past her to even the game at 1-1.
The Pride had a decent chance to regain the lead in the 39th minute, when quick play between Marta and Abello resulted in the latter attempting a cross. Gabrielle Carle blocked it out of play for a corner kick. Adriana’s cross found Montefusco at the near post, but her header was wide.
Less than a minute later, Rodman showed her skill and speed, dribbling past McCutcheon and into the Pride box. She had a split second before Madril came over for support, getting her shot off between the two. Rodman got over the ball, but it was right at Moorhouse, who caught the attempt.
The Pride had another chance in the 44th minute when Strom played the ball for Bright making a diagonal run in the box. Bright received the ball with her back to goal, but McKeown knocked it out for a corner. The ensuing set piece by Adriana found Strom near the back post, but she couldn’t get over the ball and it sailed over the target.
After 45 minutes, the Spirit had more possession (55.9%-44.1%), shots on goal (4-2), crosses (9-7), and passing accuracy (80.6%-72.5%). The Pride had more shot attempts (6-5), and both teams had three corner kicks.
The Spirit almost got the first chance of the second half when Sanchez played a great ball down the left for Rodman, sending her behind McCutcheon. The forward sent a dangerous ball through the Pride box, but nobody was there to get on the end of it.
The Pride’s first second-half chance came in the 49th minute when Bright made a long run from near midfield into the Washington box. She used her speed to get by Staab, but the center back was able to stay with her, forcing Bright’s shot into the side of the net.
Moorhouse has taken some criticism for her early-season play, but she came up with some big saves to keep her team in the game. In the 53rd minute, Jaurena found Rodman on the right and the forward sent Sanchez through on goal. Moorhouse came off her line to greet the attacker, taking it off her foot. However, the assistant’s flag went up for the initial ball to Rodman.
Two minutes later, Andi Sullivan attempted a long-distance shot. It looked to be headed just under the crossbar, but Moorhouse did well to tip it over.
The ensuing corner landed at the foot of Dorian Bailey, who came on at halftime for Brooks,. She attempted her own long shot, but Moorhouse dove to her right to knock it wide.
“She didn’t have a lot to do last week against Gotham, but today she came up massive for us,” Hines said about Moorhouse’s performance against Washington. “It’s so important that everyone does their job. You know, the work that the players in front, have to run, have to battle, have to fight, and she’s there as a safety. And the saves that she made really, they were so important for us to get the three points today.”
The Pride had their own close attempt in the 63rd minute. After Bailey knocked the ball out for a corner, Adriana sent the ball to the near post where Strom was charging in. The left back got her head on the ball, flicking it towards the far post, but missed just wide.
In the 66th minute, Strom sent a long ball into the box for Bright, just missing the striker. That was the last action for the rookie, as she was replaced by Ally Watt, the Pride’s first substitution of the game.
The Pride retook the lead in the 77th minute from a set piece. It started when Adriana’s shot was blocked wide by McKeown. Marta’s corner was perfectly placed, sailing just over Lena Silano and finding the head of Strom at the back post. The left back’s header was past Kingsbury, giving the Pride a 2-1 lead.
“We’ve been working on that exact play,” Strom said about the game-winner. “(Pride Goalkeeper Coach) Paul (Crichton) has drew that up time and time again, every game, scouting set pieces, so credit to him. Marta, absolutely perfect service. I really honestly didn’t have to do too much. I was just in the right place at the right time. And yeah, it was great. Great delivery, great goal.”
“Today it was not my best day with the set pieces, especially in the corner. Maybe I have three or four on my side and two was so bad,” Marta said about her assist. “And then I come to the third one, and then I talked to myself and talked to God and say, ‘Hey, I know I can do that.’ And then I put the ball in the right place and then she was there to score.”
In the 84th minute, the Pride had a chance when McKeown pushed Adriana down from behind near the Spirit box, picking up a yellow card in the process. Marta stepped up to take the kick, sending a low shot towards the bottom of the near post. But Kingsbury did well to get down and save it.
On the other end, Carle had a chance when she got behind Marta. She moved in towards goal from the left, allowing Marta to catch up to her. The Brazilian deflected the shot into the arms of Moorhouse at the near post.
The Spirit had one last chance at the end of the game when McCutcheon fouled Rodman just inside their own half of the field. Stabb sent the set piece into the box, but Moorhouse came out to catch and fall on it. That was the last play of the game as Snyder blew the final whistle.
The Pride ended the game with more shots (14-9), but the Spirit had more possession (55.9%-44.1%) and shots on target (6-4). Additionally, the Pride had more corners (7-5) and the Spirit had more crosses (18-17).
“We knew it was gonna be a tough game,” Hines said about the performance. “You know, Washington are unbeaten in the league. Very physical and I thought we managed the game really well. Pleased with the goals. You know, we changed shape, we changed our formation, having played them earlier on in Challenge Cup, so we knew what they’re capable of. We knew that they were threatening and I thought it was a big collective effort to get the three points.”
With this win, the Pride have now won three of their last four regular season games and their last two at home. After losing their first four games, they’re now on a four-game unbeaten run (3-0-1), lifting them up to seventh in the NWSL standings, with 10 points from eight games.
Having beaten the NWSL’s first-place team, the Pride will now look to continue their unbeaten run against the team at the bottom of the standings, when they face the Chicago Red Stars next Saturday night in Illinois.
Five Questions About the Orlando Pride in 2024
What are the top five questions for the Orlando Pride heading into the 2024 NWSL season?
The Orlando Pride have begun their preseason training for the 2024 NWSL season and will play their first preseason scrimmage on Thursday afternoon. The team nearly made the playoffs last year for the first time since 2017, narrowly missing out on the final day of the season. The team’s been busy this off-season, looking to improve the squad. However, there are still some questions to be answered before the competitive games start.
Here are five burning questions about the Pride for 2024.
Who Will Start in Goal?
The Pride signed English goalkeeper Anna Moorhouse from French side Bordeaux on Jan. 31, 2022 to back up Erin McLeod. When the Canadian left after the 2022 season, Moorhouse was elevated to starter. She played well at times last year, but was inconsistent. However, Pride Head Coach Seb Hines showed confidence in the 28-year-old, starting her in 19 of the team’s 22 regular-season games.
In December, the Pride traded backup Carly Nelson to the Utah Royals for Allocation Money. The move came 11 days after they signed Finnish goalkeeper Sofia Manner, indicating the club was planning for the departure. While Moorhouse will undoubtedly start the season as the team’s number one, Manner could claim the position if Moorhouse’s inconsistency returns. It will be something to keep an eye on this year.
Who Will Start in the Defensive Midfield?
The Pride focused on the team’s back line last year, but much of the effort this off-season has been on the defensive midfield. The team traded for Haley McCutcheon on Aug. 18, 2022 and it appeared as though she would start in the position. However, Hines moved her to right back last year, where she’s become the regular starter. It then looked like recent draft picks Viviana Villacorta and Mikayla Cluff would be the duo, but Cluff was traded to Utah on Nov. 15 for Expansion Draft protection and Villacorta tore her ACL late last year.
The club focused on the position this off-season, bringing in Brazilian internationals Angelina and Luana, along with USWNT player Morgan Gautrat. All three will battle to start in the defensive midfield, especially since Villacorta is injured and fellow defensive midfielders Cluff and Jordyn Listro are gone. But it’s still unknown who will start in those positions. It’s a question that will likely be answered in the coming weeks as the Pride build for the start of the regular season in March.
Where is Ally Watt Best Suited?
After tearing down the roster in a full rebuild, the Pride made two significant acquisitions in August 2022. In addition to trading for McCutcheon, the Pride dealt Allocation Money to OL Reign (now Seattle Reign FC) for forward Ally Watt. The speedy attacker quickly became the second option up top for the Pride, typically playing behind rookie Messiah Bright last year and starting the odd game. However, that’s not the only position she played.
Hines has shown he values versatility and illustrated that with Watt last year. In addition to playing up top, Watt was deployed on the right side of the midfield. Her speed and ability with the ball was an asset in the position, and she was praised by teammates in the role. They love having her on the right and Julie Doyle on the left, the two fastest players on the team. The questions now become: which position is she best at, and where does she best fit in with this team?
Who will Replace Messiah Bright?
Possibly the biggest question for the 2024 season is who will replace the starting striker. The Pride drafted Bright with the 21st overall pick of the 2022 NWSL Draft out of TCU, and she quickly became the focal point of the attack. Her six regular-season goals last year tied Adriana for the team lead. However, the forward requested a trade this off-season, citing personal reasons, and was shipped off to Angel City FC.
The club did sign Simone Charley, most recently with Angel City, who could replace Bright. However, she’s coming off a season-ending injury and wasn’t as effective in Los Angeles as she was in Portland. Other options include Canadian international Amanda Allen or Argentina international Mariana Larroquette. Watt might be the most likely to start the season up top as it stands, with Pride Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Haley Carter recently telling our SkoPurp Soccer podcast that 2024 will be “the season of Ally.” But it remains to be seen who will be the Pride’s new number nine.
Will We Discover the Pride’s New Number 10?
Marta has been the Pride’s number 10 since she arrived in 2017 and the team’s most prolific player. She leads the team all-time in appearances (102), starts (95), minutes (8,456), goals (31), and assists (18) in all competitions. However, she’s on the final year of a two-year deal that’s widely expected to be the last for the soon-to-be-38-year-old midfielder. If she does depart the club following the 2024 season, they Pride will need to find her replacement.
The club could go outside and find her replacement for 2025, but there are options in the current squad. The most talented player on the team currently is Brazilian international Adriana, who has typically played on the right side of the midfield, causing problems for defenses. She’s also switched with Marta at times, moving central, and has played there at the international level. The club also has Summer Yates, the former Washington Husky drafted in 2023. Yates slipped to the fourth round, where the Pride grabbed her, and Carter recently said she’s seen significant development in the second-year player.
While the primary focus is on this season, Hines could show his hand with who plays the most minutes behind Marta in the attacking midfield. While a final decision will probably be left to the 2025 preseason, we can get an idea of who might be in line for arguably the most significant role on the team during the 2024 campaign.
The Pride enter the 2024 season with more expectations than the last two years. They narrowly missed out on the playoffs in 2023 and will be looking to improve this season. While most of the team is intact, there are some questions to be answered during preseason and the coming regular season. It will tell us a lot about the team’s 2024 season and the coming years.
Orlando Pride’s Summer Yates and Amanda Allen in Line for Breakout Seasons
Summer Yates and Amanda Allen could have breakout seasons for the Pride.
The Orlando Pride are in the third year of a full rebuild, although there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Last season saw multiple young players take big steps forward in their development and this year will undoubtedly see more. Two players who currently look like they’ll play bigger roles in the team are midfielder Summer Yates and forward Amanda Allen.
Yates and Allen are two young players with bright futures that the Pride brought in during 2023. They drafted Yates out of the University of Washington with the third pick of the fourth round (39th overall) of the 2023 NWSL Draft. You usually don’t find this level of talent that late in the draft, but Yates was expected to go much higher. She began slipping through the second and third rounds, enabling the Pride to complete what could be the steal of the draft.
Rather than coming in through the draft, the Pride were able to sign Allen directly. The teenager made her way through the Canadian national team system, making her senior team debut in November 2022. She was seen as a player for the future but didn’t see much of the field last year.
It’s not a surprise to see young players in this team see significant minutes, as the Pride have focused on it over the past few seasons. It’s something that Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Haley Carter spoke about with The Mane Land’s SkoPurp Soccer podcast last week.
“I think you develop through meaningful match minutes,” Carter said on SkoPurp. “Even if you look at some of the signings that we’ve made, young athletes, you look at Amanda Allen for instance, making sure she’s getting meaningful match minutes is really important to us.”
Yates and Allen are both likely to see more minutes this year but face different situations. Yates saw more time on the field during her rookie season, making 10 league appearances and recording 108 minutes. She made a further six appearances (two starts) in the NWSL Challenge Cup for 259 minutes and recorded two assists in the competition.
The Pride signed Marta to a two-year extension following the 2022 NWSL season, so this could very well be the last year of her career. Once the star is gone, the Pride will be looking for a long-term replacement and Yates could be that player. Carter even told SkoPurp that she’s seen development in the midfielder this off-season.
“(Yates) is flying, by the way. Summer Yates is chef’s kiss flying,” Carter said. “She had an unbelievable off-season. She’s like a whole new player this year.”
The midfielder was the primary playmaker for Washington in college and played that role when she appeared for the Pride last year. It wouldn’t be surprising to see her play more minutes this season, especially since the club will likely lose Adriana at times to international duty.
Allen is in a different position than Yates but might have a similar opportunity to prove herself this season. At the end of last year, she was the fourth striker on the depth chart behind Messiah Bright, Ally Watt, and Mariana Larroquette. However, Bright asked for a trade this off-season due to personal reasons and was shipped to Angel City FC. The club could still bring in a veteran striker to replace the young forward, but Carter said it’s not a major concern for the team at the moment.
“We feel like we’re in a good place,” Carter said about the striker situation. “It’s not something that we’re terribly concerned about.”
However, she also said that the club has worked at strengthening the back line and midfield positions over the past two seasons. Now it’s time to look for goal scorers that can push the team to be a contender in the NWSL.
“If you look at it from a strategy standpoint, how we’ve approached the last year, we got to improve the back line. And that’s what we did first,” Carter said. “And then the priority became the midfield. And that’s what we did in the beginning of the off-season. And now we’re looking for established goal scorers.”
Watt was the starter at the forward position last year when Bright wasn’t available or needed rest. While it’s fair to assume she would simply move up to the number one spot on the depth chart, Carter further indicated the veteran would be the team’s nine.
“I feel like this is going to be the year of Ally,” Carter said about the forward.
The Pride emphasize versatility, something they’ve shown the past few seasons. While Watt will likely be the starting forward when the season starts, she also played on the right in 2023. Following her appearances last year in the midfield, her attacking teammates gave glowing reviews about having the speed of Watt on the right and Julie Doyle on the left.
The club’s focus on Watt up top might seem like a negative for Allen’s playing time. After all, the teenager didn’t appear much last season, only making three league appearances for nine minutes. She didn’t play much more in the NWSL Challenge Cup, making three appearances, with one start, for 91 minutes.
However, Allen has two things going for her. One is that the club values providing meaningful minutes to young players and Allen is seen as part of the future of this team. It’s also not easy to find proven goal scorers. Unless the club can find a proven goal scorer by the trade and transfer deadline on April 22, Allen will move up on the depth chart.
The focus for the Pride this season is improving on last year and making the playoffs for the first time since 2017. However, they also have an eye on the future with the team still being young. Last year, we saw young players like Bright and Emily Madril prove themselves at the professional level. This year we could see Yates and Allen make a similar jump.
Orlando Pride Rebuild Resembles Orlando City’s
The Pride are taking a page from the Lions on building a winning club.
Building a winning club is not an easy thing to do. If it was, everyone would be doing it. Of course, there are different ways to go about it. You can spend a ton of money on flashy, big-name players who you throw together and hope something comes out of it. The Orlando Pride already tried that and it didn’t work. One other way is to take your time to build something from scratch. It isn’t as quick, and takes patience, but it is usually more sustainable.
Just like with Orlando City, it started with a coach. Seb Hines took over as interim head coach following the departure of Amanda Cromwell under less-than-ideal conditions. Oscar Pareja has built a culture with the Lions and now Hines is doing the same for the Pride. The arrival of Haley Carter has resulted in a partnership that aims to bring more wins for the club.
One of the key factors in Orlando City’s rebuild was the addition of Robin Jansson and Antonio Carlos to create a stable center back pairing. Now, the Pride look like they have done the same thing with Rafaelle and Emily Madril. Rafaelle is signed through the 2025 season, and Madril through the 2026 season. Those two, along with Haley McCutcheon, Carrie Lawrence, Megan Montefusco, and Kylie Strom, among others, have stabilized a defense that was pretty porous in the past. It is the foundation.
I don’t think that the Pride have the equivalent of a Pedro Gallese in goal, but there will be plenty of competition between Anna Moorhouse, Sofia Manner, and Kaylie Collins. With Collins on loan in Australia, Moorhouse and Manner will battle it out for the starting role.
We saw the difference that Facundo Torres, Cesar Araujo, and Wilder Cartagena made in the Orlando City midfield. The Pride have beefed up their midfield over the last year, adding Brazilians Angelina and Luana, as well as the recent additions of Morgan Gautrat and NWSL Draft pick Ally Lemos. The plan is for the Pride to be able to work the ball up the field rather than having to lump it over the top all the time. This will create chances for the forwards to get more service from the midfield and thus score more goals.
Speaking of the attack, the Pride have several options despite the departure of Messiah Bright. Ally Watt is coming off her first fully healthy season and is looking to prove she is the person for the job. Adriana was my player of the year for the Pride in 2023 and I expect even more from her in 2024. There is also Julie Doyle, Mariana Larroquette, Amanda Allen, and the newly acquired Simone Charley. That is a lot of potential firepower now that the midfield is in better shape.
I know that some supporters get a little jealous when other clubs like NJ/NY Gotham FC are making splashy, big-name signings, but remember, it wasn’t those signings that won Gotham the title last season. I also know that having a fan favorite like Bright head off to another club seems like a big blow. We’re all a little sensitive that the Pride have been snubbed by the likes of Mia Fishel, Debinha, and others.
We interviewed Haley Carter on the SkoPurp Soccer PawedCast the other day, and one thing she said really stuck with me. I’m paraphrasing, but basically it was to be glad for all the players who want to be here. They are putting in the work. They have bought into the culture that the club is building. They are signing contract extensions because they believe. To quote Ted Lasso, “I believe in believe,” and it might be the hope that kills you, but I’m pretty excited about what is being built in Orlando right now.
Also, consider this: the transfer window doesn’t close until April. The Pride might not be done making moves. Let me know your thoughts in the comments, and please listen to the interview with Haley Carter if you haven’t already. Vamos Orlando!
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