The Orlando Pride (7-8-1, 22 points) had their best performance of the year in their first game after the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup break, crushing the Chicago Red Stars (5-10-1, 16 points) 5-0. Rafaelle and Mariana Larroquette both scored on their debuts for the team and Messiah Bright scored the first brace of her young career. The fifth goal was by midfielder Mikayla Cluff.
The return of the World Cup participants meant that Marta and Adriana rejoined the lineup. Rafaelle also entered the lineup at center back, replacing Megan Montefusco and making her Pride debut. The back line in front of goalkeeper Anna Moorhouse was Kylie Strom, Emily Madril, Rafaelle, and Haley McCutcheon. Viviana Villacorta and Kerry Abello were in the defensive midfield behind Julie Doyle, Marta, and Adriana, with Bright up top.
Similar to their first meeting in Illinois on May 27, the Pride dominated this game from start to finish. Other than a brief flurry of blocked shots in the first half, Chicago couldn’t get anything going offensively. However, while the Pride were unable to hit the target in their first meeting, they put five behind Red Stars goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher in this one.
The Pride dominated possession in the opening minutes, creating all of the opportunities in the opposing end. In the 11th minute, Marta attempted to play Bright behind the Chicago defense, but the rookie striker wasn’t expecting it. Two minutes later, Rafaelle sent a terrific ball behind the back line for Bright. Unfortunately, her first touch was too heavy, allowing Naeher to collect it.
The first shot of the game came in the 13th minute, when Doyle, who the Pride were constantly playing to outside early, sent a low cross into the box. It looked like the defense would easily clear, but there was some miscommunication. Marta took advantage, reaching in to put the ball on goal. However, the close-range shot was right to Naeher.
The Pride finally took the lead in the 14th minute from a corner kick. Adriana and Marta stood over the ball, with Adriana stepping over it. Marta’s cross was outside of the six-yard box and beyond the back post, where Rafaelle got her head to it. The newly-signed Brazilian sent the ball towards the opposite post where it beat Naeher for the opening goal.
“Obviously, Rafa is a world class center half,” Pride Head Coach Seb Hines said about the opening goal. “And you know, she’s been threatening in her career off set pieces, and it’s nice to get that early goal. Nice for her to get that goal early on as well.”
Less than a minute later, McCutcheon nearly doubled the Pride’s lead. She attempted to play the ball across for Bright, but it was blocked right back to her. The right back’s second ball was a shot towards the far post that sent Naeher diving, but it went just wide of the post.
Marta came close to scoring in her first game back with the team in the 19th minute, when Doyle’s low cross was cleared out by Kayla Sharples. The clearance went to Marta outside of the box and the Pride captain took an ambitious shot on goal. It was a good strike, but went just over the crossbar.
The Pride doubled their lead in the 24th minute when McCutcheon blocked a long-distance attempt by Penelope Hocking — Chicago’s first shot of the game. She played the ball forward for Doyle, who immediately sent Bright into the Red Stars half. Hocking slid in with a very late challenge on Doyle, but referee Anya Voigt waved play on. Taylor Malham was on the striker, but left her too much space. Bright took advantage of the room, sending the ball inside the far post to give the Pride a 2-0 lead.
“I think when you just think about it in the moment and think it’s just picking your moments, I’m usually more of an attacking player that looks to go in the box,” Bright said about her first goal of the night. “So I think just trusting myself with my shot and knowing that I do have the range to kick it outside of the 18 as well. So I just took a chance and just really just had a good technique on it.”
“I think we’ve had games before where we’ve had those chances in the first 15, 20 minutes and we haven’t put them away,” Madril said about scoring two goals early. “And then it just puts more pressure on us to try to get that goal and then we have to work harder to just get those goals. So I think it’s great to get those two goals early and kind of let things calm down and kind of play or composed soccer and keep the ball and have Chicago chase the whole time.”
Before the Red Stars could restart, Voigt went back to the challenge on Doyle, issuing Hocking a yellow card for the late challenge.
Bright had a chance for a first-half brace in the 29th minute when a quick give-and-go between the rookie and Marta sent Bright behind the Red Stars defense. She got herself in position to shoot as she entered the box with Malham closing in, but the attempt was right to Naeher.
After only taking one shot in the first 34 minutes, the Red Stars had two good chances in the 35th minute. Strom attempted to shield St-Georges from the ball near her own end line, but St-Georges was able to play it back for Ava Cook. The forward took a touch to create space from Rafaelle and shot. Fortunately, Madril was backing her fellow center back up and blocked it. The rebound went right back to Cook, who laid it off for Yuki Nagasato behind her. Nagasato’s shot beat Rafaelle, but was blocked by Strom.
A minute later, the Red Stars forced Moorhouse into her first stop of the game when Casey Krueger found Hocking to her left. Hocking had some space for a shot and tried to beat Moorhouse to her near post, but the Pride goalkeeper got down to block it out of play.
The Red Stars had one more first-half opportunity in the 36th minute, when Nagasato found Julia Bianchi outside of the Pride box. The midfielder took a shot from distance, but Madril stepped in front of it for the block. The small flurry of chances was the only Chicago threat in the first half and the Pride were able to take a 2-0 lead into the break.
After 45 minutes, the Red Stars had more possession (51.7%-48.3%), but the Pride had more shots (9-5), shots on target (4-1), and crosses (11-7), and better passing accuracy (85.5%-81.2%). Both teams had two corners in the first half.
It looked like the Red Stars might get back into the game in the 49th minute when Krueger sent a long ball for Jenna Bike, who came on at halftime for St-Georges. Bike got behind the Pride defense, but Strom slid in to take the ball away. Hocking and Bike, who went down on the play, threw their arms in the air, claiming it should’ve been a penalty. But Voigt decided it was a clean challenge.
The Pride quickly went the other way with Adriana playing it forward for Marta. The Brazilian used the outside of her left foot to send Bright behind the Red Stars defense. Naeher came out of the box to challenge the striker, but Bright remained calm, dribbling around her and putting it in for her second goal of the night.
“The main thing that was going through my mind was just making sure I stayed even with the back line so I wouldn’t be caught offside,” Bright said about the goal. “But also just having that separation as well to break off once she passed. It is quite amazing how she got the ball through there. It’s Marta, so I mean, couldn’t expect nothing less. But my main thing was once she played it, I saw Naeher coming out, so I just went around her and the goal was wide open. I was kind of getting off balance a little bit so my main thing was just placing it, putting a little heat on it, and just redirecting it in the goal.”
It was Bright’s sixth goal of the season, tying her for fifth in the league. It’s also her first career brace, something the rookie says she’s been aiming for.
“I’ve been searching for that career brace for a minute now,” Bright said. “So it was pretty, you know, good to just get that. And I was actually aiming for a hat trick but, you know, take it a game at a time.”
Chicago had a chance to get one back in the 59th minute when Bianchi’s long-distance shot was blocked out of play by Rafaelle. The ensuing corner kick got under the arm and Moorhouse, but, fortunately, the Pride were able to clear.
Hines made his first changes of the game in the 60th minute. Cluff, Larroquette, and Jordyn Listro entered the game for Doyle, Bright, and Villacorta.
It didn’t take long for Larroquette to make an impact as she scored 3:46 into her Pride debut. The new forward received the ball on the left side of the box from Cluff and cut inside to beat her defender. The Argentine placed her shot with her right foot past Naeher and into the top corner to give the Pride a 4-0 lead.
“For Larroquette, you know, coming in and, you know, you can see the hunger that she brings to try and score.”Hines said about the new striker. “Every moment she wants to score.”
Four minutes later, the Pride scored a fifth and it was another substitute. Cluff played Adriana down the right and the Brazilian used some good footwork to beat Amanda Kowalski. Cluff continued her run into the box and Adriana found her. Cluff’s first touch was a soft shot inside the far post to give the Pride a 5-0 lead.
With the game well under control, the Pride made two final changes. Megan Montefusco came on for Rafaelle in the 70th minute and Summer Yates replaced Adriana in the 73rd minute.
The Pride nearly had a sixth in the 82nd minute when Abello beat her defender and sent a cross towards the top of the six-yard box. Naeher tried to knock the ball away, but only put it in front for Larroquette. Unfortunately, the Argentinian couldn’t get her foot on the ball and the Red Stars cleared.
Chicago had a chance to get on the scoresheet in the 85th minute when Ella Stevens sent fellow substitute Ally Schlegel behind the Pride defense. Schlegel’s first touch should’ve been a shot on goal, but it was a heavy one instead. Moorhouse came out to challenge and the two collided, resulting in the ball rolling out of play. Moorhouse was down briefly and required medical attention, but was able to continue.
The fourth official put up six minutes of second-half stoppage time, but the Pride were content with their five-goal lead. The only chance in the dying minutes came in the first minute of added time when Krueger did well to keep possession in the Pride box and send the ball towards the penalty spot. Cari Roccaro met the ball and took a shot, but Madril got in front of the attempt, blocking it wide.
The Red Stars finished the game with more possession (51.1%-48.9%) and corner kicks (6-4), but weren’t able to create much from them. The Pride had more shots (13-9), shots on target (7-1), and crosses (17-15), and better passing accuracy (85.6%-82.8%).
“The players were brilliant today,” Hines said about the performance. “From start to finish, the intensity of how they did everything, from attacking to defending. We talked heavily about taking our opportunities, end product in the final third. And, you know, they were brilliant. I can’t speak highly (enough) of them. You know, we’ve felt like that performance has been coming. But it’s nice to finally get a good score line at the end of it.”
The five goals are the most the Pride have scored in a game since May 26, 2018 when they beat the Red Stars in Illinois, 5-2. It’s their largest win since Aug. 12, 2017 when they won 5-0 over Sky Blue FC at Exploria Stadium. It’s also the first time that the Pride have beaten the Red Stars in Orlando, now with a record of 1-7-1 at home against tonight’s opposition.
In addition to team history, the Pride also set some league history tonight. They did that earlier this year by conceding the latest goals in league history, but this time it was positive. Brazilians Marta, Adriana, and Rafaelle all had a part in goals, the first time in NWSL history that three players from the same country other than the United States had goal contributions in the same game.
It was a clutch performance for the Pride as they attempt to qualify for the NWSL playoffs for the first time since 2017. Racing Louisville lost last night, so the Pride move in front of them into seventh place. The final playoff spot is currently held by San Diego Wave FC, which is three points ahead of the Pride after this weekend’s games.
The win makes the Pride’s next match even more essential as they welcome the Wave to Exploria Stadium Friday night with a chance to climb even on points for the sixth and final playoff spot.
Orlando Pride Sign Midfielder Kerry Abello to New Contract
The Pride have signed midfielder Kerry Abello to a new three-year contract.
The Orlando Pride announced this afternoon that the club has signed midfielder Kerry Abello to a new three-year contract. The deal keeps Abello in purple through the 2026 NWSL season.
“We are thrilled to keep Kerry in Orlando through 2026. Since joining the club, she has proven to be a reliable and versatile player for our team,” Pride Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Haley Carter said in a club press release. “In a few short years, she has grown into a leader in our locker room and sets the standard for professionalism and accountability, two values we center our culture around. Ensuring she remains a part of what we are building here, both on and off the field, was a priority for us in the off-season. We are happy to bring that to fruition and look forward to her continued growth and performance.”
Abello was initially drafted by the Pride with the 24th pick of the 2021 NWSL Draft, but decided to return to school for a fifth season. The club finally signed the Penn State product to a two-year contract on Jan. 28, 2022. The midfielder signed another two-year deal on Feb. 23, 2023, with a club option for 2025. Just over a year later, she’s now inked a third contract, ensuring her stay in Orlando will run through 2026.
Initially coming off the bench, Abello became a regular starter late in her rookie season. Over the past three years, she’s seen time at attacking and defensive midfield, showing her versatility. In total, Abello has made 49 appearances (31 starts) in all competitions and recorded 2,835 minutes. She’s scored one goal and contributed one assist.
Last year, the 24-year-old midfielder made 25 appearances (18 starts), recording 1,642 minutes, and adding a goal and an assist. She participated in all but two league games and five of the team’s six Challenge Cup contests.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there is truly no place I’d rather be. Thank you, Orlando, for having me for the next three years,” Abello said in a club press release. “I’m feeling full of joy, gratitude, and inspiration. There’s work to be done, and I can’t wait to put my whole heart into this season and all the rest. Vamos!”
The Batavia, IL, native was a part of the United States youth set up at the U-14, U-15, U-17, U-18, and U-19 levels. She received a call up to the U-23 U.S. Women’s National Team for the 2022 Women’s U-23 Three-Nations Tournament, scoring in a 3-0 win over Sweden.
Prior to being drafted by the Pride, Abello was a three-time All-Big Ten selection, helping Penn State win three Big Ten championships. She was also named to the All-North Team twice in her five collegiate seasons.
What It Means for Orlando
Similar to her last contract, this deal ensures that Abello will continue her stay in Orlando beyond the upcoming season. She originally started on the bench under former Pride head coach Amanda Cromwell, but won over Seb Hines with her versatility in the midfield. During her first two professional season, she’s played extensively at attacking and defensive midfield. However, she can also play on the back line, having been a center back in college.
Following the 2023 NWSL season, Carter told The Mane Land’s Skopurp Soccer podcast that the club focused on the back line last off-season and was focusing on the midfield this off-season. Signing Abello, who has been a crucial part of the club’s rebuild, was always going to be part of that plan.
Between the re-signing of Abello and the new additions to the team, the midfield has more depth than before. Abello’s presence could be crucial, because the midfield’s Brazilian internationals will likely miss time due to international call-ups. Abello can fill in multiple positions, ensuring there won’t be a significant drop-off when the internationals depart.
Orlando Pride Unveil New Kits Ahead of 2024 NWSL Season
The Pride take part in the NWSL kit reset with new primary and secondary jerseys for the 2024 season.
The Orlando Pride unveiled their two new kits today ahead of the 2024 NWSL season. The jerseys are part of the league-wide kit reset, launched by the NWSL and Nike. The club’s new Phoenix Kit features the Pride’s two recognizable colors, purple and blue, and the secondary Citrus Kit has an all-new color scheme, paying tribute to Florida’s citrus industry. Both jerseys will be formally unveiled on Wednesday, Feb. 28 at “The Kit Party presented by Orlando Health,” taking place at the Orlando Regional History Center.
Replicas of the two new jerseys are available for purchase at ShopOrlandoPride.com, in The Den at Inter&Co Stadium during regular business hours, and on NWSLshop.com. Replica goalkeeper jerseys will also be made available during a late spring release.
“We are proud to share two new, powerful kits with our fans and honored that we are again able to share the story of one of the pillars of our community and the state of Florida,” Pride Chief Marketing Officer Pedro Araujo said in a club press release. “Each year, it is important for us to use our platform to celebrate those that laid the foundation for our city, and this year is no different. We hope our fans are as excited to wear the Citrus Kit and the Phoenix Kit as we are, and to proudly represent Orlando both at home and outside of Central Florida. This new partnership with Nike is a very exciting moment for the league. We’re grateful for their continued support of the Orlando Pride and the NWSL as a whole and are excited for the future opportunities this new, refreshed commitment will bring to our kits and team performance gear.”
The Citrus Kit features a new orange and iced-out green scheme, a first for the Pride, with inspiration taken from Central Florida’s citrus industry. The jersey features oranges and leaves, with letters and numbers featuring the same iced-out green coloring. The design of the kit takes direct inspiration from the historic packaging of citrus crates and labels, unique to each grove. The back of the socks features a hand-drawn “Pride,” which is also inspired by the labels. Meanwhile, the “Outer Pride” on the lower corner of the jersey is a stylized “OP” with an orange cross-section and orange blossom leaves and flowers.
The primary home jersey this season will be the new Phoenix Kit, which is more recognizable to fans. The jersey features the club’s traditional colors of purple with blue letters and numbers. The jersey features a unique two-toned purple gradient that runs diagonally from the top right to the bottom left of the jersey. The club’s shirt sponsor, Orlando Health, remains in white, but the letters, numbers, and Nike logo on the darker purple are the team’s second color, “Eola Blue.”
The new kits are part of the NWSL’s league-wide kit reset, the first time a women’s professional soccer league has presented refreshed primary and secondary uniforms for all of its teams. Each club is receiving jerseys that reflect the club’s identity and joyful expression and celebrate the team’s community.
The Pride’s unveiling has been in cooperation with Hollieanna Groves, a local and family-owned grower, harvester, packer, and shipper of Florida citrus. The Maitland-based company is a fourth-generation packing house and sales room, providing the backdrop for one of the club’s kit photo shoots.
Here are some photos of the Pride’s newest kits courtesy of the Pride:
Orlando Pride Place Megan Montefusco on Season-Ending Injury List
The Orlando Pride have placed center back Megan Montefusco on the season-ending injury list following surgery on her right foot.
The Orlando Pride announced this afternoon that center back Megan Montefusco has been placed on the season-ending injury list. The defender had off-season right foot surgery, performed by the club’s official medical team, to repair a long-term problem.
“This is an unfortunate situation for Megan, though we’re happy she was able to address an issue that has plagued her for some time, and we are confident she will come out of this a stronger athlete,” Orlando Pride Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Haley Carter said in a club press release. “Our club is fully behind her and will support her throughout her rehab process, as will our amazing partners at Orlando Health. Our goal is to help Megan get back on the field as safely and smartly as possible, and we are behind her every step of the way. We look forward to seeing her back out on the pitch as soon as she is ready.”
The Pride originally acquired the defender in a trade with the Houston Dash on Jan. 28, 2022 that saw Marisa Viggiano go the other way. She was a regular starter at center back that year and through most of 2023, but lost the starting position when the club signed Brazilian international Rafaelle. Montefusco has made 45 appearances (42 starts) for 3,773 minutes in all competitions over her two seasons in Orlando, scoring one goal.
The 31 year-old signed a new contract with the Pride on June 15, 2023 through the 2024 season with an option for 2025. As one of the team’s main representatives alongside fellow center back Carrie Lawrence, Montefusco appeared at Orlando City’s preseason game against the New England Revolution, signing autographs and taking part in a question-and-answer session while wearing a walking boot.
What It Means for Orlando
This news is a bit of a blow to Orlando’s depth on the back line. Montefusco was the first center back off the bench late last year and was expected to have the same role this year. However, her absence will make room for Lawrence, who missed the 2023 season after suffering a torn ACL during preseason, and Tori Hansen, who is currently on loan with Melbourne Victory FC in Australia. The duo will now compete for the third center back spot unless the club replaces Montefusco with another veteran, as the NWSL transfer window remains open.
This injury could also open up a spot for the Pride to sign 2024 second-round NWSL Draft pick Cori Dyke, who the club took at No. 22 overall out of Penn State. Dyke has experience at center back in college. She played as a central midfielder for the first four years in college, but moved to center back for her final season. Despite moving to the back line, the 2023 season was her most productive offensively, as she recorded five goals and six assists.
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