The Orlando Pride (8-10-1, 25 points) returned home in a must-win game and took care of business, beating the North Carolina Courage (8-7-4, 28 points) 2-1 at Exploria Stadium. Ally Watt scored the earliest goal in Pride history, giving the hosts the lead inside the first minute. Adriana doubled the advantage in the 32nd minute, which was all the Pride needed. Manaka Matsukubo got one back in the 52nd minute, but North Carolina couldn’t find an equalizer and the Pride took all three points.
Despite being on the road, the Courage dominated possession in this game. The Pride played like the typical visiting team, defending fiercely and hitting the opposition on the counter attack. It was successful, as they scored twice with that method and nearly had more. The task became easier when Malia Berkely was sent off in the 78th minute, enabling the Pride to control the dying minutes.
Pride Head Coach Seb Hines made three changes to the team that lost 1-0 to OL Reign on Sept. 3 in Seattle. Carly Nelson started in goal for the suspended Anna Moorhouse, who was sent off in the third minute in the team’s most recent game. Watt entered the lineup in the striker’s role for Messiah Bright, and Adriana returned to the lineup after missing the trip out west, replacing Kerry Abello. Bright and Abello started this game on the bench.
The back line in front of Nelson was Kylie Strom, Rafaelle, Emily Madril, and Haley McCutcheon. Mikayla Cluff and Jordyn Listro were the starting defensive midfielders behind Julie Doyle, Marta, and Adriana. Watt was the lone forward up top.
Cluff and Viviana Villacorta started the season as the defensive midfield partnership. That changed to a Villacorta and Abello partnership with Cluff and Listro coming off the bench. However, Cluff and Listro have started the last two games, an interesting switch as the season nears its end.
“It’s tough decisions, right? There’s not a lot (of separation) between the four midfielders, between Jordyn, Kayla, and Vivi. They’ve all done really well this season,” Hines said about the change. “So it’s being adaptable, giving players opportunities. We felt like it was a good balance in the midfield with Kayla and Jordyn.”
The Pride got off to the best possible start in this game. Listro intercepted a Matsukubo pass at midfield and played Adriana forward. Watt ran around left back Emily Fox, reaching the ball at the top of the 18. Courage goalkeeper Casey Murphy came out and got a piece of the shot, but not enough as the ball rolled in to give the Pride an early lead.
“Ally took her goal really well,” Hines said about Watt’s strike. “Very pleased for Ally because she’s put so much work into her craft the last couple of weeks. And she gets a reward with a goal.”
“I think you just realize you have — we have — full trust and faith in them with anything,” Watt said about playing with Marta and Adriana. “Adriana is called the wizard for a reason. She gets balls off in the most magical way I’ve ever seen, honestly. So, I think we just have full trust in them. So when we make the run, we fully know that we’re going to get that ball if we execute properly. And when they’re on the ball, they might do some magic on their own, but they’re going to feed it to you as well. So, we always have to be prepared for whatever they’re going to be providing, because they’re very unpredictable players. And that’s what we love about them.”
The goal crossed the line 38 seconds after kickoff, making it the earliest goal in Pride history. It was only 16 seconds off of the league record of scoring 22 seconds into a game.
“We talk about starting the game quickly,” Hines said. “You know, the first pass, first dribble, setting the tone straight from kickoff. And it’s the best way to start a game, scoring a goal.”
The Courage had their first chance of the game in the eighth minute when Ryan Williams’ cross was headed out of play by McCutcheon. Haley Hopkins jumped over Doyle to reach Berkely’s corner kick at the back post, but sent it straight to Nelson.
In the 13th minute, Williams received the ball from Kerolin and dribbled into the Pride box. The right back cut inside and played a short pass where Kerolin had run past Rafaelle. The midfielder found forward Tess Boade wide open at the top of the six-yard box, but Boade couldn’t get over the shot and sent it over the target.
A Pride goal kick in the 16th minute ended up with Rafaelle, who attempted to play it short to Strom on the side. But Kerolin intercepted it. After quickly playing a pass to the middle for an open Boade, Rafaelle took down her international teammate, earning the game’s first booking.
The ensuing free kick by Narumi Miura was short to Kerolin and the Brazilian lifted the ball to the top of the six. Nelson came out strong, initially fumbling the ball after midair contact with an opposing attacker, but eventually collecting it. Kaleigh Kurtz charged into Nelson and both players went to the ground. Referee Danielle Chesky called a foul on Kurtz, ending the North Carolina threat.
The Pride had a chance to double their lead in the 24th minute when Watt found Adriana in the box from the left. Miura got in front of the shot, blocking it back to the midfielder. Adriana took a second shot, but Miura got in front of that one as well, enabling the Courage to clear.
The Pride scored their second goal right after the restart of the first-half hydration break. Nelson restarted with a goal kick to Strom, who sent the ball forward for Adriana. The attacker left it for Marta, whose back heel was blocked by Berkely, but it went right back to her. The second pass attempt by Marta was wide to Doyle, who sent Adriana behind the Courage back line with her first touch. As Miura attempted to catch up with the Brazilian, Murphy stayed on her goal line. Adriana put it into the corner of the net from the top of the six-yard box, giving the Pride a 2-0 lead.
“I saw Marta get it, and whenever Marta gets it on her left foot, that means I’ve got to run into the back space, because I know that she can find me through. And that’s what she did,” Doyle said about her assist. “And then I saw Adriana had a ton of space in behind, because they were really high. And Adriana’s so fast. I’m just like, all I have to do is get it to her and I know that she’ll do great things. And that’s what we saw.”
Poor passing in the 44th minute nearly gave the Pride a chance for a third when Murphy played a short ball to Berkely in the Courage box. The center back nonchalantly sent it back to her goalkeeper, wide of the target. Watt, one of the league’s fastest players, attempted to beat Murphy to the ball and got a piece as Murphy attempted to clear it. But the visitors were able to get it away without any damage.
At halftime, North Carolina had far more possession (69.4%-30.6%), but couldn’t do much with it. Meanwhile, the Pride were happy to hit them on the counter, resulting in a halftime lead. While both teams had four first-half shots, the Pride put two on target and the Courage put one on frame. North Carolina also led the Pride in corner kicks (1-0) and crosses (6-1), and passed more accurately (91.6%-74.2%).
“Going into the second half, we changed our formation a little bit when we had that water break, so we just went over it again. Because passing information is difficult in that kind of situation,” Watt said about the halftime message. “(Hines) was telling us that I’m going to put the pressure on you. You guys are 2-0 up, and that’s a dangerous lead to have. They can come in and score and get momentum, and they certainly did score, but we did a really good job hanging onto it. And then the red card happened and we were just able to take control of the game and everything.”
The Pride created a pair of chances within the first five minutes of the second half. In the 48th minute, a Kurtz pass across for Miura was intercepted by Watt. The forward sprinted towards the Courage box, pulling up when Berkely got in front of her. Adriana called for the ball, but Watt took the long-distance shot herself. It didn’t cause any trouble for Murphy at the near post, who easily collected it.
A minute later, the Pride went on another counterattack. Doyle turned her defender and played a give-and-go with Marta on the left. The midfielder sent a low cross into the box for Adriana, but it was too far in front of her and Fox cleared it away.
The two missed opportunities proved costly in the 52nd minute when North Carolina got a goal back. Hopkins played the ball wide for Fox and the defender sent a cross into the box. Hopkins had made a run, but let the ball run past her to Matsukubo waiting behind, unmarked. The 19-year-old didn’t miss her opportunity, putting it past Nelson to cut the Pride lead to 2-1.
Three minutes later, the Courage had a chance for an equalizer when Kerolin sent a cross toward Fox in the middle of the box. The left back redirected the ball towards goal, but couldn’t get over it and the attempt went over the crossbar.
Shortly after the miss, Hines made his first substitution of the night. Regular starting striker Bright entered the game for Watt. The Pride made two more changes in the 64th and 65th minutes, replacing Doyle and Cluff with Abello and Villacorta.
A controversial moment occurred in the 66th minute when Adriana dribbled into the North Carolina box. She cut inside to beat Kerolin, before Fox came back to win the ball. The ball popped up and appeared to hit Fox’s arm at the edge of the box, which was up to shield her face. The play is only reviewable for a penalty, but the video assistant referee didn’t call for Chesky to take a look.
“In the 66th minute, the referee observed the ball hit the NC Courage player’s hand, which was in a natural position,” Chesky responded after the game. “At the next stoppage, the VAR checked the incident and confirmed no clear or obvious error.”
The comeback got more difficult for the Courage in the 78th minute when Berkely was sent off. A short free kick to the center back resulted in a bad pass into the box. Madril got to it first, sending it downfield. Adriana was the first to the ball and used her speed to get behind Berkely. The center back, who was clearly the last defender, took down the midfielder and Chesky immediately issued a red card. The VAR checked the play and confirmed the decision, giving the Pride a player advantage for the final 12 minutes.
The Pride nearly took advantage and scored a third in the 82nd minute when Marta’s shot was blocked out by Kurtz. The ensuing corner kick by Adriana found a wide-open Rafaelle beyond the back post. The center back’s header was off the outside of the post, keeping the score at 2-1.
The fourth official showed five minutes of second-half stoppage time, but that was increased when Rafaelle’s inadvertent elbow found the head of Courage substitute Tyler Lussi. Blood was dripping down her face, so the forward needed to change her shirt and shorts. Hines took the opportunity to make two final changes, replacing Adriana and Listro with Brianna Martinez and Celia.
While the Pride had a defensive lineup for the final minutes, the 10-player Courage were unable to create any chances. The Pride did well to maintain possession, continuously taking it to the corner to run the clock out. It was a successful strategy as they held on for a crucial win.
North Carolina ended the game with significantly more possession (67.2%-32.8%), but was unable to create more chances with it. Both teams had 10 shots and the Pride put more on target (3-2). The Courage had more crosses (14-11) and passed more accurately (88.7%-73.2%). The Pride had more corner kicks (4-2).
“Massive win tonight,” Hines said. “Running out of games now. Only three games to go and we have to give absolutely everything. I think looking back, you know, some of the performances are brilliant. We haven’t rewarded ourselves with the three points and you know, I’m so happy that we were able to get up in the game, take our opportunities. And a lot of credit has to go to the players, because they’re the ones who are competing, going out there day in, day out in training and performing at such a high level in the field. We’ve made it uncomfortable for North Carolina, going up in the game and then not giving them too much to try and play through the lines and stop that rhythm. But you have to have the right mindset to do that, and I felt everyone from back to front did their job and they were brilliant at their job.”
“We’ve been working so freaking hard, and it’s so nice to finally get the reward, because I think you’ve seen this team have games like this and sometimes it just doesn’t go our way,” Doyle added. “So for it to finally go our way, it’s just such a relief.”
It was a unique home game for the Pride because the hosts usually have the majority of possession. It was the opposite in this one because the Courage dominated possession and the Pride had to maintain their concentration. That’s something the team has had trouble with this season, especially on set pieces.
“We knew they’re a team that gets 500 passes per game. So credit to them,” Doyle said. “They’re a super good football team, so we knew we had to be disciplined in our defensive shape. That’s what we’ve been working on all week and we really just had to stay compact.”
The win sees the Pride jump the Houston Dash, Racing Louisville FC, and Angel City FC, from 10th to seventh place. They’re now only one point behind the Washington Spirit for the sixth and final playoff spot. While they’re tied with Angel City on points, the Pride currently hold the tiebreaker on goal difference.
The Pride now have a two-week break before they take the field again. They were supposed to play Angel City in Los Angeles on Thursday night, but that game was delayed until Oct. 2 because of the upcoming international break.
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.
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 Place Megan Montefusco on Season-Ending Injury List
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