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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.

Orlando Pride

Orlando Pride vs. Seattle Reign FC: Final Score 3-2 as Pride Rebound in Second Half for Seventh Straight Win

The Pride outlast Seattle Reign FC 3-2 for their seventh consecutive win.

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Image courtesy of Orlando Pride

The Orlando Pride (7-0-3, 24 points) continued their undefeated season with a 3-2 win today against Seattle Reign FC (2-7-1, 7 points). The Pride took an early 2-0 lead with goals by Emily Sams and Barbra Banda, but the hosts came back with goals from Angharad James-Turner and Bethany Balcer. Banda’s second of the day in the 58th minute proved to be the difference as the Pride won yet again.

Pride Head Coach Seb Hines made two changes to the lineup that beat Bay FC 1-0 last Saturday. Ally Lemos and Marta entered the lineup, replacing Morgan Gautrat and Julie Doyle. While Doyle started the game on the bench, Gautrat wasn’t in the team. The back line in front of Anna Moorhouse was Kerry Abello, Kylie Strom, Rafaelle, and Sams. Haley McCutcheon and Lemos were in the defensive midfield behind Summer Yates, Marta, and Adriana, with Banda up top.

It looked like the Pride would run away with this one when they took a 2-0 lead inside 20 minutes and appeared to have scored a third. However, the Reign didn’t give up and scored on either side of halftime to make it 2-2. Unlike previous years, the Pride didn’t fall apart after losing the lead and found a winner from their star striker. It was another one-goal affair — their sixth in seven wins — in which the Pride had to hold on for dear life as they attempted to see out the victory.

The Reign got off to the more aggressive start, creating two chances inside the first three minutes. In the second minute, Tziarra King blocked a clearance attempt and it went to Jess Fishlock. The midfielder played the ball across to former Pride midfielder James-Turner, who shot on goal. It was heading inside the post, but Moorhouse did well to get down and collect it.

A minute later, Ji So-Yun sent an aerial ball across the field for Balcer, who quickly played it wide for Sofia Huerta. The right back found Fishlock in the box and the Welsh international attempted a first-touch shot, but she couldn’t get solid contact, sending the ball well off target.

The Pride got their first chance of the game in the seventh minute when Reign goalkeeper Laurel Ivory got a little too cute with the ball. Attempting to dribble around pressure, her clearance was blocked, ending up at the feet of Banda. The Pride’s leading scorer’s first touch was a shot, but she sent the attempt over the crossbar.

Two minutes later, the Pride grabbed the lead. It started with a long ball down the right for Marta. The Pride captain sent it to the top of the box where Yates brought it down, but a defender got a foot to it. Fortunately, it went right to Sams, whose first touch was a shot inside the post to give the Pride an early 1-0 lead.

“I just wanted to support the play,” Sams said about her goal. “And it just happened to fall to me and I just took my chance and I scored.”

Since Sams played primarily as a center back last season, she hasn’t had many opportunities to score. However, Hines has deployed her as a right back this year and, as a result, she scored her first NWSL goal in this game.

“She finished it like a forward as some would say,” Hines said about the defender scoring her first goal. “Em has done brilliant in having to shift into a new position and she’s embraced it. I think sort of her one-v-one defending’s been brilliant recently and so she gets her reward for going up and supporting the attack and it’s a lovely finish with her left foot. So yeah, it was a great goal from Em. And if she continues to play that position at right back, maybe there’s a few more down the stretch of the season.”

The Pride’s attacking Brazilians tried to combine for a chance in the 13th minute when Adriana sent a cross into the box for Marta. She got her head to the ball and tried to redirect it on goal, but wasn’t in front of the net at the time. As a result, the header went wide.

The Pride doubled their lead in the 18th minute when a poor clearance was intercepted and sent forward for Adriana. The playmaker used some fancy footwork to create space for a cross, sending it across the face of the goal. Ivory could only get her fingers to it as the ball got past her. Banda was left wide open near the back post and simply headed the ball in to give the visitors a 2-0 lead.

In the 25th minute, King tried to catch Moorhouse by surprise after receiving the ball from Balcer. The attacker took a shot from distance, but Moorhouse was able to block it to her side. It was a good stop as the shot was taken from the shadows and into the sunlight.

Balcer had a great chance for herself in the 26th minute when King found her on the far side. The forward outmuscled Abello to get in on goal, but Moorhouse came out strong. Balcer got a shot off, but right into Moorhouse. The attempt bounced off Balcer and out for a goal kick, ending the threat.

The Pride put a third ball in the net in the 31st minute when Marta sent a long ball across the field for Yates. The midfielder took on Lauren Barnes, beating the defender. However, Barnes left a foot out, tripping Yates and giving the Pride a free kick.

The ensuing set piece was sent into the Reign box where Banda got a slight touch to it, but not enough to send it on goal. Instead, it popped up for Strom to get her head on it and give the Pride a 3-0 lead.

Before the game could restart, the video assistant referee called down for referee Elijio Arreguin to take a closer look. After further review, Arreguin determined that Banda was offside on the initial ball as she attempted to get behind the back line, disallowing the goal and keeping the game 2-0.

Moorhouse was forced into another save in the 36th minute when the ball was tipped off of Ji’s foot. It went directly to Fishlock well outside of the box and the midfielder took a long attempt at goal. The shot appeared hard to see, but the Pride goalkeeper tipped it over the crossbar for a corner kick.

The ensuing set piece was cleared out but only to James-Turner, whose shot was aiming for the top corner. Moorhouse wasn’t going to get to the attempt, but it was just over the target.

In the first minute of first-half stoppage time, King attempted a shot from inside the Pride box that was blocked by Rafaelle. The Reign retained possession and a long ball was sent into the box for Balcer. However, it was too far for the forward, who pushed Sams into Moorhouse and was booked.

It looked like Adriana would have a chance to get on the scoresheet a minute later when she received the ball in the box from Banda. The Brazilian attempted to cut back and lose Huerta, going down in the process. There was some contact, but the referee determined it wasn’t enough and the Reign were able to clear.

During the final minute of stoppage time, the hosts got a goal back. Ji sent a pass to the top of the box, where James-Turner met it. The midfielder took a shot that likely would’ve been saved by Moorhouse, but it deflected off Strom and went into the corner of the goal, cutting the Pride lead to 2-1.

That was the final attack of the half. After 45 minutes, the Reign had more possession (54%-46%), shots (8-4), shots on target (6-2), corner kicks (2-1), and better passing accuracy (82%-80%). But the two goals and some good goalkeeping by Moorhouse had the Pride leading at the break.

“Just get closer to our opponent. I think we gave them a little bit too much space. And then tactically, offensively, he told us to do a better job of finding Barbara on the front line,” Sams said about Hines’ halftime instructions. “And I think if we’re able to keep the ball more, we don’t really have to worry about the defending side so much if we can keep it and keep adding goals. So that was kind of the halftime talk.”

Hines made one halftime change, replacing Yates with Doyle.

The goal just before halftime seemed to spark the hosts as they began the second half on the attack. In the 46th minute, King received the ball on the left, shielded her defender, and attempted to send the ball across the face of the goal. However, Moorhouse was able to block it away. The Pride were unable to clear the ball and Ji gained possession. The South Korean shot from distance, but it was off target.

A minute later, the Reign found the equalizer. It started in the Pride box when halftime substitute Shae Holmes won the ball from Banda and sent it forward. Two passes later, Fishlock sent a long ball to Balcer behind the Pride’s back line. The forward lifted the ball over Moorhouse to even the game at 2-2.

The hosts continued their attack and created another shot in the 51st minute. It was Ji again creating space and attempting a shot from long range. However, it was blocked and the Pride gained possession before it got close to Moorhouse.

The Pride created their first good chance of the second half in the 54th minute when Olivia Van der Jagt fouled Marta. The Pride captain took the set piece, sending a dangerous ball into the box. It somehow went through several players before going out for a goal kick.

In the 57th minute, King knocked the ball out of play while trying to shield it from Lemos. The Pride rookie took the set piece, which was punched out wide by Ivory. It went right back to Lemos, who sent in a shot that went over the arm of Ivory and off the crossbar. The ball was sent out of play by a Reign defender and the Pride had a corner kick on the other side.

The second corner kick was taken by Marta and headed through by Alana Cook. However, it didn’t get very far, enabling Banda to get her foot on the ball. The defense gave the star striker too much space and Banda turned to score her second goal of the game and taking back the lead for the Pride.

The Pride nearly doubled their lead in the 62nd minute through their captain. Banda made a good run down the right, beating her defender and sent a cross into the box. It was a little behind Marta, but she was able to get her foot around the ball and put it on target. Ivory made an excellent save with her foot to keep it out of the net and her team’s deficit at one goal.

Hines made his second change in the 63rd minute and it was a defensive one, as Cori Dyke came in for Adriana.

In the 73rd minute, Lemos committed an unnecessary foul on Phoebe McClernon, giving the Reign a free kick in a dangerous position. Ji played it short for Huerta, who sent the ball towards the far post. It looked like the ball was going out of play, but stayed in. It resulted in a shot that was blocked and the Pride were able to clear.

A Pride throw-in in the 75th minute resulted in an interesting situation as Abello sent Banda down the left. Cook was unable to keep up with the striker, but pulled her back and then put her studs into Banda’s stomach. Banda required medical attention, but was able to continue. While the play was checked for a possible red card, it wasn’t given.

When Banda got up, Hines made two more changes. Brianna Martinez and Ally Watt came into the game for Marta and Lemos.

After being booked late in the first half, Balcer received her second yellow card in the 83rd minute. Upset with a foul call, she approached the referee while her team made a substitution. Arreguin clearly wasn’t happy with what she said, giving her a second yellow card and a subsequent red card. As a result, the Reign had to finish the game with 10 players.

The Pride had chances to take advantage of the player advantage. In the 88th minute, they had a three-on-three, but Abello lost control before she could play one of her teammates on either side of her. In the 90th minute, Banda made a strong run and had Watt to her right. Unfortunately, the pass was too soft and the Pride lost possession.

The Pride made their final change after the missed opportunity as Amanda Allen entered the game for Banda.

The Pride did well defensively to limit opportunities, but the Reign had a good chance in the seventh minute of stoppage time. A long ball into the box by Cook was headed out by Sams, but only to Emeri Adames. The substitute had plenty of space to shoot from just outside of the box, sending the attempt over the target.

That was the last chance for either team as the Pride held on for their seventh straight win and their first in Seattle. At full time, the Reign had more possession (52%-48%), shots (15-8), shots on target (10-6), and better passing accuracy (81%-80%). The Pride had more corner kicks (4-2), crosses (18-14), and most importantly, outscored the Reign 3-2.

“I thought the first 43 minutes of the game, we were really good. I thought we played some terrific football, playing between the lines, caused a lot of problems, and to concede so late on in the first half is something that we need to reflect and review moving forward,” Hines said about the game. “And then the second half, I mean it was a grind. It was great determination. Going through that adversity as well. conceding so early on in the second half, to come back and get that third goal was really important for us.”

“I think the first half was definitely the better half. I think we did well, got those two goals, but letting in the goal at the very end, I think kind of gave them some momentum,” Sams added about the performance. “And then I think the second half we kind of let our standards drop and we had to fight for that win. We got the win and that’s amazing, shows our character. So obviously we’re satisfied with that.”

The win extends the Pride’s winning streak to seven games, the most in team history and ties the league record held by, coincidentally, the Seattle Reign in 2014. Their unbeaten run extends to 10 games and they move into sole possession of first place after the Kansas City Current drew yesterday.

“It’s a great feeling to have that record and it just shows the world how strong we are,” Rafaelle said about the seven straight wins. “A lot of people doubt us in the beginning of the season. Now, we’re proving that we’re a good team and we have a good chance to win the shield, but also we want to break the record. We’re gonna play at home next game. We’re gonna try everything to win that game and break the record.”

Additionally, this is the first time that Pride have ever won a game in Seattle. The two teams have now faced off nine times in the Emerald City and the Pride are 1-5-3 all-time. It’s another first in what is quickly becoming the best season in team history.


The Pride will look to break the NWSL record for consecutive wins, remain unbeaten, and stay in first place Friday night when they host the Portland Thorns.

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Orlando Pride

Orlando Pride vs. Seattle Reign FC: Preview, How to Watch, TV Info, Live Stream, Lineups, Match Thread, and More

The Pride look to extend their unbeaten run and winning streak as they travel to face Seattle Reign FC.

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Image courtesy of Orlando Pride

Welcome to your match thread as the Orlando Pride (6-0-3, 21 points) take on Seattle Reign FC (2-6-1, 7 points) in the Pacific Northwest. This is the first of two games the Pride and Reign are scheduled to play during the 2024 NWSL regular season. They’ll finish the season against each other in Orlando on Nov. 2.

Here’s everything you need to know about tonight’s game.

History

The Pride and Reign have met 16 times since the Pride joined the league in 2016. The Pride hold a 2-7-7 record in those meetings and have yet to beat tonight’s opponent away from home, with an all-time record of 0-5-3 out west against the Reign.

The most recent meeting was on Sept. 3 at Lumen Field in Seattle. The Pride got off to a terrible start when Anna Moorhouse was sent off in the third minute. Carly Nelson came in and did well, but Jordyn Huitema scored in the 49th minute as the Reign won 1-0.  The game on July 7 at Exploria Stadium featured one of the best performances of the year for the Pride, as they had more shots and shots on target than the opposition. Julie Doyle beat her defenders and found the head of Messiah Bright in the 16th minute for the game’s lone goal as the Pride won 1-0 for their second all-time win over the Reign.

The teams played for the first time last season on Aug. 26 in Orlando. Meggie Dougherty Howard gave the hosts the lead, and the Pride tried to hold onto that one-goal advantage, but Megan Rapinoe found Bethany Balcer for an equalizing header. The visitors pushed for a win and Rapinoe got a goal for herself two minutes into second half injury time, lifting the Reign to a 2-1 win, snapping Orlando’s seven-match unbeaten run.

The return game was on Oct. 1, 2022 at Lumen Field in Seattle. The Pride had already been eliminated from playoff contention and it looked like it as OL Reign dominated the game. Rapinoe opened the scoring just eight minutes in, Huitema doubled the hosts’ lead soon after, and Balcer made it 3-0 after 31 minutes. The Pride held the Reign scoreless in the second half, but fell 3-0.

The teams played twice during the 2021 season and the first game was on July 24 in Orlando. The Reign scored a goal in each half, with Jess Fishlock scoring early and Tziarra King doubling the lead just after the break on the way to a 2-0 win. On Sept. 26 in Tacoma, WA, Balcer opened the scoring in the third minute and Eugenie Le Sommer scored a brace, giving the Reign a 3-0 lead at halftime, ultimately beating the Pride by that score.

COVID canceled the teams’ meetings in 2020, but they played three times in 2019. On April 21 in Tacoma, Alanna Kennedy gave the Pride an early lead. But Balcer equalized and the teams drew 1-1. They met again on Sept. 7 in the same location. This time, the Reign took the early lead as Darian Jenkins scored twice inside the first 12 minutes. Beverly Yanez made it 3-0 soon after, effectively putting the game away early. Camila converted a late penalty but the Reign won 3-1. The final meeting that year came on Oct. 12 in Orlando. The Pride scored first through Rachel Hill, but Jenkins and Jodie Taylor gave the visitors a 2-1 lead going into halftime. Marta equalized late and the teams drew 2-2.

The first meeting in 2018 came on April 28 in Orlando. Allie Long gave the Reign a first-half lead, but Marta equalized, resulting in a 1-1 draw. On June 3, the teams met in Seattle but neither team could find the back of the net as they ended in a scoreless draw. The final meeting that year was on July 21 in Orlando. Toni Pressley gave the Pride a first-half lead but Taylor equalized with 20 minutes remaining and the teams drew for the third time that year.

The 2017 season saw the Pride and Reign play twice, first meeting on May 21 in Seattle. Yanez gave the hosts the lead just before halftime but Marta scored just after the break and the teams drew 1-1. They met again on Sept. 7 in Orlando in a game that looked to be ending scoreless but took a surprising turn. Alex Morgan gave the Pride the late lead in second-half injury time, but Fishlock equalized two minutes later and they drew 1-1.

The first-ever meeting between the two teams occurred on May 8, 2016 in Orlando. Sarah Hagen gave the Pride an early lead and Lianne Sanderson made it 2-0 late, which was the final score. The return game in Seattle was on July 23 and was the highest-scoring game between the two teams. Kim Little and Fishlock made it 2-0 Reign at halftime. Manon Melis scored a third for the hosts. Jasmyne Spencer scored, but Kendall Fletcher made it 4-1 four minutes later. A Pressley own goal and late strike by Kristen Edmonds added one more goal to each team’s tally in a 5-2 Reign win.

Overview

The Pride are off to unquestionably the best start in team history. After drawing their first three games, they’ve gone on a team record six-game winning streak. Five of those six wins have been decided by one goal and four have been 1-0 results. They capped off their sixth win last Saturday night, defeating Bay FC 1-0 through an Adriana penalty.

While the Pride were playing well already, Barbra Banda has been everything the Pride hoped for when they agreed to the second-highest transfer fee in NWSL history to bring in the Zambian international. She scored four goals in her first three starts and has drawn two penalties. She didn’t score against Bay FC, but drew the penalty that resulted in Adriana’s goal.

The Pride have also been exceptional defensively, conceding seven goals in nine games. Only NJ/NY Gotham FC is the one team to concede fewer goals than the Pride, giving up six in their first eight games this year.

The Reign are off to a poor start this season, claiming seven points from their first nine games. They currently sit in 13th in the 14-team league, only ahead of the Utah Royals. Tonight’s opponent has struggled offensively and defensively this season. Their seven goals scored this year is third least and one more than Gotham and Utah. Meanwhile, they’ve conceded 14 goals, fourth most in the league. As a result, they’ve had trouble coming away with results in the early part of the season.

Bethany Balcer has led the Reign in goals this season, scoring three so far. Only three other players have scored and all once. The other goals have come from Ji So-Yun, King, and the Reign’s leading goal scorer last season, Veronica Latsko. Three of the team’s goals have been assisted, two coming from So-Yun and one from Fishlock.

“They’re a good team. They’ve got an experienced coach there as well who has won a lot in this league,” Pride Head Coach Seb Hines said about tonight’s opponent. “And so we have to be mindful of Seattle and what they can create and it’s going to be a challenging game for us because our record is not great away at Seattle. So that’s something that we want to improve and continue this momentum that we’ve showed early on in the season.”

The Pride will play tonight without Angelina (knee), Celia (hip), Simone Charley (right leg), Luana (illness), Megan Montefusco (right heel), and Viviana Villacorta (left knee). Additionally, Mariana Larroquette (lower leg) is listed as questionable. Meanwhile, the Reign will be without Claudia Dickey (knee), Jordyn Huitema (back), and Quinn (knee).


Official Lineups

Orlando Pride (4-2-3-1)

Goalkeeper: Anna Moorhouse.

Defenders: Kerry Abello, Kylie Strom, Rafaelle, Emily Sams.

Defensive Midfielders: Haley McCutcheon, Ally Lemos.

Midfielders: Summer Yates, Marta, Adriana.

Forward: Barbra Banda.

Bench: McKinley Crone, Ally Watt, Julie Doyle, Evelina Duljan, Amanda Allen, Alex Kerr, Carrie Lawrence, Brianna Martinez, Cori Dyke.

Seattle Reign FC (4-4-2)

Goalkeeper: Laurel Ivory.

Defenders: Alana Cook, Lauren Barnes, Phoebe McClernon, Sofia Huerta.

Midfielders: Angharad James-Turner, Ji So-Yun, Jess Fishlock, Olivia Van der Jagt.

Forwards: Bethany Balcer, Tziarra King.

Bench: Maia Perez, Ryanne Brown, Lily Woodham, Shae Holmes, Nikki Stanton, Olivia Athens, Veronica Latsko, Emeri Adames, McKenzie Weinert.

Referees

REF: Elijio Arreguin.

AR1: Seth Martin.

AR2: Salma Perez.

4TH: Iryna Petrunok.

VAR: Shawn Tehini.

AVAR: Kaili Terry.


How to Watch

Match Time: 6 p.m.

Venue: Lumen Field — Seattle, WA.

TV: Bally Sports Florida.

Streaming: NWSL+.

Twitter: For rapid reaction and live updates, follow @TheManeLand and the Orlando Pride’s official Twitter feed (@ORLPride).


Enjoy the match. Go Pride!

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Orlando Pride

Orlando Pride Raising Expections in Record-Breaking Start

The Orlando Pride’s culture has propelled the team to a strong start and potentially more in 2024.

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Image courtesy of Orlando Pride

In front of more than 7,500 fans Saturday night, the Orlando Pride defeated expansion side Bay FC 1-0 and extended their win streak to a club-record six victories. It was the Pride’s most attended home game of the season and they are tied with the Kansas City Current on points at the top of the table. With a third of the season behind them, the Pride have six wins, three draws, and no losses, and soccer fans in the City Beautiful are energized. While Orlando will almost certainly lose a match at some point this season, the club’s identity and togetherness laid the foundation for this undefeated start and raised the bar for the rest of the campaign.

There may be some optimistic Pride fans who predicted Orlando would be tied for first place after nine matches, but most would admit that this season is going better than anticipated. With the benefit of hindsight however, Orlando’s current form can be seen as a continuation of the progress made by the club under Head Coach Seb Hines and General Manager Haley Carter. This duo has led the way in establishing a culture focused on player wellbeing and inclusion off the pitch, as well as grit and flexibility on it.

The environment created by the staff can have a big impact on the locker room and the outcomes of matches. Nothing shows this team’s togetherness clearer than the “L” goal celebration they have flashed time and again for midfielder Luana following her diagnosis with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It is evident from watching the Pride play as a team, pick each other up, and celebrate together after goals and victories that they are doing it for each other. 

“Having the buy-in from everyone, it doesn’t just take myself, it takes the whole group, and it starts from the top, but I think the most important thing is we wanted to create a culture where everyone felt they had an opportunity to come in and make a difference,” Hines said in the preseason. “Making the players feel valued is really important for us and I think that can be a recipe for success.”

After a season where the Pride barely missed out on the playoffs, a credible target for the club going into 2024 would have been just to reach the postseason. However, one word describes Orlando’s performances through nine matches: incredible. After being overlooked by the larger soccer audience the last two off-seasons, expectations should be changing rapidly for NWSL fans, the media, and opposing clubs. Perceptions can be slow to change though, and there are still a large number of doubters outside of the state of Florida.

“Coming out of last season [the players] have a bit of a chip on their shoulder and they feel like they have something to prove” said Carter several weeks ago. “Everyone’s goal is to make the playoffs and ultimately to win an NWSL championship.”

Carter also called winning a title a lofty goal that needs to be taken one game at a time.

While there are many matches left to be played, the Pride are showing they belong on the list of contenders for an NWSL championship. At the start of the season, conventional wisdom would have had the 2023 NWSL Shield winners, the San Diego Wave, and the 2023 NWSL champion, NJ/NY Gotham FC, as favorites for trophies this year, along with perennial competitors like the Portland Thorns and North Carolina Courage. Instead, the top three teams in the standings are the Current, Pride, and Washington Spirit. 

The only real knock against Orlando’s table-topping credentials is the relative ease of the schedule played to date. So far, six of the team’s nine matches have been at home, and six matches have come against teams currently in the bottom half of the standings. Regardless, this easier start may have been a blessing, as it allowed the Pride to build positive momentum from the get-go. 

The eye-test says that Orlando’s record is not a fluke. The Pride have defended exceptionally well, and the recent addition of Barbra Banda, who has four goals, two assists, and two penalties drawn in four starts, has unlocked a new level in the attack. While a loss will inevitably come, the Pride have shown that they will be competitive in every match remaining.

The biggest risk to the Pride continuing their electric form is injuries, something to which no team is immune. Season-ending injuries have already reduced the team’s depth, as Megan Montefusco, Simone Charley, and Luana won’t feature again in 2024. Emily Sams, Morgan Gautrat, and the Brazilian trio of Rafaelle, Adriana, and Marta have also missed time but since returned to the lineup. Angelina, another Brazilian and a standout performer in the early goings of the season, recently underwent an arthroscopic knee scope and is going to be evaluated week to week. Her fellow midfielders will have to play at their best to minimize the impact of her absence, and the team will hope for fewer injuries the rest of the year.

To keep their form going strong, the Orlando Pride need continued contributions from each part of the organization, including the players, the staff, and even the fanbase. First, the players need to continue to build their on-field chemistry as the season progresses until they instinctively know where to pass, when to make a run, and when to press as a team. This team has the potential to be even better once the new players and experienced players alike have spent more time together.

Regarding the staff, Carter’s job is to never be fully content with the roster as it is. As spring turns to summer, she will likely keep an eye on the contract situations of the top talents around Europe and other leagues that follow the traditional soccer calendar. The team may be able to add more depth in midfield or extra goal-scoring on the wings if the right player is available. Lastly, the fans need to continue to show up for the Pride and bring their friends and family to fill Inter&Co Stadium. As more folks around Orlando take notice of the Pride, the club should be able to create a formidable advantage at home.

Before the season, Carter said the players, “know that the expectations and the bar has been raised coming out of last season, and they’re ready to live up to those expectations.” Proving Carter right, Orlando has already set several club records to start 2024, including its longest win streak in club history.

Despite the exciting start, everyone in the organization knows that awards aren’t won in May. This team has set a new standard for itself and the challenge now is to keep pushing for new heights.

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