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Orlando Pride

Orlando Pride Dazzle, Score Goals Off the Dribble

Opponents should be wary when the Pride carry.

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Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the best team in Orlando at dribbling the ball?

I am a huge basketball fan, and I watch as many Orlando Magic games as I can, but even as good as the Magic were this year, they cannot compare to the Orlando Pride. At no point in the rest of this article will I reference the Magic, but I do want to spend some time writing about magic — specifically, just how magical the Pride players have been with the ball at their feet thus far this season.

The Pride’s offensive game plan is clearly designed around getting the ball to the feet of their playmakers and allowing them to go to work attacking the goal, and as you will see in the rest of this article, they are doing so at a significantly higher and more successful rate than every other team in the NWSL.

Take a look at the chart below, which shows that the Pride are leading the league in progressive carries (defined by fbref.com as carries (dribbles) of at least 10 yards towards the goal while in the attacking half of the field) as a percentage of all carries.

That 6.4% value in the chart above translates to 19.7 progressive carries per game, which is 33% higher than the average of 14.7 per game for all of the other NWSL teams. There is a strong positive correlation (r = 0.71 on a scale of 0 to 1) between progressive carries and points earned this season, something you can see by noting that the two teams tied for first place in points (the Pride and the Kansas City Current) are also leading in progressive carry percentage, and three of the bottom four in points (the Houston Dash, San Diego Wave and Seattle Reign) are in the bottom three for progressive carry percentage.

Correlation does not imply causation, of course, but having players who can frequently dribble for 10 or more yards, weaving through defenders like traffic cones, means they have speed and excellent footwork — two skills that are critical in any good offense.

The 2024 Pride have several players with these qualities, as evidenced by their NWSL ranks in several key dribbling categories. Using data from fbref.com, there are 111 NWSL players who have played at least 500 minutes and attempted to take on a defender one on one while dribbling at least 10 times this season, and below is a list of all the Pride players who qualify and where they rank among those 111 players:

A few takeaways from this data:

  • Has anyone ever seen Barbra Banda and Superwoman in the same location at the same time? There are only so many superlatives I can use when writing about the Pride’s superstar striker, who in addition to the NWSL-leading stats above is also leading the NWSL in another decently important stat: goals. In fairness, she is tied for the league lead in goals with Temwa Chawinga of the Current. Perhaps I should mention though that Banda has scored her tally in 434 fewer minutes! I digress.
  • Marta is truly a wonder (woman), she is the third oldest player in all of NWSL and is still beating her defender 61% of the time and averaging more than two take-on wins per 90 minutes.
  • The list of NWSL players classified by fbref.com as defenders who have at least 10 carries into the 18 so far this season is: Kerry Abello. She is the list. She would also be the entire list if I lowered the number to at least eight, and only two NWSL defenders have more than five carries into the 18. You definitely have to watch out for Abello flying down the left side of the field, or if you find yourself in the hallways of Jewitt Orthopedic Institute, you clearly need to keep your eyes open as well. Vamos!

The last item I called out on that chart was the ranking of Pride players in carries into the 18, with the 18 of course being the penalty area — the most dangerous area on the field and the place where the vast majority of goals are scored (excluding own goals, the Pride have scored 28 goals this season and 25 came from inside the 18). There are four ways for a ball to enter the opposition’s 18-yard box: a carry, a pass, a shot, or via players on the other team playing it back into the 18 themselves. The primary ways are the first two, and the Pride are one of only two teams in all of NWSL who are carry dominant as opposed to pass dominant:

The Pride are sitting slightly above 60% (62.3% for the math nerds; I’m looking at you, man in the mirror) for what I will call their carry percentage, whereas the average for the rest of the NWSL is 41%. The 2023 Pride used a similar style, though to much lower effect in terms of how it led to goals, with a 61% carry percentage. Go back one year further though to 2022 and the Pride had a 41% carry percentage, but in 2022 Seb Hines did not become head coach until June and Marta was out for the season with an ACL tear. It seems likely to me that Hines and Giles Barnes changed the Pride’s attacking style once they took over leadership of the team and after they had their first full preseason with the squad going into the 2023 season.

It certainly helps to have one of the greatest offensive players of all time in Marta and perhaps the greatest current offensive player in Banda on the team, but as seen via the stats from the other players on the team, it is not just those two who are attacking successfully off the dribble. The Pride have five players who play starter minutes and average more than two progressive carries per 90 minutes, including a striker (Banda), three midfielders (Adriana, Julie Doyle and Marta) and a defender (Abello).

As mentioned previously, the team averages 33% more progressive carries per 90 minutes than the league average, which puts defenders under incredible strain as they are seeing players come at them from all locations on the field with a head of steam and who are generally quite successful when they get into 1-v-1 take-on situations (the Pride as a team have a 47.2% take-on win percentage, second in the NWSL).

This Pride team has been relentless this season with how it attacks in all phases of the game. They start from the opening kickoff and never stop until the final whistle. They have scored 12 goals in the first 30 minutes, 10 goals in the middle 30 minutes, and eight goals in the final 30 minutes, leaving you no choice but to never take your eyes off this team, because at any moment you might be one play away from watching some Orlando magic.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. David

    July 4, 2024 at 2:56 pm

    Another fine article from a writer who seems to know as much about soccer as in-depth statistical analyses. Let’s cheer on this writer as well as the teams they write about.

  2. Hoganisme

    July 5, 2024 at 7:16 am

    Yes David, shout it from the highest trees, that Andrew has arrived

  3. Rodolfo Chang

    July 5, 2024 at 8:33 am

    Very detailed statistics!!!
    Good article.
    Vamos Pride

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Orlando Pride

Orlando Pride Sign Midfielder Ally Watt to New Contract

The Pride have signed forward Ally Watt through the 2025 NWSL season with a mutual option for 2026.

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Image courtesy of Orlando Pride / Mark Thor

The Orlando Pride announced this afternoon that the club has signed forward Ally Watt to a new contract. The deal runs through the 2025 NWSL season and includes a mutual option for 2026.

“Over the last couple years, we have really seen Ally grow both on the field and off. She has worked incredibly hard to be the fittest she has been in her career, and it shows through the impact she brings to our front line,” Pride Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Haley Carter said in a club press release. “Ally brings great competitiveness to the forward position on our team, while also being a great influence on our team culture. We’re excited for her to continue pushing herself and her teammates to be the best versions of themselves, and to have her continue as a vital part of what we are building.”

The Pride initially acquired Watt in a trade with OL Reign (now the Seattle Reign) on Aug. 15, 2022 in exchange for $125,000 in Allocation Money. The Watt trade was among the first that indicated the Pride were ready to begin dealing the assets they acquired for some of their older talent traded following the 2021 season.

Watt made her debut for the Pride on Aug. 20, 2022, coming on for Julie Doyle in the 64th minute of a 2-1 win over NJ/NY Gotham FC. She scored nine minutes later to create the dream debut for her new club, earning a new deal at the end of the season that kept her with the Pride through 2024. In nearly two years in Orlando, Watt has made 46 appearances (18 starts) in all competitions, recording 1,958 minutes, six goals and two assists. She also scored the fastest goal in team history, converting after 39 seconds on Sept. 17, 2023 against the North Carolina Courage.

So far this season, Watt has made 15 appearances with seven starts, recording 657 minutes. She has scored two goals and added an assist. Her most notable game this year was on May 1, when Pride Head Coach Seb Hines switched from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2, teaming Watt with Barbra Banda. Watt scored the opener and assisted on Banda’s second goal in a 4-1 win over the Courage.

“We’re building something very special here in Orlando and I am grateful that I get to continue to be a part of it,” Watt said in the club’s press release. “I feel I have only grown since I’ve been here, and I’m more than excited to keep developing my game. This team and organization are my family, and staying here in Orlando to play in front of some of the best fans makes me so happy. Vamos Pride!”

Watt was initially selected with the ninth overall pick of the 2020 NWSL Draft by the Courage out of Texas A&M. She played professionally in Australia for Melbourne City before joining North Carolina for the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup. However, she tore her ACL minutes into the first game, sidelining her for an extended period.

The Courage traded the speedster before the 2021 season to the Reign, where she made five appearances after returning from injury. She became a regular in 2022, playing in 21 of the Reign’s 22 games, recording a goal and an assist, before being dealt to the Pride.

What It Means for Orlando

Whether she starts with Banda in a 4-4-2 formation or comes off the bench later in the game, Watt has proven to be a valuable part of the Pride’s success since joining the club. Injuries were a concern since she’d had a previous ACL tear, but she’s remained healthy and has continued to be one of the fastest players in the NWSL.

The forward is already having her best season with the team this year, and there are still 10 games left in the regular season. With Banda away at the Olympics, Watt should get plenty of time starting during the upcoming NWSL X Liga MX Femenil Summer Cup, providing valuable minutes.

While this signing provides depth at the forward position, Watt also has the versatility that Carter and Hines crave. In addition to playing striker, Watt’s speed has been utilized on the right side of the midfield before, matching the similarly fast Doyle on the left for a dangerous pairing. Her attributes make this signing an expected one as the Pride look to build on their historic season.

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Orlando Pride

Orlando Pride Sign Midfielder Viviana Villacorta to New Contract

The Pride have signed defensive midfielder Viviana Villacorta to a new one-year contract with a mutual option for a second year.

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Image courtesy of Orlando Pride / Jeremy Reper

The Orlando Pride announced this afternoon that the club has signed midfielder Viviana Villacorta to a new contract. The one-year extension keeps her in Orlando through the 2025 NWSL season with a mutual option for 2026.

“Viv has shown she has the potential to be one of the best midfielders in the league but has been unable to fully showcase that due to last season’s late injury,” Pride Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Haley Carter said in a club press release. “Despite the setback, she has persevered, put in the work to get back on the pitch, and has remained an incredible teammate throughout the entire process. She has proven to be a difference maker when on the field, and we are looking forward to seeing her return soon.”

The Pride selected Villacorta with the ninth pick of the first round in the 2021 NWSL Draft. She decided to play her final season at UCLA but tore her ACL in the first game against Pepperdine, ending her collegiate career and delaying her professional debut.

Villacorta finally made her debut on May 1, 2022 against NJ/NY Gotham FC, replacing Gunny Jonsdottir in the 72nd minute. She soon became a regular starter under former head coach Amanda Cromwell and continued that role for Seb Hines, earning a new two-year contract on Dec. 7, 2022. During the 2022 and 2023 seasons, the defensive midfielder made 36 appearances (30 starts), recording 2,475 minutes and an assist. Unfortunately, the injury bug wouldn’t let her go.

The 25-year-old injured her ankle on Aug. 26, 2022 against OL Reign, requiring surgery and forcing her to miss the final five games of the season. Villacorta returned to her starting role for the 2023 season and almost made it through the entire year injury-free. But she tore her ACL again in a late-season training session, resulting in her missing the final three games and being placed on the season-ending injury list for 2024. Despite the setbacks, the Pride still feel she can contribute when healthy and have shown that belief with a new contract.

“I am so grateful for the club and staff for believing in me and giving me this opportunity,” Villacorta said in the club’s press release. “To be able to continue my journey with this incredible group of people supporting me, means the world. Orlando has been home for the past three years and I can’t wait to get back out on the field and give everything I have.”

Prior to being drafted by the Pride, Villacorta made 72 appearances for UCLA with 60 starts, recording seven goals and 16 assists. She was named to the MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List in 2020 and was Second-Team All-Pac 12 in 2018 and 2019.

Internationally, Villacorta represented the United States at the youth levels and started in the 2018 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.

What It Means for Orlando

The Pride made three significant moves to build depth in the defensive midfield this season, signing Luana, Angelina, and Morgan Gautrat. However, Luana was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma early in the season and Gautrat is 31 years old and has spent a lot of time on the injured list, so the Pride need defensive midfielders next season.

Villacorta has yet to prove that she can stay healthy, suffering severe injuries each year since being drafted. Despite these setbacks, she’s shown her ability while on the field. The two Pride head coaches in that time saw her as a regular starter and spoke highly of her skillset. If she can stay healthy, Villacorta can be an essential part of the Pride lineup moving forward.

While Villacorta might not return to action until 2025, the Pride want to see how she’ll fit in with this team when healthy. The one-year deal isn’t very risky as the team has built plenty of depth at all positions. If she can remain uninjured throughout the 2025 season, the club will likely pick up her option and possibly offer another extension. With the uncertainty of Luana’s absence, that could be key for the team’s future success.

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Orlando Pride

How to Win the NWSL Shield

Comparing the Orlando Pride and other 2024 NWSL shield contenders to previous winners.

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Image courtesy of Orlando Pride / Jeremy Reper

“We want to win the shield.”

That was the answer Orlando Pride defender Kerry Abello gave when asked what the team’s goals are for the rest of the 2024 season. She didn’t just stop there, adding that the team wants to win the NWSL championship as well. “We have proved that is our potential and we plan on going for it.”

There is little doubt that the Pride are now the favorites for the shield after defeating the Kansas City Current on the road (while down a player for more than half the game) in their final match before the Olympic break. The shield is the trophy awarded to the team with the highest point total after the regular season, while the NWSL championship is awarded to the team that wins the playoffs.

The shield is often considered a better indicator of best team from a given season, as it requires solid performances over the full season and not the final three games. With 16 matches played and 12 to go, the Pride are the only undefeated team in the league and they boast a three-point lead at the top of the table. Looking at the 10 NWSL shield winners to date, a clear picture emerges on what it takes to turn Orlando’s goal into a reality.

The Pride defeating the other shield hopefuls is a big part of why they’re in such a strong position just past the halfway point in the season. The matches against their peers in the table are sometimes called “six-pointers” because the points gained by the Pride are subsequently lost by their opponents. While Orlando won both road matches against Kansas City and the Washington Spirit, the return home matches against those opponents on Sept. 13 and Oct. 6, respectively, will be just as important as the season gets closer to the end, as will the two matches still to come against defending champion NJ/NY Gotham FC, currently in fourth.

Beyond the big matches, the NWSL is a league known for its parity, and any match can pose a challenge. Take, for example, the 2023 shield-winning San Diego Wave, who were able to claim the trophy with just 37 points, a tally already surpassed the 2024 Pride. In 2023, the gap between the teams at the top and bottom was so small that Orlando missed the playoffs with only six fewer points than the wave, and the last-place Chicago Red Stars were only seven points behind the Pride.

To put the current NWSL season into historical context, the graph below shows the points per match won by each prior shield winner, compared to the Pride, Current, and Spirit this season.

First and foremost, the graph above shows that the 2024 Orlando Pride are on pace to break the record for points in a season. That record was set by the 2018 North Carolina Courage team that earned 57 points en route to winning both the shield and the NWSL championship. Considering that Orlando is on pace to surpass that record, it is impressive that both the Current and the Spirit are almost stride for stride with the Pride and performing better than the average shield-winning squad as well.

Looking at historic shield winners and runners up, the competition in the NWSL is clear. The average gap between first and second place in the table over the past 10 seasons is just five points. In the past three seasons, the league was even closer, with gaps of two, one, and two points from 2021 to 2023, respectively. With four points currently separating first and third position in this season’s table, the trend of tight finishes is likely to continue.

Despite the similar records by the best teams this season, they are each racking up points in different ways. Kansas City has built a reputation based on a high-powered attack and willingness to simply outscore opponents. Orlando, on the other hand, has a defense-first mindset coupled with enough star power from Barbra Banda and Marta to win matches more pragmatically. Washington, for its part, lies somewhere in the middle, neither leading the league in attack nor defense but winning matches nonetheless. Reviewing how past teams won the shield can identify important themes for shield-winning sides, even though it doesn’t guarantee how the current season will play out.

Below, goals scored and conceded per match are plotted for previous shield winners to see how they won their trophies. The 2024 Pride, Current, and Spirit are added to assess the current shield race.

When it comes to attack, the Current are on another level entirely, leading all clubs in goals per match at 2.5. This performance, if it continues, would lead to the highest scoring season in league history. However, the plot once again shows the strength of the NWSL in 2024. Despite a clear offensive leader in Kansas City, the other teams fighting for the 2024 shield are well above average for prior winners and more than capable of scoring enough to win matches.

Between the points, goals, and goals conceded per match, it is the latter where the most clear differentiation can be seen. With only 0.75 goals conceded per match, the Pride’s defensive strength in 2024 is not far behind the best performing defenses in league history. Of their opponents, the Spirit have defended well this season, but not to the level of prior shield winners, and Kansas City is well below the defensive metrics of prior winners. 

In the first 10 seasons of the NWSL’s existence, only the Seattle Reign in 2015 conceded more than one goal per match on average and won the shield. Out of all that have done it, four led the league in both goals scored and fewest conceded. Three additional teams boasted the best defense, but only one team — again, Seattle in 2015 — scored the most goals without having the best defense, showing the limits to an attack-first approach.

Taken together, the prior seasons of the NWSL show that having a strong defense has been the most reliable path to an NWSL shield. Compared to the previous winners, the Orlando Pride have one of the best defenses in league history. They pair this strong defense with a potent attack exceeding the output of a typical NWSL shield-winning side. This combination has the team in first place in the table and on pace to win the shield with one of the highest point tallies of all time. 

Nothing can be taken for granted, however; Orlando’s opponents this season are setting records of their own and plan to push the Pride to the final weeks of the season. The Pride just need to keep their focus on the match in front of them. So far, they have shown the talent and the belief required of a shield-winning team, and the way to secure the trophy is to keep playing they way they did to get here.

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