The sun set over Orlando on October 14th and the Portland Thorns relished in their victory. Just a week before, the Orlando Pride were knocked out of their home final by that same team, but this moment is neither where their season begins nor ends. The Pride came into the league in 2016 with big hopes for success in one of the country’s soccer capitals, but with limited success. The team finished in 9th place after going 6-1-13 overall. This season began to a similarly rough start, with the team unable to pull out a win for the first four weeks of the season. The team was disheartened, and many were afraid that this was only the beginning of a season that closely resembled the last. The turning point was the fifth week of play when they defeated the North Carolina Courage, the previous season’s champions who had beaten them 3-1 only a few weeks earlier. The Pride reversed the scoreline, and handily beat the team to impress a home crowd. From there, they seemed to find their footing. The season did not come without challenges, but from that point on, the team never lost two weeks in a row. Victories came one after another, often by margins of two or more goals, leaving no doubts that the Pride was a force to be reckoned with.
Biggest Win: August 12, 2017, vs. Sky Blue FC
Both teams entered the August match tied for fifth place, desperate for a playoff spot. Earlier that season, the two teams had met twice, and the series was split, both by similar margins. The pride was welcoming their new rival to Orlando, but nerves were as high as the stakes. These fears were quickly assuaged when four minutes into the game, Alex Morgan put away the first goal. Dani Weatherholt put away the second goal in the 43rd minute, giving the Pride a solid cushion as they entered halftime. From then on, the team’s chemistry was too much for Sky Blue to handle. Morgan scored again in the 47th minute to add to their convincing lead, and a pair of Marta goals within five minutes of each other only six minutes later, the Pride all but had the playoff spot securely in hand. The game was the first time in a long time, if not ever, that the team completely dominated, leaving no part of their fate up to others.
Biggest Loss of the Year: NWSL Semifinal vs. Portland Thorns
The Pride’s biggest loss of the season happened to come at the most unfortunate time. While the Pride lost to the Thorns for the first game of the season, only two weeks earlier they were able to hold them off for a 0-0 draw. When the team traveled to Providence Park for the NWSL Semifinal on October 7th, they weren’t able to secure such a result. The final result being 4-1, the Thorns secured their spot in the final in convincing fashion, much to the dismay of the Pride players and fans. Not only was this loss embarrassing to grapple with, but the team lost out on the opportunity to play in the NWSL Championship on their home field, a rare opportunity. The pain of loss was compounded by these other factors, making this loss the worst.
Team MVP: Marta
Marta came to the pride in March in a signing that left the whole soccer world shocked. There were rumors that she wished to play in the NWSL for some time, but her move to the Pride signified to some a turning point for the team. Marta’s presence was not immediately felt, but as she worked her way into the team, she became more and more of a valuable asset. She tallied 13 goals and 6 assists, enough to earn her a spot on the NWSL Best XI. Her phenomenal skill brought even more attention to the Pride, as fans of all teams looked on to see if Tom Sermanni could make anything of the struggling team with so much talent. The team came into their own, and Marta proved to be a much-needed link between midfield and offense, and her combinations with Morgan turned the season around. Without her brilliance on and off the ball, the Pride may not have had anything close to the run they did.
Player with an off year: Ashlyn Harris
Although a favorite of many Pride fans, Ashlyn Harris’ season was far from what anyone had hoped for. Suffering from a quad injury for eight weeks of the season, she missed out on a good chunk of the Pride’s season, but even the portion of the season before her injury was less than stellar. The Pride gave up nine goals in their first game, and while that can not be attributed solely to a goalkeeper, it does signify an issue with defensive organization, a job that is the responsibility of the goalkeeper. Harris is known for her acrobatic saves, unconventional enough that they win Save of the Week consistently, but sometimes, theatrics should be sacrificed for the sake of quality.
Improvements for 2018
The Pride’s historic 2017 run was largely the result of the team acting on and improving their errors from last year. As a young, new team, a lot of their issues came from not being able to play together as a unit. Now, the team has largely sorted their midfield issues, and that reflects in their third-place finish. Now, the team must work on their defensive chemistry. Many of the goals scored against the Pride were caused by miscommunication, or players getting beaten 1v1. If the team begins next season as strong as they ended this one, then they will not spend the better part of the season playing catch up and attempting to secure their spot in the playoffs. They have the tools to do it, now all they need to do is execute.