There were no expectations for the Orlando Pride having entered the year as an expansion team in the NWSL.
However, the initial Pride roster looked promising. The team acquired Alex Morgan, Kaylyn Kyle, and Sarah Hagen from Portland and Kansas City on October 26, 2015. Among the players they received in the expansion draft on November 2, 2015 were Ashlyn Harris and Jasmyne Spencer. They traded Adrianna Franch for Steph Catley on December 10, 2015. A week later on December 17, 2015, they traded for Becky Edwards and Kristin Edmonds of the Western New York Flash.
And with a promising roster, the hometown Pride fans showed up with a crowd of 23,403 to Camping World Stadium on April 23, 2016 to set an attendance record for the NWSL.
They would defeat the Houston Dash 3 to 1 at their home opener, and the season started out promising for the expansion club. After the first six games, they had 4 wins and 2 losses. This is quite good for an expansion club as there was a lot of potential, especially with seasoned coach Tom Sermani at the helm.
This expansion club now has playoff dreams.
But alas, their dreams were soon in peril, only winning 2 of the next 6 games. On July 10th they had an even 6 wins and 6 losses just past the midway point of the season. With 8 games remaining, the possibility of an inaugural playoff season was still a reality.
And from there, the team would not win again, and salvaging a tie with Sky Blue late in the season was the only point that the team could muster.
So what happened?
The Rio Olympics seem to be answer to this question. Alex Morgan and Ashlyn Harris of the United States , Steph Catley and Laura Alleway of Australia, Monica Alves of Brazil, and Josee Belanger of Canada were all playing for their respective national teams. So, for much of July and August, they were without their key starters.
Making matters worse, Steph Catley suffered a fracture on her left foot and a strained right hamstring during the Olympics, thus ending her season. The team was unable to find a way to fill her position at the left fullback spot. Other teams were able to exploit this weakness and scored on the now struggling expansion squad, and their season ended disappointingly in 9th place out of 10 teams.
How does 2017 look?
Late in the season, they acquired Lisa DeVanna. For anyone who has seen her the last year or so prior to last year’s World Cup, knows that she has improved dramatically since the inaugural 2013 NWSL season when she was at Sky Blue. She has always had speed as an asset, but her passing skills have improved, and her shot selection has also improved.
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There is also Jasmyne Spencer, who to me is one of the most underrated players in the league. This diminutive forward/wing player has good speed, good defensive skills, and an apparent “never say die” attitude that makes her a good complimentary player.
Add in Alex Morgan, perhaps the best known women’s soccer player on earth, and also Kristin Edmonds who is the team’s rock solid midfielder. With players like these they have a solid core of forwards and midfielders that should be a formidable attacking team.
The complaint I had about the team this year was Becky Edwards. She will always be one of the most underrated defensive midfielders of all time. But an injury years ago ruined her chances on being the U.S. National Team. However, on this team, she was miscast as a left wing in the midfield. This was puzzling, since I regard Semani as someone who should know a player’s strengths and weaknesses. However, Edwards has retired at the end of this past year, and the team will need to modify its midfield next year. But with the talent that this has, it would not be difficult to achieve a decent midfield.
Ashlyn Harris at goal has that position is secure. Then, the only thing that the team would need improvement is adding some defensive depth. The return of Steph Catley would help there. The rest of the players on the backline such as Belanger, Monica, and Alleway are good defenders. Toni Pressley is a good backup center back. But the outside back position became their Achilles’ Heel when Catley was done for the season, and that should be a team priority during the off-season.
In honor of their record setting crowd, and franchise’s first victory, here is their second game of the year.
Here is their first game ever….
And finally, their only tie of the season.
Keep following us here at MLS Multiplex for more NWSL season reviews as we reflect on this past NWSL season and prepare for the 2017 kickoff.