Who are they?
The Orlando Pride started as an expansion team, joining the league in 2016. Their MLS counterpart, Orlando City SC, has been in their league since 2015 and began planning to launch their female counterpart that same year. The fact that they came into their respective leagues at the same time sets them apart from the other two franchises with both an NWSL and an MLS team, Portland and Houston. Both of these other locations had an MLS team many years before they entered the NWSL. The newness of the professional Orlando soccer landscape gave the Pride some advantages when their life began, such as the 25,000-person capacity stadium that they play in. The Pride held the NWSL attendance record from 2016 to 2019, with one of their games attracting 23, 403 people.
Orlando Pride's identity now revolves around being an underdog team with potential. The farthest they have ever made it into the playoffs was the semi-final in 2017. Since then, they have become strongly acquainted with the bottom of the standings, never finishing above 7th besides in that 2017 season. Most recently, they finished 8th in 2021. The only teams below them were Racing Louisville and the Kansas City Current, both in their inaugural season. It has been asked of the team for a while why they cannot channel their star power into better results, but they have not come up with an answer.
The team's colors are purple and light blue, with purple being their primary color and featuring prominently on their kits. The crest features iconography of the fountain on Lake Eola, an Orlando landmark. The shade of blue in the crest is actually called Eola Blue. The significance of the name Pride is meant to be a parallel to Orlando City's mascot, the Lions. However, it also represents pride in the city of Orlando, which the franchise strongly believes in.
The team is strongly committed to honoring the 2016 PULSE nightclub shooting, which happened the same year as the team began play. The branding of the club as the Pride is emphasized during LGBTQ+ Pride month and in memorial of the victims on anniversaries of the tragedy. There are 49 seats in Exploria Stadium, where the team plays, painted in rainbow colors in honor of the 49 victims of the shooting.
The Pride are coached by Amanda Cromwell, who is entering her first season in the league and in professional sports in general. She was previously the UCLA women’s soccer coach for 9 years, leading the team to a national championship in 2013. One of the Pride’s 2021 draftees, Viviana Villacorta, played under Cromwell for her whole college career and will be playing her rookie season with the Pride this year. Mark Wilf, the owner of the Pride, said of Cromwell, “We are fortunate to be able to bring Amanda’s track record of success in developing national, professional, and collegiate standouts, and her commitment and passion for the game of women's soccer to our Club. We are confident Amanda will be a terrific leader for the Pride moving forward."
Cromwell will be joined by Sam Greene as her first assistant coach, Michelle Akers as assistant coach and head of player development, and Seb Hines as the final assistant. Greene worked under Cromwell for the past nine years at UCLA, the latter’s entire career there. They will be working together once again at the pro level. Akers is a women’s soccer legend, after winning the 1991 and 1999 World Cups and receiving a gold medal at the 1996 Olympics with the US Women’s National Team. She’ll work at the Pride primarily on player development and community outreach. Hines is beginning his third year with the Orlando Pride, after playing professionally with the Orlando City men’s team. He has worked under the past three Pride coaches and will continue to fall into a role focused on the defensive side of the ball.
Meet the Players
Orlando currently has 26 rostered players, with 3 goalies, 9 defenders, 9 midfielders, and 5 forwards. They lost many key players in the offseason, including Ashlyn Harris, Ali Krieger, Phoebe McClernon, Alex Morgan, Taylor Kornieck, and Marisa Viggiano. All of these players were quite regular starters, and a team without all of them will have a very different look than there was last year. Also, Harris and Krieger have been the team’s captains since the inception of the team in 2016. The loss of Morgan and the two of them results in a large loss of veteran leadership on the team. Also, in the NWSL Challenge Cup, a preseason tournament, Marta, arguably the team's best player, tore her ACL and will not be playing in the 2022 season.
Sixteen of Orlando's current players are returning from the 2021 season. However, this figure includes Marta, who cannot play due to injury, and players such as Kaylie Collins, with only one professional appearance. They have four rookies, which you can read about in the Rookie Previews: Orlando Pride article that is elsewhere on this website. Their names are Caitlin Cosme, Mikayla Cluff, Julie Doyle, and Kerry Abello. Some of these are draft picks from 2021, and some are from 2022.
People to watch for the Pride would probably be Viviana Villacorta, Sydney Leroux, Celia, and Courtney Petersen.
Villacorta is entering her first season in a professional league since she was injured last year and could not play. She was selected ninth overall in 2021 by the Pride, and she is in coming from UCLA, where she was a standout player under Orlando's current coach. It has looked like the Pride are supremely interested in developing her into a star player for them as well, and she has looked promising in the preseason.
What is there to say that hasn't already been said about Sydney Leroux? She has been with the Pride since 2018 and has a very strong history both in the NWSL and on the United States National Team. She has won both a World Cup and an Olympic medal. She was also strongly in the running for the NWSL Golden Boot last season. She should shape up to be the Pride's most prolific scorer this season.
Celia Jiménez Delgado, more commonly known as Celia, is entering her first year with Orlando this year, but she has been playing professionally since 2018. She has acquired by the Pride this year, in a trade that sent defender Phoebe McClernon to OL Reign. She is expected to be a regular starter in her first year at the club, and continue the impressive performances that were expected of her in Washington.
Finally, the outside back Courtney Petersen. She is entering her second season in Orlando, and she has arguably been the most exciting new player they have had recently. She can play either in defense or midfield and has 29 appearances and one goal for the team so far. She is a talented, fit defender, and usually plays the full 90 minutes of a game. It has been said that she has large potential for the US national team in the future.
What Do I Want To See?
It seems obvious, but everyone's been waiting for the Pride to have a breakout season since their inception. It looked like 2017 could have been the year, and they made it far but fell short of the mark and the championship. It really seemed like the 2021 season could've been it, with their seven-game unbeaten streak in their first seven games. This matched their previous record for the longest unbeaten streak in team history. However, it fell through after that, with the eventual eighth-place finish.
Every season, it seems like they have potential, with new players, new coaches, and new ownership. It hasn't worked out yet, though, but I'll repeat history and say that this should be the year. Maybe it won't be the year, but there's as much of a chance now than ever. No need to even aim for the championship, if this team qualified for the playoffs this season, it would be a roaring success.
They need to prove that they're not an easy-to-win-against team, and they need to keep consistency. Previously, they could beat one of the best teams in the league and lose to an easier team three days later. The NWSL is a very competitive league, and they need to be able to beat all types of opponents. Developing players should also be a goal since they seem to be in a transitional period with a lot of their veterans leaving.
Orlando Pride Full Opening Day Roster:
Goalkeepers (3): Kaylie Collins (SUP), Erin McLeod, Anna Moorhouse (INTL/ENG).
Defenders (9): Kerry Abello (SUP), Caitlin Cosme (CDP), Celia Jiménez Delgado, Carrie Lawrence (SUP), Megan Montefusco, Courtney Petersen, Toni Pressley, Kylie Strom, Amy Turner (INTL/ENG).
Midfielders (8): Mikayla Cluff, Meggie Dougherty Howard, Angharad James (INTL/WAL), Gunny Jónsdóttir, Parker Roberts (SUP), Erika Tymrak, Viviana Villacorta, Chelsee Washington.
Forwards (6): Julie Doyle, Darian Jenkins, Abi Kim, Sydney Leroux, Leah Pruitt, Marta.
INTL: International Player
SUP: Supplemental Roster