The Orlando Pride have now won three out of their last four league matches after a second-half goal by Kylie Strom ended the Washington Spirit’s unbeaten streak.
Just about a month ago, the Orlando Pride were winless. Not only were they winless in the league, but the team that dealt with the most off-the-field turmoil last season had just one draw from five matches across all competitions. They had gotten thrashed by the Portland Thorns to open the campaign, and just a few weeks later they gave up a lead to the North Carolina Courage in the UKG Challenge Cup. A few days after, Orlando collected just one shot on target out of 14 in Kansas City against the Current. Nothing was going their way, and when nobody gave them a shot away at San Diego, the Pride’s attack finally came together. They took a 3-1 win from the Wave and then beat Lousiville and Washington, with a draw against Gotham sandwiched in.
While the Florida side was not expected to be the cream of the crop in the NWSL this season, zero points through the first four matches seemed unlikely. Every team seeks to get out to a hot start, but when it does not happen, the mental toughness of any group of players is tested. Since that match in which the Pride could hardly manufacture any chances against the Current, Orlando has strung off four unbeaten. After its stunning triumph over the Washington Spirit, the Florida side now sits just one point out of the playoff picture. It may be early, but it has to be said there was no need to overreact to a franchise that is building something special for years to come.
Since Seb Hines took over the club, he has been determined to change the culture. Amanda Cromwell and assistant Sam Greene were forced to depart Orlando due to allegations of workplace misconduct. Redefining the identity of this team after the off-the-field drama was something Hines said he was going to focus on throughout the preseason. From what we can see on the pitch, it looks like he already has.
In a competitive league like the NWSL, winning is not easy. It took time, adjustments, and belief in the youth that is embedded into this side. The results then followed. Of course, there will be ebbs and flows throughout any campaign, but what Hines began to generate last season has leaked into 2023. Not only was Marta coming back from injury, but the player turnover was something that had to have an effect on the team.
Only one of the front four players that started against Washington this past weekend played a major role on the 2022 team. Four out of the club’s top-seven goal-scorers from last season are no longer with the Pride. Establishing a new attack, especially with youth is not going to happen overnight. Goals were rare to begin the campaign, but as the weeks went on, everything began to come together. Whether it is link-up play in the middle of the park or the attackers’ ability to be clinical in the final third, the Pride have taken a massive step in the right direction from a team that looked lifeless in week one.
A postseason berth is in the cards for the Orlando Pride
Following the result at home against the Spirit, Hines expressed that his team is here to compete:
"“Beating the team at the top of the table just shows that the players can go away full of confidence knowing that they can beat anyone in the league now…It probably is a statement to the league that we are here to win and here to stay and to perform.”"
With the only remaining unbeaten team heading to Exploria Stadium for a week eight, the Pride weathered the Washington storm. Orlando finished with six out of the last seven shots of the game, proving that conceding a goal almost immediately after going in front could not affect the mentality of the players on the pitch. A draw was not good enough against the team at the top of the league. It was clear in their second-half performance. That says a lot, especially given where Hines’ squad was just a few weeks ago.
10 goals conceded to one goal scored in the first four weeks compared to six goals scored and just two conceded in the next four. Two of those matches were clean sheets including one in which they stymied a high-powered NJ/NY Gotham FC attack.
Most of the success has to be credited to Brazilian international Adriana who only second behind only Sophie Smith in shot-creating actions. With the Brazilian playing just alongside Messiah Bright, she has the ability to use the hold-up play by the former TCU striker to her advantage. Bright’s strength and power combined with Adriana’s speed and elusiveness create an underrated combination. On the other flank, Marta is looking more lively on the ball as the weeks go on while in the defense, Emily Madril is beginning to get her feet under her in the NWSL. Each week this team looks more and more confident, and while the results may not always be there, it is clear the Pride are going to make life a living hell for any opponent.
Who knows if a playoff berth is in their sights, but when everyone counted them out, Orlando proved them all wrong. Bright and Adriana may be new to this league, but they are creating one special attack that has the potential be in Orlando for the foreseeable future. It is going to be a battle for that final playoff spot. Equipped with a new energy brought on by Hines and the leadership of Marta, the Pride have begun to establish a foundation of a team that is outlined by grit and persistence.