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The Best of the Orlando Pride in 2017

A look back at a great second season for the Orlando Pride with our picks for end-of-season awards.

Deon Cooper, The Mane Land

The Orlando Pride had a fantastic run in their second year. Creating team depth and consistency for any expansion team is a hard thing to do, but the Pride were also without their best scorer, Alex Morgan, over the first half their second season.

Finishing in third place, with a record of 11-6-7 — and a run of nine unbeaten matches to finish the regular season — the Pride captured something Orlando soccer hasn't seen since gaining major professional soccer: the playoffs. While they fell short to the eventual NWSL Champion Portland Thorns, we couldn't be more proud as fans of a team that fought hard all season.

So, with that being said, we wanted to look back and give shout-outs to individual and team efforts alike that stood out from the pack on this great season.

MVP Marta

This was the easiest decision to make as the five-time FIFA Women’s Player of the Year, led the Pride in her first season into the playoffs. Had Morgan been with the team for the whole year, this may have been a tougher conversation, but Marta’s effectiveness all season was what put the Pride over the top.

The NWSL Player of the Month for September was second across the league in both goals (13) and assists (tied at six), but it was her efficiency that stands out. She was ninth on the list of total shots (44) and only had only 25 shots on goal, giving her a scoring rate of over 50% when she put shots on target.

There are many matches to choose from, but I would put Marta’s two-goal, two-assist effort on the road against the Houston Dash as her best game of the year. At 2-3-3, the Pride were just finding their rhythm in winning two of their last four, and going to Houston to face Carli Lloyd and co. is never an easy job. Marta had a hand in all four goals that day as the Pride led by as much as 4-0 at one point. This was a match that clearly showed her ability to take over any game single-handedly, and one that was needed as the Pride were looking to get back to .500.

Goal of the Year

There were no lack of goals to choose from as the Pride led the league in goals scored. When I was looking for clips, I swear it seemed like every single week a Pride player was up for the NWSL’s Goal of the Week and there were plenty of winners to choose from.

Some would argue Alanna Kennedy’s free kick to send Orlando into third place with a stoppage-time victory against NC Courage in the final match of the season should be there. And we wouldn't disagree. However, we found two other we liked just slightly better...

Runner Up Camila against the Washington Spirit

This goal takes a lot of skill. On the run, approaching a bouncing ball that was cleared by the goalkeeper, only to lob it 35-40 yards into an open net. But alas, that’s my determining factor here. While it took a great amount of skill, it was hitting into an open net and the goal was to put us up two, not a game-winning goal — as you’ll see below — which leads me to put this No. 2.

Winner Alex Morgan against the Washington Spirit

This Week 18 winner of the NWSL Goal of the Week was much deserved. Not only was it a game-winning goal, but a slashing Morgan came up with some karate-esque, donkey-like, behind-her-back goal that is not often seen. Combining the importance with the level of difficulty gives Alex the nod.

Best Match

Internal debate sparked on this as we needed to decide if this was the best “played” match of the season, the most meaningful match, or simply the most dominant result of the season.

Was it the draw against the Chicago Red Stars that saw Orlando start its unbeaten streak?

Or perhaps the first win of the season against the reigning champion North Carolina Courage in Week 5?

And then there’s the third seed-clinching win against the Courage in the final week of the season. This would lend to being it, right? Well, the reason I’m not taking this is because going into this week, the playoffs were a certainty for all teams, so it lacked some nuance that the fight against Seattle Reign the week before had. Which actually may have been more important than this one when you think about it.

Winner Pride Rout Sky Blue FC, 5-0

This match has it all to me. It’s an overwhelmingly dominant performance from start to finish. It was a statement to the rest of the league that the Pride were ready for the playoff push, as it was their second win on the course to a five-game run. It put Sky Blue FC — then tied on points with Orlando with one more win to their name — firmly behind the Pride for the rest of the season. This match was a big turning point as everyone was firing on all cylinders and one that propelled us beyond.

Rookie of the Year — Rachel Hill

Hill — who was selected 14th by the Portland Thorns in the NWSL College Draft before being traded — didn't even get a normal preseason to her inaugural campaign as she didn't sign until late May after going back to finish school.

As anyone can imagine, it’s not like this team is lacking for attacking talent with two of the world’s greatest players, and Hill stayed patient until needed. Her first goal of the season came in dramatic fashion as she scored an 87th-minute header to give the Pride a 3-2 win over Sky Blue FC.

Hill continued to earn increasing playing time over the year. Most notably in a home match start against the Boston Breakers, which almost saw her score a hat trick in under 30 minutes.

A consistent inclusion late in the year for Tom Sermanni, we’re looking forward to seeing what the future brings for this bright young forward.

Breakout Player — Camila

Camila was everything for the Pride this season, whenever they needed it. Whether it be on the right wing, at central midfielder, or at right back, she was always ready to perform no matter what the situation.

Before going down with a knee injury, she was tied for second in the league in assists and her loss was clearly a massive blow to the team, as was evident by the relentless Portland attack down the right side where Camila often played. Her season ended with 22 starts, garnering four goals and five assists.

We already mentioned her above when discussing Goal of the Year, something she was in the running for after that outstanding long-range goal. And what probably is the biggest travesty is her lack of inclusion on either of the NWSL’s Best XI teams. Camila had one of the best seasons by any Pride player and we wish her a full and speedy recovery.

Defensive MVP — Steph Catley

Nominated for NWSL’s Defender of the Year, the Westfield Matilda continued to prove why she’s one of the best backs in the game. Earning NWSL Best XI Second Team, it proved another successful year.

The fullback led Orlando in total touches (1,667) and crosses (75), while her 27 chances created were the second-highest by any Pride player.

One of her best moments came against the Houston Dash with Aubrey Bledsoe caught out, when she made a goal-line saving clearance that earned her NWSL’s Save of the Week Honors.

Assist of The Year — Steph Catley against Washington Spirit

As if we haven't talked about Catley enough, her 55-plus-yard laser to an eventual Alex Morgan volley was something of beauty. Fast forward to the 0:47 mark to watch the amazing combination of Catley and Morgan.

Save of the Year

Last but not least my favorite category. As a goalkeeper, there’s nothing I love more than watching great play in net, and both of the Pride keepers rank among the top. In researching this award, it appeared Ashlyn Harris or Aubrey Bledsoe were in nearly every NWSL Save the Week nomination, or it at least felt like it.

Runner-Up: Ashlyn Harris against NC Courage

If we had enough time, Ashlyn could have filled an entire article with saves week in and week out. This save, however, was her best in that long line of outstanding reaction saves. With a Courage team all over the Pride, Ashlyn made an unbelievable save to her left when a wide-open player 10 yards out from goal had the whole net at her disposal. But Ashlyn stayed set on the incoming cross and made a wonderful diving save:

Winner: Aubrey Bledsoe full stretch against Carli Lloyd

This may be a shocker to you — an upset, if you will — but this Week 9 NWSL Save of the Week winner was everything and more. If Ashlyn’s save above is a 9, Aubrey’s is a 9.5. She may have had a better angle against the shot, but a Carli Lloyd half-volley outside the six is nowhere close to an easy shot.

What makes the difference to me is what actually happens directly after the shot. A strong left hand by Bledsoe leads to two passes and a goal only 16 seconds later. If that hand is weak and it spills into the penalty area, that’s a possible goal. But instead it’s properly pushed out and starts a counter attack. That full gambit of reaction time, technique, and finesse is what pushes this save over Ashlyn’s above.

Congratulations again to all the Pride players and staff on a successful year two. And if you don't agree with me on any of the awards, then let me hear it!