Toni Pressley entered 2017 at a pivotal point in her career. Her 2016 season wasn’t the most memorable stretch of games and with Tom Sermanni bringing in Alanna Kennedy to complement a central defense group that already boasted internationals Monica and Laura Alleway, it didn’t seem that a lot of playing time was in the cards for Pressley.
But Pressley – perhaps more than any other player – took her off-season seriously. With a new diet and exercise routine in place, she came into preseason camp noticeably fitter in 2017. Her hard work paid off on the field as well. A bad start to the season by the Pride defense ushered Pressley into the starting lineup, where she stayed for the next three months. Her play also allowed the Pride to cut ties with Alleway, who struggled early in the year.
The hometown player (from nearby Melbourne, FL) and Florida State product approached the 2017 season as if it was the most important in making or breaking her career, and she did a lot of good things along the way.
Pressley appeared in 18 games (13 starts) for 1,218 minutes on the field, improving on her 2016 totals of 14/11/1,027. She scored her first NWSL goal but did not register any assists. Pressley attempted 16 shots and got six on target. That was the most shot attempts of any of the team’s regular center backs during the year but some of that has to do with her taking many of the long-range free kicks. She conceded 12 fouls while only drawing two, and earned one yellow card. She finished with a passing accuracy of 73.4%, 82 clearances (second on the team), and four cross attempts. Pressley also won 55% of her duels.
She also started the club’s first ever playoff game as a defensive midfielder, playing 90 minutes and recording team highs in shots (4) and chances created (3) in the match.
Pressley’s best outing came July 15 in a 4-1 win over FC Kansas City. Starting at center back, Pressley played a solid two-way game and was involved throughout. She had the team’s third-most touches (72) and the club’s most passes (60), didn’t commit a single foul, and broke open a close game in the second half. Taking a pass from Camila, Pressley cut inside a Kansas City defender and unleashed a lethal shot that swerved inside the back post for her first-ever NWSL goal. Her strike was also the NWSL Goal of the Week.
Her 70th-minute rocket gave the Pride the insurance goal they needed in a 2-1 game and allowed her team to eventually add a fourth to win going away. She also set season highs for passing accuracy (83%) and shots (3), playing the full 90 minutes.
2017 Final Grade
The Mane Land staff gave Pressley a composite grade of 5.5 for her entire 2017 body of work. No player transformed themselves more in the off-season than Pressley. She worked very hard after the 2016 campaign to become fitter and a better player and she did both of those things. She had fully seized a starting role at one point, being on the field at kickoff 13 consecutive times.
There were periods of standout play by Pressley but there were also holes in her game. She had the lowest passing rate of any of the team’s back line players. And she cost the team points twice with fouls in the box late in games to concede penalties. Those definitely cost her a bit on the final grade. Still, it was a productive season and another step forward in her game could reward her with a permanent starting spot. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say she was the Pride’s most improved player from 2016 to 2017.
The Pride exercised their option on Pressley’s contract for next season. She should be back next season and contributing on the back line. Pressley has some assets others don’t. She can take long-range free kicks. She can spot start or provide reliable depth at center back. Having her come off the bench allows Sermanni to have the flexibility to play three at the back when chasing a goal late in games. If she can continue to improve at the same rate she did after the 2016 season, Pressley will be a valuable member of the Pride next season and she should push others in the battle for a starting spot.