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Top 10 Moments of 2017: Orlando Pride Clinch an NWSL Playoff Berth

In our No. 2 “moment” of the year, the Pride reach the postseason in just their second season.

Nick Leyva, The Mane Land

Although there was a lot of optimism about the Orlando Pride entering the club’s second year of existence, you never really know what you’ve got until the games are played. Would Tom Sermanni’s team be able to stay healthy and survive the early part of the season with its difficult fixtures, absence of Alex Morgan, and acclimating of Marta into the group? The answer was yes, and as a result the Pride reached the postseason in just their second season in the NWSL — a feat more than worthy of our top 10 list of the year’s best moments.

The 2017 season started much like 2016 ended for Orlando, with a four-game winless streak tacked on to last year’s season-ending 0-7-1 skid. The 0-2-2 start didn’t look like it would get any better with league-leading North Carolina Courage coming to town for a May 14 meeting, but the Pride turned in a strong performance in a 3-1 win. Chioma Ubogagu, Camila, and Jasmyne Spencer provided the offense in an impressive showing to hand the Courage their first loss of the year.

An away draw at Seattle while losing starting goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, followed by a road loss at Sky Blue FC, left the Pride with just a 1-3-3 record after seven games and close to the league’s cellar. But then something magical happened, and the Pride started putting together results. Orlando won three of the next four games, although a home loss to Houston didn’t inspire a lot of confidence. Still, that spurt propelled the team into playoff contention as June turned into July. By that time, Morgan had returned from France, although nursing an injury at the time.

Morgan finally got onto the field on July 1, playing 25 minutes in a heartbreaking 1-0 home loss to the Chicago Red Stars — courtesy of a second-half penalty kick just seconds after the Pride’s Spencer had rattled the woodwork at the other end. A week later, Toni Pressley conceded her second penalty in as many games — this time at the end of normal time — allowing the Washington Spirit to pull out a 2-2 draw.

Those two results might have killed the momentum for most teams, but the Pride were just getting started. Morgan was regaining full fitness and learning to combine with Marta in the attack. The first glimpses of what the 2017 Pride could truly be showed in a 4-1 drubbing of FC Kansas City on July 15. That was followed by a 2-1 loss at Chicago and a 1-1 home draw against the Red Stars which featured several tired players returning from the international break. Orlando was still on the outside looking in, but the playoff line was still within sight.

The Pride got things rolling with a 3-0 home win over Washington, then got Harris back from injury in time for a 5-0 thumping of Sky Blue. Suddenly the playoffs were closer than ever, with the Pride’s main competition coming from Sky Blue, Seattle, and Chicago. A pair of 2-1 wins at Boston and at Kansas City had the Pride in great shape, swapping third place back and forth with the Red Stars down the stretch. Orlando won its fifth consecutive game with a 4-2 home victory over the Breakers, pushing the club to within a whisker of clinching the postseason, with a chance to clinch against the Seattle Reign.

Seattle came to town just as Hurricane Irma was making its approach and the club moved the game up to Sept. 7 to accommodate the Reign getting out of town ahead of the storm. A tight and cagey affair looked to be unlocked by Morgan’s stoppage time goal. But just seconds away from clinching a playoff berth, Jessica Fishlock equalized and the Reign left with a 1-1 draw. Sky Blue was eliminated, but the Pride, Reign, and Red Stars were battling for two spots. Orlando had the toughest remaining schedule, with a home game against Portland and a trip to North Carolina — the two teams that had already clinched — still to come.

The Pride hosted the Portland Thorns on Sept. 23 and neither team could find the net in a 0-0 draw. Orlando still hadn’t clinched but was as close as possible. Any slip-up by Seattle or a single point at North Carolina would do the trick. As it turned out, the Pride had to wait only a day to clinch. The Reign lost 1-0 at home to FC Kansas City on Sept. 24, which pushed Orlando into the postseason along with Chicago. Orlando went into the final NWSL match day knowing a trip to Portland or back to North Carolina awaited the following weekend.

While some teams might rest starters and be content to settle for whatever result came with that, Sermanni discussed it with his players and the consensus was to go for it. The Pride had gone eight games without a loss at that point (5-0-3) and everyone wanted to stay sharp, not lose momentum, and close strong. Orlando did just that, going into the Shield winners’ home and coming away with a 3-2 victory over the Courage — the Pride’s first road win in the series.

With the win, the Pride ended on a 6-0-3 hot streak, and captured third place in the NWSL standings. Although it made for a tougher playoff road trip, the Pride wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Despite the loss at Portland a week later in the NWSL semifinals against the eventual Cup-winning Thorns, the Pride accomplished a major franchise goal in 2017. Reaching the postseason was a big step forward for a team that finished ninth out of 10 teams in 2016. As such, it’s a worthy inclusion in our top 10 moments of 2017. After all, the Pride improved from a 6-13-1 record (19 points) to 11-6-7 (40 points). Now the team knows what’s possible, and maybe a couple fewer penalties conceded will have the Pride hosting a playoff match in 2018.

Come back through New Year's Eve as we count down the remainder of Orlando City's top 10 moments of 2017.

Previous Top 10 Moments of 2017

10. Orlando City trounces New England Revolution, 6-1.

9. Orlando Pride clobbers Sky Blue FC, 5-0.

8. OCB’s impressive 12-game unbeaten streak through the summer of 2017.

7. Orlando City adds Jonathan Spector and Scott Sutter to the defense.

6. Veteran USWNT defender Ali Krieger joins the Orlando Pride’s starting XI.

5. Orlando Pride sign Brazilian superstar Marta prior to the 2017 NWSL season.

4. Orlando City Stadium hosts USMNT World Cup qualifying match.

3. Orlando City makes a big splash in the summer transfer window, bringing Dom Dwyer home and signing Yoshimar Yotun.