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2017 NWSL Season Preview: Orlando Pride

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Tom Sermanni will look for more goals scored, fewer goals conceded, and a better road record in Year 2.

Matt Starkey, The Mane Land

Welcome to The Mane Land’s 2017 NWSL preview for the Orlando Pride. To learn more about the other teams in the league, visit SB Nation’s NWSL Preview hub. Now, on to the Pride preview:

The Orlando Pride come off a disappointing inaugural NWSL season that looked a whole lot better toward the beginning than it did at the end. The Pride won four of their first six games, including wins over Seattle Reign and Western New York Flash, and looked like a viable playoff contender. But Orlando dropped the final three games of a four-game road trip and the Olympic absences decimated the club.

The Pride lost 11 of their final 14 games, winning just twice – against fellow bottom feeders Houston and Boston at home – and drew Sky Blue FC on the road. In late May the team was in the top four, but by the conclusion of the final match on Sept. 24, the Pride were in ninth place out of the league’s 10 teams.

Head Coach Tom Sermanni has brought in pieces to try to patch the two glaring weaknesses on last year’s team – a defense that hemorrhaged good scoring chances and tested the limits of even Ashlyn Harris’ considerable shot-stopping skills, and also quality in the attacking third. Alanna Kennedy, Ali Krieger, and Camila Pereira, along with a resurgent Toni Pressley, should theoretically bolster the team’s defense. The addition of five time FIFA World Player of the Year Marta, and former Houston Dash forward Chioma Ubogagu – who had an impressive preseason – will take the pressure off of Jasmyne Spencer and Kristen Edmonds to carry the team’s offense when Alex Morgan isn’t around. Morgan’s loan to Olympique Lyonnais didn’t help the club any, but if she returns at the end of Lyon’s season in form and can stay healthy through the NWSL season, the Pride should be able to score a lot more goals in 2017 than they did in 2016.

Orlando needs to be better away from home. The Pride managed just four points from 10 matches on the road in 2016 (1-8-1 road record), and were shut out in half of their away games. Orlando scored only seven total goals away from home last season, and four of those were two each at Houston and Seattle.

Key facts:

2016 Record: 6-13-1, 19 points (Ninth in NWSL).

2016 Playoffs: N/A.

Key additions: Marta, Ali Krieger, Chioma Ubogagu, Alanna Kennedy, Camila Pereira, Danica Evans, Nickolette Driesse.

Key losses: Kaylyn Kyle, Becky Edwards, Lisa De Vanna, Sarah Hagen.

Projected starting XI (formation): The roster is built quite nicely for a 3-5-2 alignment when all players are healthy and in camp. We may see something like: Ashlyn Harris; Laura Alleway, Alanna Kennedy, Monica; Steph Catley, Kristen Edmonds, Chioma Ubogagu Maddy Evans, Jasmyne Spencer, Ali Krieger; Marta, Alex Morgan.

Major trophies won all-time: N/A.

What we think of our team: The Pride have the talent to finish top four and potentially contend for the league title, but with so many new pieces it will take time to gel completely.

What outsiders think of our team: Orlando is a team that probably should have done a little better than it did in 2016, despite being a new expansion. Now that they have the Marta on their roster, along with key players like Ali Krieger and their Aussie contingent, they should be solidly mid-table if not in outright contention for the playoffs.

Orlando’s biggest rival, and why: Despite playing the Houston Dash four times (!) last year, the Pride had two epic battles with the Western New York Flash (now North Carolina Courage), with each nipping the other at home in a pair of physical games. While it may not yet be a rivalry, if those types of match-ups continue, with the team’s move to the Southeast, a potential rivalry seems a natural fit.

Best social media follows: Toni Pressley (@Toni_Deion), Jasmyne Spencer (@Jas_it_Up), Kristen Edmonds (@Kris10edmonds) and Alex Morgan (@alexmorgan13) show a lot of their personality on Twitter.

Our season hinges on…The Pride’s ability to find cohesiveness as a team rather than deferring to the star players. It also hinges on whether new additions Krieger and Kennedy can help the defense become stingier with opponents’ chances.

Why this year won’t be like last year: With no Olympic break, the team’s many international players should be available for a lot more games, and the addition of Marta alone should account for an increase in chances created.

Key player (and why): Marta. If the Brazilian international continues her average of about a goal every other game, she’ll end up in double figures and take a ton of pressure off of players like Edmonds, Spencer, Ubogagu, and (when she returns from Lyon) Morgan. That should, in turn, help those players produce even more in 2016 and earn more points along the way.

Predicted finish in 2017: While the Pride on paper have one of the best rosters in the NWSL, there will be a period of coming together that some other teams won’t need – Portland, for example. I expect the teams fighting for the top four spots will be Portland, Seattle, Chicago, North Carolina, and Orlando. Realistically, fans should expect a roster like this to compete and I’m predicting a third-place finish, but I expect Orlando to start slowly and get better throughout the season, provided key players such as Marta, Catley, and Krieger can stay healthy.

Wild prediction: Alex Morgan’s return spurs an offensive explosion and she and Marta combine for 25+ goals between them.