The Orlando Pride have had a revolving door at the striker position in 2017. When Alex Morgan left for Olympique Lyonnais to pursue her dream of winning a Champions League title, the Pride searched to find a suitable replacement. They went all in on younger prospects, drafting Danica Evans and trading for both Chioma Ubogagu and Rachel Hill. With Jamia Fields and Jasmyne Spencer already on the roster, Tom Sermanni and company hoped for someone to take control and become the striker that the Pride needed.
But Orlando has settled for inconsistency, starting all five at the number nine spot at some point through the team’s first 10 games. The score-by-committee approach has worked even after a sluggish start, with 17 goals through 11 games, just three shy of the Pride’s total for 2016. Most of that improvement can be attributed to the new Brazilian signings, Marta and Camila, who have contributed nine of the team’s goals. But the rest have come almost exclusively from the young striking corps, including a game winner from rookie Hill and a game-tying goal from fellow freshman Evans. But that has been the most glaring weakness for the 2017 Pride’s offense — even with marked improvement, they lack another true scoring option.
Fields, who has the most starts at striker this season, has yet to score. None of the young newcomers, Ubogagu, Danica Evans, and Hill, have more than two. Over the midway point in the season, there’s no sign of a breakout season on the horizon for any of them. And for a team that has relied on its wide play, especially now with Ali Krieger at center back and Kristen Edmonds taking the right back spot, Jasmyne Spencer isn’t exactly the perfect striker to wait for service in the six-yard box. Orlando has done splendidly considering two of its most important pieces, Morgan and Ashlyn Harris, have been unavailable for most of the season. But the club is still within touching distance of a playoff place and, if they can take their game to the next level, they could very well end up above the red line in year two.
Luckily, the answer to their issues has returned from France and rehabilitated the hamstring injury she picked up in the Champions League Final. Morgan is slated to return to action for Orlando this weekend against the Chicago Red Stars. She returns to a much-improved offensive supporting cast and a potential world-class partnership with Marta.
Alex may have been a bit underwhelming in the Pride’s inaugural year with only four goals in 15 appearances, but with the leaps and bounds the offense has already taken compared to last year, adding a world-class striker to the front lines should kick that up a notch. Morgan’s skill on the ball is light-years ahead of anything the current group of forwards can offer and she makes a fantastic target with her runs through the middle of the park. In Morgan, the Pride have strengthened their biggest weakness on the offensive end. Playoffs are in Orlando’s sights and this could be the boost that gets them there.