As we waited on Orlando City to turn things around and potentially make a push for the postseason following a hot start and a precipitous decline, it became clear in recent months that it simply wasn’t going to happen. The loss at Portland last weekend sealed the Lions’ fate and sees them near the bottom of the Eastern Conference table, and we won’t be seeing postseason soccer for the third time in three MLS seasons.
While the Lions were letting us down, however, the Orlando Pride were doing exactly what we were waiting on OCSC to do, completing the biggest turnaround of any NWSL side this season and ascending to seal a playoff spot on the back of a 0-0 draw with the Portland Thorns.
Despite signing a world-class forward in Marta prior to the year, things started off rocky for the Pride in the early season. Chioma Ubogagu was one of the few bright spots during that tough run to start the year, but the rest of the squad started to get things going around her and eventually found a serious groove which has seen the team go without a loss since July 22, with a five-game winning streak included during that time.
Of course, part of the reason Marta and co. struggled in the early going was the absence of Alex Morgan, another world-class striker who spent the first portion of the season playing abroad for Olympique Lyon in France. Morgan has only played 12 games for Orlando since her return stateside, but she’s had a hand in 12 goals in those games — nine she’s scored herself, and three of which she has assisted. Combine that contribution with Marta’s 12 goals (second league-wide) and six assists (also second-best in NWSL), and the Morgan-Marta duo has played up to the high expectations Orlando had for them when they brought five-time World Player of the Year Marta to town ahead of the season, combining to help Orlando lead the league in scoring.
The return of Ashlyn Harris in goal was also a boon for the Pride, as Harris has made a living as a Save of the Week contender and has registered 32 stops in her 12 games this season after missing 11 matches due to injury. It’s all culminated with a remarkable turnaround that saw the Pride rebound from the bottom half of the table to clinching their spot in the postseason with a chance still to improve their seeding from the fourth spot to third on the final weekend of the season.
MLS will always hog the headlines over the NWSL, but as we come to the end of another disappointing campaign for Orlando City we are able to appreciate just how impressive the Pride have been in their charge to the postseason. Defense will be at a premium in the playoffs, but hopefully the league’s highest-scoring attack can continue its run deep into the postseason.
Either way, the Pride are the first Orlando top flight club to qualify for the playoffs, which is an impressive feat for the second-year franchise.