Dani Weatherholt was a nonstop workhorse in 2018. This top-class work ethic made her a favorite of former Head Coach Tom Sermanni, helping the 24-year-old to a team-high 23 appearances (tied with Shelina Zadorsky). The sole game that Weatherholt did not play in was the Orlando Pride’s 1-0 win over the Washington Spirit back on June 23 — the midfielder had an excused absence and most likely would’ve played had she been with the team.
The Pride used the 31st overall pick in the 2016 NWSL College Draft by selecting Weatherholt. Orlando then re-signed the Santa Clara product after the 2017, and exercised her option last week. Weatherholt was a key member of the squad and one of the few players that could always be counted on in 2018.
In Week 9 of the NWSL season, Weatherholt had a player spotlight. This highlighted a part of her life away from the field in which she inspired a young cancer patient.
Weatherholt was near the top of nearly all of Orlando’s statistical categories. She was tied with Zadorsky for making the most appearances (23 of the Pride’s 24 matches) and her 17 starts were the sixth most. She only found the back of the net twice and failed to record any assists, but her 1112 touches put her below just Alanna Kennedy, Ali Krieger, and Zadorsky. The midfielder attempted 716 passes, again below just Kennedy, Krieger, and Zadorsky, but Weatherholt’s 76.4% passing accuracy is better than the lot (71%, 76.1%, and 76%, respectively). Her 14 fouls won are also in the top five for the Pride.
The 2018 campaign was her best year as a professional. Weatherholt increased her appearances from nine in her rookie season, to 19 last year, and 23 this season. Her goals also increased from having none in 2016 to a single goal in 2017 and doubling that total in 2018. She has failed to record an assist after notching the first of her professional career one season ago.
“I’ve said this before but we need 10 Dani Weatherholts on the field. She’s the person that has really dragged our team along in games quite often. Whether that’s been a decisive tackle, a decisive run, a decisive goal, like it was tonight, or whatever, she has just been magnificent this year. I need 10 players doing that and if we had 10 players doing that I think we would be a little bit further up the table.”
She was a constant force in that entire game, getting involved on both ends of the field. A dull first half led to an energetic second and Weatherholt was the main reason why the Pride were in it.
Off a throw-in, with her back to the goal and three defenders closing in on her, Weatherholt played the ball perfectly, juked the defender, and somehow got a shot off. The keeper made the save, it the ricocheted off the post, and Marta was there to put it away.
After Marta scored in the 51st minute, Sky Blue scored two unanswered in the next eight minutes. Orlando was down 2-1 and Sky Blue had the momentum, and it looked like the Pride were going to lose.
What ensued in the 73rd minute showed the value of Weatherholt, her work ethic, and relentless attitude. Camila got fouled at the top of the box, but instead of yelling at the referee, Weatherholt got on the ball and continued to fight through traffic, eventually getting in on goal and bundling the ball past the goalkeeper and into the net.
She finished with six shots, three on target, 37 passes, and an 81% passing accuracy.
2018 Final Grade
In 2017, Weatherholt was given a final rating of 7 by The Mane Land Staff. She got more games under her belt in her sophomore season and “played more relaxed and confidently and helped the Pride both offensively and defensively with strong two-way play.” In 2018, much of the same can be said of her and The Mane Land Staff again gave her a 7.
Many things did not go right for the Pride in the second half of the season, but Weatherholt’s play never suffered and she continuously got well-deserved praise from her head coach. At the end of the season, Sermanni said, “to be frank, apart from Dani Weatherholt, and probably Marta, I can’t turn around and say any other player had played to the expectations that we’ve had.” To be in the mix with the FIFA Player of the Year is no small feat.
The one negative from her season would be lack of attacking production, although that’s not her main skill set as a holding midfielder. While she was a workhorse on the defensive end and helped initiate many attacks for Orlando, she had just two goals, 18 shots, and no assists. She often held a more defensive role but she has the ability to get forward, as was on display in the Sky Blue game mentioned above.
Weatherholt’s growth over the past few seasons has been impressive and it should continue next year. With it being a World Cup year, Orlando will rely on her more than any year previously as the Pride will be missing a big chunk of talent. The exact role that she plays will depend on who the new coach is, but look for her to once again be a consistent figure in the midfield. Her defensive work rate is a joy to watch and hopefully she will be put in positions to provide more offensively.