The 2018 NWSL season is about to begin and Tom Sermanni’s Orlando Pride welcome back the majority of last year’s playoff team that finished third overall in the regular season. With several quality additions over the winter, the Pride seem poised to make another postseason run in 2018 and perhaps challenge for some hardware in the club’s third season.
There were only two major losses in the off-season, with the trades of left back Steph Catley and forward Jasmyne Spencer to Seattle, but the Pride got good value in return and simultaneously filled the position Catley vacated by acquiring Carson Pickett in the deal. Orlando also added a few other key players who are expected to make an impact in 2018.
Let’s meet this year’s Pride team.
2 Sydney Leroux, Forward
The biggest name of the off-season acquisitions, Leroux was acquired from Utah on Feb. 2 in exchange for a 2019 first-round pick. No longer an allocated player by the U.S. Soccer Federation (i.e. the USSF no longer covers her league salary), Leroux had to sign a deal with the club prior to the season, which she did.
Sydney wasted no time getting up to speed with her new team, scoring a goal in each of the Pride’s preseason matches and led the team in scoring. At the Pride Media Day she said she feels like the old Syd is back and that’s tremendous news for Orlando fans. Nearly all of her teammates we spoke to this preseason mentioned how her physical play and tenacity inspired them to play harder and tougher. If that is the case, this could be a special year for the Pride. The former FC Kansas City and Western New York Flash forward has lots of international experience, with 77 USWNT caps, and a history of playing with Alex Morgan. Her style of play should create more space for players like Morgan and Marta.
3 Toni Pressley, Defender
Pressley enters her third season with the Pride after being selected eighth in the 2015 NWSL Expansion Draft from the Houston Dash. She started 11 times in 14 appearances during the Pride’s inaugural season but transformed herself physically through a new approach to diet and fitness and entered 2017 looking like a completely different player. Pressley appeared in 18 games (13 starts) last season and smashed in her first goal with Orlando, a screamer that earned her NWSL Goal of the Week honors.
Sermanni was able to utilize Pressley in order to change shape to three in the back late in games to go for the win and it will be interesting to see if that continues. It will be tougher to earn minutes on this year’s Pride team than ever before, so Pressley will need to work on her passing percentage and eliminate the errors in the box that led to two second-half penalties which cost Orlando points last season.
4 Shelina Zadorsky, Defender
Another of Orlando’s off-season acquisitions, Zadorsky was acquired from the Washington Spirit on Jan. 23 in exchange for backup goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe and the Pride’s natural first-round pick in 2019. The 25-year-old Canadian international was brought in to bolster a defense that shipped 31 goals in 24 games last year. The Pride’s attacking style puts the defense under pressure at times and the acquisition of Zadorsky should help shore things up. She started two of her 30+ games with the Canadian Women’s National Team in the recent Algarve Cup and her side recorded shutouts in both, which she said at Media Day will give her confidence and serve as a springboard as she heads into her first season with Orlando. Shelina is allocated to Orlando by the Canadian Soccer Association.
5 Emily van Egmond, Midfielder
One of two Australian internationals on the squad, van Egmond will not actually join the Pride until late April due to World Cup qualifying in the Women’s Asian Cup. The attacking midfielder was signed on Valentine’s Day. Van Egmond is blossoming into one of the world’s top play-making midfielders despite being just 24 years old. Her presence will either allow Marta to play on the forward line or complement the Brazilian star if Sermanni wants more bodies in the midfield. She brings to the Pride more than 75 games of international experience on some of the biggest stages, as well as previous professional experience in Australia, Europe, and the United States (Western New York Flash, Seattle Reign, Chicago Red Stars). Emily will require one of the Pride’s five international slots.
6 Chioma Ubogagu, Forward
Chi enters her second season with the Pride after her rights were acquired from the Houston Dash in January of 2017 for a third-round pick in the 2018 draft. She was out of contract after the 2017 season and re-signed in mid-January. Ubogagu appeared in 19 matches with the Pride last season (16 starts), scoring four goals and adding three assists. Chi filled a lot of gaps last year. Nine of her starts came on the forward line, six were in the midfield and one was on defense — a position she also switched to a few times during games depending on substitution patterns. She played well enough to earn a call-up to the USWNT at left back, although she did not get a cap. With more attacking pieces in place for Sermanni this year, look for Ubogagu to serve as the club’s Swiss Army knife, doing a number of different jobs.
7 Christine Nairn, Midfielder
The Pride picked up Nairn from the Seattle Reign on Jan. 29, along with defender Carson Pickett, in exchange for Catley. Nairn brings a veteran presence to the Orlando midfield, as the 27-year-old has played more than 100 NWSL games with the Reign and the Washington Spirit, scoring 18 combined goals for those clubs. Nairn is an underrated player who does a lot of little things well and has a big leg, as she displayed twice in the preseason, scoring on a free kick against UCF and chipping the goalkeeper from the center circle against South Florida. She’ll provide a veteran presence to Orlando’s midfield.
8 Danica Evans, Forward
Evans enters her second season with the Pride after being drafted 22nd overall out of Colorado in 2017. Evans was used sparingly during her rookie year, appearing in 11 matches (one start) but only playing 195 total minutes. She scored one goal, but it was a big one, tying the match late against the Washington Spirit in Orlando’s home opener. Danica earned NWSL Goal of the Week for her calm finish. Evans will provide attacking depth for a club that has a treasure trove of options.
9 Camila, Defender/Midfielder
After suffering a serious knee injury in the final regular-season match of 2017, Camila Pereira (simply known as Camila) begins the season on injured reserve and therefore won’t count against the club’s international slots or roster limit until she returns. The Brazilian international’s recovery has seemingly gone well and a return in June is expected for the second-year Pride player. Camila was Orlando’s breakout player of the year in 2017, after signing with the club in December of 2016. She appeared in all 24 regular-season matches with the Pride in 2017, starting 22. She played just about everywhere, starting four games at right back, three at forward, and 15 in the midfield. She’ll only have about half a season to do it, but Camila will look to build on her four-goal, five-assist season of a year ago.
10 Marta, Forward
Marta Vieira da Silva, known globally simply as Marta, is one of the world’s most recognizable soccer players. She returns for her second season with the Pride after arriving early in the 2017 campaign. After a few games to settle in, Marta started delivering the goals and assists she’s known for, and, if not for someone named Sam Kerr, she might have been the NWSL MVP last year. After signing with Orlando last April, Marta arrived in time to dress for the home opener, despite having arrived via international flight less than 48 hours earlier. Playing both forward and midfielder in 2017, Marta played in 23 of the club’s 24 regular-season games, starting 21, as well as Orlando’s playoff match in Portland. Marta scored a team-high 13 goals (second in the NWSL) with six assists (also second in the NWSL). She created a league-high 64 chances for her teammates and her goals + assists total of 19 was second only to Sky Blue’s Kerr (17/4), who is now with Chicago. Marta was a four-time member of the NWSL Team of the Month, and she’ll again be expected to contribute heavily to the attack and team’s possession in 2018 and perhaps she’ll have more room with Leroux to clear more space for her. She will occupy an international slot for the Pride.
11 Ali Krieger, Defender
No longer allocated by the USWNT, Krieger, like Leroux signed a contract with the Pride prior to the NWSL season. She now enters her second year with Orlando since being acquired from the Washington Spirit on Nov. 2, 2016, in exchange for the Pride’s spot in the Distribution Ranking Order. She played every minute of the Pride’s 2017 season, mostly at center back, moving over from her more familiar right back spot. She led the NWSL in passing attempts (1,300), completing 82.5% of them. She did not score a goal but did assist on two. With the additions of Zadorsky and Poliana, Krieger could again play both fullback and center back in 2018, but, regardless of where she is on the field, the Pride will rely on her leadership, experience, and calm demeanor.
12 Kristen Edmonds, Midfielder
One of the longest tenured members of the Pride, Edmonds has been with the club since her rights were acquired from the Western New York Flash — along with Becky Edwards — in December of 2015. She enters her third season with the club, having led the team in goals in 2015, but filling in as more of a role player in 2016. She played 22 games (20 starts) last season, scoring two goals without an assist, just one year after scoring six times and adding two assists. She seems destined once again to slot in wherever Sermanni needs her in 2018, whether at fullback or in the midfield but that role fits in well with her whatever-is-needed demeanor.
13 Alex Morgan, Forward
Morgan enters her third season as a player allocated to Orlando by the USWNT. She became the cornerstone of the team’s roster in October of 2015, when the Pride traded a sizable list of assets to the Portland Thorns for both her and Kaylyn Kyle. Orlando parted with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NWSL College Draft (which became Emily Sonnett), the rights to Orlando’s first pick in the 2015 Expansion Draft (Meghan Klingenberg), and an international roster spot for the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Morgan missed several matches in both previous seasons with Orlando due to international play and a loan spell with Lyon. Still, she’s amassed 13 goals in 18 games across two seasons with the Pride so far. Of those, nine came last year, along with four assists, as she torched the NWSL in the second half of the season. Those numbers could climb if she remains healthy on this 2018 team.
14 Alanna Kennedy, Defender/Midfielder
Like van Egmond, Kennedy is going to be a late arrival in 2018, as she tries to help her country qualify for the World Cup through April’s Women’s Asian Cup. The Australian still requires one of Orlando’s precious international slots. The Pride traded its first ever draft pick, Sam Witteman, to the North Carolina Courage to acquire Kennedy on Jan. 19, 2017. Her deal expired after last season, but the Pride re-signed the Aussie to a new deal earlier this month. At the time of the trade, Sermanni called her “one of the best center backs in the league,” but she only played in that position for seven games before moving into the midfield. She played in all 24 matches (plus the playoff game) last year, starting 23 times in the regular season. She was second only to Krieger in minutes played, scoring four goals and adding an assist. She also scored Orlando’s first ever playoff goal at Portland. Kennedy was a ball winner, a safety-first defender (80 clearances), and a provider of timely offense. Sermanni will be happy when she returns from international duty.
15 Rachel Hill, Forward
The Pride sent two 2018 draft picks to Portland in January of 2017 for the rights to Hill, who joined the club late after finishing school at the University of Connecticut. Hill started eight matches in 2017 and appeared in 14 over the course of her rookie season, playing 713 minutes, while scoring three goals and adding an assist. This past off-season, she went on loan to Australia to continue her professional development and made a big impact with Perth Glory, where she played alongside — and learned a lot from — Kerr. She started all 12 matches in which she appeared for Perth, scoring nine goals and assisting on six more, and earning a league Player-of-the-Month honor. Hill will be looking to use that breakout performance as a springboard into the 2018 NWSL season.
16 Carson Pickett, Defender
Pickett, a 24-year-old Florida State product and Florida native, returned to her home state in the trade that sent Catley to Seattle. Pickett is a capable replacement for the Australian international left back, earning W-League Best XI honors this off-season with Brisbane Roar, for which she appeared 13 times, scoring once. Pickett enters her first season with the Pride, after two years with the Seattle Reign, where she made 36 appearances with one assist but is still seeking her first NWSL goal. She was part of Florida State’s national championship team in 2014, anchoring a defense that did not concede in the NCAA tournament. Like Catley, she’ll look to get forward and cross balls in for Morgan, Leroux, and Marta.
For more info on Pickett, check out this week’s PawedCast.
17 Dani Weatherholt, Midfielder
Weatherholt enters her third season with Orlando, after the Pride drafted her in the fourth round in 2016. She was out of contract after 2017 and re-signed with the club in January. She has appeared in 31 matches (26 starts) over the past two seasons, notching her first professional goal and assist in 2017 as she locked down a holding midfield role in her sophomore season. The 23-year-old Santa Clara product has gained confidence from playing with the U-23 USWNT and has made great strides in her first two pro seasons.
19 Poliana, Defender
The pride shipped a second-round pick in 2019 to the Houston Dash to acquire Brazilian international Poliana Barbosa Medeiros (more commonly known as Poliana) on Feb. 6. One of Houston’s more dynamic players over the past two years, Poliana notched five goals and added two assists in 37 appearances. Capable of playing both fullback and in more advanced attacking positions, Poliana shares some similarities with Camila, aside from her Brazilian heritage. She’s tested on the international level, playing in the UEFA Women’s Champions League play with Icelandic club Starjnan and winning the Copa Libertadores Femenina three times (2011, 2013, and 2014) with Brazilian side São José. She also has more than 30 international caps with Brazil. Poliana will require an international roster slot.
21 Monica, Defender
Monica Hickmann Alves (or just Monica) enters her third season with the Pride since being signed on Dec. 8, 2015. The Brazilian international, who is working on securing her green card before Camila returns from injury, according to a team spokesperson, has played both center back and holding midfield for the Pride over the last couple of years. She appeared in 19 of the team’s 24 regular-season matches (16 starts) and started in the team’s playoff game in Portland. She has made a total of 35 regular-season appearances (31 starts) in two seasons. Though she has yet to register a goal or assist with the team and has only 10 shot attempts, Monica’s defending (she won or shared the NWSL Save of the Week twice last year, despite not being a goalkeeper) and passing — she led the team at 84.4% — are her greatest strengths.
22 Bridget Callahan, Midfielder
Signed earlier today as a National Team Replacement player, Callahan enters her first professional season. The former University of Central Florida standout was a nonroster invitee to preseason camp and played well enough to at least earn a temporary deal with the club. She scored nine goals and accumulated two assists in 75 games. She scored three of those goals and added one of those two assists last year. With the Aussies gone until the end of April and the Brazilians leaving after the season opener, Callahan could be with the club through the first four games of the year or so. She will not count against the roster limit.
24 Ashlyn Harris, Goalkeeper
Allocated by the USSF, Harris enters her third season with the Pride, after being selected No. 2 in the 2015 NWSL Expansion Draft from the Washington Spirit. She’s made 28 appearances over the past two seasons as a starter, posting a record of 11-11-6 (6-2-5 last year) and notching six shutouts She missed time due to the Olympics in 2016 and a quad injury last year. Harris became the first player from an expansion team to win an NWSL season award when she was named the league’s Goalkeeper of the Year in 2016, when she recorded four shutouts and won the NWSL Save of the Week a whopping nine times. In 2017, Harris only won six weekly NWSL save awards. The 32-year-old USWNT goalkeeper may be Alyssa Naeher’s primary backup with the USWNT, but she’s Orlando’s star between the sticks, and she’ll again be counted on to make big saves when the team needs them — which will hopefully be less often with the additions the team has made on defense.
25 Lotta Ökvist, Defender
Ökvist, 21, enters her first season with the Pride after her rights were acquired from the Houston Dash on Wednesday in exchange for the club’s 2019 natural third-round draft pick. The Swedish international was the No. 13 pick of the Dispersal Draft after the Boston Breakers ceased operations in January. As a 2018 NWSL Dispersal Draft selection, Ökvist will not count against the Pride’s salary cap or roster maximum for the 2018 season, and her international roster spot from Houston (via Boston) will transfer with her to the Pride (effectively giving Orlando an extra for 2018). Before signing with the Breakers during the off-season, Ökvist featured for Pitea IF in her hometown of Piteå, Sweden. She made 25 appearances with Piteå during the 2016-17 Damallsvenskan season — her second stint with the club. The 5-foot-5 defender has also played one season with Umeå IK. Ökvist led her country to the 2015-16 UEFA U-19 Women’s Championship. Prior to that, she was a member of the U-17 Swedish Women’s National Team. The left-footer will bolster the Pride’s defensive depth and can also play in the midfield.
28 Haley Kopmeyer, Goalkeeper
Kopmeyer, 27, enters her first season with the Pride after being acquired from the Seattle Reign on Jan. 29, along with Seattle’s natural third-round pick in 2019, in exchange for Jasmyne Spencer. She provides a veteran backup for Harris, having made 46 NWSL appearances, with a high of 20 during the 2017 season. The University of Michigan product has kept 11 clean sheets and made 185 saves in her five-year career. Kopmeyer previously had loan stints with Brisbane Roar and Canberra United in Australia’s W-League and with Apollon Limassol in Cyprus.
Now you know the 2018 Orlando Pride. The club enters the NWSL season with its deepest and most talented roster to date, although not all the players are here now and more will soon depart for international play. With Women’s World Cup qualifying ramping up, this will be a common theme during the 2018 season. But the club has accounted for this as best it can by securing more domestic talent and inviting more college talent than usual to preseason training.
One notable name missing is draft pick Nadia Gomes (pictured in team photo, above). She isn’t officially signed as of now, and with no current roster space, she may end up being a National Team Replacement player at some point unless she’s dealt to another team or finds her way to another team/league.
This is a team expected to challenge for the NWSL Cup by season’s end. If it can stay healthy, survive the pockets of international duty, and build upon a strong 2017, the sky is the limit.