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Top 10 Moments of 2019: Toni Pressley’s Return After Breast Cancer Treatment

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The Orlando Pride dedicated their season finale to Pressley’s return in our No. 2 moment of the year.

SOCCER: JUN 30 NWSL - Chicago Red Stars at Orlando Pride Photo by Joe Petro/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As we count down to the new year of 2020 — which will be Orlando City’s sixth in MLS, OCB’s second in USL League One, and the Orlando Pride’s fifth in the NWSL — and say goodbye to 2019, it’s time to look back at the club’s 10 best moments of the year.

More than 8,000 fans came to the Orlando Pride’s 2019 season finale. The game itself was one to be remembered. The Pride let an early lead slip, only for Marta to score in the dying minutes to earn a 2-2 draw against Reign FC. But it was the moment in the 72nd minute that made the match unforgettable.

After making just 10 starts in 2018, Orlando Pride veteran defender Toni Pressley looked poised to take a more prominent role under new head coach Marc Skinner, due in large part to the Pride losing Ali Krieger and Shelina Zadorsky to the World Cup for a big chunk of the season. However, her season hit a snag before it even began, starting the 2019 NWSL season off with a hamstring injury.

She worked her way back into the starting XI and made nine consecutive starts from May 11 to July 20. Then, on Aug. 7, the club announced Pressley was diagnosed with breast cancer and began treatment. Of course, her teammates and coaches came together to show support for her. But the league itself rallied around the veteran as well.

While Pressley was fighting cancer, the Pride, Chicago Red Stars, and rest of the league came together to raise $45,146 for the charity. Pressley selected local breast cancer foundation, Libby’s Legacy, as the recipient. Money was raised via a league-wide online charity auction featuring team and individual memorabilia from all of the NWSL teams and many individual players.

Pressley overcame the odds, worked hard to return, and was back in the Pride’s 18 for the season finale. The night was dubbed Breast Cancer Awareness Night and survivors formed a ribbon in the middle of the field before kick off. But the moment of the game came in the 72nd minute.

Julie King made way for Pressley, who entered the field to a standing ovation. The 29-year-old ran to her position on the field, and Ashlyn Harris walked over and gave Pressley the captain’s armband. Her ability to work her way back onto the field and stay strong was an inspiration to fans and teammates.

“Of course it meant a lot to all of us [having Pressley back],” Marta said through an interpreter after the match. “She went through this difficult time, and she overcame everything so strong. And that was a great example to all of us — showing how strong she is and how she was determined and never gave up through all this. So whenever she came in, I was super happy and very emotional because it just shows to all of us overcoming a challenge. So it was a great example to all of us working hard, determination, and being strong.”

Words can only do this moment so much justice. The Pride did a fantastic job of capturing the emotion of the night in the video below.

Pressley’s return was an emotional night for her, her teammates, and Pride fans. It was a special and unforgettable moment that reminded everyone that some things are bigger than sports. Pressley’s battle united the entire league and players from all over the NWSL showed their support. It was an obvious choice as one of the top moments of 2019.

Come back through New Year’s Eve as we count down the remainder of Orlando City’s top 10 moments of 2019.

Previous Top 10 Moments of 2019

10. OCSC hosts the USMNT in a Concacaf Nations League game.

9. OCB returns in USL League One.

8. The Orlando Pride upset the Red Stars in Chicago.

7. Orlando City B picks up its first USL League One win.

6. Orlando City hires Oscar Pareja as head coach.

5. Lions rout MLS newbies FC Cincinnati.

4. Orlando City hosts 2019 MLS All-Star Game.

3. Orlando City signs Portuguese superstar Nani.