Since the Orlando Pride were founded in 2015, the team has largely been built around international stars. It started with the acquisitions of goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris and forward Alex Morgan and continued when the club brought in Brazilian star Marta. Last year, the number of international players became a problem when the FIFA Women’s World Cup came around and that issue could arise again this year if certain moves aren’t made.
Last summer, the Pride sent eight starters and nine total players to the World Cup. That included Harris, Morgan, and Ali Kreiger for the United States; Alanna Kennedy and Emily van Egmond for Australia; Marta for Brazil; and Shelina Zardorsky for Canada. Additionally, the club signed Scottish midfielder Claire Emslie — another starter — just before the tournament. That meant eight starters from the beginning of the season were out for at least a month of the season. Reserve midfielder/defender Camila — a former starter herself — was also with Brazil during the World Cup.
The absence of those players was apparent for the Pride, which struggled using young players with minimal experience in their place. This is a much bigger issue in the women’s game than in the men’s game. In men’s soccer, the FIFA World Cup takes place every four years and the Concacaf Gold Cup takes place in the United States. The best players in the world also don’t typically play in the United States, making the impact of these tournaments minimal.
Considering that the NWSL is located in the same country as the world’s best national team, international tournaments have a much bigger impact. While the Summer Olympics are a U-23 tournament in the men’s game, it’s a full international tournament for the women. That makes it troublesome when you play in one of the world’s most desirable leagues.
The Pride didn’t make the situation any better earlier this off-season. They parted ways with forward Rachel Hill and midfielder Dani Weatherholt, two players who won’t play for the United States in international tournaments. In trading the number one pick of the 2020 NWSL College Draft, the Pride brought in U.S. international Emily Sonnett.
This summer, the Olympics return and the Pride will once again lose most of the team’s starting lineup for an extended period of time. The United States, Brazil, Australia, and Canada are all expected to qualify, meaning the Pride could lose eight or nine starters during the Olympics. Those players will likely leave prior to the tournament for a pre-tournament camp and might need some time to recover after returning from Tokyo. To make matters worse (for the team, but certainly not the player), Morgan will miss the pre-Olympics portion of the season due to pregnancy.
While it currently looks bleak with the current roster, there is one advantage the team didn’t have last year. After having her second child with husband Dom Dwyer, Sydney Leroux missed nearly all of the 2019 campaign, but will be back for the 2020 season.
This off-season, the Pride made a dramatic front office move, moving former Orlando City midfielder/defender and Pride General Manager Erik Ustruck to a new position and bringing in former Louisville City and NWSL President Amanda Duffy as the Pride’s new executive vice president. One of the most important things that Duffy will need to do in her new position is preparing for the upcoming key absences. The team is currently renegotiating deals for Krieger and van Egmond, along with non-internationals Carson Pickett and Kristen Edmonds.
The 2019 NWSL season was a tough one for the Pride as they finished last in the nine-team league. Losing nine key players for over a month during the season certainly didn’t help. With the Olympics coming this summer, the same will happen unless the club’s front office can make some moves to ensure there’s some experience in the team come July.