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2021 Orlando Pride Season in Review: Phoebe McClernon

The defender started strong but was relegated to a reserve role over the summer.

Racing Louisville FC v Orlando Pride Photo by Jeremy Reper/ISI Photos/Getty Images

The Orlando Pride added defender Phoebe McClernon with the 14th overall pick in the second round of the 2020 NWSL Draft but did not secure her services until signing her to a two-year deal this past Jan. 22. The University of Virginia product was signed to a short-term contract prior to the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup but instead went on loan to Swedish first division side Växjö DFF after the Pride withdrew from the competition due to positive COVID tests.

McClernon had a positive start to her pro career, making 12 appearances in the Damallsvenskan for Växjö, playing well, and leading all NWSL players on loan in the league with 156 challenges. She also made an appearance in the Swedish knockout tournament, the Svenska Cupen.

Let’s take a look back at her first NWSL season.

Statistical Breakdown

The West Chester, PA native played every minute of the four NWSL Challenge Cup matches in 2021, totaling 360 minutes. She did not have a goal involvement but created two scoring chances and attempted one shot, which was off target. She passed at a 66.7% rate, committed four fouls, and drew five while avoiding any bookings. However, she did concede a penalty April 21 in a 1-0 win over the Washington Spirit, pulling down Ashley Hatch, although Ashlyn Harris then saved Hatch’s spot kick. McClernon registered 13 clearances, three blocks, and an impressive nine interceptions in the Challenge Cup, winning seven of nine tackle attempts, but not doing quite as well in duels. She won 48.5% of all duels (16/33) but struggled on aerial duels, winning just 28.6% (2/7).

In the regular season, McClernon appeared in 21 of the Pride’s 24 matches, starting 15 and playing 1,416 minutes. She was subbed off in six of her 15 starts. She did not score a goal but did assist on one, with one successful cross and four key passes on the season. She did not officially register a shot attempt. Defensively, McClernon finished with 47 clearances, 14 blocks, and 31 interceptions. She won 27 of 36 tackle attempts (75%), improved in her duels, winning 59 of 107 (55.1%), and got a little better in the air, winning 12 of 28 aerial duels (42.9%). Her 72.9% passing rate could have been better, but it was a solid 82.8% in her own half and she wasn’t too bad on long balls, connecting on 44.3%. A physical player, McClernon conceded 16 fouls and won 10, earning four yellow cards but no straight reds.

Best Game

McClernon’s best game may have been her first NWSL regular-season match. Back on May 16, the Pride drew the Washington Spirit 1-1 at home. She wasn’t the defender beaten on Hatch’s go-ahead goal in the 76th minute, as she stepped up to pressure the ball, forcing a pass out wide. Ali Krieger covered Hatch and was beaten to a cross as the Spirit took the lead. But McClernon’s perfectly timed long ball over the top set up Alex Morgan for the tying goal eight minutes later. It was her first (and only, so far) direct goal involvement in NWSL play and helped Orlando rescue a point.

McClernon had 57 touches in the match — the fourth most on the team — and attempted 39 passes — tied for second most. Her 79.5% passing accuracy was her second-best percentage of the season. She made five tackles in the match to lead all players on both teams, and didn’t concede a foul.

2021 Final Grade

The Mane Land staff gave McClernon a composite score of 6.5 for the 2021 season. There were times during the Pride’s franchise-best start 4-0-3 when she was the club’s best defender. There were times when she’d lose her cool, and she needs to improve in the air and get better at clearing the ball further outside the area, but she provided a physical presence the Pride was often lacking in their own penalty area. During the midseason she had a couple of tough games and then was replaced as a starter, with Becky Burleigh going with Krieger and Amy Turner.

Overall, the staff felt that McClernon has a lot of upside and perhaps should have started more down the stretch when the club seemed out of sorts defensively, especially early in matches. The Pride’s season-ending defensive struggles and five-match losing streak began Sept. 26 at OL Reign, when McClernon began a run of four straight games either on the bench or with an excused absence Oct. 9. She returned to the starting XI for the season finale and Orlando conceded only once in a 1-0 home loss to Chicago.

2022 Outlook

McClernon is signed through the 2022 season and should be back barring something unforeseen. There is an Expansion Draft coming up but hopefully the club will protect a defender with the upside McClernon has. She has versatility, having played as both an outside back and a center back in her first season in purple. If she can become more adept at reading the game and better in the air, the makings are there for McClernon to regain a starting role in 2022.


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