The Orlando Pride have struggled in recent years when forwards have gone off to international competitions in the middle of the NWSL season. With 2021 being an Olympic year, it seemed a wise move when the club signed Crystal Thomas on Feb. 23 after the former Washington Spirit forward completed a short trial period with Orlando in the preseason.
But how did the newcomer perform in her first season with the Pride? Let’s take a look at her 2021 season.
Thomas began the season on the injured list and missed the first couple of matches of the NWSL Challenge Cup but she managed to make her Pride debut with a late appearance on May 1 against the North Carolina Courage, logging eight minutes and completing all four of her passes in a 0-0 road draw.
She made nine appearances in the regular season (three starts), including a run of six consecutive matches with an appearance from June 23 to July 24, playing 305 minutes. The forward had no direct goal contributions and attempted only four shots officially, per the NWSL website, putting two on frame. That’s just one shot attempt per each 76.3 minutes. Thomas passed with a 63.6% success rate but completed no long pass attempts, finishing the season with two key passes.
Defensively, she registered two clearances and two interceptions. She won 77% of her tackle attempts, half her aerial duels, and just under half of her total duels (47.1%). She committed seven fouls and drew seven from the opposition and received no disciplinary cards.
Thomas’ top performance with the Pride this past season came on July 9 in a 1-1 draw at home against Racing Louisville. She started and played her highest total of minutes in a match all season (69). While she didn’t register a shot attempt or contribute to a goal, Thomas drew four free kicks and passed at a season-high 80% rate, helping the Pride stay in the match long enough for Sydney Leroux’s late equalizer. She won two tackles and created one scoring chance in the match. She appeared in only two more games the rest of the season.
2021 Final Grade
The 27-year-old from Elgin, IL would not have played enough minutes to qualify for a grade under strictly our minimum of 360 minutes. However, since she appeared in more than a third of the team’s games, it’s fair to make an exception in her case. Thomas received a composite grade of 4.5 from The Mane Land staff for her 2021 campaign. Thomas brought good energy to the pitch but didn’t accomplish much on the field. Forwards and other attacking players are tasked with helping the team score and Thomas didn’t provide anything tangible in the attack to go along with her few attempts at goal. While soccer is a team game, and the Pride often went long stretches without creating much offensively, Thomas was brought on to help with that. She did not appear in a game over the final 12 matches, with 11 of those being coach’s decision and one being an excused absence.
Thomas’ contract was just for the 2021 season. Her run of matches in the middle of the season seemed enough time to gel with her teammates and make an impact but Thomas didn’t seize that opportunity, and her minutes dried up when the Pride brought in Jodie Taylor. It seems unlikely she would be brought back unless Pride General Manager Ian Fleming believes she has value as a depth player on a lower-end deal.