As we count down to the new year of 2022 — which will be Orlando City’s eighth in MLS and the Orlando Pride’s seventh in the NWSL — and say goodbye to 2021, it’s time to look back at the club’s 10 best moments of the year.
The Orlando Pride had another disappointing season in 2021, but it didn’t start out that way. The Pride got off to a hot start and despite facing Washington, North Carolina, and Portland in the first three matches of the season. The Spirit ended up winning the NWSL championship and North Carolina and Portland continue to be perennial playoff teams, with the latter winning the Supporters Shield in 2021.
The Portland Thorns have been a problem for a lot of teams, but especially the Pride. Orlando entered 2021 with an all-time record of 1-8-1 against the Thorns in the regular season (1-9-1 in all competitions), including a terrible 0-4-1 mark at home in the series.
So, there was no reason to assume anything might be different when the Thorns visited Exploria Stadium on May 26.
But the Pride played a solid game, got goals from star strikers Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux, and ground out a 2-1 home win over Portland — Orlando’s first ever home win over the Thorns. It was Morgan’s third straight game with a goal — her longest streak for the club since 2017 — and just the first time Orlando won back-to-back games under then-coach Marc Skinner.
Orlando had to weather an early storm from the Portland attack, sitting in deep, defending, and looking to break if given the opportunity. The first Pride chance came 19 minutes into the match on a header just wide by Taylor Kornieck. The Pride opened the scoring just moments later.
Leroux won the ball back in the attacking third and sent a ball forward to Morgan. The USWNT star dropped a pass back to Kornieck, then turned and ran toward goal. Kornieck made a crafty chip pass over the defense that fell perfectly for Morgan to blast home to open the scoring in the 22nd minute.
Unfortunately for the Pride, Portland equalized just before halftime. A good cross from Natalia Kuikka found Simone Charley in the box and the forward out-jumped Ali Riley and nodded home.
Leroux restored the Pride’s lead 17 seconds after the restart. After a long clearance from the defensive end, Leroux out-hustled Kelli Hubly, who took too much time on the ball, and poked it into the net to make it 2-1.
The Pride withstood the Thorns’ pressure from that point out, particularly in the final 20 minutes and stoppage time, holding on for the victory.
The win provided a moment of optimism for Pride fans. The club was 2-0-1 on the season and had managed back-to-back wins over North Carolina and Portland. The moment wasn’t lost on Skinner.
“I think tonight’s win is bigger than a result on a field,” Orlando Pride Head Coach Marc Skinner said after the game. “It’s a moment when a group are choosing to come together and choosing that their destiny lays within their own hands. And they’re putting performances on where we might not necessarily be the best footballing team at times but we are grinding together, we are working together, and those are the foundations we want in order to have the football future we know we’re going to have.”
A rare Orlando Pride win against a world-class Portland team is a worthy inclusion in our top 10 countdown.
The Pride ultimately spiraled downward to eighth in the 10-team league, but Orlando was a more difficult team to play in 2021 and spent much of the season above the playoff line. With a rebuild this off-season, hopefully one thing that won’t have to be built back up again is the team’s willingness and ability to go out and grind out a win against top competition.
Come back through New Year’s Eve as we count down the remainder of Orlando City’s top 10 moments of 2021.
Previous Top 10 Moments of 2021
10. Orlando City takes part in club’s first international competition against Liga MX side Santos Laguna in the Leagues Cup.