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 got off to a great start in the 2021 NWSL regular season, claiming points in their first seven games (4-0-3). However, the team hit a skid just before the Olympic games and it continued after Alex Morgan (United States), Marta (Brazil), Erin McLeod (Canada), and Ali Riley (New Zealand) departed for the games.
As if losing four players wasn’t bad enough, head coach Marc Skinner resigned from his position on July 23 to return to England and take over the same role at Manchester United. The decision left the Pride struggling in the league and looking for a new head coach.
For the remainder of the 2021 season, the Pride called upon former University of Florida head coach Becky Burleigh. The Tarpon Springs native spent 15 years coaching the Gators, compiling a record of 513-160-4 with 14 SEC championships and the 1998 national championship before retiring after the 2021 spring season.
Upon her arrival, the Pride players sang the praises of their new coach, speaking publicly about how Burleigh provided an energy into the team and spent as much time listening to the players as she did coaching. It was hard to argue with the players’ assessment given how the team responded to the hiring.
Heading into Burleigh’s first game on July 31, the Pride lost four of their previous five games, claiming a lone point at home against Racing Louisville on July 9 in a tough 0-4-1 stretch. Burleigh’s first game in charge saw the team break a two-game losing streak with a 1-1 draw against the North Carolina Courage in Cary as the winless skid reached six games at 0-4-2.
However, our No. 5 moment of 2021 is the following game in Illinois. On Aug. 8, the Pride traveled to Bridgeview to take on the Chicago Red Stars. Both teams had early chances to take the lead, but Pride center back Amy Turner cleared the ball off the line and Red Stars goalkeeper Cassie Miller made a nice save.
The Pride broke the deadlock in the 15th minute when Ali Krieger played an unexpected long ball forward. The Pride had signed striker Jodie Taylor from Olympique Lyonnais on July 8 and this was only her third game with the team. The newly-acquired England international made a perfectly-timed run, getting behind the Red Stars defense.
While the defenders caught up to her, a beautiful first touch gave Taylor the space to play the ball toward the far post and beyond the reach of Miller. It was the second straight game in which the Pride opened the scoring after conceding first in eight consecutive games, dating back to the team’s 1-0 win over Kansas City on May 30.
Following the goal, the game became a battle between goalkeepers. Ashlyn Harris made a diving stop in the 29th minute and Miller matched it with a good save in the 37th minute. Harris came up big again just after halftime, allowing the Pride to maintain a 1-0 lead.
The Pride were able to put the game away in the 89th minute through the team’s top scorer, Sydney Leroux. Erika Tymrak made a long run through the midfield and found Leroux getting behind the Chicago defense on the left. With Miller coming out to cut down the angle, Leroux made it to the ball first and slipped it past the Red Stars’ shot stopper, finishing off the 2-0 win.
This victory was significant for multiple reasons. In addition to Burleigh’s first win as head coach of the Pride, it broke a six-game winless streak that dated back to a 3-1 win over Kansas City on June 23 — and it kept the Pride in the playoff hunt.
The win came on the road against one of the best teams in the league, as Chicago had won four of its last five games and finished fourth. It kept the Pride in playoff contention and gave them the confidence that they could make a late-season run.
Using those first two games as a launching point, the Pride claimed points in six of Burleigh’s first seven games (3-1-3) and appeared to be headed for their first postseason appearance since 2017. Unfortunately, the Pride ended the year with a five-game losing streak and fell short.
The Pride were on a downslide when Burleigh was brought in on an interim basis. However, back-to-back results, and the win in Chicago in particular, gave the team and the fanbase the belief that the Pride could make a playoff run. While Burleigh’s first game was also significant, her first win and the confidence it brought to the team makes the game worthy of a spot on our top 10 moments of 2021.
Come back through New Year’s Eve as we count down the remainder of Orlando City SC’s top 10 moments of 2021.
Previous Top 10 Moments of 2021
10. Orlando City takes part in the club’s first international competition against Liga MX side Santos Laguna in the Leagues Cup.
9. Orlando Pride get only their second win ever against Portland as Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux lead the way.
8. Orlando City opens the 2021 MLS season with a club-record six-match unbeaten streak.
7. Orlando Pride start the 2021 NWSL season with a club-record unbeaten run.