The Orlando Pride and the NWSL started preseason on Monday. The Pride had a full camp and everyone except for Carson Pickett and Camila reported — Camila is not under contract. The Pride announced the 23-player roster, and the team hopes to move past the woes of 2019 and 2020.
“This team always has a chip on our shoulder,” said Ashlyn Harris. “We have underperformed season after season after season, and it hasn’t been good enough. And we clearly know that, truthfully, 2020 is done and dusted. We move forward now. It was challenging, but during challenging times, we have to learn to grow, we have to dig deep, and that’s what we did. We found out a lot about ourselves and clearly where we’re lacking and where we need to go, and now we have to move forward.
“I think 2020 is in the past. You know, we have a lot to look forward to in 2021 in the future of this club, and we can’t keep having the issues we had before trickle back into what we’re trying to do now. So, as far as I’m concerned, it’s done, it’s dusted, and I’m moving forward.”
The new pieces that the Pride brought in should help the team move forward. While Orlando’s draft picks will finish out their spring seasons and have not reported to preseason, the Pride saw numerous new faces. Defenders Phoebe McClernon and Ali Riley, and midfielders Taylor Kornieck and Jade Moore all played abroad in 2020. Orlando brought in Meggie Dougherty Howard and Gunny Jónsdóttir through trades.
Both Jónsdóttir and Dougherty Howard should end up being important players in the middle of the field. It has been evident that midfield has been a position that the Pride wanted to improve this offseason. In addition to Jónsdóttir and Dougherty Howard, the Pride drafted two midfielders, signed Jordyn Listro, and re-signed Marisa Viggiano.
“A lot of new faces and a good combination of veteran players, young players, and players in between,” said Harris. “So, I think that is going to be a great asset for us, especially with new players coming in who’ve been in the league for a long time, just to bring the standard up and bring their experiences to the squad.”
As preseason begins, Marc Skinner said that he just wants to get the players a lot of touches on the ball and start to get familiar with each other.
“We’ve got a lot of new players,” Skinner said. “We’ve got a lot of players that we brought in last year that actually will play for the Pride this year. And it’s starting to feel like it’s our team — finally. We’re bringing them back in to get to know each other, to get to know each other’s patterns or habits, and then to get a base level of fitness.”
The 2021 season will be Skinner’s third as the Pride head coach. It is safe to say the first two years did not go as planned. In 2019, the team finished the league in last place. With the disappointment of that season, there was hope that 2020 would be a huge improvement, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. When the league eventually was allowed to play again, Orlando had to pull out of the NWSL Challenge Cup because of positive COVID-19 results. Orlando only played in four games last season — all in the Fall Series.
Orlando has been slowly transitioning to become a team that fits Skinner’s system and style. He said he’s been pleased with the new players that Orlando brought in and is ready to continue to build the squad.
The goal for 2021 is obviously to improve on the previous years. While it would be ideal to play a possession style of soccer, Skinner is more realistic about how the team should go out and try to get three points.
“We have to be hard to beat,” said Skinner. “We have to know how to win ugly. And because of the challenge of the NWSL — the unique and wonderful challenge of the teams that you play in it — we have to be very, very, very together, very kind of adaptable within the moment.
“The reason we bought in some of the players we have is to be able to affect game moments. We’ve always had big players, but when was the last time we got Alex [Morgan] and Sydney [Leroux] ready to play with Marta? With now Jade [Moore] and Gunny in behind and then all the young guns that will come underneath that to learn from these fantastically experienced players. And so, for us it will be about getting a team that can win ugly, as well as being able to produce the football that everybody wants to see.”