It’s been tough to be an Orlando Pride fan the past few years. Since the Pride made the playoffs in 2017, they haven’t finished a season with a winning record. Without that 2017 season, Orlando has an all-time record of 18-41-13 with just 10 home wins.
Despite the team’s struggles, Orlando is a team filled with talent. There are many reasons to be optimistic heading into the 2021 season. Below are just a few of them.
NWSL 2021 Schedule
The NWSL has an exciting format for this season. While the league will be disrupted by the Olympics, the 2021 season has the potential to be one of the league’s best.
First, the NWSL Challenge Cup will return for the second straight season. The Orlando Pride did not participate in the inaugural tournament but will feature this time around barring something unforeseen. This will be the first time the Pride is involved in a tournament and will be a new entertainment format for fans. The 2020 Challenge Cup was a big success, and Orlando fans should look forward to it this season.
The Challenge Cup will kick off in mid-April. The NWSL season will begin the following month. This year, six teams will make the playoffs instead of four. The Pride still would not have made the playoffs if it was always six teams in any year other than 2017, but Head Coach Marc Skinner looks to be bringing in the correct players (more on this below).
It has been no secret that Skinner has wanted to change the Pride’s roster and team culture. This team has underperformed too often, especially in 2019 — Skinner’s first and only full season in charge. Orlando only played four matches last year.
Midfield has been a significant area of improvement this off-season. Icelandic international midfielder Gunny Jónsdóttir and defensive midfielder Meggie Dougherty Howard are two of the most prominent players that Orlando acquired this off-season. Both should be starters from day one and provide tremendous upside. The Pride have routinely lost possession in the middle of the field, and both Jónsdóttir and Dougherty Howard should help in this department.
Orlando also penned Phoebe McClernon to a two-year contract. The versatile defender will provide an upgrade in the back line, especially considering Ali Riley will finally play for Orlando.
Deadly Attacking Trio
For the first time, the Pride will have Sydney Leroux, Alex Morgan, and Marta all available and completely healthy at the same time. This is a top-quality attacking threat that can score in bunches. Orlando has only ever had a positive goal differential once — in 2017 — and has never averaged more than 1.25 goals per game in a season. The improvement in the midfield should provide much better service up top. And with Leroux, Marta, and Morgan fit, Orlando could end the season with a team record for most goals scored in a season.
Of course, Morgan and Marta will miss time for the Olympics. This leaves Leroux as the only striker left on the team. Orlando did acquire Jodie Taylor’s rights but has not yet signed her, and Taylor could also leave for the Olympics.