The Orlando Pride have entered what was always expected to be a difficult part of the season. With the Olympics on the horizon, the Pride will spend a significant part of the year without Alex Morgan, Marta, and Ali Riley. But the team is already benefiting from some veteran experience.
Morgan, Marta, and Riley were all expected to represent their national teams in the Olympics, as all three have been important parts of their national sides for years. Morgan was the first to depart, joining the United States Women’s National Team for a pair of send-off games. Marta followed shortly after, joining Brazil, and Riley departed to join New Zealand.
These missing players have already had an impact on the Pride, as the team dropped two straight games and had probably its worst performance of the season Friday night. If the Pride aren’t able to recover, they could suffer a significant slide similar to what happened during the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
During the 2019 season, the Pride lost nine of their 11 starters. Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger represented the United States, while Sydney Leroux was missing due to her pregnancy. The only player with significant experience still with the team was Toni Pressley, who wouldn’t have started with everyone available.
The Pride will still miss Morgan, Marta, and Riley, both for their experience and production. However, the team has the leadership to overcome those losses. Harris and Krieger were not chosen for the U.S. and Leroux is in her best form in years. Additionally, Marisa Viggiano has much more experience than she did in 2019.
“Our leadership group is Ash (Ashlyn Harris), Ali Riley, Ali Krieger, Erin (McLeod), and Marisa Viggiano,” Pride Head Coach Marc Skinner said after the team’s 1-1 draw with Racing Louisville Friday night. “‘But we just brought Amy Turner in who will be a leader in her own right. Just brought Kylie Strom, who will be a leader later on. Jodie Taylor, the experience that she has.”
The experience and leadership that Skinner talked about showed up during the team’s draw with Louisville. After a very lackluster first half, the Pride held the majority of possession and had the most chances in the second half. That allowed the team to equalize through two of its veterans.
The Pride attack usually consists of Morgan, Marta, and Leroux — three NWSL veterans. They’re joined by Taylor Kornieck, who is in her first full professional season, The lack of the Olympians results in a much less experienced group. While Leroux moves into Morgan’s spot up top, the less-experienced Crystal Thomas joins the midfield, along with Erika Tymrak, who was drawn out of retirement.
The skill level and experience of Leroux has already been important. Two weeks ago in Kansas City, Leroux pulled the Pride back when Skinner displayed a starting lineup lacking Harris, Morgan, Riley, and Marta. An excellent individual effort from Leroux equalized just before the half and her wonderful goal in the second half ended up being the winner.
While the team looked short of ideas on Friday night, Leroux was one player who excelled. She was unable to convert on most of her chances, but put herself in positions to score and helped set up other opportunities.
When Harris’ long ball late made its way through several players, it was Leroux’s run that was the difference as she was able to score the equalizer with her first touch.
In 2019, the Pride’s season fell apart when most of the starting lineup departed for the World Cup. That resulted in the team finishing at the bottom of the NWSL standings. This year’s team has much more experience and leadership to avoid the same fate.