The Orlando Pride started the 2021 NWSL season on a seven-game unbeaten run. While the success was largely attributed to the defensive effort, Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux had four goals each in those games. With Morgan departing for the Olympics last month, the club signed English international Jodie Taylor to make up for the lost production. Now they’re starting to see results from that signing.
The Pride scored six goals during the first four games. While three players assisted on four of those goals, Morgan or Leroux scored each one. When the Pride visited Kansas City three games later, Leroux scored a brace, equaling Morgan’s season total.
Prior to Morgan’s absence, former head coach Marc Skinner decided to move Leroux from the wing to the striker position to replace the missing star. When Morgan didn’t make that trip to Kansas City, Leroux showed how she could produce up top, scoring a brace in the 3-1 win.
Since the team’s 2-1 loss to Houston on June 26, the most recent game featuring Morgan, the Pride have scored six goals in seven games. Leroux has scored three goals in that period, resulting in a league-leading seven goals on the season. However, she can’t be the team’s lone source of production.
With Morgan out for an undetermined amount of time, the Pride signed Taylor. The hope was that Taylor would provide some additional offense, giving the Pride multiple options up top. But it was never going to be a smooth transition.
“For me, I think it is difficult coming mid season and I’m just trying to adapt as much as possible,” Taylor said after her first game, a 2-0 loss to OL Reign on July 24. “Trying to jump to as much as possible as quickly as possible. I’m trying to learn their strengths and what they’re good at and how to connect with them. And vice versa, as well, they’re still trying to learn from what I want too.”
The first two games were difficult for Taylor as she was unable to record a single shot in either game. That changed last week against the Chicago Red Stars when the Brit scored her first goal for her new club. In the 15th minute, a long ball by Ali Krieger found Taylor in stride. A nice touch after entering the box allowed her to avoid the oncoming defenders and perfectly place her shot to the far post to beat Red Stars goalkeeper Cassie Miller. After failing to record a single shot in her first two games, she had three shots against Chicago, putting two on target.
That performance was followed up with another strong one Saturday night against the Portland Thorns. In the 13th minute, a wonderful Courtney Petersen cross found the head of Taylor in front of goal. For the second time in two weeks, Taylor scored inside 15 minutes. She nearly scored a second with her head in the 70th minute when she redirected a Meggie Dougherty Howard shot on goal. Only a strong save by Bella Bixby kept her from recording a brace. Like the week before, Taylor recorded three shots on the day, all being on target.
As the NWSL season begins to wind down and teams fight for playoff positions, it’s still unclear when Morgan will be ready to start again due to an injury picked up at the Olympics. For the Pride to qualify for the playoffs for the second time in team history, they’re going to need offensive production. Judging by how the season has gone so far, that will have to be through Taylor and Leroux. After getting acclimated, the last two games have shown that Taylor was the right signing to provide the needed goals.