The Orlando Pride have seen several changes this off-season. Longtime starters Alex Morgan, Ashlyn Harris, and Ali Krieger have all been replaced by young talent that the club plans to build around for the future.
While some will be disappointed to see the veterans leave, it’s a needed change. The Pride have only made the postseason once — in 2017 — since the team launched in 2016. The coaching and roster turnover might cause some to think there’s nothing to look forward to in 2022.
Here are four reasons why the 2022 Orlando Pride season will be one of the most interesting to date.
The Arrival of Amanda Cromwell
One of the first major moves the Pride made was the hiring of Amanda Cromwell from UCLA. It’s the first time that the Pride have hired a full-time head coach out of college. The team’s first head coach, Tom Sermanni, joined the team after coaching internationally with Australia, the United States, and Canada. He was followed by Marc Skinner, who had been the head coach for Birmingham City.
Skinner’s untimely departure back to England saw the Pride in need of an interim coach to finish out the season. While Becky Burleigh had most recently coached at the University of Florida, she only planned on staying with the Pride through the end of the year.
The Pride have yet to hire a coach with Cromwell’s experience. When Sermanni joined the Pride, he had been coaching for more than 15 years, but nearly all of his jobs were with professional and national teams. The much younger Skinner had much less coaching experience, only being a head coach since 2016. Cromwell has been a head coach at the college level since 1996.
As previously mentioned, Burleigh was brought in to finish out the season but was never going to take on the role full-time. This means that Cromwell will be the first woman to be the full-time head coach for the Pride.
All of these aspects of Cromwell’s background are firsts among Pride head coaches. Instead of a successful professional coach, the team’s new leader will be growing with her players. Watching to see how a first-time professional coach deals with the change will be interesting to see.
In the team’s first six years, the Pride have built the team primarily on international veterans. While this has brought a lot of attention to the team, it has also created issues. Each international tournament has seen the Pride lose a large portion of its starting lineup, often resulting in the team’s tumble down the standings.
The move from a veteran group to a younger roster started under Skinner. The former head coach gave much more playing time to younger players like Taylor Kornieck, Marisa Viggiano, and Courtney Petersen. As the 2021 NWSL season went on, it was easy to see the progress of several of these players as they matured into seasoned professionals.
The 2022 Pride roster will be even younger as the team has traded away several veterans. There are still some veterans in the group, but the majority of the lineup will be in their 20s, something relatively new for a team known for its veteran-laden rosters of the past.
Success this year for the Pride will come in player growth. If the young players continuously improve throughout the season, it will be a successful year. Their improvement will be interesting for fans to watch, especially since some of them are expected to be the core of the team in the future.
Future USWNT Players
The young roster for the Pride will include two of Cromwell’s former players at UCLA. Viviana Villacorta was selected in the first round (ninth overall) of the 2021 NWSL Draft and Mia Fishel was selected in the first round (fifth overall) of the 2022 NWSL Draft.
In addition to being two of the top college players, Villacorta and Fishel might have a future with the U.S. Women’s National Team. Villacorta spent time with the U.S. under-18 and U-19 teams before taking part in the 2018 U-20 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Despite being knocked out in the group stage, the young midfielder started and played 90 minutes in all three games.
Fishel has made even more noise on the international stage. The San Diego native won the golden ball at the 2016 Concacaf U-15 Championship, scored in the 2018 FIFA U-18 Women’s World Cup, and received her first senior call up to the U.S. Women’s National Team in October of 2020.
It’s unknown what the future holds for these two players, but they could be future USWNT regulars. With neither player being a regular at the international level yet, the 2022 NWSL season could give Pride fans the ability to see the two future stars before they become well-known.
Potentially the Last Chance to See Marta
In 2017, the Pride made news by signing Brazilian superstar Marta. The six-time FIFA World Player of the Year was a part of the Pride’s only playoff team and won her most recent global honor for the 2018 season.
In her prime, Marta was arguably the greatest female player of all time. Pride fans have been spoiled to watch her play in Orlando for the past five years. However, the team picked up her option heading into this season, which could be her last with the team.
The Brazilian playmaker is 35 years old and has started to show signs of decline. The 2021 season saw her lose a step and not be quite as impactful as prior to the pandemic. However, even past her prime, the midfielder is still one of the best players in the league, and has flashes of brilliance. An example of that was her goal from near the halfway line last season against Kansas City.
While it’s unknown whether this will be Marta’s final season in Orlando, the team is heading in a younger direction. Her experience will be valuable in 2022 but the team might not want to re-sign a 36-year-old midfielder when they’re building for the future. That means this could be the last time fans have a chance to see the legend play in purple.
With a new coach and young roster, the 2022 Pride aren’t expected to contend. However, that doesn’t mean that the season won’t be exciting. There are still plenty of reasons why you should watch the Pride in 2022.