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Evaluating the State of the Orlando Pride Heading into 2023

Where the Pride are now and what needs to happen for next year.

NWSL: San Diego Wave FC at Orlando Pride Russell Lansford-USA TODAY Sports

The 2022 season could not have been any more of a roller coaster ride for the Orlando Pride. Injuries, coaching issues, Seb Hines’ magical touch, inexplicable streaks, and more contributed to a season that may ultimately be best forgotten. The club is attempting to right the ship, giving Hines the reins as head coach, but there are still many questions for the Pride.

In 2022, Amanda Cromwell was suspended only seven matches into the season pending an investigation by the NWSL. The specifics still aren’t public regarding everything, but the club terminated her contract and that of now-former assistant coach Sam Greene in October. The Pride were 2-3-2 prior to the suspension, and before the last 5-0 loss to the Houston Dash, Cromwell seemed to have the Pride playing above their talent level. Regardless, it was a blow to a team attempting to rebuild and already without the services of injured superstar Marta.

Into the coaching void stepped Hines. He was the only remaining coach that wasn’t either suspended or taking “personal leave,” but it seems he was the man for the job. Hines recruited former Orlando City players Giles Barnes and Miguel Gallardo to help him make it through the remainder of the season as interim head coach. After two initial losses — including an embarrassing 6-0 loss to the Portland Thorns — Hines coaxed a seven-match undefeated streak from the players, going 3-0-4. The run helped the Pride climb back into the playoff picture heading into the last six matches of the season.

Unfortunately, the Pride then went 0-5-1 to finish the season in 10th place and well out of the playoffs. If we’re being fair, having that team continue playing at that level, and getting all of the luck in those matches was unsustainable. The Pride have also collapsed many times at the end of the season under most of the coaches in the club’s history.

The bottom line is that while Hines seemingly has the locker room — which is important — this is his first time as more than just an interim head coach. How well he is able to take what he learned from his playing time and time as an assistant will go a long way towards how well the Pride will perform in 2023.

One of the biggest challenges facing Hines and the club is that there is no new senior vice president and general manager yet in place. When the Pride let Ian Fleming go and promoted Hines, I had hoped that it was because they had another person in mind for the position. With the year about to end and the NWSL draft only about two weeks away, it is not looking good. Personnel decisions need to be made in and around the draft that will affect the makeup of the club, Not having the position filled yet is borderline negligent.

Speaking of personnel, the Pride brought back Viviana Villacorta, Erika Tymrak, and Marta. There is also some hope that former North Carolina Courage star Debinha is a possible acquisition this off-season, if the timing of a Fleming tweet just days ago has any significance. If that is the case, she is the type of player who can mean the difference between making and not making the playoffs. Hopefully she wants to play alongside Marta.

There are still problems in the defensive end — especially on the back line. Erin McLeod is a decent goalkeeper, even if she is not among the league’s elite players at the position. That the defense needs help is an empirical fact given that the club gave up 45 goals (second most in the league), and had a -23 goal differential.

The Pride do have some exciting young players like Mikayla Cluff, Haley Bugeja, and Villacorta. They also have the opportunity to add more with the second and third overall picks in the first round (currently). The Pride need these players to have an impact immediately if things are to get turned around in 2023.

The 2022 season was supposed to be Year 1 of rebuilding the club, and given everything that happened — and still has to happen — it was overall a wasted year. Yes, some young players got playing time, but they may or may not make a revamped Pride. Yes, Hines got some experience running the show, but it’s different from actually being the main person. As such, I’m assuming the Pride do not make the playoffs, but the club will start to build a core group that will be better in the years to come.

Of course, if Orlando signs Debinha, then it could speed up the team’s transformation. C’mon Pride, you know you want to do it.