NWSL 2023: Orlando Pride restructures after tumultuous season

Since its founding in 2016, the Orlando Pride has done a lot more losing than winning, never advancing past the group stage of the Challenge Cup and only making the NWSL playoffs once, in 2017, when it was eliminated in the semifinals. After a 10th-place finish, the Pride knows that the only way to go is up.

Former Head Coach Amanda Cromwell and one of her assistants, Sam Greene, were placed on administrative leave in June 2022 and later fired in October due to allegations of workplace misconduct and retaliation against the players who made or supported the allegations against them.

Seb Hines served as the club’s interim head coach for the final 15 games of the season. The former Middlesbrough and Orlando City defender led the team on a seven-game unbeaten run from July 3 to Aug. 20 as it tried to snag a playoff spot, but came up short finishing the season with a 5-10-7 record (22 points).  A Pride assistant coach since 2020, Hines earned a multi-year contract to become the NWSL’s first-ever Black head coach. Giles Barnes returns as Hines’ first assistant coach, while coaching veteran Paul Crichton is the team’s new goalkeeper coach.

The team restructured its soccer operations department, sacking general manager Ian Fleming in November 2022 and appointing Haley Carter as the new Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager on Jan. 30. A retired professional soccer goalkeeper, former U.S Marine, soccer coach and talent scout, Carter will be in charge of all off-field matters for the Pride.

Before he got fired, Fleming extended the contract of defender Haley McCutcheon (née Hansen) through the 2024 season. The Pride had acquired the Nebraska alum via a trade with the Houston Dash in the middle of last season. The seventh overall pick in the 2018 NWSL Draft finished the season making six appearances and four starts with her new team.

Like Hansen, forward Ally Watt came to Orlando through trade last season, made an impact and received a two-year extension. Watt began her professional career playing for Australian club Melbourne City after not signing with the Courage, which picked her sixth in 2020’s draft. Following her trade from OL Reign, which she joined in 2021, Watt played in six games, coming off the bench to score the game-winning goal in her club debut.

Defender Carrie Lawrence is staying with her hometown team through 2024 in the wake of a season in which she played in a career-best 14 games (12 starts). The club gave a two-year contract to midfielder Viviana Villacorta, who had a promising rookie season cut short by injury after being drafted ninth in 2021’s NWSL Draft out of UCLA. Canadian midfielder Jordyn Listro and Spanish right-back Celia accepted new contract offers as well.

The Pride dabbled in the league’s initial free-agency period. It managed to re-sign experienced midfielder Erika Tymrak to a two-year contract. The two-time NWSL champion and 2013 Rookie of the Year has suited up 42 times for the Pride since coming out of retirement before the 2021 season.  The team’s talisman, Brazilian legend Marta, re-upped on a two-year deal ahead of her seventh season in Orlando. Marta, Brazil's all-time leading scorer of any gender, looks to continue making history after having her 2022 season wiped out by ACL injury.

Marta will be joined by fellow Brazilian forward Adriana, who was signed to a three-year deal following her transfer from Corinthians. Adriana has scored 12 goals in 34 games for Brazil, finding the back of the net nine times in 2022. Another international transfer, goalkeeper Carly Nelson, joins the Pride after playing with Danish team FC Nordsjælland for the past two years.

Third overall pick defender Emily Madril, a two-time NCAA National Champion and one-time All-American at Florida State, headlines the team’s five member draft class and is the only one under contract. The Pride proceeded to make two more first-round picks, selecting forward Messiah Bright, TCU’s all-time leading goalscorer, and defender Tori Hansen, who scored eight goals and led North Carolina’s defense. Orlando wrapped up its draft with fourth-round selections of forwards Summer Yates (University of Washington) and Kristen Scott (Central Florida).

Orlando also experienced some notable departures, losing six of the 14 players who played 15 or more NWSL games in 2022.

Goalkeeper Erin McLeod (20 NWSL appearances) and Gunny Jonsdottir (16) returned to Jonsdottir’s home country of Iceland after being married on Jan. 2. Last month, forward Darian Jenkins (17) announced her retirement after a six-year career, the last spent with the Pride. Left-back Courtney Petersen (19) was traded to the Houston Dash in exchange for $65,000 of allocation money and up to $25,000 in incentive money. Defender Toni Pressley (17), a Pride player since the inaugural 2016 team, remains a free-agent, while free-agent midfielder Meggie Dougherty Howard (15) signed a two-year contract with the San Diego Wave.

At the beginning of this month, the team began its preseason training at Orlando Health Training Ground at Sylvan Lake Park before going to Port St. Lucie for a week of practice. During training in Port St Lucie, Lawrence tore her ACL and will be out indefinitely.

The Pride opened preseason play with a 2-0 closed-door victory over Gotham FC. On Thursday, it beat the KC Current, 2-0, in front of fans at Exploria Stadium, and will play three closed-door scrimmages vs. Central Florida, Florida State and the Washington Spirit leading up to the start of the season.

“This preseason period allows us to ask questions and get feedback from the players on what they think their identity should be,” Hines said. “We can put everything in place, but they're the ones who are going out onto the field. We want to go out there and show the fans what it means to play for the Orlando Pride.”

Orlando Pride Roster:
GOALKEEPERS (3): Kaylie Collins,  Anna Moorhouse, Carly Nelson (FC Nordsjælland, Denmark).
DEFENDERS (8): Kerry Abello, Caitlin Cosme, Celia, Carrie Lawrence, Emily Madril (Florida State Univ.), Haley McCutcheon, Megan Montefusco, Kylie Strom.
MIDFIELDERS (3): Mikayla Cluff, Jordyn Listro, Viviana Villacorta.
FORWARDS (7): Haley Bugeja, Julie Doyle, Adriana (Corinthians, Brazil), Leah Pruitt, Erika Tymrak, Marta, Ally Watt.

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