The National Women's Soccer League preseason is underway and the league's 12 clubs are beginning their journeys to the 2022 season, starting with the Challenge Cup in March. The Orlando Pride are looking ahead to the new season with with a new coaching staff in place after an eighth-place finish in the 2021 season under former head coach Marc Skinner and interim Becky Burleigh.
The club hired longtime collegiate coach coach Amanda Cromwell, who spent the last decade at UCLA ,and added former UCLA associate coach Sam Greene as first assistant. Cromwell continued to build out the staff with Hall of Famer and former USWNT star Michelle Akers as an assistant coach as the franchise tries to build a winning club.
Let's take a closer look at Orlando Pride ahead of the 2022 NWSL season.
Finish in 2021: The club got off to an impressive start early in the season, going on a seven-game unbeaten streak, but quickly fizzled out of contention after a midseason shift at the head coaching position. After the departure of Skinner to Manchester United, Burleigh's version of the Pride fell out of the playoff picture after struggling to recapture any early season chemistry. The team finished in eighth place out of 10 teams.
Biggest losses: The club bid farewell to several star players during the offseason including long time goalkeeper and face of the franchise Ashlyn Harris and defender Ali Krieger in a trade with NJ/NY Gotham FC. In line with a double expansion year, the franchise traded USWNT striker Alex Morgan to the San Diego Wave, and also saw the departures of Ali Riley, Jodie Taylor, Taylor Kornieck, Emily Van Edmond, Phoebe McClernon, and Marisa Viggiano. The club then failed to sign its first-round draft pick, Mia Fishel, who is now playing under contract with Liga MX Femenil side Tigres Femenil.
Biggest acquisitions: The Pride signed their No. 10 pick in the 2022 draft, Caitlin Cosme, to a two-year contract, while other talent was acquired from trades. Forwards Darian Jenkins and Leah Pruitt are new additions the offense, and the club also added midfielder Anghard James and defenders Celia Jiménez Delgado and Megan Montefusco.
Biggest question entering 2022 season
Departures of veteran players combined with a new coaching staff place with young prospects signals a rebuild for the franchise. The idea of a rebuild could hold negative undertones for a franchise still searching for its first postseason appearance since 2017, but the club should consider it an opportunity ahead of them, with nothing to lose. Will we witness a buy-in from Orlando's players into the rebuild?
What they're saying
Forward Darian Jenkins is entering her sixth year in the league, with the Pride as her fourth club. The striker has experience being part of an inaugural roster and isn't unfamiliar with building something new. Jenkins sat down with Attacking Third podcast to discuss Pride preseason, and a new-look Orlando roster.
"I'm really excited to build on this relationship with Mara and Syd [Leroux], the midfielders and the players around me. To be a lot more dangerous in the attack." Jenkins told Attacking Third.
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Orlando Pride currently have a 29-player preseason roster.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Kaylie Collins, Erin McLeod, Anna Moorhouse
DEFENDERS (9): Kerry Abello, Caitlin Cosme, Celia Jiménez Delgado, Carrie Lawrence, Megan Montefusco, Courtney Petersen, Toni Pressley, Kylie Strom, Amy Turner
MIDFIELDERS (9): Mikayla Cluff, Meggie Dougherty Howard, Angharad James, Gunny Jónsdóttir, Thais Reiss, Parker Roberts, Erika Tymrak, Viviana Villacorta, Chelsee Washington
FORWARDS (8): Julie Doyle, Darian Jenkins, Abi Kim, Sydney Leroux, Leah Pruitt, Jessie Scarpa, Jada Talley, Marta Vieira da Silva
Who will crack the starting XI?
Even with new faces in the mix, several longtime players are likely to crack the starting lineup on opening day if all remain healthy. Expect to see Leroux and Marta in the attack, with Jonsdottir and Tymrak navigating the midfielder. New defensive editions in Celia and Montefusco could help anchor a backline in front of Canadian international Erin McLeod.
Lots of young prospects have the opportunity to get into mix and impress the coaching staff. Look for Mikayla Cluff, Julie Doyle, and Viviana Villacorta to see time during the season.
A lot will depend on how quickly players connect and how fast the coaching staff can implement tactics. Rebuilds take time, growing pains will happen, and another low standing in the table could be reflective of that in 2022.