Orlando Pride: 2021 mid-season review

Orlando Pride forward Sydney Leroux.
Orlando Pride forward Sydney Leroux directs teammates during their NWSL match against OL Reign at Exploria Stadium in Orlando, FL on July 24, 2021. (Photo by Cory Knowlton)

Following Saturday night’s game against OL Reign, the Orlando Pride have reached the midpoint of their 2021 league campaign. Nevertheless, the 0-2 loss illustrates the recent trajectory of the NWSL club.

This year, Orlando saw their best start to a season with a seven-game unbeaten streak. Yet, that momentum quickly fizzled out once they were defeated by the Houston Dash on June 26.

Since that defeat in H-Town, the Pride have only picked up one point. Their record over the last five games is a dismal 0-1-4. With recent developments both on and off the pitch, Orlando may be in for a difficult act two of the 2021 season.

Comparing past seasons

After 12 matches, Orlando have a very balanced record. They’ve won four, drawn four and lost four.

With 16 points overall, the Pride currently sit in the bottom half of the league table. Even with the seven-game unbeaten run, their 1.33 mid-season points-per-game (PPG) tally is only their third best ever. However, there’s still hope when comparing the PPG tallies of previous seasons.

Based on mid-season PPG, Orlando’s current season most closely resembles their 2017 campaign. While that season started off poorly for the Pride, they eventually found their rhythm and concluded the season with a nine-game unbeaten run that secured them a place in the playoffs.

Orlando Pride’s year-by-year mid-season statistics, excluding the uncontested 2020 season.

What Orlando’s past PPG really displays is that their mid-season rankings don’t necessarily translate to similar end-of-season rankings. The 2019 season was the only time the Pride were consistent in both the first and the second halves of a season. Unfortunately, that consistency saw them remain at the bottom of the league table.

Standout players

When a team goes undefeated for seven consecutive matches, it’s never because of the efforts of a single player. There are several Pride players that have stood out so far this season. Yet, three specific players that have come up big have been Sydney Leroux, Taylor Kornieck and Ashlyn Harris.

The spotlight was on Alex Morgan for scoring a goal in each of Orlando’s opening four matches. Yet, because of Morgan’s national team commitments, Leroux has been the more long-lasting attacking influence for the Pride this season. She’s netted five goals in 12 league appearances. While the team’s overall attack has lacked energy in recent games, Leroux’s poacher-like instincts continue to keep defenders on edge.

Orlando Pride midfielder Taylor Kornieck.
Orlando Pride midfielder Taylor Kornieck makes a play during the NWSL match against NJ/NY Gotham FC at Exploria Stadium in Orlando, FL on June 20, 2021. (Photo by Cory Knowlton)

Sitting just behind Leroux is Kornieck, the Pride’s midfield engine. Signed back in early 2020, the former Colorado Buffalo was unable to make her Orlando debut until this season’s Challenge Cup. Since then, Kornieck has been a mainstay in the Pride midfield. Her towering stature and reading of the game allows Kornieck to win many second balls in the middle of the pitch. This helps the team regain possession and transition quicker into attack. Both her and Marta lead the team in assists, with three each.

Backing the team from the goal line is perhaps Orlando’s most important player. Harris is a goalkeeper that possesses the Midas touch. Yet, her goalkeeping ability is much more than just ball-handling. Her positioning and general footballing IQ is what makes her one of the best goalkeepers in the world.

Orlando Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris.
Orlando Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris yells in excitement after saving her fifth consecutive penalty kick of the season during the NWSL game against OL Reign at Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by IMAGO / Sports Press Photo)

As of 12 games in, Harris has made 37 saves in 10 appearances. While she has only kept one clean sheet during that time, she stands out because she makes big saves in big moments. Saturday night’s game against OL Reign saw Harris make her fifth consecutive penalty kick stop. That’s a mighty feat that summarizes just how important her presence is for Orlando.

Season outlook

The Orlando Pride are currently in an awkward position. Despite a solid start to the season, recent results have seen the Pride go from the top of the table to the middle of the pack. While reaching the midpoint of the season could act as incentive to really focus in on the final stretch, the team now faces their biggest obstacles.

Alex Morgan, Marta, Ali Riley and Erin McLeod are all absent on international duty at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. If losing a star striker, midfielder, defender and goalkeeper was not enough, head coach Marc Skinner’s resignation with immediate effect could well be.

Coaching changes happen, but abrupt ones in the middle of a season are typically concerning. Fortunately for the Pride, former University of Florida head coach Becky Burleigh will step in as Skinner’s interim replacement. With 26 years of leading the Gators under her belt, Burleigh is exactly the kind of decorated veteran coach that Orlando needs in this moment.

While the statistics are not in Orlando’s favor, the squad as the ability to correct course. After all, a lot can happening during their 12 remaining games.

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