Reader, you have to go back to 2017 to find the last time Orlando Pride won more games than they lost. Since that season, they’ve both attempted, and feigned attempts, at rebuilds.
From trying to hit the Powerball with big name players while neglecting the rest of the squad to acquiring promising talent without the environment to develop them – the Pride have tried most infomercial quick fixes. Now, suddenly, Orlando is having their best offseason maybe ever.
The Pride made shrewd moves in the draft, collecting money while still keeping a substantial number of draft picks, and even used them wisely. With the number of rookies coming into the NWSL and thriving, this was the perfect draft to swing big and Orlando did just that. Emily Madril, their first draft pick, could slot in at center back straightaway. Tori Hansen could develop into her preferred center back partner sooner rather than later, and Summer Yates is an exciting midfield prospect while Messiah Bright can be the presence at center forward that they’ve been missing.
They haven’t stopped there. Reports are that the Pride were in the Debinha sweepstakes but lost out to Kansas City. Instead, they continued to find attacking solutions by securing the arrival of 26-year-old attacking star Adriana from Brazil.
It’s been a long time coming for Pride fans.
The real answer as to why Orlando suddenly lit a fire under themselves might be as simple as it being about damn time. However, another reason could be pressure from newer, more ambitious ownership groups. If a rising tide lifts all boats, then Orlando’s rebirth possibly stems from fresh ambition across the league. Angel City FC and San Diego Wave FC made splashes, including the latter making it all the way to the playoff semifinals. Kansas City has also built a new training facility and broke ground on a new stadium, all of which helped lure Debinha. Washington pried coveted high performance director Dawn Scott away from Inter Miami (MLS), hired former NWSL Champion head coach Mark Parsons, and have secured Audi Field as their forever home.
In 2024, two new expansion teams will join the league, and presumably sometime before that, the Portland Thorns and Chicago Red Stars will secure new ownership as well. Time was running out, and Orlando needed to catch the wave or risk being left behind.
While Orlando’s ambition has been a welcome sight this offseason, there’s still a lot to be done. Soccer Stadium Digest lists Orlando as having the lowest average attendance in the league. Some of that has to do with the team not inspiring much hope, but it’s also indicative of a disconnect between the team and the community.
Establishing a connection with its non-white community is important for Orlando to fill the arena.
Though Orlando has made smart moves, they’re likely still sitting on a chunk of Allocation Money that could be put to good use.
Orlando must continue to show the type of ambition that proves to more established players that their careers can excel in central Florida.
The long-term to-do list is to finish above .500 and fight for a playoff spot in 2023. Then, ahead of the 2024 season, repeat this level of ambition all over again.