We are three games into the Orlando Pride’s 2021 regular season, and with the team yet to lose, here are three of the biggest headlines from the Purple’s red-hot start.
USWNT Team Stars Shine Bright
If all you’ve seen of the Pride this season is the post-game score sheet then you’ve certainly noticed two names: Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux. The two USWNT strikers have combined for all five of the club’s goals, with Morgan finding the back of the net in all three games and Leroux scoring in back to back outings after the opener.
The stars have been playing together since their teenage years across the US Development system so the chemistry is by no means surprising. While they’ve both spent multiple seasons in Pride purple, they’ve hardly seen the field together. From pregnancies to injuries to international duty, the two spark plugs have been kept apart for three seasons but have quickly gotten to work making up for lost time.
Perhaps the only thing most impressive about their torrid start is the variety of goals they have managed to come up with. Morgan has rifled one-touch volleys with ease and made opponents pay on the fast break. Leroux has both slipped and bullied her way past defenders. Each of their goals against Portland lifted the Pride to their first win over the Thorns ince May of 2018.
The season is still young but if the start by the stars is any indication, the Pride will be a lethal team throughout 2021.
Case for Most Improved Team
Sure, when you have two of the best strikers in the game you’re bound to win a few games, which is exactly what the Pride have done in seasons past, when their stars have had to do it alone. But this season is drastically different which is why they have been making the early case for the league’s most improved team.
Orlando has long been a star studded squad who simply seemed to be playing out of separate playbooks. But in 2021, head coach Mark Skinner has found a way to get his whole roster on the same page while playing for the crest on the front of their shirts, and not the names on the back. Morgan and Leroux have only been able to wreak havoc the way they have because of the drastic changes in defensive strategy and midfield grit.
In 2019, the Pride spent the majority of the season pinned in their defensive third. They would get the odd counter but could never really build anything sustainable out of the back. This season, while still being out possessed, they’ve found a way to redistribute the ball from the back to break their opponent’s high press. A large part of their ability to do this is the commitment to the full field defence. The press begins with Morgan, is held up in the midfield, and is in good hands when it hits the back line. Oh, and it also doesn’t hurt when Ashlyn Harris is your keeper.
Off the Field Missions
As impressive as this team has been on the field, they’re taking aim at being equally impactful off of it with the launch of their Mission Program. The multi-faceted program is an initiative that looks to build on the club’s year-long campaign to honour the pioneers, trailblazers, and changemakers that have come before.
Each of Orlando’s 12 home games will feature a theme inspired by the achievements of previous generations and centred around interests that are part of the fabric of both the club and community. In addition to the 12 themes, there will be five mission patches, each representing a different pillar of the Pride’s Ethos; inspiring the next generation, preservation and sustainability, diversity, equity, and women’s empowerment.
In case the concept wasn’t cool enough there’s an added element to these patches: one of each has travelled to space as part of the Ad Astra kit launch, as have five jerseys. Each space jersey will be embellished with a space patch and auctioned off with proceeds going to create the Mission Fund. The club has stated that the Fund will be dedicated to supporting projects in and around the community directly related to the five core values, with the beneficiaries to be decided by a panel.
What headline are you most excited to watch develop over the course of this season? Let us know in the comments!
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