You’d be forgiven for writing off the Orlando Pride at the beginning of the 2017 season. They ended their inaugural year in 9th place, hadn’t won a game since July 10, 2016, and only picked up one point in their final eight games of the 2016 season, finishing with the second worst goal differential in the league.
That all changed with the biggest international signing in the NWSL to date. A certain Brazilian striker named Marta arrived in time for the Pride’s second game of the season, and the team never looked back. After a shaky start, Orlando marched up the table, finishing the regular season in third place and making the playoffs in only their second year of existence. Although they lost their semifinal in a poor defensive showing at Portland, their tremendous improvement in their sophomore campaign should give Pride fans hope for the future.
Credit for much of that success should be laid at the feet of Marta. She led the league in chances created (by far, with 64), was second in goals (13) and points (19), and tied for second in assists (six). She also led the Pride in goals, assists, and total shots, earning her a place on the 2017 Best XI and in the running for MVP. Marta may no longer be in the form that earned her five consecutive awards for FIFA World Player of the Year, but she’s still one of the best players in the world, and in a league that often touts itself as the best, she showed it week in and week out.
And we're thankful for d a n c i n g. pic.twitter.com/7BogEBl5nb
— NWSL (@NWSL) November 25, 2017
However, Marta’s true impact was not in her own numbers, but those of others. She possesses that rare ability to make those around her play better. Her partnerships with Brazilian teammate Camila and Alex Morgan (reunited with Marta for the first time since they won the 2011 WPS championship with the Western New York Flash, along with Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris) paid dividends for the team. Morgan, in her best form since 2012, also deserves credit for Orlando’s turnaround. Chioma Ubogagu had her best season yet as well, earning her a USWNT call up, and Jasmyne Spencer became a powerful asset off the bench.
Marta signed a two-year contract with an option for a third, so barring some bizarre circumstance, she’ll be back for the 2018 season, and with her on the pitch, there’s no reason Orlando won’t be contenders again.