After clinching a playoff berth for the first time last season and making several offseason roster moves to bolster the squad, Orlando City SC CEO Alex Leitão expects the Orlando Pride to be highly competitive when the National Women’s Soccer League regular season kicks off in less than two weeks.
“I couldn’t be more excited about this third season,” Leitão said during the Pride’s media day Wednesday.
“Last year we did so great, we finished third. We did what was our goal. I believe in my opinion, we have a stronger roster this year.
“If all the aspects of the game, in terms of national team duties, helps us, I’m pretty sure we’re going to be very competitive. We should think bold this year, and we should go for all, which means win the championship and do whatever we need to do to put ourselves in the position to fight for it.”
The Pride finished the 2017 regular season in third place and made the first playoff trip in franchise history. But Orlando’s push for a championship ended early in the NWSL semifinals, with the Pride falling 4-1 to eventual champions Portland Thorns at Providence Park.
After the early playoff exit, Pride coach Tom Sermanni said his team a big step forward during the offseason.
He highlighted some of the team’s new players this season, including U.S. women’s national-team striker Sydney Leroux.
“We always felt last year we recruited very well, and when we got everybody fit and healthy and on the field with a consistent team, we’ll be very competitive and that happened in the final third of last year,” he said.
“What we’ve done equally this year on paper was postseason recruiting, bringing in Poliana, who was Houston’s best player for the last two years.
“Getting Shelina Zadorsky, who gives a bit more strength and bite defensively. Emily van Egmond from Australia, a quality midfield player who’s still very young. Three solid American players that we needed to boost the squad in Carson Pickett, Christine Nairn and Haley Kopmeyer and, of course, we acquired Sydney Leroux, who’s a fantastic signing.”
While the club invested in acquiring major pieces to bolster the roster, Leitão said the front office is pleased with the Pride’s steady development during its first three years in existence.
“The fact that they reached the playoffs and finished in third and they completely delivered what we expected last year,” Leitão said.
“Now we want more than that. We’re always looking for more because I think the team, the club, the community and the fans deserve that. This is truly a soccer community with a lot of passionate fans.”