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New coach Seb Hines wants to bring pride back to Orlando club

Seb Hines took over as the Pride’s interim coach for 15 games in 2022. (Courtesy of the Orlando Pride)

The Orlando Pride have promoted interim manager Seb Hines to a permanent head coaching role, signing him to a multi-year contract to lead the club into the 2023 season.

Formerly an assistant coach with the Pride, Hines took over as interim head coach for 15 games in 2022 after Amanda Cromwell was suspended and placed under investigation for allegations of workplace misconduct. At the time of his interim appointment, Hines became the first Black head coach in the NWSL, and now he makes more history as the league’s first-ever Black full-time head coach.

“After evaluating what we want the future for the Pride to be, listening to player feedback and discussing with Seb, it became very clear that he has earned the opportunity to continue leading our Club,” said Pride chairman Mark Wilf.

Orlando announced other infrastructural changes on Friday, including expanding the General Manager position to become Vice President and General Manager of Soccer Operations and committing more resources to player development, analytics, scouting and medical services. As part of the restructuring, the club parted ways with GM Ian Fleming. The changes come one month after the NWSL terminated the contracts of Cromwell and Pride assistant coach Sam Greene after an investigation substantiated claims of retaliatory behavior.

Prior to the announcement, Just Women’s Sports spoke with Hines about the appointment, charting a new team culture and his vision for a revamped Orlando Pride.

(Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Let’s start with your opening thoughts on the incoming coaching announcement.

I’m just super grateful for the opportunity to lead this team in the next couple of years. I’m really, really grateful for Mark and the board and ownership to trust me in this process. I know it comes with a great responsibility, and I’m just really, really excited to get going and just really want to make the city proud. Now we can create something where the public can be excited about coming and watching the Orlando Pride.

Can you describe what your journey has been like from joining the squad as an assistant coach to taking this next step?

Yeah, so I retired [from Orlando City] at the end of 2017. And as it worked out, the Orlando Pride were training at the same facility as we were playing, so I was very close to [former Pride coach] Tom Sermanni. A lot of credit goes to Tom because he took a chance on me, coming out and watching training and being a part of training. My first year I volunteered, and then Marc Skinner came in and I asked him if I could still volunteer just to be a part of it. The third year, Mark took me on as a second assistant. From that moment, I was in it. Marc moved on, Becky Burleigh came in, and then obviously Amanda Cromwell came in last year. So, this would be my fifth year with the club.

Having seen a number of coaches go in and out, what do you think the value is to having someone who knows the club so well leading the team?

I think it’s not just me knowing the club; it’s knowing the organization, knowing the people. I’ve been here eight years now, so I’m in and around people constantly with my son playing youth soccer and my kids going to school. I get to get a feel for the city and the people. One thing I want to do is create an environment and a team that people are proud of and they know what they’re gonna get — an identity and a philosophy that everyone knows, when they see an Orlando Pride player, team, they know exactly what they’re gonna get.

So, I think like you said, I’ve been through a lot. I’ve seen multiple coaches come in and leave. And I think it’s just going in there and doing it my way and seeing if it progresses and gets better. We got a little taste of it towards the end of the season. It’ll be nice to start day one and hit the ground running straightaway.

In the second half of the 2022 season, the Pride turned into a gritty team that became difficult to play against. What further principles are you hoping to implement with the squad now that you’ll have a full preseason with them?

Like you said, we were harder to beat. I think we had to build a foundation to get results in games. Now, there’s no hiding place — we conceded too many goals and we didn’t score enough goals. So everything in the two boxes wasn’t good enough. I felt like when we did take over, we tried to control the middle. We tried to control with possession. I think we got more passes than we usually get and we weren’t as transitional. And some of our goals were beautiful, like they were really good goals.

I think what you’re gonna find next year is we’re building on what we created — have more grit, more determination, play with no fear, just go out there and give everything right from the start, and ultimately put the ball in the back of the net. Because we do create good goal-scoring opportunities, but ultimately we are going to get judged on goals and results.

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Orlando finished the season 10th in the NWSL standings but rebounded from a 2-2-5 start. (Courtesy of the Orlando Pride)

Are there any particular players you view as part of that core, whether young players or players you brought in last season?

We did a big revamp toward the end of 2021. It allowed us to have younger players come in and get minutes and get that experience under their belts, playing against some top teams, against top individuals. So for them now to have that experience to then go into next year knowing that, “This is what the league is about, this is what I need to step up to,” you can’t replace that.

Some of our younger players are getting full 90-minute games and coming off the bench and making an impact, so we had to rely on them a lot in this last year. I think it will only help us moving forward. Obviously we’ll look to add more players to our roster and become a real competitive team in 2023.

There’s been a lot of conversation in recent years about how off-the-field culture shows up on the field. Where would you say the locker-room culture was at the beginning of last year and what changed between the beginning and end of last year? And what sort of cultural principles would you like the team to have that carry over to the on-field performance?

I think one thing that we want to do right from the start within the first week is define our core values, define our culture. I think we did a little bit of it when we took over to try and define who we were, but I think that can be done in preseason. And that’s going to be a very important piece of it. As we move forward and as we look at 2023, it’s making sure that everyone’s on the right page. Everyone’s going in the right direction. And we saw bits of that last year, but I feel like that can be a real collective effort from everyone within the coaching staff to the players, and everyone’s just bought into what we’re going to try and do next year.

That was the most encouraging thing for us, because we recognized that we weren’t a team of individuals. We were a team that had to stick together to grind out results, and we did that. We worked hard together. There were periods last year in training that I pushed the players. Like, we were doing double days, we were doing afternoon sessions in the sun. And it was ruthless. It was relentless. But it brought them together, and when you go through those sort of tough times, and then you get the results on a Saturday, it only spurs them on to do more.

As you mentioned, the big rebuild started at the end of 2021 and there was even more coaching turnover in 2022. The Pride have been a project of patience, having not made the playoffs since 2017. What made you excited to take on this role full-time, and what would you say to the people who are waiting for the fruits of that labor?

I think you’re absolutely right. It has been a club that’s had a lot of change throughout the years. And I think in my position now, I feel like we can have stability. I feel like with my vision going forward, we can create something that everyone can be proud of, everyone can be excited about, the city can be excited about, ownership can be excited about what is going to be coming from this team. So everyone’s bought in, everyone’s invested in it.

One last question: Next year, is it playoffs or bust?

[Laughs] That is our goal — playoffs, for sure. We’re not a million miles away. We can really make a good run up for it. Obviously it’s not going to be easy. No one’s giving you three points on a Saturday or Sunday. So we know we’ve got to do the work, and that is our expectation. Nothing less than that is acceptable, really.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

Other former players contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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