After a standout rookie season, Messiah Bright is on her way to Angel City, having been acquired by the team in a trade with the Orlando Pride.

In exchange for Bright, the Pride received $130,000 in intra-league transfer funds.

“I am so honored to have this opportunity to join ACFC and call LA my home,” Bright said in a statement. “This group looks so special and I can’t wait to be a part of it. I want to bring the very best version of myself and only push everyday to get better. I’m excited to touch the pitch soon and meet the team and technical staff. I can’t wait to bring the energy to the amazing fans at BMO Stadium…let the fun begin!”

Bright was the team’s 21st overall pick in the 2023 NWSL draft. She scored six goals in 22 regular season matches as well as one in Challenge Cup play – which led all rookies – and was a finalist for NWSL Rookie of the Year. In August of 2023, she became the first player in NWSL history to earn both NWSL Player and Rookie of the Month honors after scoring three goals in four matches and notching her first career brace.

Ahead of the 2023 season, she signed a three-year deal with the club, which will now transfer to Angel City. According to the team, Bright requested the trade for personal reasons.

“While we will miss her in Orlando, we are as committed to [Bright] as a person as we are to her as an athlete,” Orlando Pride VP of Soccer Operations and General Manager Haley Carter said in a statement. “Building a culture which supports athletes on and off the field often requires difficult decisions, such as this, but we remain committed to that culture, and are confident that a people-first approach is our competitive advantage.

“We appreciate Messiah’s contributions to the Club and wish her all the best moving forward.”

The move comes after ACFC recently traded for NWSL veteran Rocky Rodriguez from Portland.

The 2023 NWSL season provided the emotional rollercoaster the league has become known for, with incredibly competitive games producing big wins and devastating losses. NWSL years with major international tournaments can disrupt form, but a few players and coaches have risen to the occasion to guide their squads through a tumultuous year.

After thorough review, here are my choices for the 2023 NWSL end-of-season awards.


(Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports)

Kerolin, F, North Carolina Courage

Shortlist: Sam Coffey, Adriana, Jaedyn Shaw

In a season where many stars burned bright in spurts, Kerolin stands out the most as an MVP candidate. She was a consistent goal scorer, finishing second in the Golden Boot race with 10 goals and three assists on the season. Her accumulative xG of 8.16, as compiled by American Soccer Analysis, was good enough for third in the league, and she delivered quality finishing in big moments. Other top scorers like Sophia Smith struggled with availability, and Kerolin carried her momentum through the Courage’s big playoff push.

She also has the argument of intangibles. The Courage lost a number of stars in the offseason, and it was unclear if they could pull together their new group in time to be a real playoff contender in 2023. North Carolina went on to surprise everyone by finishing third in the league standings. They played more methodically but stayed equally as threatening in the attack this season, led by Kerolin’s steady performance both as a striker and as a player who pulled space to aid her teammates.

In terms of how she compares to her peers in the league, and what she brings to a club that defied the odds to finish the season in third, Kerolin has my vote for 2023 MVP.

Coach of the Year

(Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports)

Sean Nahas, North Carolina Courage

Shortlist: Juan Carlos Amoros, Becki Tweed, Casey Stoney

Many of the same tenets of Kerolin’s case for MVP apply to the Courage as a whole, as led by head coach Sean Nahas. The losses of Debinha, Abby Erceg, Carson Pickett and Diana Ordoñez could (and perhaps should) have sunk the team’s chances for long-term success in 2023. Nahas followed a rough free agency period with a puzzling draft approach, taking prospects he prized over common consensus.

But Nahas’ vision shined throughout the season. The Courage, a team previously known for quick counter-attacks, began instead to prize possession and methodical build-up. Despite turnover in the team’s defense, the Courage finished the season tied for second-fewest goals allowed in the league. International signings Narumi Miura and Manaka Matsukubo also made immediate impacts in the midfield. As a result, North Carolina has looked more like a team reloaded than a roster rebuilding.

The Courage proved many experts wrong, and Nahas stepped into his role leading the squad with a clear style of play, making him deserving of Coach of the Year.

Goalkeeper of the Year

(Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports)

Katie Lund, GK, Racing Louisville

Shortlist: Jane Campbell, Abby Smith, Kailen Sheridan

This award can be divided by philosophy — whether the best goalkeeper is the player with the most organized defense or the player who excels even when their defense breaks down in front of them. Katie Lund had an argument for the latter in 2022, leading the NWSL in saves as the Louisville defense struggled to protect their keeper.

It wasn’t a standout season for a number of goalkeepers considered to be among the world’s best. The Wave’s Kailen Sheridan likely performed the best in the former category; Gotham’s Abby Smith looked poised for a breakout year before being sidelined by injury; and Houston’s Jane Campbell backed up the sturdiest defense in the NWSL.

While Racing’s defense improved this year, Lund also put together standout performances to keep her team in games. She’s arguably been the best pure shot-stopper in the league for two years in a row. And while she is still developing her distribution with the ball at her feet, she showcased technical abilities that could put her on the radar of the U.S. women’s national team and are worthy of Goalkeeper of the Year.

Rookie of the Year

(Nathan Ray Seebeck/USA TODAY Sports)

Messiah Bright, F, Orlando Pride

Shortlist: Alyssa Thompson, Paige Metayer, Jenna Nighswonger

As should be expected for young players coming into the league, the 2023 NWSL rookies had moments of individual excellence but also struggled with consistency throughout the year.

No. 1 draft pick Alyssa Thompson thrived at times with the spotlight on her, most notably scoring a crucial equalizer on Oct. 8 to keep Angel City’s playoff hopes alive. Washington’s Paige Metayer and Gotham’s Jenna Nighswonger also contributed significantly to their sides, even as Nighswonger navigated a position change to outside back. But none stood out quite like Orlando’s Messiah Bright, who finished the season with six goals for a Pride team that just barely missed out on the playoffs.

Bright fell to the second round of the 2023 draft despite being considered a top prospect by many. The TCU graduate then proved wrong every team that passed on her, becoming a key member of the Orlando attack. Most notably, she scored consistently during a key stretch in which the Pride compiled more wins than four clubs that finished above the playoff line.

Defender of the Year

(Ira L. Black/Getty Images)

Ali Krieger, D, Gotham FC

Shortlist: Kylie Strom, Sam Staab, Naomi Girma

It was a strong season for defenders throughout the league, with every team having at least one clear cornerstone along their backline. Kylie Strom has excelled as an outside back for Orlando; Sam Staab continued her Iron Woman ways for the Spirit; and 2022 Defender of the Year Naomi Girma has become so synonymous with excellence that it’s easy to overlook.

But one defender has stood out, in part due to the story of her year. In her last season before retirement, Gotham’s Ali Krieger has looked as sharp as ever, guiding the club from the league basement in 2022 to a playoff spot in 2023. She’s been a clear vocal leader for a team undergoing a significant amount of change, and she’s looked comfortable at center back after spending most of her career running the flank.

Krieger is less of an aerial presence than some more traditional center-backs, but she can use her positioning and center of gravity to make it very difficult to pass her by, which could be the basis for a career-extending playoff run. Though there are few bad candidates for Defender of the Year, Krieger appears to have the momentum to go out on a high.

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

Messiah Bright is in the conversation for the NWSL Golden Boot in her first professional season, showing off the scoring touch that made her a top college player.

The race for the scoring title tightened over the weekend, with North Carolina’s Kerolin (10) pulling within one goal of Portland’s Sophia Smith (11). While the top stars are pulling away from the pack, Bright leads all rookies with six goals, so she could have a different award — Rookie of the Year — on lock.

After scoring 50 goals across five seasons at TCU, Bright saw her stock drop on draft day. Projected as a first-round pick by many prognosticators, she dropped to No. 21 overall, which has turned out to be quite the steal for the Orlando Pride.

The 23-year-old forward has started in 14 of her 20 regular-season appearances for Orlando, and she has been scoring goals from all over the place. One of her goals came off her left foot, three off her right and two from headers.

She has 12 total shots on target this season, meaning that her conversion rate on shots on target sits at 50% and ranks sixth in the league. Bright’s efficiency in goalscoring has put her in the top 10 in the league in goals (T-7th), goals per 90 (5th), xG (6th), xG/90 (4th), non-penalty goals (4th), non-penalty goals/90 (3rd) and goals per shot on target (6th).

Bright is good on aerials, too, having won 37, which puts her ninth in the league. And has had 27 successful take-ons, which also ranks ninth in the league.

All together, that’s not a bad rookie season for Bright, especially on a team in Orlando that has struggled offensively. But the Pride are trending upward, having won three of their last five. With two matches to go, they sit within striking distance of the NWSL playoffs — and if they do make it, Bright will have been a huge part of that turnaround.

And the Pride will be able to grow with their young star, as she signed a three-year deal with the club ahead of the 2023 season.

“I am beyond excited to be able to stay in purple and call Orlando home for the next few years,” Bright said at the time. “It’s always been a dream of mine to play professional soccer, and I finally get to do that with such an amazing team.”

Just three games remain in the NWSL regular season, and the players are continuing to make their case in their campaigns for the end-of-year awards.

Since Just Women’s Sports’ last check-in, no one player has pushed to the front of the pack, setting the stage for a frantic final push. Here are the players to watch in the final weeks of the season.

MVP: Sophia Smith, Portland Thorns

Shortlist: Adriana, Kerolin, Morgan Weaver, Ashley Hatch

While it remains unclear whether or not Smith will make her return from an MCL sprain during the regular season, she is back training with Portland. And her work early on in the season still puts her ahead of everyone else in the MVP race. Not only does she lead the league in goals scored with 11, she’s also second in the league in assists with five. Her goals per 90 sits at 0.88, far ahead of the next best in the league (Kerolin, 0.57). Teams don’t have an answer for the reigning MVP, and Portland has missed her in her absence.

Elsewhere, Smith’s teammate Morgan Weaver has been putting together her own case for MVP in the final weeks of the season. She’s got three goals in three games and is putting up better numbers than anyone else in the league right now.

Tara McKeown is in the thick of the competition for the Defender of the Year award. (Dennis Schneidler/USA TODAY Sports)

Defender of the Year: Tara McKeown, Washington Spirit

Shortlist: Tatumn Milazzo, Sarah Gorden, Natalia Kuikka, Sam Staab

Fresh off a contract extension, Tara McKeown has had a standout season alongside Sam Staab. The 24-year-old defender ranks first in the league in clearances and sixth in interceptions. But while she’s been a steady presence for the Spirit, Washington hasn’t won in six games, which puts her in a tough spot.

Meanwhile, Tatumn Milazzo has once again been a bright spot for a Chicago Red Stars back line that has struggled but has started to find its groove toward the end of the season. And Sarah Gorden has had a great bounce-back season from an ACL tear for Angel City, who remain in playoff contention.

Goalkeeper of the year: Katie Lund, Racing Louisville

Shortlist: Casey Murphy, Kailen Sheridan, Jane Campbell

Katie Lund leads the league in many goalkeeping categories, and she has been one of the big reasons for Racing Louisville’s turnaround this season. She’s allowed among the fewest goals in the league per 90 (1.00) – with Jane Campbell of the Houston Dash the only goalkeeper to allow fewer goals (0.79).

While Louisville is still searching for its identity, Lund has managed to keep them in the conversation for the playoffs.

Coach of the Year: Becki Tweed, Angel City

Shortlist: Sean Nahas, Juan Carlos Amorós, Mike Norris

Becki Tweed might be the interim head coach for Angel City, but she’s led the team on an astounding turnaround after the team parted ways with Freya Coombe in June. Since then, the team has put together an 11-game unbeaten streak. Not much has changed; Tweed has just made things a little bit clearer and in turn has made Angel City a possible postseason contender.

If Angel City qualifies for the playoffs, naming Tweed as coach of the year is a no-brainer. But Sean Nahas has led Gotham on a tear in his first year as head coach, turning them into one of the best teams in the league. Part of the success is due to the addition of Lynn Williams. But he’s also managed to bring World Cup champion Esther González to the NWSL, which has further boosted the club as it makes a push for the playoffs. If the winner of this award isn’t Tweed, Nahas should take it home.

Orlando Pride forward Messiah Bright and Gotham FC midfielder Jenna Nighswonger are among the players battling it out for Rookie of the Year. (Cory Knowlton/USA TODAY Sports)

Rookie of the Year: Messiah Bright, Orlando Pride

Shortlist: Alyssa Thompson, Paige Metayer, Jenna Nighswonger

This year’s Rookie of the Year race is less clear-cut, but Messiah Bright has continued to stand out amongst the rookie class. Her six goals lead all rookies, and she’s worked well with Adriana and Marta down in Orlando.

Alyssa Thompson also has been a bright spot for Angel City, putting her in contention for this award. She came out hot in her first NWSL season and has been consistently getting better as the season has progressed.

With five games remaining in the NWSL regular season, the players who have excelled in 2023 are beginning to wrap up their individual awards campaigns. While the 2023 World Cup took a number of stars away from their squads, a well-timed Challenge Cup break allowed many to miss as few regular season matches as possible, making the awards race as compelling as ever.

As we head into the home stretch of the season, here’s how my current NWSL awards ballot is shaping up.

MVP: Sophia Smith, Portland Thorns

Shortlist: Kerolin, Adriana, Sam Coffey

While Smith has missed a few regular season games due to the World Cup (and may miss more due to an MCL sprain), she has once again been a standout among many in 2023. She leads the league in goals scored with 11, in addition to an impressive tally of five assists. Her dribbling abilities are unmatched, as teams build their entire game plans around trying to stop her from running in on goal to little avail.

If Smith misses the rest of the season due to her injury, the scales might tip out of her favor simply due to availability. But based on her per-game 90-minute impact, she is worthy of the MVP trophy for a second straight year.

Defender of the Year: Sam Staab, Washington Spirit

Shortlist: Sarah Gorden, Ali Krieger, Michelle Alozie

Sam Staab is such a steady presence along the Washington Spirit backline that at times she undeservedly fades into the background of the awards conversation. Partnering with first-time center-back Tara McKeown, she is the anchor of a defense that has undergone extensive change in recent years. While Washington’s defense hasn’t been perfect this year, Staab consistently controls space while playing a key role in the Spirit’s ball progression, including long-ball distribution.

Washington’s defense has tightened up in the second half of the season, giving Staab my nod over players in more staunch units. She’s been one of the better center-backs in the league for years, and 2023 is no different.

(Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports)

Goalkeeper of the Year: Katie Lund, Racing Louisville

Shortlist: Kailen Sheridan, Aubrey Kingsbury, Abby Smith

Katie Lund has been overlooked for major postseason awards due to Louisville’s difficulty with getting above the playoff line, but 2023 should be her year. She’s consistently one of the best shot-stoppers in the league, excelling both when Louisville’s defense is struggling and when she has seasoned veterans like Abby Erceg in front of her. Lund leads the NWSL in saves and leads the league’s goalkeepers in American Soccer Analysis’ goals added metric, based on her elite ability to stop shots.

Louisville increasingly looks like a team with a number of stars that can’t quite find the winning combination to contend for the playoffs, but Lund has been a steady standout for years.

Coach of the Year: Becki Tweed, Angel City

Shortlist: Juan Carlos Amorós, Mark Parsons, Sean Nahas

It’s unconventional to put an interim manager up for Coach of the Year, but Becki Tweed has flipped the script. Tweed has only been in charge of Angel City since June 14, after the club parted ways with Freya Coombe, but her ability to build off the team’s foundation has been impressive to witness. The squad is currently undefeated under her management, without having drastically changed their style of play. Tweed has simply adjusted the clarity of instruction to help turn Angel City’s players into the best versions of themselves.

Tweed’s candidacy for Coach of the Year may be dependent on the Los Angeles club qualifying for their first playoff appearance, but her work is at least deserving of a permanent job and a shot at steering the team in the future.

(Nathan Ray Seebeck/USA TODAY Sports)

Rookie of the Year: Messiah Bright, Orlando Pride

Shortlist: Paige Metayer, Alyssa Thompson, Jenna Nighswonger

When Messiah Bright fell to the second round of the 2023 NWSL Draft, it seemed fated that the forward out of TCU would make a number of teams regret letting her pass them by. Bright has been a spark plug for a rising Orlando Pride team, collaborating well with players like Adriana and Marta and developing a talent for putting the ball in the back of the net.

With six goals so far during the regular season, she’s showcasing a tenacity that will only grow with the more NWSL minutes she plays. Whether she can get Orlando above the playoff line remains to be seen, but Bright has the skills to excel in the league for years to come.

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

August was a disjointed month in the NWSL, as the league took an extended regular season break to finish the Challenge Cup group stage and make room for World Cup absences. With only two regular season games throughout the month, sample sizes for top performers have been small, while World Cup players have had variable availability.

Within that context, for the first time this season, our Player of the Month is a defender — and one who was not destined for international duty in 2023. A number of teams are making strong playoff pushes based on their ability to hold onto leads and grit out results, placing extra importance on defenders.

Here are our top performers for the month of August in the NWSL, beginning with our choice for Player of the Month.

Sarah Gorden, D, Angel City FC

Angel City FC is unbeaten in nine games across all competitions, with six of those wins coming in the regular season. Two of those games were in August, as the Los Angeles club makes a surge toward the playoffs.

Angel City’s newfound attacking tenacity has been critical to their success, but they’ve also been adept at turning close games into results. The player at the center of those efforts is center-back Sarah Gorden, who’s been remarkably steady in her first full season with the club.

Gorden is in the top five in American Soccer Analysis’ g+ metric for the August regular season, due to her excellent 1v1 defending and closing speed that allows her to interrupt opponents’ attacks. The Angel City defense gave up just two goals in two regular season games in August, securing a draw and the club’s first win ever against OL Reign.

In a season without many defensive stalwarts, Gorden has stood out, and now Angel City is finding the success it’s been looking for. Gorden surely has to be on the shortlist for 2023 NWSL Defender of the Year, as she gives her team a shot at its first-ever playoff berth.

Honorable Mentions

Morgan Weaver, F, Portland Thorns

Weaver notched a goal and an assist in two regular season games in August, as Portland went undefeated to regain the top spot on the NWSL table. Weaver is overshadowed at times by higher-profile teammates, such as Golden Boot leader Sophia Smith, but she serves as the motor that helps Portland’s attacking machine run.

Messiah Bright, F, Orlando Pride

Speaking of end-of-the-year shortlists, Messiah Bright’s case for Rookie of the Year is getting stronger by the game. The Pride dominated a struggling Chicago Red Stars team in their first regular season game of the month, with Bright scoring a brace in just 60 minutes played. The 2023 second-round pick now has six goals on the season, launching herself into the Golden Boot conversation as a rookie.

Abby Dahlkemper, D, San Diego Wave

Abby Dahlkemper made a welcome return to the NWSL in August, after a back injury had held her out of competitive play for almost a year. Slotting back into San Diego’s starting defense, the World Cup champion helped seal two much-needed regular season wins as the Wave surged into third place. She capped her return month with a goal, opening the scoring in San Diego’s 2-1 win over Orlando on Friday.

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

The 2023 World Cup is over, meaning the world’s best players are all returning to their club teams. And in the NWSL, the race for the Golden Boot is heating up.

Portland Thorns forward Sophia Smith extended her lead over the weekend in her return from the World Cup. But with plenty of soccer left to play, there are several star goal-scorers who could make up the gap.


Sophia Smith, Portland Thorns (11 goals)

Smith wasted little time in her return to the NWSL from the U.S. women’s national team. The reigning NWSL MVP entered the Thorns’ game Sunday against the North Carolina Courage in the 68th minute and, in the 69th minute, found the back of the net.

On a run, Smith passed the ball to teammate Morgan Weaver, who quickly passed it back to Smith. The right-footed goal proved to be the difference in Portland’s 2-1 victory, even with the team being down a player due to a first-half red card.

Trending upward

Messiah Bright, Orlando Pride (6 goals)

The rookie scored twice in the Pride’s 5-0 win over the Chicago Red Stars on Sunday, marking her first professional brace. It was her first time scoring since July 7. The No. 21 pick in the 23 NWSL Draft, Bright has picked up right where she left off at TCU, where she set the program record for all-time goals.

Other top scorers

8 goals

Ashley Hatch, Washington Spirit
Kerolin, North Carolina Courage

7 goals

Lynn Williams, Gotham FC

6 goals

Messiah Bright, Orlando Pride
Debinha, Kansas City Current

5 goals

Bethany Balcer, OL Reign
Savannah DeMelo, Racing Louisville
Crystal Dunn, Portland Thorns
Cece Kizer, Kansas City Current
Tyler Lussi, North Carolina Courage
Alex Morgan, San Diego Wave
Ashley Sanchez, Washington Spirit

Since joining the NWSL in 2017, the Orlando Pride have had a tenuous foothold on the NWSL standings. Despite initially fielding a splashy lineup featuring players like Alex Morgan, Ashlyn Harris and Marta, Orlando could never quite get the results to match the potential of its assembled roster.

A high coaching turnover rate affected consistency, and the team slid toward the bottom of the table, finishing last in 2019. In the years since, Orlando has had stretches of positive results but has still struggled to compete by the end of a punishing NWSL season.

Recently, Orlando’s philosophy toward roster-building has shown a marked change from the top-heavy investment of the team’s early years. Under new head coach Seb Hines, the Pride have compiled a young core of developing players through the draft and free agency, allowing the club to put roots down before beginning to grow into a playoff contender. The question in 2023 is whether the team can contend this year, or if they’re stuck building for the next version of the future.

2022 review: Getting stuck in

Despite renewed expectations, Orlando’s 2022 season started with middling results, as the occasional attacking fireworks couldn’t quite make up for their struggles on defense. The Pride would gut out a win one weekend, and then give up four or five goals to their next opponent.

The inconsistencies weren’t relegated to on-field performances. Head coach Amanda Cromwell was suspended in June (and later expelled from the league) amid an investigation for possible retaliation, and Hines was given interim control of the team midway through the 2022 season.

Despite adversity, the Pride also proved themselves resilient in the second half of the season. Orlando pulled together a five-game unbeaten streak in June after Cromwell’s suspension, becoming a stuck-in group that was very difficult for opponents to break down. While the Pride didn’t always play the prettiest soccer, they did stop the bleeding that plagued them at the beginning of the season.

But working primarily without the ball has its costs, and at the end of the season, fatigue set in and the club struggled to implement tactics that went further than stopping the opposition. A few multi-goal losses to opponents at the top of the table, like OL Reign and Portland, firmly ended Orlando’s dream of a playoff surge and relegated the club to a 10th-place finish in the 2022 standings.

Last year, Orlando became more of a proof of concept than a fully realized soccer team, defined more by how they could frustrate other teams than the strengths they brought to a match themselves.

Second-round pick Messiah Bright could end up being the steal of the 2023 NWSL Draft. (Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports)

Offseason moves: Building a new future

After a season of ups and downs, Hines began to further compile the young group the Pride believe can carry the team for years to come. Orlando was reportedly in the running for top free agent Debinha, but even after losing out to the Kansas City Current, the Pride front office continued to look for ways to solidify their core.

Orlando targeted talent in the draft, bringing in Emily Madril (No. 3) to partner with Megan Montefusco in the central defense and picking up underrated playmaking talent in the later rounds. Midfielder Summer Yates (No. 39) can create havoc in an NWSL midfield, and forward Messiah Bright (No. 21) could be the steal of the draft after Orlando grabbed her late in the second round. In free agency, the Pride signed Brazil forward Adriana to add extra firepower to the attack.

The Pride will also benefit from the return of legendary Brazilian playmaker Marta, who missed almost all of the 2022 season with an ACL tear. Marta brings both quality to the attack and veteran experience that will help Orlando’s young group learn the standards of the professional league. She will help make up for the loss of forward Darian Jenkins, who announced her retirement in January.

Seb Hines begins his first season as Orlando's permanent head coach. (Courtesy of the Orlando Pride)

2023 outlook: Don’t overthink it

Perhaps for the first time, Orlando appears to be building a real foundation for the future, but their success this year will depend on how the coaching staff adapts to the team’s skill set. The midfield is still unbalanced, with more attacking midfielders than players who excel at off-the-ball defensive positioning. Mikayla Cluff is ready for greater midfield responsibilities, but she’s a forward-pushing midfielder, as is rookie Yates. The Pride can’t spend too much time trying to possess through the middle of the pitch if they want to find immediate success.

The good news for Orlando is that they don’t necessarily have to aspire to possession-based soccer when it makes more sense to play direct. With a number of quality options along the frontline, the Pride can play through their forwards while providing a level of defensive coverage they might not have had before.

Orlando’s ceiling will depend on the team’s ability to move the ball quickly and to absorb pressure. Madril and Montefusco will have to build chemistry quickly, with the hope that players like Ally Watt and Julia Doyle will be able to pounce on quick-trigger opportunities on the other end.

Ultimately, the Pride could be written off as a work in progress for the future. But many great clubs in the NWSL’s history have found ways to turn positive play into results by not overcomplicating the task at hand, and a little confidence for a team in transition could go a very long way.

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

The Orlando Pride have signed draftee Messiah Bright to a three-year deal. 

The Pride selected the forward at No. 21 overall, in the second round of the 2023 NWSL draft. She stood out as a high-value pick for the Pride, as many draft boards had Bright going earlier in the night, by the middle of the second round at the latest.

“Messiah has the potential to be one of the most dangerous attackers in the NWSL, something the Club knew when we drafted her this year,” Pride general manager Haley Carter said. “She has had a great preseason, showcasing the skills she possesses and becoming a great fit for the culture we are building in our locker room. 

“We know she still has so much untapped potential and we are excited that Orlando will be where she develops and grows as an athlete and person. We’re really looking forward to the important role she is going to play in achieving our goals, this year and in the future.”

Bright comes to Orlando from TCU, where she finished her five-year college career with 50 goals and 17 assists through 102 games played. She leaves as the program’s all-time leader in goals and points (118).

On the international stage, Bright played for the U-23 U.S. women’s national team in 2022.

“I am beyond excited to be able to stay in purple and call Orlando home for the next few years. It’s always been a dream of mine to play professional soccer, and I finally get to do that with such an amazing team,” Bright said. “The experience thus far is something I have been truly grateful for. The team as well as the coaching staff have welcomed me with open arms, and they drive me to be the best person I can be on and off the pitch. I can’t wait to see my development and give it my all for the Club and our fans!”