Marta has still got it: Taking a look at the Pride as the NWSL season rolls on

The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie Peterson, April 15, 2024

The Orlando Pride stole won on the road against Utah on Friday night, and on this Soccer Monday I wanted to take a look at their season so far.

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The Pride went into the match versus the Utah Royals with three straight draws to start the season, and it appeared they were on the way to another one.

Then came Marta. The Brazilian legend came in for Orlando as a second-half substitute and scored in the 68th minute to give the Pride a 1-0 win. Marta, a six-time FIFA Player of the Year and Brazil’s career goals leader, was coming off international duty in the recent SheBelieves Cup. 

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With the victory, Orlando is one of three teams in the NWSL without a loss this season, joining Racing Louisville and the Kansas City Current. And if it seemed a bit weird to start the season with three draws, Louisville has opened the season with four.

It is just the second time in Orlando history the team is undefeated through its first four matches. In 2021, the Pride did not lose through their first seven games. 

Although it’s early, the Pride are in fifth in the standings, and the future is about to get a bit brighter. On Sunday, Barbra Banda arrived.

The Pride acquired the Zambian forward last month for a club-record transfer fee. Orlando paid $740,000 to Chinese Women’s Super League club Shanghai Shengli FC for Banda’s rights.

Her arrival with the team was delayed because she was helping Zambia qualify for the Olympics. The Copper Queens are in Group B in France, along with the USWNT, Germany and Australia. Banda became a breakout international star at the last Olympics, where she scored back-to-back hat tricks against the Netherlands and China.

The Pride are going to introduce Banda at a press conference Tuesday.

Marta said after the game Friday night that this is her last year with the Brazilian national team. She had already announced that last summer’s Women’s World Cup was her last, but she left the door open for one more shot at a major trophy, and it appears clear she’s going to try to make the 18-player roster for the Olympics.

It remains to be seen whether this is her last season for her club. She is signed through this season.

“Words cannot describe playing with Marta,” midfielder Kerry Abello said. “She brings this childlike joy and passion to the game that really is unmatched. She truly loves to play, and have fun, and sauce all of us every day at training and it certainly makes us better. I think, more than just her on the pitch is her off the pitch and the attitude she brings and the advice she constantly gives and how she uplifts the team. I think it really sets the tone for our entire team.” 

Of course it’s not just Marta. Angelina has been playing well and seems to have developed a good relationship with Morgan Gautrat. Adriana continues to be a scoring threat. But Marta was certainly the star Friday, scoring the Pride’s 200th regular-season goal. It was her second in three games. She also got a goal in the Pride’s 1-1 draw with Angel City.

“She’s an absolute legend. Honestly, it’s such an honor and a privilege that I get to share the pitch with her every day,” defender Kylie Strom said. “She drives the standard. She has so much passion. She completely changed the game when she came on the field. She scores a goal like that with her right foot, like, come on. You can’t stop her. She makes all of us so much better.” 

The Pride finished just outside the playoffs last season. Orlando hasn’t been to the postseason since 2017, but perhaps with Marta on a mission and Banda’s arrival, this season could be the year the Pride return.

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The USWNT beat Canada for the SheBelieves title. Alyssa Naeher had three saves in the shootout and converted on her own penalty.

The USWNTPA issues statement in wake of Korbin Albert controversy.

Sandra Herrera rates the performances for the USWNT players in the SheBelieves Cup.

ESPN’s Jeff Kassouf looks at who is Olympics-ready.

The Guardian on how Emma Hayes is inheriting a reinvigorated USWNT.

Kassouf writes that Maria Sanchez is unhappy with the Dash and is asking for a trade.

The Athletic’s Jeff Rueter on how the US has gambled in waiting for Emma Hayes.

Jaedyn Shaw is making the USWNT fearless again, from Courtney Hill for the Olympics channel.

Story from Sportico on Gotham’s next steps.

The Red Stars are taking over Wrigley.

The Deseret News profiled Ashley Hatch.

The Athletic takes a look at the bright future of 13-year-old Gotham trainee Mak Witham.

Women’s Health (via AOL) about why the NWSL is “your next obsession.”

Jackie Guttierez looks at 10 years of the Dash for The Equalizer.

Just Women’s Sports on Christen Press’s progress.

Bella Munson writes about Seattle’s Emeri Adames for The Equalizer.

Five at The IX

Here are a few quick comments from Marta after the game. Two takeaways: I love that she lives in the moment. We should all strive to to do that! Second, something I’ve been thinking about after the USWNT’s SheBelieves Cup, she emphasizes the importance of cultivating happiness and joy in the wins. Also, her English is getting so good!

Talk to us about the win and your game.

Marta: It was a hard game. Of course, it’s never easy to play here. And I come from a hard game against Japan. I’m still a little bit tired, but I was so excited to play this game. I don’t know. I had a really good feeling today, and I was waiting for Seb to call me in, and I had luck because I normally don’t score a goal with my my right foot, but that was really nice so I’m so thankful for this game, for scoring a goal and of course for the three points, go home like with this good feeling for the next game at home.

This team played the underdog a lot last year and this year is more of a dominant side. Where do you feel the team is in that evolution?

Marta: I feel like we’re starting getting strong, day by day, step by step. I always talk to my players that we need to like this one. We need to enjoy winning games. When the game was over, I come to them and say this is the first win, but we need to deal with this all the time. This needs to be a normal situation for us. And I really hope we take this feeling, this three points here, so we can keep going and have more, three more points at home.

How do you manage to play for the Pride and Brazil at this stage of your career?

Marta: I mean, I live day by day. I don’t know how long I’m going to play for sure. This is my last year with the national team, so I was with them, and I’m trying to enjoy every moment with them. Of course, we have young players with high quality, and it makes me feel good with them. They push me every single day. I was happy with the last game that we did there. And looking forward to keep doing my best with Orlando, to have a chance with the national team and then finish this year with them on a high level.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
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Written by Annie Peterson