Banda and Marta are fueling Orlando Pride’s turnaround season

For the past several years, the Orlando Pride has been mostly mired in the bottom half of the National Women’s Soccer League.

But midway through this NWSL season, the Pride has turned things around. With the addition of Zambian forward Barbra Banda and the steadying presence of Brazilian superstar Marta, the Pride are undefeated and hovering near the top of the league.

Banda, who joined the team in April after helping Zambia qualify for this summer’s Olympics, has 10 goals in 10 games. She’s joined atop the Golden Boot race with Portland’s Sophia Smith.

Marta, the team’s captain, has contributed four goals during the Pride’s club record 14-game unbeaten run. The highlight of the streak was an eight-game winning streak.

“I think the most important thing for this team, it’s the mentality that we created from the beginning of the season,” Marta said. “We decided to work hard to win the games and win one after the other. Not just win one game and not show out for the other. We try to find a balance and keep that for every game.”

Banda sand Marta both scored twice last weekend i n Orlando’s 6-0 rout of the expansion Utah Royals. It was Banda’s fourth brace of the season and the most goals the Pride had ever scored in a game.

No other player in the history of the league has scored 10 goals in their first 10 games.

“A couple of years ago we created a lot of chances, but we didn’t have that player to finish the service,” Marta said. “This year with her, and because of her, it opens a lot of space for all the other players, too.”

Last season the Pride finished outside the playoffs in seventh place. Before that they finished 10th. The only time Orlando has been to the postseason was in 2017, the team’s second season in the league.

The Pride are among two undefeated teams so far this season, along with the Kansas City Current.

The Pride acquired Banda in April last month for a team-record transfer fee of $740,000 from Chinese Women’s Super League club Shanghai Shengli FC.

She’ll likely be included on the Zambian team that plays in France at the Olympics this summer, although the final roster has not yet been announced. The Copper Queens also played in Tokyo and Banda became a breakout star as the first player ever to score hat tricks in consecutive games.

Banda also scored in Zambia’s first-ever Women’s World Cup victory, a 3-1 group stage win over Costa Rica last summer in New Zealand.

“I’m learning a lot with this league because its so competitive … You have to be strong mentally and physically,” she said. “So I think it’s good for me, the experience is growing and each and every day I’m learning something different from my teammates and the technical staff.”

Marta, the six-time FIFA World Player of the Year, hopes to be included on the roster for the Olympics before her retirement from the national team at the end of this year. The 38-year-old helped Brazil win silver medals in 2004 and 2008.

The Pride’s captain has been with the team since 2017.

“I don’t know how much (more) I’m going to play so I try to enjoy every moment with this team, and with the national team as well,” she said.

Banda has developed a chemistry with Marta as well as fellow Brazilian Adriana. Summer Yates, in her second year with the Pride, also has four goals.

The team could become even more dangerous after the league’s Olympic break. Orlando has signed Zambian midfielder Grace Chanda, who will join the team after the Olympics. The 26-year old is a fixture on the Zambian women’s team and among the candidates for African player of the Year in 2022.

“It’s just our mentality,” Yates said. “We are wanting to win every game. We want to win the Shield. We have high expectations that we set out in the preseason.”


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