There’s a new face leading the Orlando Pride. We’re not talking about first year head coach Marc Skinner, but Erik Ustruck, the first dedicated general manager for the team.
In prior years, Orlando City, the Major League Soccer side who is the parent club for the Pride, would have the general manager for men’s side also act in the same role for the women. At the time, head coach Tom Sermanni seemed to have developed his preferred method to build the Pride roster for his tenure at Orlando. Fast forward to late 2018, Orlando City had parted ways with the club’s general manager, and the Pride head coach position was vacant. The club officially named Luiz Muzzi the general manager for the organization on December 18, and after only a short time there came to the conclusion that to do the job successfully, he could not focus on both MLS and NWSL sides. Erik Ustruck was then named Pride general manager, a role focusing on managing all aspects of the Pride’s technical operations on January 7.
At the time of Ustruck’s appointment, Muzzi stated, “We are very happy to promote Erik to this newly established position, which will allow us to continue increasing our resources and focus on building the Pride. Erik has been dedicated to the success of this Club from his time as a player through his positions in the front office, and we believe he will be a great asset in strengthening and supporting our NWSL operations.”
Prior to this appointment, fans of the Pride had been critical on marketing efforts, and at times a perceived lack of support. Having Ustruck in the role allows allows the coach to focus on the team while still have an advocate in the club front office. His time being a part of the Orlando City organization since 2011, first as a player, then joining the front office after his playing day in 2014. He was able to hire Marc Skinner with a solid understanding of the Orlando organizational environment.
Coach Skinner’s transition as Pride coach has appeared to have gone smoothly with full support of the club. Ustruck was able to add coach Carl Green from Birmingham City to re-join Skinner in Orlando as part of a larger technical staff. With Erik Ustruck as GM, the Pride have broken the mold on valuing draft picks. The team currently hold their first, second, and third round picks while adding Houston’s third and fourth round picks for the 2020 draft where in past years Orlando didn’t put much stock in keeping picks and building through the draft.
The approach for preseason matches were also changed up. This off-season instead of completely playing junior college and college sides, the Pride took on professional teams in the North Carolina Courage and Puerto Rico Sol FC.
Off the pitch, the Pride had a full series of stand alone kickoff week events leading to their opening day match against the Portland Thorns. Some events were mainstays like the fourth annual Scarf the City while adding the open to the public aforementioned Puerto Rico Sol match that drew over 2,000 fans. Additionally, the team held an exclusive supporter group event at Orlando City Stadium, along with Pride in the Park, a family-friendly night out at Lake Eola Park, a venue in the heart of downtown Orlando, with music, games and activities which culminated in the 2019 home kit reveal. The night before the match Coach Skinner hosted at Lion’s Pride, a club owned sports bar, a two hour Q&A session with players in attendance that will also feature the debut of a new menu item, the Pride Burger.
Coach Skinner has suggested his roster is a work in progress. Having Erik Ustruck as GM, allows Skinner to focus on the job of coaching the players while Ustruck can address ways to improve the roster as a whole once the coaching staff identifies potential areas of improvement such as the recent trade with North Carolina for defender Morgan Reid for added depth during the absences of players heading to the World Cup in France this summer. It’s anticipated that Orlando will add more players and fill the two open international slots once the leagues in Europe end their season. The Women’s Super League in England wraps up May 11 and no doubt Ustruck will be busy adding reinforcements.
As the NWSL season begins the appointment of Erik Ustruck seems to have heralded a new chapter in the short history of the Pride. All appearances so far this year make it seems like there is a greater vision for growth of the team’s brand off the field as the changes in support have shown, and if the front office with Erik Ustruck as the focal point show the patience to cultivate results on the pitch for the long haul. It will be a very bright future for Coach Skinner and the Orlando Pride.