Meg Van Dyk
One of Orlando Pride’s key midfielders, in truth, may not even be a midfielder, but instead one of the world’s best defenders.
Alanna Kennedy has spent most of her career building a profile as one of the best center backs in the world. At just 15 years old, Kennedy began her professional career and quickly rose in the ranks of Australian football.
Orlando Pride Head Coach Tom Sermanni was one of the first to recognize the young talent, rewarding the defender with her first national team call-up at age 17.
Since then she has played in the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics, racking up six goals in 72 international appearances.
For years Sermanni watched as Kennedy grew and established herself as a starting defender and in 2017 brought her on as the starting center back for the Orlando Pride.
After seven games as the team’s anchor on defense, Sermanni decided to push her forward. For the remaining 16 games of that season and for 15 games in 2018, Kennedy served as the Pride’s holding midfielder, capitalizing on her ability to move the ball forward and into the attack.
For the first time since those first games with Orlando, Kennedy lined up as part of the Pride’s back line and the sole center back on Saturday against Sky Blue FC, highlighting Sermanni’s belief that the young defender could be successful in both roles.
“She’s comfortable playing in that position,” Sermanni said. “She can dominate in the air, she’s good on the ground, she’s an organizer and she’s comfortable there.”
The impact of Kennedy is one that’s largely intangible, one that is difficult to be shown in statistics, but is one that is visible from the moment she steps foot onto the pitch.
For Sermanni, Kennedy’s influence boils down to one fact.
“She is one of the best, if not the best, midfield players in this competition,” Sermanni said. “That’s what she brings, it’s as simple as that.”
Though she’s still just 23 years old, her leadership and confidence have shaped her into one of the best midfielders in the National Women’s Soccer League. When Kennedy receives the ball, regardless of her position on the field, her first move is always the same: look up, survey the field and go. Her composure on the ball allows her to make the smartest decision, leading the team and directing the play.
Kennedy’s quality on the ball is reflected in the numbers. This season alone she has taken more touches (1,024) than any of her teammates and has made the second-most passes (709) on the squad.
When her teammates are asked about Kennedy and her importance pitch, they often point to her dominance in the air.
“She’s unbelievable in the air,” fellow Orlando Pride midfielder Christine Nairn said.
Unbelievable may be an understatement. At 5-foot-10, Kennedy has been the go-to aerial target for Orlando and leads the league in aerials taken (158) and won (91) this season. Her strong presence in the air makes her the obvious target on corner kicks, free kicks and any other balls she may be within reach of with her head.
But Kennedy’s game-changing qualities don’t stop there.
Over the years Kennedy has made a name for herself with her free kicks and game-winning goals. That was most recently on display in the Tournament of Nations when she scored the game-winning goal off a set piece in the Matildas’ finale against Japan.
However, this goal is not an anomaly for the Australian. In her eight years as a professional, she has created a highlight reel filled with similar goals.
Since joining the Pride she has scored two goals that garnered her social media fame. The first, a free kick in stoppage time to send the Pride into the Club’s first-ever playoff in 2017 regular-season finale, and the second a shot from midfield that soared over the head of the Washington Spirit goalkeeper on June 23.
Whether she’s making plays from the midfield, or stopping them in the defense, one thing is clear: Kennedy will continue to impress as one of the best in the league with her peak years, perhaps, still to come.