With a quarter of the 2017 season in the books, the Orlando Pride sit 8th on the table, three points out of the playoff picture.
Going into Week 7, Coach Tom Sermanni’s side travel out to New Jersey to take on Sky Blue FC for their first meeting of the season. The timing for this week’s match may favor the Pride since Sky Blue is coming off a midweek loss to the North Carolina Courage on the road. Perhaps looking ahead to Orlando, Coach Christy Holly fielded a less than optimal starting XI Wednesday, and had to chase the match late which ended 2-0 in favor of the Courage.
Orlando have finally started to get in rhythm taking points in its last three matches, and have established a sense of identity missing in their first three. The most serious concern going into the match will surround the Pride netminder, more likely to be Caroline Stanley as regular backup goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe recovers from a concussion. A full week of practice to rally the Orlando back line will help as the defense looks to clamp down on league golden boot leader Sarah Killion, national team player Kelley O’Hara, and Australian star Samantha Kerr. Another weapon Orlando will be facing is Costa Rican international Raquel “Rocky” Rodriguez who, along with O’Hara and Killion, make for a stacked midfield.
Former Rutgers Scarlet Knight standout Kristen Edmonds is going to need to regain some of her 2016 form on her collegiate stomping grounds and work her way into the Pride attack; however, she’s been pressed to work on the defensive end alongside Dani Weatherholt while Camila has taken up the attacking midfielder role. Edmonds needs to provide better link play to the Pride offense to keep a quick transition, since her contributions so far haven’t been anything to write home about. She hasn’t been able to provide service from her free kicks which helped her last season.
Tactically, Sermanni may feel it more important to focus on the defensive side while on the road with Stanley in the back, but don’t dismiss Orlando’s attacking mindset with Marta leading the blitz against Canadian Kailen Sheridan and Captain American, herself Christie Pearce and the rest of the back line. The Pride need to take advantage of any fatigue plaguing Sky Blue after their rainy midweek game and travel to and from North Carolina. Orlando has demonstrated it can take it to a strong home side to get a result. Sermanni needs to be prepared to face SBFC’s 4-2-3-1 by changing his 4-3-3 formation to something that works to give better match ups for his side.
Orlando will need to be more physical for Saturday’s match without giving up fouls to the home side in dangerous spots. Orlando will need to take the ball up the flanks, and pressure the young Sky Blue defenders with crosses with multiple attacking players making runs inside the box. The Pride can’t push the ball forward with only a couple of players and hope to maintain possession or lob the ball over the top and be successful unless they can break on a quick counter-attack.
I do believe Stanley and the Orlando defense will have enough to keep the Sky Blue attack in check. This is one of the best opportunities to get the first road win of the season, putting to an end an 11-match road winless streak dating back to last year. One of the Pride’s secondary attacking option will need to make an impact to keep defenses honest, and create some space for Marta or Camila who should be taking the ball into the 18 if the Pride play direct or off a cross from one of the backs getting forward. This test will finally convince doubters that Orlando is a legit team. Orlando will get its first victory over Sky Blue and win 2-1.