As many have noted, the Orlando Pride winless run of 12 matches stretching to last season is in danger of tying the Washington Spirit’s streak of 13 if Tom Sermanni’s side fails to hold home field advantage on Mother’s Day against the North Carolina Courage. However, Coach Sermanni has been quick to point out that the 2017 version of the Pride is different, and vastly improved from last year. Taking him at his word, let’s examine why this team hasn’t been able to get a win so far this year and the adjustments needed to beat North Carolina.
With the level of talent on the Orlando roster, the midfield for the team was a question mark leading into the season. And going into the fifth match, returning players have not performed to where the team was last year. Monica was one of the starting centerbacks and so far, has appeared more uncomfortable in the holding mid role. Laura Alleway, the other starting centerback, was dropped from the Matildas in the offseason and has not been the first choice to make the starting XI for half the matches. Plus, she gave up the penalty in the first meeting with the Courage which led to Sam Mewis’s game-winning goal from the spot.
Last year’s team golden boot winner Kristen Edmonds seems to be slightly out-of-sorts at times, which pales in comparison to her strong form that ended the 2016 season and led to national team camp invites. Jasmyne Spencer also looks unsettled in the starting XI to begin this year’s campaign. Her strength so far seems to be as a late game sub. Spencer was able to assist in Marta’s goal entering the match in the 64 minute after generating the opportunity with her movement. The pass to Spencer which created the chance came from Edmonds. Could this spark the run of good form which could lead to the first victory?
Sermanni’s side has also been undisciplined at inopportune times in 2017. Both of the game winners against the Pride have been converted penalty kicks, and last week’s draw came from a free kick right outside the penalty area. Eliminating those mental errors could have potentially given Orlando more than the two points it currently has. Has Sermanni focused on the offensive finishing in the final third at the expense of working on correcting the disciplinary miscues?
The North Carolina Courage is rolling into the City Beautiful off a road win in Boston, full of confidence. They will be favored on Sunday, but does Orlando have a chance to win at home? Yes, of course. Parity is still a favor in the NWSL, and the Pride can get wins if they can stop underachieving.
Sunday will be the second of three meetings against the Courage. Here’s what Sermanni’s squad needs to do to give themselves the chance to take the three points at home: To begin, the Pride will need to give North Carolina a different look than when the two teams met in Cary. This is already a certainty since reports have indicated Monica will miss the match with a bone bruise stemming from her injury last week. This should give Dani Weatherholt another chance as the starting holding mid. Last week, Toni Pressley earned her first start, and the back line played noticeably better than it had all season. The Courage will continue to high press teams; will Pressley allow the Pride to play quicker from the back compared to Alleway? So far, it seems it might.
Starting Danica Evans created more opportunities in the box from her flip throws in Kansas City. The team should be able to improve by practicing tactics that act like an extra corner kick. The flip throw puts more pressure on the opposing teams, and Orlando really didn’t make the Courage uncomfortable inside their eighteen. The Pride need more numbers in the box to get under the skin of North Carolina. Evans’s energy alongside Marta should make the defenders work much harder than in the first meeting where the Courage were giving Orlando a ton of space to operate.
So there you have it, the Pride can beat the Courage by coming out with a different look, having expected stars perform to expectations while not shooting themselves in the foot by giving up great dead ball chances, and applying pressure inside their attacking third. Easier said than done, right? We’ll see.