The Orlando Pride started its three-match homestand with a frustrating draw with the Seattle Reign. Both teams were missing key players this match due to national team duty: Alex Morgan and Ashlyn Harris for Orlando, and Megan Rapinoe and Allie Long for Seattle. The hosts may rue this performance which saw 17 fouls called against them versus four on the visitors while being out-shot, out-possessed, and out-passed. Now Coach Tom Sermanni will need to prepare his squad for Orlando’s next match on August 5 against Sky Blue FC.
After all the league results, the Pride sit in fourth surrounded by teams with a game in hand. Realistically, Orlando has a favorable schedule with three of the last five at home and squaring off twice with winless Sky Blue. Statistical prediction website, FiveThirtyEight puts the Pride’s chances of making the playoffs at 63% favored in both matches against Sky Blue, as well as the Chicago match. Orlando tallied 40 points in the 2017 season, and if the Pride want to match that the team will have to find a way to earn 11 more points. Additionally, if Orlando wants to host a playoff game, Sermanni’s side will need to hope teams like Utah, Houston, and Chicago play spoiler to keep the Reign within reach. This series of fortunate events doesn’t appear likely as I predict Seattle will finish the regular season with 41 by capturing 11 points from six matches.
Tied in points with the Pride at 29 are the Portland Thorns, who hold the tiebreaker due to goal differential. While Portland face several challenging matches, visiting North Carolina and Orlando, the Thorns also host Sky Blue and Chicago and can earn a result against the Washington Spirit and Seattle. Based on the schedule, the standings will continue the trend of teams being tightly packed. I expect the Thorns to come away with 11 points by the end of the season and end with 40 points.
One point behind Orlando sit the Chicago Red Stars with 28 points. The Red Stars have the hardest road to the playoffs. Chicago will host Sky Blue, but afterward face the Courage, Reign, Thorns, and Pride while closing the season against the Royals. Fans of Chicago will say the team playing teams currently ahead of them in the standings can be six-point swing matches because the Red Stars will be able to close the gap to make the playoffs. I don’t hold the same faith as Chicago supporters. I predict the Chicago Red Stars finish with 33 points after only adding five points the rest of the way.
The gridlock in the standings will remain that way. On the outside looking in will be the first year side, Utah Royals finishing with 34 points, and the Houston Dash, who were the bane of the Orlando Pride under first-year coach Vera Pauw, with 33 points. Both teams may be disappointed not to make the playoffs, but in actuality should be commended as each team had its share of injuries to key players they couldn’t completely overcome. Laura Harvey’s side will look back at the numerous times it drew an opponent, while Houston’s slow start this year was what ultimately doomed the squad’s playoff hopes.
An area of concern for the Pride has to be the offense which has been missing in 2018; the flow of the offense has been choppy and inconsistent. If the team can match the 12 goals from last season in the last stretch, it would only manage 39 goals. As Coach Sermanni stated after the home match versus Seattle, “What we haven’t done well enough this year is actually finish the chances and finish them when we’ve been on top of the game. So, I think that probably is as much to blame as anything.”
Ultimately, the Orlando Pride will not equal last season’s point total falling short with 37 points, but still good enough for a fourth place finish. However, it’s worth noting the Pride have missed opportunities at home where the only way to match last year’s win total of six at Orlando City Stadium is by winning out against Sky Blue, Portland, and Chicago. In 2017, the Pride scored 12 goals in its last five games finishing up with 45 goals and a +14 goal differential. Orlando is a flawed team trying to make playoffs again, and the home stretch is going to be nerve wrecking for the Pride. The best outcome I can see at the end of the season is a trip to North Carolina for the first round playoffs. Brace yourselves.