As the 2019 season of the National Women’s Soccer League shifts into high gear, the playoff push begins for most teams. Languishing at the bottom of the table are the usual suspects of Sky Blue FC and the Orlando Pride. Rounding into form from a brutal run since the start of the season, Orlando has managed three wins in the last five matches with ten left to play. Building momentum is key. And being blessed with two weeks off in a row, Pride players now have an opportunity to further integrate themselves into the culture and system Marc Skinner is establishing.
If the Orlando Pride want to climb up the league table, the team will need to claim as many points as possible now that the squad is at the fullest strength it can be (barring any further injuries). Coach Skinner’s next challenge will require him to find his best starting XI moving forward; a lineup that will collect the most points while continuing the development of his culture, style of play, and growth for next year. Not accounting for specific team match-ups, the Pride starting lineup should be something along this graphic.
The netminder for the Pride, while she is available, should be Ashlyn Harris. Haley Kopmeyer served admirably when called upon to step in while Harris was with the national team, but Harris gives Orlando the best chance to win with her reliable play stemming from her ability to play with her feet, the organizational skills to command the back line and a better distribution to start the attack. Both keepers are similar, and from a statistical perspective Harris edges Kopmeyer in goals against per 90 minutes 2.00 to 2.30. Her save success rate is higher, and she earned the first clean sheet for Orlando in over a year.
The Pride defense has been porous having allowed thirty-one goals so far this season, the most in the league. The next worst team for this stat is the Houston Dash with twenty-five goals allowed in the same number of matches. Once all the players returned from the World Cup, Coach Skinner was tasked with blending his best players who have developed while in Orlando with those whose talents are at the international level. Starting both Erin Greening and Ali Krieger versus Sky Blue FC paid off. Greening’s play has merited her a starting spot in the XI. She has lead the team in touches multiple times, and if she can improve her passing Krieger is one of the best full backs in the league. Going forward, having the ability to bring on Carson Pickett as a late game tactical substitution to change the course of the game should have a strong impact. If the Pride are protecting a lead, why not have that fifth defender on the pitch?
Tony Pressley is a player that stepped up while the World Cup players were gone. She has the ability to play multiple positions on the field; in addition to center back, she can act as a defensive mid, or full back. Her pairing with Shelina Zadorsky should be given the remainder of the season to form a solid partnership going forward, perhaps carrying into next season. Zadorsky has been a consistent player for the Pride since her arrival from the Washington Spirit. She’s a natural partner with Krieger to have communication on defense.
At full strength, the Pride midfield poses a variety of options, and there isn’t one perfect setup. Coach Skinner will have to minimize the flaws by putting each player in a position to be successful. For that reason, the most success for Orlando has come from utilizing a double pivot since the defense can have some coverage with the space taken up in a double pivot, plus offensively the midfield is less predictable since the players acting as the number six and eight can be interchanging between one another. The selection for the double pivot should be veteran international Alanna Kennedy along with Joanna Boyles. Kennedy has quality defensively, but can transition into an attacking role smoothly plus she has proven herself as another option on free kicks. Boyles has the potential to develop into something special; however, sometimes she aggressively goes to ground too often which can lead to her being out of position. Having players like Emily van Egmond, Dani Weatherholt, and Marisa Viggiano allows flexibility to adapt to specific match situations.
On the attacking foot, the Pride should have Chioma Ubogagu, Marta, and new arrival Claire Emslie. This summer Ubogagu has stepped up her level of play to be someone Skinner can count on. There is still the occasional gaff or not quite the right decision in a timely matter, but it seems those errors are popping up less often. Marta seems to have found renewed energy since her return from France. Her ability both on and off the ball is on another level. In the short amount of time Emslie has had on the pitch she immediately proved the level of quality she brings to the squad. Additionally, her versatility allows her to play on both the left and right wing. She displaces Rachel Hill from the starters, but allows Hill to be more of a super sub for Orlando.
When the Pride first joined the league, former head coach Tom Sermanni originally played Alex Morgan in a lone striker role, which wasn’t successful and isolated Morgan for the majority of the season. The difference of having her as the single attacker with Marc Skinner’s scheme involves the amount of movement from the rest of the attack, both with and without the ball, as the team looks to attack space created plus the quality of the squad has improved each year to potentially create better opportunities. As far as having Morgan start up top, that is a no-brainer; however, she has received her share of criticism for not performing at the same level for club as she has for country and whether or not she is giving maximum effort to Orlando since her husband, Servando Carrasco, no longer plays in Orlando as the men’s side of the club parted ways with him and he now plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy. Morgan is a professional and a competitor, and it is ludicrous to think otherwise. She isn’t being shown southern hospitality and skeptics think she has different area codes in mind.
Overall, the Orlando Pride will keep pushing to work itself out of the hole the lack of early season results buried the team in. Realistically, seventh place in the standings should be an achievement as Orlando looks to collect the most points from the last ten matches. However, the USWNT Victory Tour and other impending national team matches running through the end of the season may keep Coach Skinner from fielding this lineup. Let us know what your best starting XI for the Orlando Pride is in the comments below.