The Orlando Pride are three-quarters of the way done with their inaugural season, currently sitting in seventh place in the NWSL standings with a 6-9-0 record and 18 points. The team has struggled at times to perform consistently to the expectations of Head Coach Tom Sermanni, especially when missing six starting players like Alex Morgan to national team duties — whether training camps or the Olympic Games in Rio.
The normally patient Sermanni, as reported by Orlando Sentinel soccer beat writer Alicia DelGallo, has changed his mind and started to pursue trade options to improve the team for a final playoff push. That’s a different tone from his interview with The Mane Land back in early July, prior to the close of the international transfer window, when he stated:
“... it’s important now when this opportunity comes that we give them that chance and they go in and prove to us that they can be someone that we want to keep with this club."
The Pride never found a suitable replacement for departed midfielder Lianne Sanderson within the group, but did have shining moments from standouts Kristen Edmonds and Jasmyne Spencer, even as the absences mounted with the sudden retirement of Leah Fortune.
Going forward, the organization needs to incorporate the best practices from the other more established teams to continue the momentum the Pride have created to achieve success. Here are three things I think the Pride need to do moving forward.
Play More Friendlies
One of the biggest obstacles the Pride had this year was a lack of team cohesiveness because of a lack of playing time together. The short NWSL preseason only gave the newly formed team four opportunities to play against other teams and even then the whole squad wasn’t together for most of them. Additionally, one of the preseason matches against Florida State, the team’s strongest opponent in the preseason, was shortened due to weather.
The team also has been playing its three rookies — Sam Witteman, Dani Weatherholt, and Christina Burkenroad — to develop them for the future. During the league’s Olympic break, the Pride didn’t schedule any scrimmages against any teams. The team instead gave players the first week of the break off and only practiced three days the second week. By comparison, the Houston Dash held a friendly against Baylor University and Western New York took on Stony Brook. Not all the teams played competitive minutes, but a newer side like Orlando could benefit from it.
Establish A Presence In WPSL
While the NWSL is the top flight level of women’s soccer in the United States, it doesn’t mean that is the only national soccer league for women to play in. United Women’s Soccer (UWS) formed in 2015, trying to become a second division, and the Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL), a nationally recognized amateur league, also provides an outlet for women to continue to develop their soccer skills. Teams like FC Kansas City have created an affiliate program to develop players, while the Washington Spirit and Boston Breakers each have a reserve team in the WPSL. The Orlando Pride should follow suit. There’s actually two teams from WPSL already in the area — the Orlando Kicks and the Florida Krush from Winter Park are established teams, and either of them could form a partnership with our NWSL side and help grow players.
Develop A Scouting Program
The game of women’s soccer is developing across the globe. More countries are following the example of the United States and Australia by investing in domestic leagues for women footballers. England, France, and Germany have avenues for players there to develop. In the U.S., teams like Western New York have utilized UWS by bringing in UWS Player of the Year Krystyna Freda on trial just last week. Talent can be found to improve the team. The chance to find it has to be taken, either domestically or internationally, without having to target the big-name talents.
By all accounts, the first year of the Orlando Pride is more of a success than most people would have given them credit for and the club has always pushed the envelope to be considered a world-class organization. There is a challenge to continue to grow the game and league, but if the team follows the above plan, success could come more quickly.