While the fanfare of the Summer Olympics are now over, some of the aftereffects will still be felt for months to come. A major setback was dealt to the Orlando Pride back line in Rio, as starting left back Steph Catley has been ruled out for the remainder of the NWSL season.
Catley had started 11 matches for Orlando, playing all 990 minutes in those games. Her contribution to the season included the team’s first goal as well as the first assist in team history. She also currently leads the team in crosses (11, with the next closest having just six) and corner kicks (22) before her unexpected loss. Moving forward, Pride Head Coach Tom Sermanni has a few options while directing the end-of-season push for a playoff spot prior to the league roster freeze date of Aug. 30. Let’s examine each one.
The Safe And Reliable Option
If Sermanni is looking to make a serious push with an expansion team, he will more likely turn to a veteran who has experience on the left side to replicate some of what Catley could do on the pitch. Look for him to have Kristen Edmonds play the left side of the back four, hopefully with better results than when she started as a defender against the Boston Breakers in the most recent match. With the return of forward Alex Morgan, Edmonds could be called on to fill the void by playing in more crosses to Morgan or Jasmyne Spencer. While some people may not be happy about moving the leading goal scorer for the team back, Edmonds herself would not mind it.
“I love playing outside back,” Edmonds said after a Pride practice on Aug. 17. “I’ve always loved playing outside back [...] but I’m really comfortable playing where ever.”
There could be some questions as to how well Edmonds would mesh with the rest of the back line but with veterans returning from Rio, they should be able to work that out.
The “Future is Now” Option
If Sermanni decides he needs Edmonds closer to goal or wants to play a quicker player, he will move Sam Witteman to replace Catley. Listed as a forward/midfielder, Witteman has shown her versatility by playing on the back line a few times this season while other players were with their national teams. Her ability to possess the ball has allowed her to be the second-most fouled player by Pride opponents. As a rookie, she may need more time to develop her game at the professional level, and may be a risk to have in the back for a playoff push.
The Gambler Option
If Sermanni decides he needs to make a change, he still has time to bring another player into the club before the roster freeze date by either a trade or signing an unsigned player. Tom has stated several times in the past month that the team has been working hard to get a deal done, which could bring someone in for the last four matches, but so far nothing other than rumors have come out of it. Both Caitlin Foord and Lisa De Vanna have had their names rumored without anything solid materializing.
Sermanni could also take a gamble on converting a player to left back who hasn’t played there, such as Maddy Evans. This would at least allow the team chemistry to stay consistent and positive. The risk of moving a player to left back hasn’t worked out well for Orlando teams as the Brek Shea experiment has demonstrated, but with playoffs on the line, desperate times could call for desperate measures.
The Pride have already performed better than the Houston Dash in their inaugural season. The team faced numerous challenges with roster upheaval and injury, but the loss of Catley for the last quarter of the season could be the most Herculean task to date.