When your team struggles to score goals, more people focus on how the defense is playing during those tough times. And a lot of people have been watching the Orlando Pride’s back line this season.
As it seems to be becoming an every week thing for the Pride, defensive issues were on display once again in their 2-1 loss to Sky Blue FC on Saturday night. After taking a 1-0 lead into the halftime break, the Pride conceded two goals in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
Pride Head Coach Tom Sermanni was not happy with the five-minute sequence of Sky Blue scoring two quick goals out of the gate in the second half.
"It is called being brain-dead in simple terminology," Sermanni said after the match. "I think we lost the first goal from a goalkeeper kick out, where we've got to press the ball. We haven't got close enough, haven't got tight enough, and then being started with a ball over the top - classic defending 101, to be honest. It should just never, ever happen at this level and it's happened twice in the last four days.
"The second one - until I look at the video I'm not sure - but for me it was a factor of two things. It was a factor of very, very poor decisions in possession in our own half; being sloppy; not being careful enough to keep the ball, coupled by unbelievably poor, diving-in, amateurish defending. I'm at a loss. I am at a loss of words just like everyone else. It’s not like we haven’t gone out there and worked on our team defending. It’s not like we haven’t looked at videos and seen the opposition players. But we seem to just have this gift of switching off and giving up goals to opposition incredibly cheaply. I wish Alex [Morgan] and Jasmyne [Spencer] and the other strikers got such easy opportunities from their defenders."
Overall, Sermanni was clearly frustrated with the way the team defended, not only on Saturday night, but throughout the entire season.
"I thought the game was fairly even in the first half, and we got the opportunity and scored," he said. "We came out for the second half feeling quite confident and quite comfortable. An Achilles heel of ours this season seems to be our suicidal defending. There were two examples of that in the first five minutes of the second half. Almost a carbon copy of the goal Sky Blue scored against us in mid-week happened early in the second half, despite our best efforts to look at that, study it, and come up with a strategy to stop it. We struggled to break them down from there."
And he’s right to have his gripe. We saw this similar issue pop up with Orlando City throughout its first season in 2015. It’s very difficult to build a roster over a couple of months, give the players a handful of weeks of training camp, and then hope for good results consistently.
It’s been a long season for the Pride, who wrap up their expansion campaign in two weeks at home against FC Kansas City. Injuries and international call-ups have tested the team’s thin depth chart almost every step of the way, and the defense has been no exclusion.
The club has used at least 10 different players on defense this season, and a different back-four pairing almost each week. That kind of inconsistency in personnel alone can make it difficult for teams to find unity and cohesiveness over the course of an entire season.
It’s an issue the team will surely be looking at this off-season when the Pride will have an actual opportunity to build up their roster in many key areas.
The Pride have just one game left this season, and a shutout at home in two weeks would be a nice little send-off in 2016.
"This is what we need to do for the final game: we need to look at Kansas and look at who will be our best team to play them," Sermanni said. "It’s going to be up to myself, the coaching staff, and players to get us focused and ready to get a good result. We could’ve finished with a good result tonight with better applications and decision making. Hopefully in our final game we can do that."