There was one last twist to the Orlando Pride’s regular season after the team locked up its first ever NWSL playoff appearance. Just over a half hour into their season finale victory over the North Carolina Courage, Brazilian breakout midfielder Camila Martins Pereira was on the wrong end of a tough challenge and damaged a few ligaments in her knee and will be sidelined for the postseason.
“She’s a big loss, but we feel that we’ve got the strength and the depth and the character to deal with that,” Head Coach Tom Sermanni told the Orlando Sentinel on Tuesday.
Camila has been a staple in the Pride side in her first season in Orlando, making 24 appearances with 22 starts all over the pitch. Originally brought in as a fullback, her mainstay has been as an attacking midfielder, pulling the strings and getting the ball to Orlando’s wealth of attacking options in dangerous areas. She’s racked up four goals and five assists on the year and it will be impossible to find a direct replacement for her skill on the ball and awareness.
The issue is that the Pride aren’t as deep in midfield as they are at forward and because there is no direct replacement for Camila’s skill set, some reshuffling is required.
The good news is that Orlando can operate just fine in midfield without her but Sermanni and company just need to take a different approach to the midfield trio. When the boss elected to deploy Camila at fullback on a few occasions, Marta was pulled back from the wing to fill that void. It left Alanna Kennedy and Dani Weatherholt as more defensive midfielders beneath the Brazilian superstar in something closer to a 4-2-3-1.
The replacement, in that case, has recently been rookie forward Rachel Hill, who occupies one of the wing spots. The Pride sent 2018 first- and fourth-round draft picks to their semifinal opponents, the Portland Thorns, for Hill’s rights in January. She’s only been able to see just over 700 minutes of playing time in her rookie year, but she’s managed to find the back of the net three times already, including the winner against Sky Blue FC.
A forward line of Hill, Alex Morgan, and Chioma Ubogagu is young and inexperienced on the edges, but the talent is there to break down one of the best defenses in the NWSL. Sermanni has options, whether it’s the talent of Hill or the speed of Jasmyne Spencer, there is enough depth up top that the Pride won’t take too much of a step back. After all, Marta can still link up with Morgan through the middle.
Losing Camila is a major setback for Orlando’s attack and the creativity of the midfield, without question, but her loss isn’t insurmountable for the Pride to get in front of the home fans for the NWSL final in Orlando City Stadium.