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Orlando Pride vs. Washington Spirit: Five Takeaways

What did we learn from Orlando’s 1-1 draw against the Spirit on Saturday?

Colin Ziemer, The Mane Land

The Orlando Pride opened their new home with a dramatic 1-1 draw against the Washington Spirit on a night the hosts celebrated the arrival of Marta and her first appearance in purple. It wasn’t a win, but the performance was much improved over the previous week in Portland, with more build-up in the attack, more possession, and more chances.

There were also fewer defensive lapses, although there were still a few, and the Spirit’s goal certainly came against the run of play. That won’t be a consolation for Tom Sermanni, who knows that every point is precious in a 22-game season, especially the ones you drop at home.

Here are my five takeaways from a performance that was worthy of a win, but ultimately ended in a frustrating draw.

Shots Plentiful, but Inaccurate

The Pride are still winless on the season after two games at 0-1-1 but perhaps deserve a bit better fate after creating 40 shot attempts in just two games. The problem is that the team has got to do a better job making the goalkeeper work. At Portland in Week 1, the Pride continuously either missed the net or shot straight at the goalkeeper. This week, Orlando mustered only five shots on target in 21 total attempts. That’s something that Tom Sermanni acknowledged was a problem after the match, saying it was something he and the coaching staff can and will address in training.

“I think it’s a few things.. It’s work on the training field. We talked last week and we never got around to doing enough of it,” Sermanni said after Saturday’s game. “We can probably do a little more work in the final third and combinations and trying to eke out better chances. I think what we’ve come up against in the last two games are teams who’ve virtually kept the back four in place and a couple midfield players and made it really, really tight for us and try to hit us on the break. That makes it a little more difficult to create those stonewall chances like we did at the end. Again, it’s just working at the training field and hopefully our strikers, once they get that first goal hopefully that will start the goals on. Despite that, I still thought we had some shots that were under pressure but we also had some chances that we’ve got to be more ruthless in what we do in and around the six-yard box to finish some of them off.”

The Two Danis

Through two matches, Dani Weatherholt seems to have solidified her role in the Pride midfield. Her work rate keeps her constantly around the ball or in passing lanes and she’s proven adept at linking the back line and the attacking players. Her work ethic and confidence, says Sermanni, are what have allowed the second-year player to blossom in 2017.

“She came into preseason in great shape,” Sermanni said of Weatherholt. “She got called into the [United States] Under-23 national team just before preseason started and I think that was a big step for her because I think that gave her the confidence to feel that she belongs because she’s gone into the national team at that level. And she’s just gradually grown and grown from there. The great thing you’ve got from Dani is she’s got such unbelievable endurance that she is still going. She’s like the [Energizer] Bunny, she gets wound up and she’s still going at the end of the game. So when the game starts to stretch out, she becomes more and more influential.”

The newest “Dani,” Danica Evans, was at school in Colorado just a few months ago. Used as a sub off the bench in each of Orlando’s first two matches, Evans has shown an ability to put herself in dangerous positions and get the ball into the box. Her first professional goal came in just her second game and she did a nice job of dancing around goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe to provide a dramatic late equalizer for the Pride. And that accuracy I mentioned earlier? She’s got a nose for the net. Evans had only two of Orlando’s 21 shots but both were part of the Pride’s total of five shots on goal.

“One of the reasons that we drafted her was when we looked at her, we felt that she had an ability to finish and an ability to finish in a composed way and I think that was highlighted [Saturday],” Sermanni said. “She will need time to adjust but for us at the moment, it’s really helpful to have a player that can come in and make that impact over that short a period of time with the skillset she’s got, which complements the other players that we’ve got, because we don’t have a player that’s quite like her on the squad at the moment.”

Krieger Out Wide Stabilized the Game

Orlando had the better of play throughout much of the game against Washington, but when Laura Alleway came on for an injured Jamia Fields – who started her second straight game at right back – it pushed Ali Krieger from center back out to the right side of the back line. Once she was pushed out wide, Krieger felt the freedom to get forward and helped the team maintain possession. As a result, the Pride were able to create more dangerous opportunities in the attack.

Speaking of Fields…

I must admit, I didn’t make it to any of the Pride’s preseason matches, but I hadn’t heard of Fields playing right back in the preseason and through two games it doesn’t look like the experiment is working. The idea is sound. Fields has good pace and can get forward into the attack, so a move to right back seems like it could work out well. But so far her contributions don’t seem to be the best option for the team. Her three tackles in 44 minutes of play were good. Her team-low 52.6% passing rate was not. Against Washington, whenever the ball was turned over or the play broke down in the midfield, Fields was often involved. It’s perhaps unfair to compare any player to Krieger, but the USWNT regular finished with 81% passing accuracy and many of Ali’s team-high 81 touches and 58 passes came after her move out wide. It would seem to be in Sermanni’s best interest to keep Krieger in her natural position and play Laura Alleway next to her international teammates, Alanna Kennedy and Steph Catley.

Marta Makes a Difference

Despite being in the U.S. for less than 48 hours after a trans-Atlantic flight, and a number of team obligations upon her arrival – and just one 45-minute training session – it’s obvious what the Brazilian superstar will bring to the team. Once Marta came on, the Pride instantly became a more dangerous team. Sure, the Spirit had just scored a goal and that can be a time when the other team starts pressing, but she instantly gave Orlando a new energy and dynamic in the attack. Her first touch was going shoulder to shoulder to win a ball and keep it alive at the end line. Her second touch earned her new team a corner kick. In 31 minutes, Marta managed to create two chances, pass at a 76.9% clip with mostly players she hadn’t even gotten an opportunity to practice with, and nearly won the game with a shot just a few inches wide of the back post in stoppage time. She even started the play by hustling into a passing lane to deflect a ball to Kristen Edmonds, who in turn sent Marta into the left side of the box with a well-weighted pass.

“Sure, I need a couple more hours or days to adapt. I know that. There is a six-hour difference to Europe, too,” Marta said after the match. “I know all of that is out there, but anyway I was so happy to meet everyone and to get started so I just forgot about it. I just am a little bit disappointed because I had one chance to score a goal and missed by a little bit. That's what I am thinking about and I cannot stop thinking about it.”

Marta developed a good instant chemistry with left back Steph Catley, who she didn’t even get to work with in Friday’s practice session. The two hooked up well together down the left flank and could become a lethal combination as they get more time together.

“We really haven’t trained together yet but when you’ve got quality, and obviously she has great quality, it gets easy to understand each other and you find a way,” said Marta. “So, I am really happy we were able to do some good stuff together in just a couple of minutes. It was definitely enough to see that we can do good stuff together.”

That’s what I took away from the Pride’s 1-1 home opener against the Spirit. What stuck out to you?