To say it’s been a struggle through the first four games of 2017 for the Orlando Pride would be a vast understatement. The team has managed only two points, accruing an 0-2-2 record, and sit in dead last in the NWSL standings. Despite all of that, the team’s most recent game against FC Kansas City — a 1-1 draw — showed some improvement on both sides of the field.
In the most recent game, Head Coach Tom Sermanni shook up the lineup a bit, giving Toni Pressley her first start of the season on the back line and sending Laura Alleway to the bench. Veteran Maddy Evans and rookie Danica Evans also made their first starts of the season, sending Dani Weatherholt and Chioma Ubogagu to the sidelines. Weatherholt ended up having to come into the game in the fourth minute, after a serious injury to Monica forced her to leave the game.
With that lineup out there, the Pride had arguably their best defensive performance of the season. They were able to keep Sydney Leroux and Shea Groom, both very talented offensive players, off the scoreboard, although if not for an inspired save from Ashlyn Harris, Leroux would have knocked one in.
Pressley was solid on the back line and worked very well with Alanna Kennedy and Steph Catley on her side of the defense, while Danica Evans brought some new energy into the Pride attack. Add in the dynamic flip throw that Danica can do as well, which brought a new aspect to the game.
Despite the improved defensive performance, the Pride still struggled to find the back of the net. One part was the play of KC keeper Nicole Barnhart, who was excellent on the day and was only beaten by a Marta shot that she got a piece of. The other part was just the finishing in front of goal and indecisiveness in the 18-yard box from Orlando.
If not for the phantom foul in the 84th minute that led to the KC goal, Orlando could have been able to hang on for its first win since July 10, 2016. Despite the result, the team is showing improvement. With the lineup shake-up, it has given other players chances to prove themselves and injected some much-needed energy into the starting 11.
There could very easily be some more lineup changes this weekend, when the Pride host the best team in the league, the North Carolina Courage, on Sunday at 5 p.m. ET. While it is a tough ask, if the team can show up like it did in Kansas City, I could see the home crowd bolstering the Pride players and pushing them to a much needed victory.