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Orlando Pride Must Focus on Defense as They Head Into the NWSL Playoffs

Orlando needs to find the balance between attack and defense as the stakes get high.

Nick Leyva, The Mane Land

It’s no secret that the Orlando Pride have an effective offense. The Pride’s 42 goals and 28 assists are both league bests. Marta and Alex Morgan are both among the top five goal scorers, and Marta’s six assists are second in the NWSL. In fact, Saturday’s 0-0 draw was the first time since July 1 that the Pride failed to score, and just the third time all season.

Any team that faces the Pride knows it needs to be focused for 90 minutes and has to step up its defensive game or Orlando will punish them for it. Unfortunately for the Pride, they will face one of the top two defenses in the league in the first round of the playoffs. And, as Orlando found out this past weekend, even they have difficulty finding the back of the net against the league’s best defenses.

With Orlando facing either North Carolina or Portland next weekend, goals will be hard to come by. If the Pride go out and throw players forward the entire 90 minutes, they will be without numbers defensively. And this is what will be their undoing.

When Orlando is attacking, the entire team gets in on it. One of the reasons why the Pride have been so dominant the past few months is that almost everyone on the team is a threat in the final third. In their current eight-game unbeaten streak, the Pride have scored 18 goals from six different players, while eight different players have put up an assist. This team’s attack is what opponents fear, but the opposition also knows it leaves the Pride vulnerable.

After the Portland game, Head Coach Tom Sermanni illustrated this point perfectly in his press conference.

“One of the problems that we generally have for most of the games this year is that we’ve have dominated possession in the game,” Sermanni said. “So when you have that dominant possession, quite often you are vulnerable on the counter attack or at the back because you are not organized defensively. If you’re a team that’s under the pump for most of the game, your defensive organization and structure is usually very good because you are defending all the time.”

At the same time, Ashlyn Harris is one of the best goalkeepers in the league, and has allowed just five goals in the last six games, including two shutouts. The team is 4-0-2 since her return. When the Pride defend well, it is not only because of amazing saves from Harris, but also that the entire team gets back to defend. This was seen not only in the 0-0 draw against the Thorns, but also the 1-1 draw against Seattle and the 5-0 win against Sky Blue.

The Sky Blue game is key to getting results as the Pride mastered both their team philosophy of playing attacking soccer and being “pragmatic defensively.” Sky Blue’s 38 goals this season is third-best in the NWSL, and while the New Jersey side has allowed the most goals this year, the Pride stayed focused for the full 90 minutes to completely dominate the game. Orlando needs to play this way for another three games so that they can become the NWSL champions.

“The key is getting both of those sides right,” said Sermanni. “We want to keep playing the way we’ve been playing. Keep that attacking philosophy but at the same time make sure we don’t chalk up cheap goals.”