Canadian international center back Shelina Zadorsky completed her first season with the Orlando Pride, coming over from the Washington Spirit in a trade that cost the team backup goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe and a first-round draft choice. It was a move applauded by many at the time, due to the Pride’s need to shore up the back line, which was largely viewed as the club’s weak spot in 2017.
It was a solid, if unspectacular season for Zadorsky, who was paired with three different partners in the central defense in the team’s first five games. The ever-changing lineup, caused by international call-ups for World Cup qualifying in the season’s first month, probably prevented Zadorsky from settling in early, as it did to the team as a whole. But despite that, she proved to be one of the team’s most consistent performers.
Let’s take a look at her season.
Zadorsky played in 23 of Orlando’s 24 matches in 2018, starting in all 23 of her appearances. The only match she didn’t play in was Aug. 5 against Sky Blue. It was Tom Sermanni’s decision not to play her as he experimented with a three-player back line. She tied with Dani Weatherholt for the most appearances and had the most starts on the club in 2018, and led in minutes played, with 2,070.
She didn’t score a goal, but Shelina did assist on two, tying Ali Krieger for first among the Pride’s defenders. Oddly, both of her assists came against Houston, but in different games. Shelina attempted five shots, getting one on target. Her passing rate of 75.6% was third among the team’s defenders to Monica (82.9%) and Krieger (76.1%) but she did have the most attempts by far on the back line — nearly 300 more than Monica and 100+ more than Krieger — and surprisingly she created seven scoring chances. She committed 13 fouls and drew five, and picked up three yellow cards, tying Camila for the most on the team.
Her 100 clearances were by far the best on the club and sixth in the entire league, and her 81.3% tackle rate was good. Her 52.9% duel success was decent but her 47.4% aerial success rate could use some work.
Shelina’s best match was probably the 2-1 loss against Houston on June 27. She notched an assist on the Pride’s only goal that day, a pass that set up Alex Morgan’s opening goal. After an initial clearance of an Orlando corner, Zadorsky was left onside due to a ball coming off a Dash defender. She had time and space and smartly picked out Morgan at the back post through traffic.
Houston came back to win but Zadorsky wasn’t responsible for either goal. The first was a cross from way out wide by Kealia Ohai that sneaked past Ashlyn Harris in the top far corner. The second was a penalty that was conceded by Monica on a handball in the box late.
She completed 83.3% of her passes that day, didn’t concede a foul, and generally played pretty good defense.
2018 Final Grade
The Mane Land give Zadorsky a solid rating of 6 for the season. While her play was far from perfect and she did have the occasional in-game lapse, that’s something you can say of most defenders — certainly all of Orlando’s. But she was probably the team’s most physical defender and she seemed the most locked in of the center backs on a consistent basis in 2018. She could probably be even more physical, be a bit better on aerial balls, and raise her overall game a bit. At 25, there’s still room for growth.
Although her statistical breakdown section looks pretty good, Zadorsky was still part of the league’s third-worst defense statistically. The back line got roasted repeatedly this season, allowing 1-v-1 opportunities for opposing strikers against Harris’ net. There were also numerous instances where players either scored or got a dangerous shot on target while she and her central defense partner were both in position to prevent that from happening. Closing down properly was an issue this season in the middle of the defense and that could be either a communication issue, or just a chemistry problem. Either way, it was too passive at times.
Zadorsky is a Canadian international, so she’s subject to NWSL allocation by her federation. There’s no reason to believe she won’t be allocated again in 2019. As mentioned above, there is room for growth in Shelina’s game and she’s still got time to evolve into a better player and perhaps a more physical presence in the middle of the Orlando defense. You don’t want defenders committing fouls in the penalty area, obviously, but you could give a few more away outside the box, especially when the numbers aren’t in your favor. With only 13 committed in 2017, she could do more to break up attacks before they pose an imminent threat of becoming a problem for the Pride’s goalkeepers, and perhaps the club will hire a more defensive-minded coach for the upcoming season to help with that.