Let me start this off by saying this isn’t a panic story. If you've read any of my stories over the past months, I’m literally a patron saint of patience and understanding. But where early missteps by Orlando City can be forgiven over a long season, the same can’t necessarily be said about the Pride.
The NWSL has never been big. Ten teams (nine this year), four make the playoffs. With the Boston Breakers folding, causing valuable talents to move on in the Dispersal Draft, things are even tougher. When talents like Megan Oyster, first-round pick Savannah McCaskill, and superstar-in-the-making Rose Lavelle getting added to teams in an already small league, the road to the playoffs becomes much more difficult.
And that doesn't even negate the traditional off-season moves that made multiple teams stronger. The Chicago Red Stars “lost” Christen Press but added the NWSL’s Golden Boot winner from 2017, Sam Kerr. The North Carolina Courage made a monster move by acquiring Crystal Dunn’s rights from the Washington Spirit. Dunn then came back from her stint from Chelsea FC to add to an already potent attack featuring United States Women’s National Team players Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams.
The Seattle Reign added USWNT player — and one of the best defensive midfielders in the NWSL — Allie Long to an already strong team that barely missed the playoffs last year. And then there were the Washington Spirit who made a coup this off-season by acquiring internationals Taylor Smith and Ashley Hatch from the North Carolina Courage. And then the cherry on top was from the Dispersal Draft, where the Spirit were able to bring in Rose Lavelle, pairing her with fellow phenom Mallory Pugh in her second season.
I’ve already said this, but only four teams make the playoffs. That means nearly half the league makes the playoffs. While that devalues the postseason in some ways, it makes the regular season even more important. There unfortunately isn’t a lot of room for error when you consider there are legitimately — in my humble opinion — seven out of nine teams that could have a real shot at the playoffs (sorry Houston and Sky Blue).
That means points are at a premium this season. Draws or wins, it doesn't matter. Points are coming at a premium. Every match is going to be magnified with so little room for error. I'm not going to overreact to any single match. But the microscope will be strong this season. If there’s a long, tough stretch, it could very well be an undoing.
I’m very hopeful that the Pride will make the playoffs and go to the final in fact. That doesn't mean this season isn't going to be tough. Considering the amount of players the Pride have that will participate in World Cup qualifying this year, the team may see dropped points to strong teams that will be better than in past years. So the Pride will do well to get as many points before that window as possible.
A 2-0 loss to the 2017 last-place team — the Washington Spirit — looks bad on some levels. But that’s the point of this season. The league is tougher than ever. The Pride will need focus and consistency to ensure a strong season and hopefully a successful playoff run. Don’t overreact now. But know that the room for error is limited.