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Personnel Changes Should Help the Pride Return to Their Winning Ways

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Starting Rachel Hill and getting Marta on the ball more should improve Orlando’s attack.

Nikita Taparia

The Orlando Pride have some of the best players in the league on their roster. However, they currently find themselves in a tie for third place in the NWSL. With 22 points through 15 games, the Pride are not at all in a secure playoff position with just nine games remaining.

Yesterday, The Mane Land’s own Sean Rollins wrote about how the Pride need to use the midfield more in build up to help create goal-scoring opportunities. This is undoubtedly true and a key part to help this is to put the best player on the field in the midfield and get her more touches. Marta is one of the best players in the world and she should be playing in the No. 10 role on this team.

After the first loss to North Carolina, Marta was very critical of how her team played and her comments can be used to summarize many games this season.

“We need to be more aggressive. I think we need more confidence to mark closer, whenever we get the ball to just go forward, look for the best options, and be able to achieve our goal,” Marta said through a translator. “Whenever we get the ball we just kick it and give it back to them. So why not when we get the ball, keep it and try to find a player?”

Then, in almost perfect English, she said, “It’s hard to play 90 minutes just kick the ball, kick the ball. I need the ball at my feet!”

The Brazilian, after missing time with injures and international duty, has appeared in just 10 games this season, which is a large part of why she has created just five total goals in 2018. She has taken just nine shots this season though, including three games where she failed to get off a single shot. If the best player on the field is not getting opportunities then the team is going to suffer as a result.

Marta moving from the forward line to the midfield will allow for Alex Morgan to play centrally and Sydney Leroux as a wide forward — both of which have been routinely done this season. In the other wide position, Tom Sermanni has typically been giving Chioma Ubogagu the starts.

In the Pride’s 15 games this season, Chi has 10 starts and has played 758 minutes. Her time on the field has not been bad, as she is tied for the team lead in goals, with four, and has even added an assist. The 25-year-old has a 70% passing accuracy, which, when compared with the other forwards on Orlando, is average but her tackle success rate of 86% is second-best on the team.

However, watching Ubogagu play shows that she tends to be reactive. She will sit and wait for the ball or get down the field and it looks like she is going through the motions at times. Only when she loses possession does her real hard work and hustle come out. Chi is not a poor player by any means, but if she had a more proactive approach and better off-the-ball movement she would be much more effective.

One of the players who tends to come in as a substitute and change the game is Rachel Hill. Hill made just her fourth start of the year this past week. That start just happened to be one of her worst performances in a Pride jersey — highlighted by her inability to make short passes — and led to her playing just 45 minutes.

That game was an outlier though, and the University of Connecticut product is typically a game changer. She has 286 fewer minutes than Ubogagu and 571 fewer than Leroux but is tied with them for the most goals on the team. That is not something that happened by accident.

Hill has put 69% of her shots on target, good enough for third-best on Orlando behind Shelina Zadorsky’s 100% on a single shot and Dani Weatherholt going three-for-three. But the biggest benefit she has over Ubogagu is that she brings an all new energy that helps to lift the Pride. She continuously gets in the right places at the right times and makes the most of her opportunities.

Just look at what she has done when given opportunities. Last season, she appeared in 14 games, eight starts, and was responsible for four goals. She then went to the W-League in the NWSL off-season and played with Perth Glory where she started and played in 12 games, never having been subbed out, and finished third in the league with nine goals.

With the Pride not in the best form of late and slipping down the standings, giving Hill the chance to start in a run of games, in addition to moving Marta to the midfield, might help push Orlando back to its winning ways.