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Orlando Pride Head Coach Tom Sermanni’s Seat Heats Up

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After a tough year and with the playoffs in doubt, should the Orlando Pride’s manager worry?

Carlos Romero, The Mane Land

The Orlando Pride playoff sights are currently on the outside looking in after a 3-0 loss to the North Carolina Courage on Sunday morning. With Chicago up a point and having a game in hand, it appears that the Pride have a very real possibility of failing to earn their second consecutive playoff appearance.

Through injuries and international dates, the Pride and Sermanni have struggled throughout the season to put together a consistent season of results. At only one point this season has the Pride won consecutive matches. You have to go all the way back two months and realize it was against the bottom two teams in the table (Sky Blue FC and the Washington Spirit).

Their best run of the season was back in late April to early May which saw the team go 4-1-2 with their only loss to the Supporters’ Shield-winning North Carolina Courage. But even during that run, there never was that back-to-back to win.

Now winless in their last four matches (0-2-2), one has to wonder if the Pride manager is on the hot seat considering how the season has gone. For the record, I would say I don’t think he should be removed. He should be given another year. But this ownership and management group has been known to be fickle and you never know what can happen. To use CEO Alex Leitâo’s own words when he dismissed Orlando City manager Jason Kreis.

“I could just relax and give time and see what happens. This is not my nature. This is not how I want to do things. I’m not going to take the easy path. I’ll take the path that I believe is best for the club. This is exactly what I’m doing.”

If you’re a Sermanni fan that quote should scare the hell out of you. From one perspective, someone evaluating this team could look at the lack of consistency combined with the top end talent here (i.e., Alex Morgan, Marta, Ashlyn Harris, Ali Krieger, etc.) to make a hard judgment call that Sermanni isn't the man to get the job done.

I will say that this year has been a tough one for Sermanni nonetheless. His consistent tinkering has been a thorn in the side all year as he tried to find out what would work best, negating the fact that at some point you have to create consistency within your lineup. Now sitting in fifth, his lineup tweaks are even more under siege as one has to wonder if he’s been too crazy with his consistent changes in rosters.

To top it all off, the messages he’s been relaying — at least externally — have been contradictory in nature. Take for example these two quotes below. The first comes from Sermanni just after the Pride’s last win of the season on July 19.

“It’s going to be fluid and people have to adapt,” coach Tom Sermanni said. “We did a little bit of a formation shift and wanted to refresh the team during a long road trip. We put in five new starters to give us the best look we could possibly put together and get a good shape. We get people in who haven’t started in a little while who were fresh.”

The second was from Christine Nairn echoing Sermanni’s sentiments from just about three weeks earlier.

Nairn agreed with her coach.

“I think, as a club, we need to put a full 90 minutes together,” she said. “I think, at times, we really can be the best team, by far, in this league. And then, at times, we kind of struggle the most in this league. We just need to find that medium and convert on the highs and eliminate the low lows.”

Now, can you compartmentalize the two into an argument that you can have squad rotation and still need to put together a consistent in-game performance? Absolutely. But as someone who has been around the game for awhile, you only gain that consistency if you consistently have the same core on the field for the same amount of time. You can't expect to keep making three to five (or more) moves per match and expect to see consistency.

I’d argue that’s exactly why the Pride have only once put together back-to-back wins and are struggling at the end of the season compared to last year’s final season run of eight unbeaten games going into the playoffs.

Whether or not he should be replaced is one question, but he definitely needs some evaluating as this year and the future has its questions. His interesting decisions at times to not start young players like Dani Weatherholt, who started 17 of her 19 appearances last year but only 15 of 21 this year— and might I add in what is a weaker midfield with Camila’s absence and Kennedy’s early Australian absences and inconsistent play — has been baffling to some as the midfielder is one of the team’s best workhorses.

Or take second year player Rachel Hill, who came off a tear of a W-League loan this past off-season with six assists and was third in the league with nine goals — behind NWSL MVP Sam Kerr — while playing every minute of every game. Hill has seen only seven starts all year on a team struggling to score, while players like Chioma Ubogagu have had 15 starts and only one additional assist for all those extra minutes (same amount of goals, with four).

When you look at the future, you have to wonder if his preference against young players will be a detriment overall to the organization. He’s well known for not utilizing draft picks, instead preferring to move them for veteran talent. And he most notably didn't take advantage of the Boston Breakers’ dispersal draft, instead opting to not use any picks and trade away the Pride’s first two picks (eighth and eleventh) that could have netted some solid additional depth, in exchange for what will be now be a late 2019 first-round pick from the Seattle Reign, who just clinched their own playoff berth.

If I’m looking to the future, I’m not sure this team is built for success two, three, four years down the road, considering the expected aging of stars on this team. That is something that should be taken into consideration when looking at whether Sermanni should keep his seat.

I know it appears I’m piling up on Tom here. He's still been a quality coach, having given Orlando it’s only professional soccer taste of playoffs to date and could still do it again if the right results come. He — in my opinion — never should have been let go from the U.S. Women’s National Team in the first place and his connection to Australia can’t be overlooked as that country is burgeoning with young talent. If not for Sermanni’s presence, it’s possible that several of the Pride’s international players wouldn’t be here.

However, if I’m him, and I’m thinking about the moves the organization has made in the past with the likes of Kreis and Lions’ first manager, Adrian Heath, I wouldn't be too comfortable where I sit now as underperformance is judged extremely harshly by this leadership. I hope I’m wrong. I really hope this a moot point and the Pride gut it out. But the seat under Sermanni is heating up and there’s no question about that.