Following the 2017 NWSL season, which saw the Orlando Pride qualify for the postseason for the first time, there were great expectations for the team in 2018. Instead, it’s been a disappointing season that culminated in the team’s elimination from playoff contention Saturday night. Featuring players of tremendous talent, it was a lack of cohesion that eventually doomed the Pride.
On paper, the Pride have one of the best teams in the NWSL. Featuring international stars like Alex Morgan, Marta, and Alanna Kennedy, a league championship should have been — and was — the goal of this star-studded team. However, this past season showed that the cohesion of players is just as important as the talent on the field.
The team’s lack of cohesion and communication was on full display Saturday night when the Pride fell 3-1 to the Chicago Red Stars, mathematically eliminating them from the 2018 NWSL postseason. Each of the three goals ended with Pride defenders looking at each other, questioning what had gone wrong. In the attacking third, players also didn’t seem to be on the same page. Runs weren’t continued, if started at all, resulting in balls entering empty spaces for easy opposition collection.
Following the loss, Head Coach Tom Sermanni discussed this lack of cohesion saying, “Whether it’s concentration, organization, decision-making, lack of effort, waiting on somebody else to do your job for you, I really don’t know. Probably a combination of those things.”
At the end of the day, Pride players have not been on the same page and it has been evident down the final stretch of the season. Entering the final five games of the season, the Pride likely needed only wins against Sky Blue FC, which has yet to win a game this season, and a win over either the Portland Thorns, the North Carolina Courage, or Chicago to qualify for the playoffs. Three of those five games were played at Orlando City Stadium.
Against a team that had only gathered points in three out of 16 games to that point, the Pride only came away with a 2-2 draw at home against Sky Blue FC. The following three games have been a demolition at the hands of the Thorns, Courage, and Red Stars, with two of those teams being around them in the standings.
The lack of cohesion Saturday night was accompanied by a lack of awareness of the situation. While a loss eliminated them from playoff contention, a draw would have nearly done the same. To keep their season alive, the Pride would have needed to gain three points. Yet, the team looked like zombies for the first 65 minutes of the game, refusing to show any urgency despite being down a pair of goals at halftime.
“The problem is we’ve changed the team, we’ve changed the formation, we’ve changed training, we’ve changed how we’ve organized the week,” Sermanni said. “What you’re talking about tonight and what you saw in the first half has been symptomatic of performances during the season. Not for 90 minutes, but for certain periods of the game. When we have those types of performances or those lapses or those moments of indecision or lackadaisical-ness, we seemed to get punished for it.”
With one insignificant game remaining in the season, it’s up to the club’s front office to figure out why this lack of cohesion and awareness has occurred and how to correct it. While much of it has to be placed on the players, especially the experienced leaders in the team, the coaching staff must also take some of the blame. Whether it’s the changes in formation and preparation methods Sermanni stated in his press conference, or a failure to reach the players, there has been a clear disconnect within the squad during the 2018 season.
Heading into the 2019 season, the Pride are certain to have one of the most talented teams in the league once again. They play in one of the league’s best stadiums and have quality training facilities. The issue with the Pride in 2018 was mental and cannot repeat itself next season. It’s a team too talented to regress as it did this year.