I have to admit that I was excited when the Orlando Pride acquired Poliana from the Houston Dash for a 2019 second-round pick back in February. Whenever the Pride had faced the Dash, Poliana had been one of the opposition’s best players. Evidently former coach Tom Sermanni felt the same, saying:
“Poliana is a player that we have admired since she joined the league. We believe she has been one of Houston’s best, most consistent players during that time,” Pride Head Coach Tom Sermanni said in a club press release. “What really appeals to us is that, though she plays mostly in a fullback role, we think she’s the kind of player who can play anywhere. She’s intelligent, her ability to read the game is phenomenal. As well as outstanding defensive qualities, she also has the skill to get forward and score goals. She has all the characteristics we look for at our club. I think she is an ideal fit for the Pride.”
To put it bluntly, this is not the player that showed up in Orlando.
In our signing story linked above, I foresaw in the “What it Means for Orlando” section that Sermanni would go with a back line of Carson Pickett, Shelina Zadorsky, Ali Krieger, and Poliana in the season’s first half, and that is indeed what we saw on opening day vs. Utah. But the Brazilian never looked comfortable with the Pride in 2018 and played her way off the field and, at times, out of the 18 in her first season with Orlando.
Poliana appeared in just 10 of Orlando’s 24 matches in 2018 (eight starts), and didn’t see the field again after July 11. She missed a chunk of the early season (three Pride matches) while with her national team in the Copa America Femenina, The rest of her absences were Sermanni’s decision not to play her. She scored no goals and registered no assists in her 694 minutes of play, registering a passing rate of just 67.4%, which tied Toni Pressley for worst among Pride defenders. Rachel Hill (67.2%) and Emily van Egmond (67%) were the only regulars on the team with less accurate passing numbers.
She attempted 11 shots, getting just two on target, but those were still among the highest numbers for a fullback on the pride. By comparison, Pickett played about double the minutes and fired only seven shots, getting one on frame. Poliana also struggled to win duels (46%), had the lowest tackle rate on the defense (60%), and finished with 20 clearances while committing five fouls and drawing just three. She earned no cards.
Honestly, there’s not a lot to choose from here. It may seem odd to say this, but maybe here best performance of the year came in the 3-0 home loss to the North Carolina Courage on June 30. Poliana played all 90 minutes in the match, firing two shots, including one of her two shots on goal on the season. Her 73% passing rate was her second best of the year and it came in the game in which she had the most passes (48) of any match in 2018.
Still, the back line struggled against the Courage, and she was a part of that. The fact that I picked this as Poliana’s best game of the season speaks volumes about her year.
2018 Final Grade
The Mane Land staff gave Poliana a composite grade of 3 for the year, and I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say that might be a bit generous. The Pride did not get the dangerous flank player they thought they were getting when the Brazilian was brought in from Houston. At worst, Poliana should have been a solid stopgap measure while Camila recovered from her knee injury. At best, she should have provided dangerous wide play on the right that opened up room for Orlando’s forwards by forcing opponents to commit numbers out near the edge of the penalty area.
Too many times we saw Poliana start a forward run, dribble up to an opponent, then meekly allow the opponent to take the ball away far too easily. To make matters worse, there was rarely any kind of determined attempt by the Brazilian to recover it. Her entire season can be summed up as “dribbles into a double-team, takes a heavy touch, then allows herself to get easily walled off and lose possession.”
The fact that she didn’t see the field after July and was sometimes out of the 18 from that point on says all you need to know about how disappointing her year was and what the coaching staff thought of her performance. I spoke to Sermanni after training one day in mid-summer and he was still excited about acquiring Poliana for a draft pick but it just didn’t work out in 2018.
A coaching change could be exactly what Poliana needs. The 27-year-old is still a regular call-up for her native Brazil and we’ve seen that she has a decent shot and good offensive skills. She can dribble and generally moves well without the ball. She didn’t show much of that to Orlando fans in 2018, but every now and then you got a glimpse.
We don’t know what her contract status is beyond this season but if there’s time left on her deal, it will be up to a new coach to see if she can be salvaged. She’ll get a clean slate and perhaps a different coach’s system will provide a comfort level far beyond what we saw during this season. One can only hope this happens because it’s doubtful she has much trade value at this point, although perhaps she can be flipped for a third- or fourth-rounder to a team desperate for fullback or wing help.