Months after the Orlando Pride fired Tom Sermanni, Erik Ustruck hired Marc Skinner as the club’s second ever head coach. Sermanni was fired after a late-season skid saw the Pride drop out of second place, below the playoff line, and eventually to a seventh-place finish.
The Pride need to be making the playoffs, and Skinner looks like the man to make that happen. So what exactly needs to change? Below are my top three things that Skinner needs to make happen in his first year.
Play Marta at the 10
One of the biggest complaints from 2018 is that Marta was not in the midfield. The Brazilian was on the attacking line and had trouble getting the ball at her feet. When you have one of the best players in the world, she needs to get on the ball. Moving Marta from forward to midfield will immediately make the team more threatening. She will have the ball at her feet and will be able to work her magic.
The midfield will be more clustered as opponents try to take away the room that Marta has to work, and we can expect her to be double teamed often. This will free up Alex Morgan and the other forwards. They should have more room to work up top, as the opposition will put most of its focus on the midfield and stopping Marta.
Provide Better Service to Morgan
Morgan has proven herself to be a goal scorer in every place that she has ever played. So, why then did she have difficulty finding the back of the net with the Pride last year after a productive 2017? Because she regularly was given poor service.
The U.S. Player of the Year works best with one or two touches. Sure, she can take players on when necessary, but to get the best out of her, the ball should be played out wide and put in with a cross for her to bury or the right through ball can be played for her to run onto.
Last season, this was not happening. Oftentimes the build-up was too slow, so the opposition had time to recover. A ball would often be played into the area without accuracy, and Morgan could not get on the end of it or her runs were ignored or not anticipated, leading to offside calls.
Skinner should work on playing one- and two-touch soccer. The ball should be played quickly on the counter, and crosses need to be better than they were in 2018.
The Pride will also need to make the most of Morgan’s minutes because the USWNT star will be missing considerable time in 2019 due to World Cup preparation, as well as the tournament itself — and should the U.S. win it all, there will likely be an effort from U.S. Soccer to capitalize on the team’s popularity with some kind of victory tour of friendlies as well.
Make the NWSL Championship
This should go without saying, but the Pride need to contend for an appearance in the final. This team is too talented, and the goal should be to win the league. At the end of the year, all that matters is how the Pride finish. If Orlando misses the playoffs, or even loses in the first round of the postseason, the season will be considered a failure.
It will be a big task for Skinner in his first year, but it’s something that must be accomplished. The first two points will help get the Pride to the final, but it needs to be a complete team effort.
Who will step up during the World Cup? Dani Weatherholt and Rachel Hill cannot do it all on their own, and all players on the roster need to do their part. It seemed like Sermanni was unable to get the best out of his players. If Skinner fails at that too, then it will be another long season.