We’re just a month out from the Orlando Pride’s 2019 NWSL season opener against the Portland Thorns and the team held its annual preseason Media Day event at Orlando City Stadium. The event featured a press conference with Pride GM Erik Ustruck and Head Coach Marc Skinner, with six players made available to the media in a roundtable format.
The players who spoke to media members today were almost all internationals, with former USWNT automatic selection Ali Krieger being the only player of the six not currently involved in her national team setup. The five current internationals were Ashlyn Harris and Alex Morgan of the U.S., Alanna Kennedy of Australia, Marta of Brazil, and Chioma Ubogagu, who has recently been getting England call-ups.
The players unanimously lauded the atmosphere, attitude, and attention to detail that Skinner has brought to the Pride this preseason and seemed energized.
Here are the highlights from today’s event.
Ustruck/Skinner Press Conference
- Skinner said he was “over the moon” at being selected as the Pride’s head coach and said he was “proud and privileged to be here.”
- Initial interviews with players are nearly complete, as Skinner is finally getting to sit down with the international players who were late to arrive.
- The buzz around camp, according to Skinner, is “really, really something that energizes you as a person.”
- Skinner said he’s identified his targets and what his ideal team would look like, however, he said he’s still identifying the abilities of his players and giving players an opportunity to show what they can do.
- Although Skinner said Tom Sermanni is a wonderful person and is sure he’ll do well at New Zealand, he’s here to bring a new direction to the club and said he coaches to allow his players to make decisions on the field because they have to know what they’re doing even when they can’t hear the coach in hostile environments.
- Skinner spoke often of getting to know the players’ character, as well as treating the players as people first, and players second, regardless of whether they’re stars. He said he thinks of the players as he would if they were his daughters, and works with them to make them as successful as possible.
- Ustruck said he hasn’t yet spoken with club partner Wolfsburg on the women’s side. He said he’d like the Pride to explore options such as bringing them over during their preseason period or to look at potential player loan opportunities.
- Skinner, who has watched all of last year’s games, said the team was far off from performances last season but not far off in results. He stressed that there is some time involved in getting the team to play the way he wants it to play and that it might seem a bit high risk at first.
- Both Skinner and Ustruck said the team will play an attractive brand of football and the GM said he expects that will help bring more fans to the stadium.
- Skinner said the athleticism in the NWSL is massive but the transition part of the game could be better. “We have to re-educate players or just switch on their senses to do that. That’s what we’ll be doing in training.”
- “I’m 100 percent sure that our players will love how we’re asking them to play,” Skinner said. “But they have to be brave. If you want to do something different and you want success to come to Orlando then they’re going to have to be brave. And that’s how I will expect them to be. My job is to support them through that process.”
- Skinner said he’s not just here to coach players to win, but to improve as players.
- The idea of having North Carolina (on the preseason schedule) was to get the Pride up to speed in playing an NWSL team, said Skinner.
- “We will play fixtures that will challenge the players in different ways,” Skinner said of the preseason schedule. Ustruck said the full preseason schedule will be out in the next few days.
- Ustruck mentioned that the North Carolina game in preseason would give the club an opportunity to learn how far they still need to go to get to the level of the defending champs.
- Ustruck said the idea of a preseason invitational tournament would be difficult due to the MLS side having started its season but it’s something the club might look into if they can find the right location or if the stadium was available.
- Skinner said his team likes to play tactically and force the other team into playing a way in which is to Orlando’s advantage.
- Ustruck said Camila is still in Brazil because she’s working on getting her green card. Her interview was scheduled for today and she’s expected back by the weekend.
- There will be a recognized Orlando Pride supporters group this year, said Ustruck. He said he wasn’t at liberty to speak about it just yet, however.
- “There needs to be patience for this team to understand what we want them to do,” Skinner said. He added that he’s seen a desire from the players to buy into that.
- “I have to say that I’ve been blown away by Marc,” Harris said about her new coach. “I’m very, very impressed with what he has brought just in the short amount of time that I’ve met him.”
- Harris said the spark and enjoyment are back at training this preseason. “It’s like a breath of fresh air. This is a chance for people to start over and have new energy and a new opportunity.”
- Harris said Skinner demands excellence and is detail-oriented. “He’s very organized and very, very specific about things.”
- Harris said the international players are used to being in and out of the lineup but admitted this year would be challenging due to the time demands of the World Cup.
- Last year is in the past for Harris and she wants to focus all her energy on 2019 and not what didn’t work in 2018. “We have a fresh start and I want to enjoy that taste in my mouth.”
- “Marc is going to bring an element to this organization that people are going to be proud of and I’m excited to be on that train,” Harris said.
- Harris said that Skinner sent her video clips from every touch from every game with notes attached, he has drones flying overhead every practice to record the players, and he frequently texts with thoughts as they occur.
- Harris said that the feeling of unity hasn’t quite been there the last few years but that’s what Skinner is restoring in Orlando.
- Krieger said that players can only change the culture of a team by bringing their best and control their work ethic and attitude each day.
- “I think it’s so great to have somebody come in that makes every player feel like they’re the most important player,” Krieger said of Skinner. “I think that if we continue to create that positive atmosphere that will translate for sure on the field.”
- Krieger said last year the team played more individually than as a collective group and expects the opposite this year.
- Skinner creates an atmosphere where everybody feels important, said the veteran defender.
- “Little specific movements, footwork stuff, the way your body is angled, or the pace of your pass,” - Krieger on the details that Skinner notices and brings to the team.
- Skinner is “bringing the fun back into the game.”
- Krieger reiterated Skinner’s statements in the presser about treating each person individually based on their needs.
- “I don’t mind playing the underdog role,” she said. “If people think they’re going to come in here and it’s going to be easy-breezy, then good on them because we’re going to just crush it.”
- Having a new coach will be an advantage for the Pride because no one in the league is going to know what to expect from Orlando.
- “I like it here,” the Brazilian legend said. “I like the club. I like the atmosphere we have here. I like the city, the players. I think we have so much potential to [have] a very good season.”
- Marta said her first impression of Skinner was good. “I see the energy he brings to the training and the ideas he brings to the players [are] good.”
- Sermanni and Skinner are different. Skinner wants to keep the ball more and having the ball more means more opportunities to score.
- “It’s about how we work together when we have the ball and when we don’t have the ball,” Marta said of the team’s philosophy.
- Marta said players have to play hard and do their best for their club or they risk not being ready when called up to the national team. So there is no benefit in taking things easy with the club side to stay healthy for the World Cup.
- When asked if she would continue to play internationally after this World Cup, Marta responded, “Let’s live day after day, you know?” She said if she feels good with her club and her teammates she can continue to do so with Brazil, too.
- Marta said she was a little sad to see Monica and Poliana leave the club and hopes that they find a good new club to play for because that’s also important for the Brazilian national team.
- When asked if she had any goals for the season, Marta replied, “Make more goals!”
- Marta said Skinner’s system allows the freedom to roam and feel the game, so that she can play as both a midfielder and a forward, moving to spaces wherever she’s needed. “Not whatever I want,” she laughed, “but to produce good for the team.”
- “I’m just eager to be coached by [Skinner], and for him to just implement his style, and for us to apply that in games,” Morgan said.
- Morgan said she was happy with Ustruck’s decision to bring in Skinner to take the job.
- “In previous years, just playing college teams is really difficult because that’s a hard gauge to see on like where we are in terms of how ready we are for the season,” Morgan said of the preseason. “So going in and playing North Carolina, obviously having them be the reigning champions from last year, it’s going to be just right away we’ll know what we still need to work on, where we are in terms of fitness, and in terms of Marc’s style being adapted by the team. So I’m really happy we’re making this trip.”
- The team not having a lot of turnover is a good thing, Morgan said.
- Morgan said the challenge for the Pride is the number of international players leaving for a big chunk of the season.
- Younger players can learn from the internationals’ professionalism and they have to be eager to learn.
- Morgan lauded France’s acceptance of women in sport as “exciting to see” and was glad to see the number of tickets sold for the World Cup games.
- “I’m hopeful that we look very organized and have clear direction,” she said.
- Morgan said she was impressed with Ustruck and his ability to bring in someone like Skinner.
- She said she feels there’s still room for her to learn and grow as a player and she’s looking forward to Skinner helping her do that.
- “I really like his direction and his philosophy,” Kennedy said of Skinner. “It’s something that’ll make all of us better, hopefully, as a collective.”
- Kennedy talked about having surgery “thrown in there” during a six-week break. She said she’d played about 80 games in the previous 12 to 18 months. She said she’s now feeling good and is excited to be back in Orlando.
- “When you’re in a positive environment, your well-being is taken care of, that’s when you’re able to thrive on the field,” she said. “I’ve loved every minute of the couple days I’ve been here.”
- Kennedy said she thinks that with the style of play Skinner will have, she’ll be able to play both midfield and defense. She said she loves her midfield role but also loves her role on defense with Australia, because that’s where the team needs her and she can thrive there.
- Kennedy noted the team has always had the personnel to succeed but needed to have more of an identity.
- “To know your role and to know what’s expected of you every minute is important and that’s something Marc will bring with his experience and his personality,” she said.
- “You don’t really” get used to all the international travel, Kennedy said. But she added that it’s helpful when you have people in place to take care of you, as the Pride have.
- When asked what kind of Chioma Ubogagu the Pride are getting back, as opposed to the one who left to go play in Australia at the start of the off-season, she replied, “I think just someone who understands even more now the definition of being a professional.”
- She said she learned more about recovery, watching film, and working on details while playing in Australia.
- Ubogagu said that coming in from overseas, she was expected to be an impact player in the W-League, and that challenged her and she learned how to deal with pressure.
- Having three nationalities — English, American, and Nigerian — she said all three are very important to her and she feels connected to all three and they combine equally to make her who she is.
- “That experience to put on the England kit and represent the Lionesses is something I’ll never forget,” she said of her time with the England national team.
- Ubogagu said she got the call on her birthday that she’d be getting her first call-up to England and it was the best birthday gift ever.
- She said her national team coach, Phil Neville, texts the whole team and he told her to train hard this preseason.
- Ubogagu said she met with Skinner yesterday. She said he’s very intelligent and noted that he showed her an iPad with screen shots and detailed notes on it.
- “I think everyone has been really impressed with training sessions and the detail and energy,” she said “[Skinner is] always saying ‘brains over brawn.’ He wants us to make sophisticated decisions with the ball.”
- “I don’t want to label myself a leader because I think I’m learning every day,” she said.
- “Last year, if we’re going to be frank [the North Carolina Courage] killed everyone in the league. They scored the most goals. I think they had the fewest goals against. They had this confidence, this swagger on the field that you weren’t going to touch them when you’re on the field,” Ubogagu said. “So I think that’s awesome that one of our first preseason games is going against the defending champions. We’re going to see what we’re about early on in the preseason. It’ll be really cool to see how we adapt and how we come out against a team like that.”
- Ubogagu said she wanted to help with the game so she became the players union representative for the Pride. She said her main job was to bring information back to the club so the players had a voice on things like, for example, when the league would break for the World Cup.