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Orlando Pride Focusing on Positive Start to 2019

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Marc Skinner’s vision for the Pride will take time to develop.

Scott Carnevale, The Mane Land

It is officially under a month until the Orlando Pride kick off their 2019 NWSL season. This year will look different than any other year for Orlando for two main reasons. There is a new coaching staff, and this summer is the 2019 Women’s FIFA World Cup. Luckily for the Pride, both of those facts go hand-in-hand.

Marc Skinner is working with the Pride on his system. It is a style of play that is going to be very possession oriented while trying to dictate what the opposition does. Orlando finished the 2018 season averaging 51% possession with 4,178 passes per game. Of those passes, only 43% went forward.

Those stats are not at all poor. However, the disclaimer here is that the Pride only had a 64% passing accuracy in the opponent’s half. Being unable to move the ball well in scoring areas is a big reason why the Pride finished in seventh place and players like Alex Morgan were starved of service. Getting to the level that Skinner wants will take time, and will likely not cause a perfect start to the season.

“We have to be patient,” Dani Weatherholt said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. But we definitely want a winning culture, so we definitely plan at the start of the season to start strong.”

Being patient is something that Skinner stressed at the Orlando Pride Media Day, on Thursday. With such a significant change in the style of play, the Pride might struggle at times, especially at the beginning of the season. Orlando plays against the defending NWSL champion North Carolina Courage next week in a preseason game and it will give the coaching staff a great idea of how far the Pride are from where they need to be.

Skinner will also have to work hard with his players who will not be leaving for the World Cup. There will likely be seven players called up to their national teams for the World Cup: Ashlyn Harris, Alex Morgan, Shelina Zadorsky, Marta, Emily van Egmond, Alanna Kennedy, and Chioma Ubogagu. Camila is also a strong candidate to be selected by Brazil.

Weatherholt is likely going to be one of those players who will need to step up. She has 44 starts with the Pride, and now she will need to step into a leadership role and mentor the younger players. Everywhere she plays, Weatherholt is praised by her coaches, and her work ethic will need to rub off on the rest of the squad.

“When they leave I’ll definitely have to step up,” Weatherholt said. “This is my fourth year here, I’ll have to become a leader on the field. That is something that I am looking forward to.”

Rachel Hill and Haley Kopmeyer two more players who need to step up. Barring something unforeseen, Kopmeyer will be the starter when Harris is out. She filled in wonderfully last season when called upon, and the Pride will need those performances again.

If the players mentioned above all get called up, Hill will be the only striker on the roster. Kristen Edmonds and Danica Evans could play up top as well, and Orlando will likely bring in a few new faces, but Hill will still be expected to make a big step up. She has gained a reputation as a super sub but has not had the same effect when starting.

The Pride, of course, want to make the playoffs, and this season will see the extent of the team’s depth. Skinner brings a new style and a new culture to Orlando. It is just a matter of time now to see if that will result in more wins.