The Orlando Pride had a goal of winning the NWSL championship last season. After a strong start, the Pride could not keep it up and ended the season in seventh place. As a result, Orlando fired Tom Sermanni and then hired Marc Skinner as the team’s second-ever head coach. On Monday, Skinner got to work with his team for the first time.
“It was the most amazing feeling,” Skinner said. “I thought it would be this special when I first got the job. I kind of knew that when I came to America that we would have the energy. Now it’s almost that I need to refine the energy and channel it in the right direction. I couldn’t have asked for a better work ethic from the group today. You can just see that they’re buzzing. It’s one of those moments that make me smile so I’ll have to digest that this afternoon.”
To start the preseason, the Pride once again were missing a few key faces. Alex Morgan, Ashlyn Harris, Marta, Chioma Ubogagu, Alanna Kennedy, Emily van Egmond, and Shelina Zadorsky are all with their respective national teams and Camila has yet to arrive, although she is expected soon. While their absences were definitely noticed, perhaps it is a good thing for the team to start the year without them.
Last year, Marta, Kennedy, Morgan, Leroux, and Ubogagu combined to score 21 of the Pride’s 30 goals. All five players could miss a large portion of the season due to international duty and a pregnancy. Leroux, who is five months pregnant, was at training on Monday but did not participate in any contact drills.
“For me, I’m going to work with the players that are here,” said Skinner. “At Birmingham, we did the same; we had kids. My goalkeeper, who was 17 when she first came into the first team, she’ll go on to be an England international I’m sure. It’s just working with the people and getting the best out of them. I said when I first came here, the name of today might not be the name of tomorrow. So, who is the name of tomorrow?”
There were many younger players in training. Draft picks Marisa Viggiano, and Erin Greening experienced their first training session and Bridget Callahan and Abby Elinsky returned to the Pride as non-roster invitees. In total, there were 17 players in the first preseason session.
The big question, though, is are these players going to be good enough to make the Pride a better team? Skinner thinks so and is happy with how the team is looking right now. He wants to give his full attention to the players that are at training and is confident in their ability.
Still, that does not mean he is done looking for new players. While there will not be new signings at the moment, the roster buildup is not complete. Skinner could be waiting to sign some of his old Birmingham players, and wants to bring in “the right players.”
“There will be [plans to sign more players],” said Skinner. “One of the things I’m looking at is the European market. People are still in contract over there at the minute. So, it’s hard as their season is still going on. If I have to wait for the right people, I’ll wait for the right people.
“Equally, we’re identifying talent within this country that we want to make sure that we can bring in. It’s an ongoing process that we’re going to continue to work at.”
Within the team that was at training on Monday, it was evident that the leader on the field was Ali Krieger. In the past year, she took and completed the U.S. Soccer C License coaching course. She is going to be putting what she learned in the course to use to help out her Pride teammates.
“I want to be an extension of the coaching staff on the field, I hope,” Krieger said. “If I get that opportunity, then I’m ready to take it on. I hope to put the team on my back, push through the season, and win.”
The veteran defender is starting her third year with the Pride. She has made 44 appearances for Orlando, all starts, and will look to be a vital part of the Pride’s back line. At 34 years old, Krieger is the oldest player on the roster, but according to both her and Skinner, the defender has the body of a 25-year-old.
“I feel good,” said Krieger. “I’ve been training my ass off and really preparing for this day. I know this year is going to be really good and really tough for us. I wanted to come in and be fully prepared and fully fit and be a good example for the young ones coming in. It’s really important that I’m on the top of my game to really set the tone for the rest of the team.”
That leadership is going to be crucial, but Skinner is not just looking at Krieger to lead the team. He described a process in which there will be multiple leaders within the team and stressed that one person is not going to be able to lead this team to where it needs to get to.
The end goal for the Pride is, of course, to win the NWSL championship. To get there the initial work needs to start right now in preseason. There are undoubtedly vast differences between Sermanni and Skinner, and perhaps those differences could be what helps get the Pride to the next step.
“It’s just different,” said Krieger. “It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different — a certain mentality that hasn’t been instilled before that we’re excited about. It’s a breath of fresh air, you can say. With the new mentality and the new vision and direction that we’re going to go in. Obviously, with every coach it’s different. We’re just really excited to start fresh. Everyone is kind of on the same playing field, which is good and that motivates every single player here. That’s what’s probably the most exciting to us.”
Regardless of who is at the helm, the players are ready to go and happy that the season is starting. A common theme was the high level of energy among the players, and everyone is just excited to be back at work. The new season will arrive quickly, with opening day on April 14 against Portland, and the team will need to keep up this intensity up to start the season strong.