The Orlando Pride kick off their season in just under two weeks. It has been a long off-season, highlighted by the change of coaching staff. So far, the hiring of Marc Skinner has only been seen as a positive piece of business, and all the players seem to be looking forward to the season with a fresh outlook.
The Pride played North Carolina in a friendly a few weeks ago and were shut out, losing 4-0. Skinner’s starting XI could likely be his ideal starting XI, although with the World Cup this summer, the Englishman will not have all those players available for most of the season.
So, what should you expect from this team?
This is a team that looks remarkably similar to last year. That team, of course, came in seventh place and lost its season finale to Sky Blue, which was the New Jersey side’s only victory of the year.
Below I list out my bold prediction for the 2019 season. Be sure to comment below on what you agree with, or how far off you think I am.
Rachel Hill Will lead Orlando in Scoring
I made this same prediction before the 2018 season, and I was very wrong. Hill finished with four goals last season, which tied for the third-most with Chioma Ubogagu and Marta. Last year, I thought Hill would lead the team in scoring because of her promising rookie season and strong W-League season.
The story is much the same this year. Hill had another strong NWSL season in 2018 and was even better in Australia this winter. Additionally, she will have to take on a much more significant role with the World Cup impacting the season. The other players that found the back of the net last season were Alanna Kennedy (2), Alex Morgan (5), Christine Nairn (1), Dani Weatherholt (2), Kristen Edmonds (1), Marta (4), Sydney Leroux (6), Toni Pressley (1), and Ubogagu (4).
Of those nine players, Leroux is pregnant and will miss the season (or at the very least, most of it), Nairn is now on the Houston Dash, and Kennedy, Morgan, Marta, and Ubogagu are all likely to be called up to their respective national teams. Hill had the same amount of goals as the other four players combined, and I expect her goal total to at least double in 2019.
The one caveat to this is that while Hill did exceptionally well off the bench, she tended to struggle when she started. She earned the “super sub” distinction, as when Hill came off the bench she brought an entirely new energy and lifted the team. She did not have the same effect when starting, and if the Pride are going to be successful, she will need to be able to play 90 minutes every week.
The Pride will Have the Best Passing Accuracy in Team History
Skinner has continuously said that his team will play a possession-based style of soccer. This is great to hear. Orlando slipped to fifth in the league in passing accuracy (excluding crosses) last year (71.6%) after leading the NWSL in that category in 2017 (78.3%). The 2017 season was much better than any other year to date, and, coincidentally, is the one year Orlando made the playoffs.
The Pride has averaged more possession than its opposition every year, but not by much — 52% in 2016, 53% in 2017, and 51% last season.
Orlando will finish the season with its highest totals in both categories. Passing accuracy will be above 80%, and possession will be around 58%. Will this lead to more goals and wins? That remains to be seen.
The Pride Will Reach the NWSL Championship…and Lose to North Carolina
Here’s how I think the top of the standings will look at the end of the season:
I think that Skinner will get this team playing well. The off-field cohesion is already there, and the on-field chemistry is on its way. It will take some time to get the team playing how Skinner wants, but the end product will be better than how the Pride looked under Tom Sermanni.
I think that Orlando will play much better than in previous years and will get the results to match. With a few more additions to cover for the international players — likely at least one from Birmingham City — the Pride will have an excellent team.
With that being said, it will not be easy, and there will be many close games. The beginning of the season, in particular, will be a bit rough — the schedule is difficult and the Pride will need time to jell in the new system — but the team will continue to improve every week. Orlando will make its first championship game, but once again nobody will beat the Courage.