On Sunday, 2,137 fans filled the west side of Orlando City Stadium. From the noise alone, it seemed as if the entire lower bowl was filled. If one didn’t know better, they might have thought it was a regular season match.
However, the Orlando Pride were playing against a completely unknown opponent, Puerto Rico Sol. Additionally, all the international players were away with their respective countries. And yet, the Pride came out and won 5-0, and it was a match that was quite unique.
Right from the opening kickoff, Orlando Pride midfielder Camila was running circles around the field. Literal circles. She started on the right midfield, moved to the attacking line, out to the left wing, back across the center of the field, and back to her original right midfield position. She then continued this movement for almost another complete revolution.
But while the Brazilian was making these movements, the shape stayed compact, and there was never anybody out of position. Sure, players were in different positions than they were in a few seconds prior, but the general 4-3-3 formation remained intact. This constant movement is something that Orlando Pride Head Coach Marc Skinner is intentionally sending his team out to do, and something that will continue all season.
“We work off principles, not positions,” said Skinner. “It’s about movement. We know that if somebody is in a static line, the only way you can really get away is through width and rotation through the middle. Plus, if I’m a player that’s receiving the ball and you expect me to be there, and somebody else appears, how do you deal with that? That’s what we’re trying to make the opposition think about, what they’re going to do.”
So, Skinner is looking to have his players constantly moving and shifting positions in an attempt to confuse the opponents. In theory, this is a fantastic idea. Carson Pickett moving from left back to midfield to forward and back to the left back all in a matter of moments should confuse everybody that is watching, let alone the opposition. The issue though, is will it also confuse the Orlando Pride players?
“I think it’s the language and psychology you use with the players,” said Skinner. “So, for example, if you tell a player to rotate to a right wing, they have a label of what a right winger is. If you say connect to the nearest player and work off the body positions — which is what we’ve been doing in training, constant work on repositioning, how to be, where you want the ball — you’ll find the human naturally adapts to the habitat that they’re in. So, you don’t actually have to say, ‘You need to be here, you need to be here.’ They naturally start to react. And the more they are together, the more they experience that, the better they are at it.”
The new head coach wants his players to be in the best position to receive the ball, not stuck to a single space on the field. If the play naturally takes the left back into the central midfield, good, they should go there. However, somebody else needs to fill that left back role and cover for the player that moved to a different spot on the field, and this is something that will take time.
In other words: Yes, it will confuse the Orlando Pride players — at least at first. This system is going to take time to develop and get the players comfortable in it. Skinner talked about the “longevity” of his players. He is looking for his players to grow and learn over the long-term and understands that the learning curve will not happen overnight.
It might take months or, more likely, into next season and beyond to become comfortable in what Skinner is trying to accomplish. But, the Englishman is also creating a new sense of unity and family among the players.
Even though the majority of the team remains the same from last season, Pickett said that there is a new culture in the team and “everyone is working more as a team.” Before training on Saturday, she used the word family, and noted that the players are working less as individuals and more as a collective unit.
“I think rotating in the game, you are there to help the team,” Pickett said after the Puerto Rico Sol game. “If you’re going inside, but maybe not getting the ball, you can’t get frustrated because it might open up someone else on the team. I think that not being super selfish is definitely a lot about this year. It’s making sure that whatever movement you’re doing doesn’t always open you, but it opens up someone else.”
This new system will take time. On Sunday, it will not be anywhere close to perfect, and the Pride may very well get hammered by a strong Portland team. But it will slowly improve, and the players will gradually become more comfortable in their roles. Results might be ugly at the beginning of the season, but the players’ reactions and how they adjust on the fly will be telling on how the system is developing.