The Orlando Pride are currently sitting in last place in the NWSL and have yet to win a game this season. The Pride have scored just twice this season — both from set plays, both from center backs. Orlando also has the worst goal differential, the fewest goals scored, and has yet to secure a point at home.
Despite these statistics, Head Coach Marc Skinner is happy with the direction of the team. The new coach knows that the results are not where they should be, but after Saturday’s 3-0 loss to the North Carolina Courage, he spoke highly of where his team is heading.
“The first goal is really important, and we haven’t taken our opportunities, but I’ll keep working, and I’ll keep working, and when it works, you’ll go through all of this that we have to face now and guys, I’m not going anywhere,” said Skinner. “I don’t give up on anything, and my players will never give up on anything. I’m going to make sure that this team is something that you can be proud of and for the first time in this club’s history is thinking about the longevity of the club rather than a smash, bang, let’s grab something and run, and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to give them a youth team, we’re going to give the players that want to play for this club and want to die for this club, and that’s my job, and I’m not going anywhere until that’s completed.”
Playing with youth is never easy, and yet is something that Skinner has to do this season. The Orlando Pride have nine players called up to international duty, and what’s left is a young and inexperienced team.
Five players have made their debut under Skinner — Erin Greening, Morgan Reid, Marisa Viggiano, Caitlin Farrell, and Joanna Boyles. The Englishman also gave Bridget Callahan her first NWSL start. Dani Weatherholt is the current captain of the squad and has only been in the league since 2016.
“We’re constantly working at making things better,” said Skinner. “We have zones where players should be scoring from – where players need to hit. And we’re working with six of our starting lineup today are babies in the league. We’ve given them their first starts, and they’re consistently playing.
“So, I just think it takes time. I’m actually really, really pleased with the effort they’re giving. They’re not letting their heads drop, it just needs a matter of time. We’re giving them an opportunity to play in the best league, so they’re going to make mistakes and we need to make sure that we’re focusing to fix those to win in the future.”
The important message here is that mistakes will happen. Young and inexperienced players will make mistakes in the NWSL. And that is OK. While it is ugly right now, and this season will be long and painful, young players with the correct attitude, work ethic, and focus will make the team better in the long term.
So, perhaps it is better that the World Cup is this year. It could be a blessing in disguise because Skinner gets to work closely with those younger players that are the foundation of the team. Players like Greening, Viggiano, and Elinsky likely would have been seeing limited, if any, game time if the international players were with the team. And that would have severely hurt the young players’ development.
“It’s very frustrating with what we were left — and I’ll leave it at that,” said Skinner. “So the situation that we were left, and you’ve got all these young kids coming into our team that are breathing the breath; they’re defining the badge. Because they want to be here, they want to fight for this badge. And once you have that, the quality that we have with our international players, they come in and they sprinkle on a hardworking foundation. Without that, you build the castle on sand, and I’m not doing that. I’ll face the hard part, and I’ll build it effectively, and it will take time, and then you will have a real team that Orlando can get behind.”
After Saturday’s game, Skinner repeatedly said that he is here the long-term success. He is not worried about the struggles right now and is looking forward to giving players new opportunities. There will be self-inflicted wounds, but he will continue to work with what he has to create a winning team.
“Everybody can hate me,” Skinner said. “It’s fine. They can say it’s my fault. Tactics this, tactics that. Everything’s all well and good when you manage a team on a computer. For me, in real life, when you’re dealing, and you’re dealing with real people that don’t have the experience they need and basic understanding — I’m going to swallow it, and I’m going to make sure they know what they’re doing. That’s my job. And that’s the hardest part of the job. But it’s the thing I love the most. I’ll take all the flack. You can hate me. ‘Sack Skinner,’ blah, blah, blah, whatever. I’m not going anywhere. Because this team believes in what we’re doing and I believe in what we’re doing, and we’re going to make sure we get to where we need to be.”