The Orlando Pride got off their best start in team history this year with a seven-game unbeaten streak (4-0-3). It appeared as though the team would cruise to the postseason for the second time since joining the National Women’s Soccer League in 2016. But the Pride’s current two-game losing streak has them sitting on the outside looking in at a playoff spot.
So what has gone wrong with the Pride? Despite being as healthy as they’ve been all year, there are multiple issues that have resulted in their recent slide. Here are four takeaways from the last two games that have seen the Pride dip below the red line.
Worst Defensive Performances of the Season
Early in the season, the Pride’s defense was the primary reason why they sat at the top of the standings. The back line didn’t give up multiple goals until the eighth game. Heading into the team’s game with OL Reign two weeks ago, they had only given up multiple goals in five of 19 matches.
That strong defense has disappeared during the team’s two most recent performances. They gave up three first-half goals in Tacoma, WA in a game in which they were dominated by the Reign. They followed that by conceding another three goals Saturday night at home against NJ/NY Gotham FC, a team that sat just behind them in the standings.
Fans of the club will remember the 2018 season when Orlando City made a habit of allowing multiple goals in quick succession. The Pride have found that to be a problem during the past two games. There’s a big difference between a two- and three-goal deficit, which was evident Saturday night when the team’s late comeback came up just short.
Against OL Reign, the opposition’s 28th-minute second goal was immediately followed by a third in the 32nd minute. Gotham’s 47th-minute second goal Saturday night was followed by a third in the 50th minute. Those quick scores move the game from within to out of reach in just a few minutes.
Through 21 games, the Pride have only scored three goals twice this season. So the chances of claiming points in a game in which they concede three times is slim to none. It’s a big reason why they’ve lost the last two games and are now in need of help to make the playoffs.
Lack of Offensive Production by Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux & Jodie Taylor
The Pride have one of the most enviable offensive squads, featuring Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux, Jodie Taylor, and Marta. These four players have carried the team to wins at multiple points throughout the season. But Morgan, Leroux, and Taylor have failed to deliver during the past two games.
Morgan and Leroux were the most important attacking players coming into this season. In the first four games, the pair scored all six goals — four by Morgan and two by Leroux. When Morgan left for the Olympics, Leroux kept up the offensive output, leading the team with three goals.
Following Morgan’s departure, the Pride brought in English international striker Jodie Taylor. After getting used to her new team, Taylor appeared to be the player the Pride needed, scoring in back-to-back games against the Chicago Red Stars and Portland Thorns. However, her name hasn’t been on the scoresheet in the last six games.
The trio were rarely involved in the attack against OL Reign. In fact, the first real chance by any of the three came in the 51st minute, when the Pride were already down 3-0. While Morgan’s shot was blocked, Leroux had one blocked and one right at the goalkeeper. Meanwhile, Taylor didn’t come close to scoring.
The attacking trio was better Saturday night against Gotham, but was still unable to convert. Morgan’s best chance came in the 12th minute when she created enough space in the box to get a shot off. But it was a little too close to Kailen Sheridan, who was able to palm it away.
In the 53rd minute, Leroux received a long ball to the left of goal, did well to create a shot, but hit it right at Sheridan. The best shot by the three came in the 64th minute when Taylor sent a curling ball toward the far post that rolled just wide.
Leroux and Morgan lead the team in goals this season with eight and five, respectively. Together, the trio have scored 15 of the team’s 26 goals. Marta has added another four, meaning that only seven goals have been scored by other players, and four of those have come from Erika Tymrak and Taylor Kornieck, who have netted two each.
Marta has been able to find the back of the net in two of the team’s last three games, but the other three have to find a way to contribute if the Pride want to qualify for the playoffs.
Slow Starts Still a Problem
Arguably the biggest problem for the Pride this season has been their slow start in matches. In four of the team’s seven losses, they’ve conceded goals inside the first 10 minutes. Two other losses included opposing goals in the 18th and 26th minutes.
It’s been worse for the Pride over the past two games, conceding opening goals inside the first three minutes. Before they’ve been able to create some sustained possession, they’ve already been trailing.
This has been an issue that has occurred periodically this season and hasn’t gotten past the players or coaching staff.
“It’s been a little bit of a pain where we’re struggling to start our game strong,” Meggie Dougherty Howard said after the team’s 1-1 draw against Houston on Sept. 5. “I think that’s going to be a real focal point going forward as we make this playoff push.”
The team responded well in the following game, keeping Racing Louisville off the scoreboard until the 51st minute, when the Pride were already up 2-0. But the team conceded in the third minute in the following game against the Reign and again on Saturday night against Gotham.
“When we’re chasing the game and we’re pressing, we get two back and so it’s like, why don’t we just press right from the beginning?” Pride interim head coach Becky Burleigh said Saturday night. “But then, obviously, you give up something when you press right from the beginning too. You get stretched out a little bit, and I think, whatever it is, we just have to do it together in a disciplined manner.”
Figuring out an identity early in a game and starting better is crucial for the Pride to finish the final three games strong.
The Pride got off to a great start this year, but fell steadily down the standings in the weeks before the departure of former coach Marc Skinner. The team climbed back into contention under Burleigh but after this recent slide the Pride now sit a point outside of the playoffs having played one more game than the three teams in front of them. These three takeaways from the last two games are primary reasons why they’re in their current position and must change if they have any hope of a postseason appearance.