As some of you may know, I sell cars when I’m not writing or podcasting for The Mane Land. One thing I’ve learned over the years, in business and in my personal dealings, is that setting realistic expectations can lead to a more productive and satisfying life. That isn’t to say one can’t set some stretch goals, but if you approach work or in this case soccer with a more honest set of eyes, you’ll find you’re not disappointed nearly as much.
Once the MLS figured out their business and we knew there would be a season, I thought I’d look ahead at the upcoming season for both Orlando City and the Orlando Pride, and set my expectations accordingly. I’ll also include some stretch goals for both. I know that I presented a “hopeful” case two weeks ago, but it can be instructive to look at things again. I’m not necessarily changing my mind, but we do have more information now with various player moves, and so I thought it wouldn’t hurt to take another look.
As I mentioned in my previous article, making the playoffs should be a reasonable expectation for the Lions, and I am still of that opinion. This will be Oscar Pareja’s second year, and he doesn’t have to change the culture as he did in year one. Rather, he just needs to integrate the new guys into that culture. In fact, all he has to do is maintain his expectations, and the players from last season will make sure the new guys know the deal.
This will allow time in the preseason for the club to be more focused on refining the style of play, rather than also installing the right mindset. What happens when a really tight group of players has more time together in a positive environment? They get even tighter. They start to know each other better. They know where the other guy wants the ball, and that he’ll make the expected run. We saw some of that last year, and I expect the players to be more polished this coming season.
My expectation is that Orlando City will make the playoffs. I also expect a decent run in whatever secondary competitions are played, like the U.S. Open Cup. I expect to see a more consistent club than last season, and fewer injuries due to a more normal schedule. The stretch goal for the Lions is obviously making the MLS Cup final.
With the addition of Racing Louisville FC, the total number of NWSL clubs stands at 10. As such, the playoffs have been expanded to the top six teams. We saw a little of what Marc Skinner is trying to accomplish during the 2020 NWSL Fall Series, despite several of his players being less experienced, short-term contract holders. Heading into 2021, he and new Orlando Pride GM Ian Fleming are finally building with players that may match Skinner’s system better.
The Pride are building a roster that mixes younger talent like Taylor Kornieck and Marisa Viggiano, with more experienced players like Sydney Leroux and Ashlyn Harris. The idea is that the entire core of the team isn’t gone when some players are called up for international duty.
I previously made a bold prediction that the Pride will make the playoffs. To be clear, I’m expecting the Pride to slide into that sixth spot, and it may take a couple of breaks to make it happen. The way I see it, this club is due for some of those breaks. The stretch goal will be any playoff position higher than sixth, and making it past the first playoff match.
The good thing and the bad thing about contributing to The Mane Land is that there is a record of my predictions. Here’s hoping my realistic expectations are exactly that.