The Orlando Pride begin their 2021 campaign in the NWSL Challenge Cup this Saturday at Racing Louisville. Given how little we saw of the Pride last year, and the fact the preseason matches were closed, there’s plenty to look forward to seeing as the Pride take the field again.
Back Line Play
Let’s face it, in the past the Pride have had a pretty porous defense. The back line has been a weakness of the club for quite a while, and it’s still a question mark for 2021. Yes the Pride have a top keeper in Ashlyn Harris, but even when she’s stands on her head, she can’t stop everything. Ali Krieger will most likely play center back and anchor the new line. Doubling the number of defensive players named Ali is Ali Riley (there’s also an “Ally” in Ally Haran). Add to the mix Phoebe McClernon, Carrie Lawrence, Courtney Peterson, and Toni Pressley,and the Pride might be able to put together a defense that could do enough to help rather than hurt the club. In our interview with Riley on The Mane Land PawedCast, she expressed her belief that the defense has improved, and that Marc Skinner wants whole team defending. Of course, that means he also wants to play a higher line for the defense. There’s nothing wrong with that, so long as the defense is able to recover on the counter. My questions are simple. What will the new defense look like, and will it be better enough to get results for the Pride?
Generating (and Finishing) Chances
The Pride will be without Alex Morgan due to international duty, which is unfortunate given that in addition to giving up too many goals previously, the club also had some difficulty scoring them. Sydney Leroux had to rightly take some time off when her children got COVID-19. Fortunately, all are on the mend, but that is still time away. I have confidence that Sydney will be able to contribute goals, it just depends on how long it takes. Obviously, Marta is always a goal-scoring threat, plus Taylor Kornieck will be a threat to contribute, and goals have come from Marisa Viggiano and Chelsee Washington lately. The first match against expansion side Racing Louisville is the best opportunity for the Pride to get points in the competition.
The Skinner System
I’ve said many times on this site and The Mane Land PawedCast that Marc Skinner has had to deal with more challenges as a coach than any I can remember. Most of his starters were away an extended time period for international duty his first year. A pandemic took his second year. Now, he heads into his third year, which in many ways is his first opportunity to show us what he’s been planning this whole time. The Pride have drafted players for his system. He’s had a lengthy preseason, and some limited matches through that time with first-team players. We’ve heard some nebulous descriptions of what that system is like and we perhaps started to see the true seeds of it in last year’s Fall Series. Other than a desire to build out of the back, it’s a bit unclear as to what a fully functioning Skinner system looks like. There simply haven’t been enough matches with any semblance of the first team lineup to get a good look at it.
Now, other than Alex Morgan and midfielder Gunny Jonsdottir being gone, he has the opportunity to show the NWSL, and all of us, what his vision looks like. I’m hoping that his and our patience is about to pay off.
Let me know how you’re feeling about the Pride and their chances as they kick things off this weekend.