The Orlando Pride take on the Portland Thorns tomorrow after starting off the season by taking four out of six available points. Orlando has been impressive to start the season. In fact, this is the Pride’s best start to a season in franchise history. Orlando is 1-0-1 and is undefeated through the first two matches of the season for the first time.
Orlando has finally had some consistency in its lineup. Marc Skinner has not been forced to make drastic changes because of international duty as in years past. Instead, the Pride have had a similar starting XI each game since the start of the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup, and the team has gotten better because of it.
Portland is a different challenge, though. This will be the Pride’s toughest opponent in the early season. The Thorns are the favorites to win the league and went undefeated in the Challenge Cup.
What needs to happen for the Pride to win? Below are three keys to victory for Orlando:
Keep Defending Well
The Pride have done well on the defensive end this year. Orlando limited North Carolina to one goal in two games (NWSL regular season and Challenge Cup). This is the first time that the Pride have not allowed more than one goal in a game through the first two matches. Phoebe McClernon has been stellar at center back, and the Pride goalkeepers have made some great saves.
This excellent defense will need to continue tomorrow. Portland has scored the most goals in the league — double the next highest (Orlando). Sophia Smith and Christine Sinclair each have two goals, while Morgan Weaver has two assists. The Pride will need to force Portland into difficult shooting positions. The Thorns may get shots off, but ideally, they will be from distance and tough angles.
Keep Alex Morgan Scoring
The Pride are so much more than just Morgan. The roster rebuild that the front office has been pursuing the past few years is paying off, and this roster is loaded with talent.
But Morgan’s two goals in two games have been vital in Orlando’s undefeated start. If Morgan can continue this streak, it will force the opposition to pay closer attention to her. When that happens, Orlando’s attack will become even stronger. This will give players like Sydney Leroux and Taylor Kornieck more time on the ball and more space. Kornieck is still young and has much to learn. She has shown she can play at this level, though. Leroux has a proven track record and is a veteran. Give her space, and she will make defenses regret it.
Hit on the Counter
Skinner has talked multiple times this year about the NWSL being a transition league. This is especially true against strong attacking teams like Portland.
Orlando will sit back a bit more and try to close the spaces. The Pride have been successful at this so far this calendar year. They are lacking the next piece.
After the Pride win back the ball, they need to make sure to connect on the counter. This worked perfectly in the season opener. McClernon played a long ball over the top, and Morgan finished. All goals might not be this direct, but Orlando will need to look to hit quickly after winning the ball back.