The Orlando Pride back line has had a strong, yet inconsistent start to the 2021 NWSL season. While the Pride defense has looked terrific at times, it’s been shaky in other games. However, the back line’s consistency should improve as the season goes on.
The Pride’s defensive unit is a mixture of young players and veterans. Ali Riley and Ali Krieger on the right side of the back line are in their 30s and have a lot of experience defending at a high level. Phoebe McClernon and Courtney Petersen on the left side are both 23 years old and are in their first full professional seasons.
It’s the first year that these four players have been on the same back line, which has created some inconsistency in performance over the first games of the regular season. While they’ve looked excellent in certain games, in others they’ve called upon the goalkeeper to keep them in contention.
Last week, the Pride back line was great against Kansas City, resulting in no shots on target for the opposition. That was followed up by yesterday’s draw with the Washington Spirit, where the defense probably should’ve conceded three times.
Fortunately for the defense, the team has Ashlyn Harris and Erin McLeod as options in goal. Both goalkeepers have already won NWSL Save of the Week this year and Harris will likely be nominated again after a stellar save in the first half in D.C.
While the back line has yet to show the consistency desired, Pride Head Coach Marc Skinner said it will come with time.
“For me, it’s about getting consistency,” Skinner said after the draw, “I’ve said that over the first 10 games it’s about consistency. And once you get that message about consistency into the group, then you can start to divulge into different areas, look at different ways of playing, and different people coming in because everybody has a bank of games of experience together.”
Either due to personnel changes or missing players to international tournaments, the Pride have yet to display a consistent back line since joining the NWSL in 2016. During the 2019 season, the team lost three defensive starters, with Krieger, Shelina Zadorsky, and Alanna Kennedy all representing their countries in the World Cup.
Since Skinner was hired in January of 2019, this year is the first time the Pride will have a consistent starting back line. However, Riley could represent New Zealand at the Olympics and it is possible that Krieger could be called up for the USWNT, although she hasn’t featured recently and the smaller Olympic roster size means that she’s not guaranteed a spot in Tokyo.
“We’ve never had that (consistency),” Skinner said. “So we’re going to do that and make sure that we’re in together, focused together, and we’re going to make sure that everybody’s focused on what needs to be done in that back line.”
Skinner added that the back line needs to improve and will with time.
“What we’re asking our defenders to do is to be more composed and more focused,” Skinner said. “They’re just going to get these games together. It’s consistency in defending. It’s the first time we’re able to put a consistent back line out.”
Skinner’s insistence is understood by his defensive leaders. Following the team’s 1-1 draw with the Spirit yesterday afternoon, center back Krieger echoed some of Skinner’s comments.
“Most importantly we need to take care of ourselves,” Krieger said. “Our mentality and our knowledge in the back line of communication and staying consistent, connecting our passes and pressure, cover, balance so that we tidy up and keep our line really tight and compact at times. Sometimes we get stretched and teams are trying to pull us apart here and there to find little holes in and around Phoebe and I. As long as we stay compact, stay together, and communicate well, I think we’ll continue to be successful.”
The play of the back line has been inconsistent this year, with stellar performances followed up by gaps in the back, and sometimes that has even been the case within the same game. However, the Pride have a consistent back four for the first time. With more time together, the defensive unit will continue to improve and could lead the Pride to their first playoff appearance since 2017.