The Orlando Pride ended their wretched recent run of results with a hard-fought win over the Houston Dash. It was a win, that for long stretches of the game, looked like it might not come. For all of Orlando's positive possession and ingenuity, they just couldn't seem to find a way to break down Houston's miserly defence.
The sense of relief, when Kylie Strom's header took a knick off of Ali Prisock and squirmed into the net, was palpable. It was no less than the Pride deserved. The team put together their most accomplished performance of the season in this game, building off of their encouraging performance in Daytona. There was a lot for Seb Hines to be pleased with, that's for certain.
Playing through the press
This was one of the most pleasing aspects of Orlando's performance for me. At times this season, they've just looked so nervous on the ball. It's something that Erin McLeod touched on after the game; I asked her if the team had been working much on playing through the press and she told me 'we've been working on it, but I've got to give props to Seb, who said we looked afraid on the ball. Soccer is a game and you have to enjoy it'.
The fruits of their labour were definitely on show against Houston, as Orlando negotiated Houston's press rather comfortably. The commanding presence of Erin McLeod in goal, noticeably filled the back 4 with confidence. Each member of the back 4 seemed exuberant and relaxed when in possession, which allowed Orlando to build out attacks from the back.
Of the starting back 4, only Megan Montefusco had less than an 80% pass success rate. Even then, it was still a very respectable 78%. The back 4 distributed the ball well and broke lines with their passing (figure 1). The work of Jordyn Listro and Vivianna Villacorta definitely helped Orlando to play through the press. They would drop just in front of the back 4, opening up passing lanes and playing little triangles to negotiate Houston's press.
Figure 1 shows the pass positioning matrix for the whole back five, whole 90.
Just generally, in possession, Orlando looked so much more accomplished. The Pride completed 81% of their passes and led in every major passing statistic (figure 2). Central to that was the irrepressible Vivianna Villacorta. Her movement and ability to drift between lines meant she was always open for a pass. She also carried the ball exceptionally well, completing 4 of her 5 dribbles (figure 3). She was excellent at creating space, drawing players out of position and creating opportunities for her teammates.
Villacorta was so positive and intelligent with her passing. She was constantly looking for opportunities to pass the ball forward, but also chose the percentage pass when it was required (figure 4). Jordyn Listro certainly anchored the midfield a lot more, which gave Villacorta the freedom to get on the ball and make something happen, safe in the knowledge her tenacious teammate was behind her.
The forward line was also very fluid, which made it difficult for Houston to track their movements and always ensured there were players available to receive the ball. This was definitely the best Orlando have looked with the ball, for sure.
Figure 2 shows Orlando's (left) passing statistics on the night.
Figure 3 shows some of Vivianna Villacorta's key statistics, whole 90.
Figure 4 shows Vivianna Villacorta's pass positioning matrix, whole 90.
At times this season, Orlando's press has been disjointed and haphazard. Not to mention inconsistent. That was not the case in this game. When Houston played the ball out from the back, Orlando were straight onto them, pressing 4 at a time and trying to cut off the passing lanes (figures 5 & 6). This stopped Houston from ever being able to get anything moving from the back.
Figure 5 is a game still from the first half.
Figure 6 is a game still from the first half.
The Orlando native came back into the side as a left sided centre back and had a superb game. There were several strong performances, but Lawrence's 2 last ditch tackles nicked it for her. She looked composed on the ball, aside from a shaky start. Positionally she was excellent and she led by example. Lawrence completed 4 clearances, 1 interception and 10 recoveries. She had a pass success rate of 84%. Top performance.
McLeod -7- Didn't have a whole lot to do, but commanded the area well.
Celia -7- Accomplished performance defensively, also offered an outlet in attack.
Montefusco -7- Calm and composed.
Lawrence -8- Excellent performance in an unfamiliar left centre back role.
Strom -8- Seems to grow in confidence every game.
Dougherty-Howard -6- Flitted in and out. Replaced at the interval.
Villacorta -8- Very composed on the ball.
Listro -7- Broke up attacks well.
Abello -6- Unfamiliar position. Worked hard, but didn't have a huge impact.
Tymrak -7- Was in and out of the game, but played some key passes.
Jenkins -7- Led the line well.
Cluff -6- Never really going.
Washington -7- Provided energy late on.
Petersen -7- Made a few great runs.
Kim -6- Came on with a minute to go.
Acting Orlando Pride Head Coach Seb Hines:
“I think the players understood today that winning is hard. It is hard work and it was a collective effort. They had a real grit and determination on and off the ball. Houston causes some problems, like we had to try and figure it out. They clogged the middle and the areas that we like to exploit. We had to get some thinking at halftime about how we are going to create more goal scoring opportunities. We deserved a goal. It was a lucky goal, but we deserved it. We deserved to win last week and we deserved to win this week. A little bit of luck went on our side. Overall, I can’t talk about the players enough and say how well they did. The players that came on made a difference and they understand that it is a collective effort. It is not just individuals, it is a team.”
Cover image courtesy of Orlando Pride.
Top player image courtesy of Orlando Pride.
B-roll and post match media availability footage courtesy of Orlando Pride.