Analysis: Kansas City Current (h).
These are exciting times for the Orlando Pride. I truly believe that. Amidst the hysteria (from some quarters) during the off-season, surrounding the mass player exodus, you could be forgiven for assuming this season was going to be a washout.
It still might be. I'm reticent to say that this is going to be a positive season for the Pride, particularly at this early stage. You'd have to be pessimistic in the extreme, however, not to see the positives in this team.
There's a splendid mix of youthful exuberance and maturity interwoven throughout the fabric of this squad. From the energy and dynamism of Leah Pruitt, Darian Jenkins and Sydney Leroux up top to the stoic and reliable presence of Erin McLeod in goal. This is a team that can win games of soccer in the NWSL.
The Current, admittedly, arrived in Orlando with a lengthy absentee list. This wasn't their strongest XI, but there was still plenty of quality in their line-up. The Pride were aggressive in the opening 15 minutes and probably should have edged themselves in front as Leah Pruitt and Sydney Leroux both went close early on. The Current came into the game more as the half wore on, but Orlando just about shaded it overall.
The second half wasn't quite as impressive, and it boils down to what Amanda Cromwell said throughout the Challenge Cup; the Pride need to put together 90 minute performances more consistently. The defence (particularly Courtney Petersen, who otherwise played well) went to sleep for both goals. Luckily the Pride were able to salvage a point, but the consistency needs to improve. Which, I do believe it will.
The energy in attack
I've said all along this season, this is a season of transition. This season is about building something with a strong foundation to potentially prop up future successes at the club. Part of that process is building a culture and an identity. The Pride are clearly taking their first tentative steps on that journey, and it's going to take time for them to reach their destination. I wouldn't expect success this season, at least in terms of silverware. I would, however, expect success in terms of ingraining Amanda Cromwell's philosophy in the very fabric of this squad.
Cromwell has often spoken about wanting to play with tempo, pushing the full-backs up and really taking the game to the opposition. A vital facet of the Pride's game plan is to win the ball high up the pitch, and not let the opposition settle on the ball. An excellent example of this came in the 23rd minute with aforementioned Pruitt chance. Pruitt harasses the KC defender and ends up fashioning a goal scoring chance for herself (figure 1).
This sort of intensity high up the field is a clear mantra for this Pride outfit; Pruitt, Darian Jenkins, Gunny Jónsdóttir and Leroux were constantly pressing in the final third and forcing turnovers in good areas up the pitch (figure 2). Kansas City were never really able to settle on the ball, which contributed to the Current's less than stellar pass success rate (71%). If you force turnovers and pressure teams high up the pitch, you're going to unsettle them and potentially have some joy with turnovers and recoveries.
It's not just from a defensive standpoint that the Pride's energy in forward areas is valuable, but also (obviously) from an attacking point of view. This team isn't afraid to hit the wide players and get bodies into the box, which we saw with the opening goal (figure 3).
Figure 1 is a clip showing Leah Pruitt's first half chance.
Figure 2 shows the recovery positioning matrix for Orlando's front 4.
Figure 3 is a game still showing he numbers Orlando had in the box for Gunny's goal.
Putting together a 90 minute performance
This isn't a new problem for the Pride, it's something the team are very conscious of, and something Cromwell has mentioned in her post match media availabilities on a number of occasions. For the KC equaliser the Pride back line allow too much time and space for the cross, and Petersen is caught napping at the back post (figure 4). Concentration dropped for a second, and then the game swung in KC's favour, allowing them to seize the initiative (figure 5). The Pride have to figure out a way to keep their concentration up for a full 90. This has to be the next step in their development as a team.
Figure 4 is a game clip showing the Current's equaliser.
Figure 5 shows how the game swung in the visitors' favour.
The never say die attitude
As Missouri's most famous export to the Sunshine State once said 'if you can dream it, you can do it'. And just like Walt Disney, the Pride were able to conjure up a bit of magic late on. The Pride didn't know they were beaten and kept going until the end, despite the set backs. Their spirit was truly commendable.
Pruitt is an absolute pest for defenders, as her defensive statistics emphasise; she made 3 recoveries, won 4 ground duels and 1 aerial duel. She doesn't allow defenders to settle on the ball, and forces them to play it. She was unlucky not to open her account for the season when she hit the woodwork from a tight angle after rounding the goalkeeper. Her close control and ability to hold up the ball led to her winning 3 free-kicks. Her teammates know they can get the ball up to her and it will stick.
McLeod -7- Made a few key saves.
Celia -7- Had a solid performance at right back, particularly when defending 1 v 1.
Lawrence -7- Another solid performance at centre back.
Pressley -7- Almost ripped the net off with that penalty.
Petersen -5- An overall decent performance, but went to sleep for both goals which was costly.
Montefusco -7- Again, read the game very well from midfield and broke things up.
Cluff -6- Started well but tailed off as the game went on.
Leroux -6- Typically robust performance.
Jónsdóttir -7- Another energetic performance and a well taken goal.
Jenkins -7- Full of running.
Pruitt -8- Has to be one of the first names on the teamsheet.
Strom -7- Continued her recent improvement.
Abello -6- Wasn't able to effect the game much.
Tymrak -6- Struggled to get into things.
Listro -6- Came on too late to do anything.
Kim -6- As with Listro, came in very late.
Orlando Pride Head Coach Amanda Cromwell:
“The first half I thought we played well. I thought we should have controlled the tempo more. We were hitting too many long balls, getting too stretched and I think wasting energy to be quite honest. I think you could see that energy that was wasted in the first half kind of come around in the second half with some tired legs and some knocks that we were just trying to protect…We need to be better with the seeing it out and being more condensed because we got way too stretched, but way to fight back. I thought Kylie [Strom] was great coming on. She had a shot that just got tipped over at the end and she earned that penalty so I was really happy for Kylie. Getting a point kind of feels frustrating because I thought we were in control of the game in the first half and should have finished some of the chances. I have to give Kansas City credit for the last 20 [minutes]. They made some subs that were dynamic and fast and you could see our defense was tired.”
Top player image and cover image courtesy of Orlando Pride.
Game footage courtesy of NWSL and the CBS Sports Network.