The Orlando Pride secured a valuable 1-0 victory against Kansas City to tighten their grip on first place. Whilst the scoreline might not be as glossy as many, including myself, would've been hoping, this was still a significant victory for Orlando. This was a game in which Orlando began to showcase their ability to assert themselves as protagonists in the NWSL. They looked very much like a team full of confidence, and one that's ascended to the league's summit. Crucially, they look a team that doesn't seem likely to relinquish that position anytime soon. The Pride missed chances to put the game to bed. Perhaps that was karma for the goal we actually 'scored' though. Spoiler alert, our goal was about as real as Casper the friendly ghost.
The Pride's 'goal' was eventually credited to Marta, following a header from a corner. Courtney Petersen's kick was headed goalwards by Alex Morgan, and Marta got the crucial touch which apparently sent it over the line. I say apparently, because I've yet to see any sort of angle where it looks like the whole ball crossed the line. Anyway, when your luck's in and all that, eh?
Phoebe McClernon and her importance to Orlando's ability to play out from the back
I've been waxing lyrical about Phoebe McClernon so far; a trend which is surely due to continue throughout the rest of the NWSL season. This is a player with a big future ahead of her, of that I am sure. She made 6 recoveries, during a game where she was put under barely any pressure by a lackustre attack. The emphasis, as far as McClernon's concerned, was on her ability to play out from the back and act as a springboard for Orlando's forays forward. Her long, raking, balls out of the backline are almost becoming a trademark.
If you examine the pass positioning matrix in figure 1, you'll see exactly what I mean. She was 10 from 19 in long balls into the opposing half, and 1 for 1 on balls into the opposing 18-yard-box. This particular pass led to Orlando winning a penalty. She provided Orlando with a different outlet, particularly as Kansas City's forwards chased and harried our backline. She posted an overall pass completion rate of 65.4% from 54 passes, with 19 of those being long passes into the opposing half (which obviously carry a higher risk factor, in terms of interceptions).
Figure 1 shows Phoebe McClernon's pass positioning matrix, whole 90.
The re-introduction of Marisa Viggiano
To be fair, this season has been something of a transitional one for Viggiano so far. For the majority of her collegiate career, and her first year as a pro in 2019 as an attacking midfielder or outside forward. So she's had to re-learn her role as a central midfielder. This is something that, I think, she's done remarkably well. And she demonstrated that against Kansas City. Her tackling was particularly impressive, she won 3 tackles (figure 2) and didn't concede a single foul. She also made a whopping 23 recoveries, as she helped to stifle the visitor's play in the centre of the park. Her defensive work was invaluable to this victory. Her ability to disrupt play allows Orlando to regain possession, and counter during moments of transition. She's also very useful in possession of the ball.
Marisa Viggiano is a player with a high soccer IQ and, crucially, a cool head. She got about the field well, with 66 touches of the ball, 49 passes and 1 key pass (figure 3). Viggiano busied herself in midfield and was a constant outlet for the full-backs to play the ball in-field. Viggiano was vitally important, in terms of Orlando keeping possession and not allowing Kansas City's midfielders to settle on the ball. Marc Skinner may have a decision to make, after leaving the tenacious Northwestern graduate out of the side in recent weeks.
Figure 2 shows Marisa Viggiano's overall statistics, whole 90.
Figure 3 shows Marisa Viggiano's pass positioning matrix, whole 90.
Ghost goal. No VAR, and why that's a good thing for the NWSL
I had to chuckle, and I'm not too sure how many will have spotted this on the broadcast. After the goal Desiree Scott could be seen signalling for VAR. Obviously VAR is not used in the NWSL, so the gesture was probably made in jest. But it got me thinking; 'I'm so glad that VAR is conspicuous only in it's absence In this league'. Yes, I use fancy words when I think. Anyway, I am not a proponent of VAR at all. Not in the Premier League. Not in MLS. Not in the World Cup. Not anywhere. For me, it detracts from the emotional impact of a goal being scored. Even when perfectly legitimate goals are scored, it's there in the back of your mind; 'is that going to stand?' And it doesn't solve enough officiating issues to justify its existence, for me. I'm a purist, and a firm believer in things evening themselves out. The decision went the Pride's way on this occasion; it won't always. And I love that, personally. What's football without a good ol' refereeing debate?
Ashlyn Harris was singing the praises of both Petersen and Phoebe McClernon during her post-game remarks, and rightly so. Petersen, in particular, was outstanding during this game. She was as equally impressive going forward, as she was defending her own goal. Petersen is my favourite type of full-back, one who makes overlapping runs and provides another outlet to the attack. She seems to be growing in confidence with each passing game.
You'll notice from her statistics in figure 4, she put in a strong a strong defensive performance with 4 tackles and 0 fouls conceded. She shut down the attacking threat of Weber and Bowen down the right. She was also a significant attacking threat, as you'll see from her pass positioning matrix in figure 5. She got into some good forward areas with the ball. Her pass success rate was a modest 63.9% from 36 passes, but that's to be expected when you're playing more passes in forward areas as well as longer balls down the line.
Figure 4 shows Courtney Petersen's overall statistics, whole 90.
Figure 5 shows Courtney Petersen's pass positioning matrix, whole 90.
Harris -6- Could've brought her pipe and slippers onto the field, to be honest.
Riley -7- Solid defensive performance, linked up well with the midfielders during periods of possession.
McClernon -8- Solid as a rock. Her range of passing causes all sorts of problems for opposing teams.
Krieger -8- Another solid defensive performance from the veteran.
Petersen -9- Got up and down the left flank exceptionally well, provided extra width.
Jónsdóttir -7- Her battle with Listro was great to watch.
Viggiano -7- Slotted back into the side nicely. Made some particularly impressive tackles.
Marta -8- Was just all over the field. Looks as though she's enjoying her football right now.
Leroux -7- Worked exceptionally hard, but didn't get too many sighters at goal.
Morgan -7- Ran the line well, but will be disappointed with the penalty.
Kornieck -7- Was a constant hand full.
Thomas -7- Good to see her take the field, and looked lively. Pressed well.
Washington -6- Wasn't in the field long, but didn't really put a foot wrong.
Dougherty-Howard -6- Came in, in the dying embers of the game.
*Statistics courtesy of nwslsoccer.com