• Dan Berridge

Analysis: NJ/NY Gotham FC (h). I Ain't Obsessed. I'm A Hardcore Admirer.

The Orlando Pride cannot seem to catch a break. An encouraging first half display by the Pride was completely decimated by 3 Gotham goals from 4 shots on target. To be fair to the visitors, they were absolutely clinical. Orlando were not. The Gotham social media team had a field day with their #SadAstra hashtag. They clearly have Harley Quinn working their Twitter feed, as they seem to have a strange obsession with the Pride.


The Pride had every right to feel aggrieved at the interval. On the balance of play they were actually the better team in the first half, they played some good stuff and created decent openings. Openings they couldn't capitalise on. Football is a cruel sport, though. Gotham ensured Orlando would regret all of their missed opportunities as goals by McCall Zerboni, Midge Purce and Kristie Mewis put Scott Parkinson's team firmly in control at the half. There was a greater defensive solidity in the second half, but the game was over already. The second half was a fairly flat affair all round.

Whilst Amanda Cromwell can take heart from certain aspects of the Pride's performance, she'll have also learned some home truths about this team. Some things just do not work...


Orlando's high line


Gotham came with the idea to try and control possession of the ball, but Orlando actually countered that fairly well at times. Leah Pruitt had a lot of joy dropping into space and switching play to the likes of Darian Jenkins. Orlando picked up 7 interceptions and won 50% of their duels as they tried to hit Gotham in transition. I believe there are tentative signs that Orlando are cracking this high press malarkey. In the opposing half, anyway...

I'd love to be as complementary about the positioning of the team's defensive line... Here's my issue: to press and win the ball high up the field, you have to play a high defensive line. And with the greatest amount of respect for both players, Megan Montefusco and Toni Pressley aren't quick enough to play that high. A well placed ball over the top and you have issues; circa goal 2 (figure 1).

Figure 1 is a game still from just before Gotham's second goal.


Now, some have said that the Pride should use a system that suits the players they have. It's a credible and understandable view point, but it's short sighted. If you look at any of the top sides in the game right now, they have a clear identity and style of play; for Chelsea it's the their transition game, for FC Barcelona it's high press and their attacking intricacy, for the Washington Spirit it's their pace and power in attack. The Pride are trying to develop a winning culture based on a high press and the use of attacking full-backs. It's something Amanda Cromwell has talked openly about. It's a commendable ambition. The Pride have to do a better job with their recruitment defensively, though. Otherwise, this will continue to be an issue.


The Pride have next to no pace in the centre of their back line. And you have to have that to play they system they're playing. You cannot effectively utilise a high press without a high defensive line. And if you don't have pace in said line, you're inviting trouble. What's the alternative? A low block. Sure it's a feasible strategy, but then you have to negate the high press. If your forwards and midfielders press whilst your defensive line is sat deep, you just leave gaping holes between the midfield and defence. And, guess what? We have an ideal pressing forward line.


For me, the best team in the world at pressing high up the field is FC Barcelona. If you look at the still in figure 2, you'll see just how high a line Barca hold. The difference for FCB is they have Irene Paredes and Mapi Leon at the back, two players with no shortage of pace and an almost flawless ability to read the game. They know that on the rare occasions they lose the ball in transition they have chance to snuff out that pass.

Figure 2 is a game still from FCB Femeni's game against Real Madrid a month ago.


The Orlando Pride, however, don't have the luxury of pace in the back line. Nor, if I'm being honest, the same level of ability to read the game. That's never been Pressley's strong suit. She's very good in terms of her distribution, but I'd say Amy Turner is the best in terms of her ability to read the game. The Pride also give the ball away a little more than Barcelona do. So the risk of being hit by a well placed ball over or through the defence is much higher.


I realise the Pride and FCB are an unfair comparison, I'm just using them as an example to highlight my issue with the Pride's strategy on Sunday. I admire the Pride's commitment to establishing this style of play, I am just not convinced we have the players to pull it off currently.

Lapses in concentration


Amanda Cromwell is well aware of this issue. She told me, in the post match media availability, that the club has sourced a sports psychologist and they've had performance specialists in to work with the players on this very issue. It's a bizarre one. There were severe lapses of concentration for both the first and third goals (figures 3 and 4). Zerboni and Mewis are both unmarked for their respective goals. You can't get away with switching off in this league, the level is too high. It's something that needs to improve and quickly.

Top player


Angharad James

The standout performer as far as the Pride are concerned. The Welsh midfielder was typically tenacious, often demanding the ball and wanting to get her team further up the pitch. The former Everton player was 46/50 in passing, won 4 interceptions and 10 recoveries and was 2/2 on tackles won. Her fotmob.com rating of 6.3 is probably a little harsh. She cut a frustrated figure in the post match media availability; she's a winner after all.


Player ratings


Starting XI


McLeod -6- Not too much she could do about the goals.


Celia -5- Not her finest performance.

Pressley -5- Helplessly caught out for the 2nd and 3rd.

Montefusco -5- Whole backline was holding way too high a line.

Petersen -6- Tried to get things going on offence, but she got caught up the field with little help way too often.


James -7- Never stopped trying to make things happen.

Abello -5- Largely anonymous.

Cluff -5- Seems to be struggling with the step up.


Jenkins -6- Had some bright moments in the opening half hour.

Pruitt -7- Toiled all night and was on of our better players.

Jónsdóttir -7- Unlucky not to connect with a few Pruitt crosses.


Substitutes


Lawrence -7- We looked so much more solid when she came on.

Leroux -7- Gave us greater balance.

Villacorta -6- Nice to see her finally get some minutes.

Tymrak -6- Came in too late to change anything.


Reaction


Orlando Pride Head Coach Amanda Cromwell: “I thought we started well again. I think we had some of our best building moments out of the back, created some chances early on in the first 30 and right before their first goal we created some chances. Again we can’t let one goal affect us like that. We need to be mentally resilient in those moments. There’s obviously some frustration with those 10 minutes again and I think Seb [Hines] said it very well at the end in the huddle, we can’t let parts like five minutes or 10 minutes of games dictate how our season is going to go. We have to play a 90-minute game and we have yet to do that.”

*All statistics courtesy of nwslsoccer.com

Top player image and cover image courtesy of Orlando Pride.