Analysis: NJ/NY Gotham FC (h). Pride maintain unbeaten streak, remain top.
The boxer, Andre Ward once said; 'you don't stay undefeated, without being a little stubborn.' That's a word that perfectly encapsulates the very essence of this team. Stubborn. This squad is as stubborn as they come, and they do not know when they are beaten. They're the Darth Maul of the women's soccer, they never die. Even when you cut them in half.
Staring down the barrel of only a second defeat of the 2021 season, to the very same opponents that bested them in the Challenge Cup, it would've been easy for the Pride to let their heads drop. They didn't though, not for one second. They kept believing and believing that they were going to fight their way back into the contest. Which is exactly what they did. There may have been an element of good fortune about the equaliser, but who cares? You make your own luck in this game.
The Pride march on to their next game in Kansas City, which bizarrely kicks off at 2 p.m. ET. I mean, playing a game during the day, on a working day (Wednesday of all days) is a sure fire way to secure huge viewing figures right? If there's a special holiday in Kansas City, that I know nothing about, then I apologise. I don't believe there is. Anyway, without further ado, let's get into the nitty gritty of the Pride's latest unbeaten game.
The proficiency of Orlando's attack
Whilst the Pride were, undoubtedly, a little bit wasteful (that's putting it mildly) their attacking threat continues to increase. The Pride have yet to put up a big score, but I have a feeling that's not a long way off. This is a team that attacks well, and takes a large number of shots. Whilst the Pride's 52 shots on the season is someway off of Portland's 104 (NWSL leaders in shots only-not positioning, lol), it's worth noting that Portland has a lot more of the ball; 56% on average compared to 44% for the Pride.
Relative to possession, the Pride take a lot of shots. They outshot their opponents. In this game (figure 2), and got into some great areas to take them (figure 1). They also put a high number of crosses into the box (figure 3). With the attacking talent Orlando has, the goals will start to come. Orlando created a decent amount of clear scoring opportunities in this game. If they'd have put their scoring boots on, they'd have won this game comfortably.
Figure 1 shows Orlando's shot positioning matrix, whole 90.
Figure 2 shows how Orlando bested Gotham offensively.
Figure 3 shows Orlando's cross positioning matrix, whole 90.
The importance of Orlando's full-backs
Courtney Petersen will court all of the attention for her goal. I couldn't help myself, sorry. The game took place on Father's Day, so it'd be rude not to throw a dad joke in somewhere. Anyway, Petersen played tremendously well. Her movement was intelligent, her distribution tidy and her willingness to go forward provided an excellent foil for attack. You'll see, from her pass positioning matrix in figure 3, just how often she got forward. Petersen is playing so well right now, and it's incredibly gratifying to see. The full-backs in this team provide real, tangible width. Which is so important when you use inverted wingers, as the Pride does. And Petersen is becoming a huge part of that.
Just as impressive was Ali Riley. The experienced defender got up and down the right flank well throughout the game. The Kiwi international posted an impressive pass completion rate of 84.2% from 38 attempted passes and 52 touches (figure 3). Whilst she may have only played 1 successful cross from 5 attempts, she was still there to put the ball in. Which still causes issues for an opposing defence. Successful cross statistics can also be misleading, as sometimes they're just countered by good defending or poor forward play. The point is, Riley gets forward and causes problems; whilst still having the soccer intelligence and endurance to know when to run forward and when not to.
Figure 3 shows the pass positioning matrix for both Petersen and Riley, whole 90.
Marc Skinner's in-game tactical awareness
It's fair to say that Marc Skinner has had his critics whilst in Orlando, particularly when you go back to 2019. This isn't the 2019 Orlando Pride, though. And much of that is down to the likeable Brummie. His in game tactical decision making and awareness, whilst not flawless, is generally very good. His decision to withdraw Sydney Leroux on Sunday, was heavily criticised on social media. It's possibly not a decision I would've made, and I couldn't say that I agreed with it; at least in that moment. Having had the chance to reflect on it, though... I have a different opinion now.
I think his decision was partly to 'manage minutes', as some have stated, but also to open up space along the left hand-side. Sydney Leroux is a dangerous player, one that Gotham would have been worried about. And oftentimes, Gotham were doubling up on that side to negate the threat of Leroux and Petersen. If you look at the game stills in figures 4 and 5, you'll see what I mean. In figure 4 Petersen has a bit of space, but there are 3 Gotham defenders in close proximity, 2 with tabs on Sydney Leroux in particular. By comparison, in figure 5, Petersen is in acres of space. Chelsee Washington (as Leroux's replacement) isn't even in the shot, she's gone more central. Thus, there was less of a need for Gotham to pack that right flank. Courtney gets a bit of space and the rest is history.
I'm not saying that's what definitely happened, but it makes a lot of sense if true.
Figure 4 shows how closely Gotham were keeping tabs on Sydney Leroux.
Figure 5 shows how much space Petersen had for the goal.
I thought Petersen was excellent throughout this pulsating contest. You'll see from the statistics she posted (figure 6), that she provided a lot to the team going forward. With a 73.7% pass completion rate from 19 passes (many of which were in the opposition half) and 3 key passes, you can see she's becoming integral to Orlando's attack. Not to mention the improvement on the defensive side. Petersen won 5 tackles, and generally managed the threat of Monaghan and Onumonu well. Her goal, however fortuitous it was, was just rewards for a player that continues to improve, game after game. She has a solid tactical awareness and a great engine to get up and down the flank.
Figure 6 shows Petersen's overall statistics, full 90.
Harris -6- Possibly could've done better with the goal, but made a couple of other key saves. Her distribution was very good, too.
Riley -7- Was always an option going forward, and was very good on the defensive side of the ball.
McClernon -6- Defended well, but her trademark raking passes from the back were decidedly off colour.
Krieger -7- Solid performance, started a number of attacks from the back-line.
Petersen -8- Very good performance all round, both defensively and offensively.
Viggiano -7- Always available for a pass. Recycled possession well.
Jónsdóttir -7- Played very well, won a number of key challenges and duels in midfield.
Marta -7- Always looking to make things happen.
Kornieck -6- Struggled to put her stamp on proceedings, but had some dangerous touches nonetheless.
Morgan -5- Not the Bosses day. Seemed to become disheartened late-on, when she gave up on a challenge.
Leroux -7- One of the Pride's better players on the night. Decision to withdraw her was bizarre, though her decision to publicly admonish Skinner on the sideline was a poor one.
Washington -6- Provided fresh legs, late in the game.
Tymrak -6- Didn't have much of a chance to impact on the game.
Dougherty-Howard -6- Recycled the ball well for the short time she was in.
*All statistics courtesy of nwslsoccer.com
Game stills courtesy of CBS Sports Network.