Analysis: Portland Thorns (h). Pride deliver another huge result, top the league.
Phew. I just need a moment to compose myself... Like, what the fudge? I'm getting altitude sickness over here. Why? Because the Orlando Pride is top of the NWSL. Yes, you read that correctly. The. Orlando. Pride. Is. Top. Of. The. NWSL. I don't care that it's only 3 games in. I really don't. Get carried away. This team is steadily starting to look like a play-off team. Maybe even a Championship team. Who knows. That's certainly what the team is aiming for. Ali Krieger said as much, during her post-match remarks: 'I see us as a championship team.' They soaked up the pressure, no problem. They then used their defensive core as a springboard to attack. To paraphrase Mickey, they ate lightning, and they crapped thunder.
The players are certainly under no illusion as to how much work has to be done, however. There are over 20 games remaining in the season. But things are looking good. Consecutive wins over traditional championship teams have shone the spotlight on this squad. The Pride are now a team that exuberates determination, leadership and quality. The goal scoring form of the Alex Morgan and Sydney LeRoux has, undoubtedly, been a profuse element of the Pride's recent renaissance.
Marta just doing Marta things
There aren't enough superlatives in the Oxford-Collins dictionary to accurately describe Marta. There just aren't. Trust me, I've looked. She's just an all-round, incredible player. And we're beginning to see her best form again. She covers so much ground, and does so much work to link the play, all over the field. She's always there as an option. People often talk about Marta not being as effective when she drops deep to affect the play... When you have the likes of Alex Morgan and Sydney LeRoux upfront, that's just not true.
Teams worry about Marta so much, that she often drags players out of position when she drifts. That allows her to interchange with the more creative players in midfield, who are then able to advance the ball into space. Look at the amount of short passes she played (figure 1), in the midfield area. She keeps the ball moving, and is able to find players in space. Space that was often vacated by players so concerned about Marta. Even the first goal, is an example of this. Though, not directly involved in the goal, you can see 2 Portland players are immediately concerned with Marta's whereabouts. They're obviously not convinced Kornieck can play a particularly dangerous pass from that position. So there's very little pressure on her (figure 2, Marta is on the right hand side of the screen). Marta draws some of the attention away from Kornieck, which enables her more time and space to make the play.
Figure 1 shows Marta's passing positioning matrix, whole 90.
Figure 2 is a clip depicting Alex Morgan's goal, notice how the Portland players shift to track Marta's movement as Kornieck chips the ball.
Yet another case for the defence
The continued defensive improvement of this team is there for all to see. Whilst the Pride have yet to keep a clean sheet during regular season action, their xGA score currently stands at 0.57. Which places them at 3rd overall in the league. Not too shabby, eh? Especially when you consider they finished 2019 with a, league-leading, 1.97 xGA. The improvement, even at this early stage, has been exponential so far. Having faced up 21 shots and 28 crosses (figure 3), this team stood tall. With 4 defensive blocks, 12 tackles won, and 66 recoveries (figure 4), Orlando's defensive work was there for all to see. Portland were knocking on the door, but the Pride bolted it shut, ran to the window and gave them a one fingered salute. And it was bloody beautiful.
Statistics only tell so much of a story, though. The Pride's defensive improvement is down to a number of conjoined factors. Improved team chemistry, greater organisation and quality, as well as more effective leadership. The blend of youth and experience is currently serving the team well. The likes of Ashlyn Harris, Ali Krieger and Ali Riley coached Courtney Petersen and Phoebe McClernon throughout the game. You could see them always communicating. There was also a fiery determination, a refusal to be beaten. It's like the Pride were saying 'this is our house, GTFO out'. Which is the exact message I'm sure they were trying to convey. Right?
Figure 3 shows the overall offensive statistics for both teams. The Thorns (right) bombarded the Pride with crosses.
Figure 4 shows how the Pride won duels (tackles, interceptions and recoveries) all over the field. Tackles 🟢 Interceptions/recoveries 🔵.
Listen, we've always known Marta is one of the greatest players of all time. But you'd be a fool not to admit that she's playing her best football in years. The resurgence of Alex Morgan and Sydney LeRoux, has played a huge part in that. As has the inclusion of the likes of Meggie Dougherty-Howard. There are quality players all around her. Working together effectively, in a formation that suits their abilities. And Marta is thriving off of that right now. That's amazing news for the Orlando Pride. Not so great news for everyone else. With 61 touches, 40 passes (85% passing accuracy), 2 key passes and 2 shots, it's not difficult to see she was running the show on Wednesday evening. This is Marta's world, and we're all just living in it. Enjoy that. These players don't come around often.
Harris -7- Made 7 saves in total, commanded her area very well. Could've done a little better for the goal.
Riley -6- Defended well overall, but was beaten in the air for the goal, but Harris should have claimed the cross.
Krieger -7- Solid display. Excellent mentor for McClernon.
McClernon -7- Another solid display.
Petersen -7- Faced a tough test, bit came through it well.
Jónsdóttir -7- Got in the faces of the Thorns player's well, and distributed the ball effectively.
Dougherty-Howard -7- Sprayed the ball around effectively. Becoming a huge part of this squad.
Marta -8- Imperious form, as always.
Kornieck -7- Wonderful chipped pass to Morgan for her goal.
LeRoux -7- Was lively, and alert to a potential goal-scoring chance conceded by sloppy defensive play. Great awareness.
Morgan -7- More ruthless finishing from the Boss.
Viggiano -7- Fresh legs in midfield, helped to see the game out.
Harlan -6- Brought in late to help protect the lead, did so well.
Washington -6- Came on in the 91st, not enough time to impact the game.
*All statistics courtesy of nwslsoccer.com