Analysis: Washington Spirit (a). Heart break in the Capitol despite strong showing.
It was a Capitol performance for the Orlando Pride... OK, yeah, fair. I'll see myself out. You should know by now, my puns are like the first two Star Wars prequels. They don't get any better. Whilst I'm fully aware that the Pride ultimately fell short, there was plenty to be cheerful about in that performance. Orlando were the better team for long periods. A moment of madness, and that's me being kind, handed the impetus to the home side. A wonder strike by Ashley Sanchez then sealed Orlando's first defeat under Becky Burleigh's tutelage. It was nothing short of gut-wrenching, and a not so gentle reminder of the brutality of this league. Mistakes don't often go unpunished.
Whilst the disappointing nature of their defeat will have left a bitter taste for some, I actually feel quite optimistic. This is not some ill-begotten delusion of grandeur on my part; I've always been fairly straight talking. I saw a lot, in this game, to be positive about. This is an Orlando team with a clear vision and identity. They want to play good football, whilst also maintaining their now infamous physicality. The two are not mutually exclusive, as some would have you believe. You have to be able to impose yourself, as a team, on the game. And this sport, by its very nature, is a contact sport. If you don't get the better of your opponents physically, it becomes more difficult to play your game. It's that simple.
Orlando's possession play
Whilst I'd stop short of saying Orlando were perfect in their passing game, I think it's fair to say that they were very good. Central to that were the performances of Gunny Jónsdóttir, Marisa Viggiano and Meggie Dougherty-Howard. The Pride's midfield 3 dictated the game well, with effective use of passing triangles to play through Washington's press. The Pride posted an overall pass completion rate of 80.2% (figure 1). Jónsdóttir (79.6% of 49), Viggiano (80.6% of 31) and Dougherty-Howard (83.3% of 48) all had very good pass success rates. They connected the defence to the forward line very well, as you'll see from the pass positioning matrix in figure 2. I think you'll see this become a common feature of the Pride's play.
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Their intricate play in the middle allowed them to launch multi-faceted attacks down both sides, and through the middle. With some more clinical finishing, and a slightly better final ball, the Pride could've really put the Spirit to the sword.
The Pride's natural width with Courtney Petersen and Ali Riley (figure 3) helps to facilitate the midfield being able to dictate the game for periods. Opposing teams are so worried about Petersen whipping one in for Sydney Leroux, that they naturally open up more space in the midfield. It was fascinating to watch, at times. The key is going to be adding that consistency in terms of their possession play, as periods of sloppy passing cropped up here and there. That being said, Becky Burleigh is clearly an excellent coach, our possession game is like night and day when you compare it to the first few weeks of the season.
Figure 1 shows Orlando's passing statistics, whole 90 (right).
Figure 2 shows the pass positioning matrix for Jónsdóttir, Viggiano and Dougherty-Howard, whole 90.
Figure 3 shows the cross positioning matrix for Riley and Petersen.
Soccer is a physical sport, right? As we all know, the Pride have garnered something of a reputation recently. I just want to shed some light on something, however. Something that was evident during this game. The Orlando Pride committed 5 fouls. 5. The Washington Spirit committed 12. The game prior to that there were another 12 fouls against, and before that 9. It's not just Orlando, and it's not the endemic of physical brutality some commentators would have you think it is. I'm not saying the aforementioned teams should be penalised, it's a contact sport.
I do feel some around the league need to grow up a little. You're not going to get it all your own way, so either roll up your sleeves and get on with it or quit throwing the proverbial toys out of the stroller.
I feel like this is going to be an on-going theme for the Pride, however. This is a team that's willing to go toe-to-toe with any opponent. The Pride won 41 duels against the Spirit and 7 tackles. All whilst holding 59.7% of the overall play. The Pride worked so hard off the ball to force turnovers. They were able to limit their hosts to a 74% pass success rate throughout the game, whilst keeping most of the ball themselves. It's just great to know, even when they do lose the ball, they're gonna fight to get it back.
When the Pride switched things up a little during the second half, I actually applauded the move. Trinity Rodman et al were having a lot of joy on the flanks, and bringing in the more defensive minded Kylie Strom and Phoebe McClernon seemed a prudent move. But my oh my, Kylie had a bit of a nightmare.
The first goal is just poor. Goodness, it's just awful defending. She has to either allow Ashlyn Harris to claim it, hook it back into a safe area or clear behind her goal. You never, ever clear the ball across your goal line. She also got a booking, before being caught at sea for the second goal (figure 5). Her starting position is too central from the corner. She then gives herself little chance to catch Rodman, who was up on the halfway line in a wide position. She has to give herself chance to make that defensive play, and she doesn't. The ball then works its way past a few other Pride players, so it's not like it was all her fault, but damn it was sloppy play by .
Marta was class, as per usual. She was so composed and economical with the ball. Her movement was fantastic; she dragged players out of position time and time again. And her goal was just a top drawer finish, from the world's greatest player. She was so strong throughout the game. She wouldn't be bullied. Her excellent ball control and low centre of gravity highlighted her class, as no one was able to land a glove on her. Marta had 84 touches, completed 80.4% of her 51 passes, played 1 key pass and scored 1 terrific goal. Incredible performance from an incredible player. It's criminal that she was on the losing team.
Harris -7- Made some good saves, but nothing she could do for either goal.
Riley -7- Constant attacking threat down the right.
Turner -7- Seems to have established herself well.
Krieger -7- I am really enjoying her partnership with Turner.
Petersen -7- The Pride will be hoping she isn't too badly hurt. That left foot of hers is such a threat.
Viggiano -8- Actually felt this was one of her better games for the Pride.
Jónsdóttir -7- Kept the ball ticking along well.
Dougherty-Howard -7- Played some lovely, teasing crosses.
Marta -9- What else can I say?
Leroux -7- Worked tirelessly.
Taylor -6- Didn't get a whole lot of change from the Spirit defenders but worked hard.
Tymrak -8- Looked a real threat.
Kornieck -6- Becky Burleigh is moulding her into a 6, which could be interesting.
McClernon -7- Solid.
Strom -5- I'm not sure what else I can say?
*All statistics courtesy of nwslsoccer.com
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