Analysis: Washington Spirit (a). Taylor Kornieck's second half-goal grabs valuable road point.
Another day, another game without defeat. The Orlando Pride gained a highly credible point in Washington, against a hardened Spirit team. Whilst the hosts undoubtedly had the better of the overall play, Orlando's tenacity shouldn't go understated. In sweltering temperatures, akin to a home game, Orlando dug deep and gained a valuable point. It's no easy task to play in such conditions on the road, particularly for an early kick-off. Orlando refused to let their heads drop, after Ashley Hatch's opener. There may have been a touch of fortune about the Pride's equaliser, but that's neither here nor there. The fact of the matter is, as ostentatious as it sounds, that Orlando have the firepower and power of will to take points from any opponent. This is something they have shown continuously so far in 2021.
Orlando's success with the high press
Something that really impressed me about the Pride's performance, was their ability to win the ball high up the field. Orlando are fashioning themselves as a direct outfit, with the desire to make life difficult for the opposition. They must be an absolute nightmare to play against. As a team, they're incredibly effective in the high press. They don't just press for pressings sake; they are calculated and methodical in their approach, knowing exactly when to pounce. Overall, between mmes Alex Morgan, Marisa Viggiano, Marta and Taylor Kornieck, the Pride won 13 recoveries and 1 tackle in the opposing half of the field (figure 1). This method allowed Orlando to force turnovers, and alleviate pressure on their own back-line whilst simultaneously launching their own attacks. Orlando profited from this approach, big time. Whilst lackadaisical distribution from Aubrey Bledsoe was doubtless the main contributing factor towards Orlando's goal, Marta and Kornieck's level of alertness was symptomatic of a forward line that's always switched on and ready to hunt. That's how you execute a high press effectively; by being alert and by hunting in packs. Both players were alert to the loose ball, and punished the error with all the punity of a pre-war Victorian headmaster. That might seem a random reference, I know but my wife is watching 'Call The Midwife' right now. Need I say more? Probably, but I'm not going to.
Figure 1 shows the amount of success Orlando had winning the ball high up the pitch (🟢=tackles, 🔵 =interceptions/recoveries).
The importance of Ali Riley
One of the most marked improvements, in this team, has been the exponential increase in their defensive organisation and resolve. It's a false equivalency to attribute that purely to the team's new signings, but they're certainly a significant part of it. As one such signing, Ali Riley acquitted herself excellently in the Capitol, as she shut down Washington's attack down the left flank. Tara McKeown is a pacy player, with plenty of promise. Riley was successful in shutting her down, with the youngster only getting 20 touches and completing 0 dribbles. Riley's constant attention, led to her making 5 recoveries and 1 successful tackle (figure 2). Kelley O'Hara had a similarly tough time, completing 0 successful dribbles past the wiley New Zealand international (and no I don't count the out of bounds effort).
Riley also made some equally solid contributions on the offensive side of play, as her 2 crosses and 1 key pass attest too. Riley also made 31 passes with an 80.6% pass completion rate (figure 2). Riley got up and down the right flank well, distributing the ball effectively in both the defensive and offensive thirds (figure 3). This gave Orlando an attacking outlet on the right flank, which is particularly important when playing with inverted forwards, as Orlando does.
Figure 2 shows Ali Riley's overall statistics, whole 90.
Figure 3 shows Riley's pass positioning matrix, whole 90.
The continued development of Taylor Kornieck
Kornieck stands out (literally) because of her imposing frame and aerial ability. That being said, she's far from a one trick pony. I have spoken about her need to improve in terms of distribution, but she showcased a significant improvement in that regard; as well as exhibiting some precision finishing. Kornieck had 5 shots on goal (4 of which were distance attempts), netting her 1 shot in frame, with a crisp effort across Bledsoe and into the bottom corner.
She showed high soccer intelligence with her goal, if you look at the replay she's moving into space before Marta even gets the ball under control. Kornieck knows what she's going to do, before she even does it. After some delicate footwork, she finishes with aplomb. It was an excellent finish. For those that were lucky enough to see it. Thanks, NWSL broadcasting.
Figure 4 shows Taylor Kornieck's overall statistics, whole 90.
Figure 5 shows Taylor Kornieck's pass positioning matrix, whole 90.
Ashlyn Harris had another big game for the Pride, making some key stops at critical times. With 5 shots saved from 6 faced, her 83.3% success rate tells only half the story. Harris certainly did her level best to secure Save Of The Week honours for the 9,000th time. Harris' save to deny Emily Sonnett was possibly the pick of the bunch. The NWSL broadcast wrongly, in my opinion, attributed the blame for Ashley Hatch's goal to Harris. She was left, hung-out to dry for the opener. Harris' saves made it possible for Orlando to get out of the Capitol with a valuable point.
Harris -8- Player of the game, crucial stops at even more crucial times.
Riley -7- Solid battle with McKeown and O'Hara, did well.
Krieger -6- Huge fan of Krieger, but her post-game comments about defending drills smacked of a lack of self-awareness, for me. Whilst she wasn't the only reason Orlando conceded, she was a big part of it. Krieger was caught ball-watching and completely lost Hatch. Though I do commend her willingness to ask her coach about this.
McClernon -6- As with Krieger, could have done better when monitoring the runs of both Spirit players for the goal.
Petersen -7- A few iffy touches, but generally played well. She's a positive outlet on the left-flank.
Dougherty-Howard -6- A little quiet, but was always open for a pass, which helped Orlando play through the press.
Jónsdóttir -7- Did an excellent job of breaking up play, and got forward fairly well.
Viggiano -6- Busied herself all game, was always open for a pass but struggled offensively.
Marta -7- Dictated play well, in the final third. Was alert for the goal.
Kornieck -7- Took her goal well, and was always there for the out ball.
Morgan -7- Didn't get much of a kick, but she pressed really well.
Tymrak -7- Looked lively and made some positive plays.
Washington -6- Came in too late to have much of an impact.
*All statistics courtesy of nwslsoccer.com and footystats.org