Analysis: Washington Spirit (h). Pride, Spirit play out entertaining draw in opener.
The Orlando Pride and the Washington Spirit played out an entertaining draw, on the opening day of the regular season. Alex Morgan scored her first Pride goal in 3 years, to cancel out Ashley Hatch’s opener for the Spirit. Truthfully, the Pride were unlucky not to walk away with all 3 points. Slightly more clinical finishing, and they perhaps would’ve.
There's a lot to be positive about, with regards to this Orlando Pride team. And that was clear for all to see in this game. Not only was the spirit (rubbish pun intended), and determination there. But the defensive rigidity, and the attacking fluidity. And all of other idities. Whatever that means. We're finally starting to look like a play-off capable squad, and it's been such a long time since we've been able to say that. So let's get stuck into all of the reasons Pride fans can be cheerful, following that game.
Advancement in Orlando’s defensive organisation
The Pride’s progression, in terms of their defensive shape and offensive threat, has been marked over recent weeks. I hesitate to get to carried away, but Marc Skinner might just be starting to believe he's cracked the formula. The Pride only allowed 4 shots on target, blocked a further 4 with the Spirit reverting to pot shots from the edge of the area as they struggled to breakdown the Pride's defensive line.
This defensive solidity has been sorely lacking for a number of years now, and is a welcome sight. Washington are somewhat goal shy themselves just now, but they still have some quality attacking pieces such as the likes of Ashley Sanchez and Trinity Rodman. Despite that, Orlando’s congested defensive line was able to keep them at bay.
Even with the pace of Rodman, it was difficult for Washington to get in behind; which meant much of the play was in front of Orlando. The onus was then on Washington to pull the defence apart, and find that killer pass. Something they weren’t able to do often. If you look at the graphic in figure 1, you’ll see there weren’t many, clear cut, goal scoring chances for the Spirit. And when they did create openings, Orlando were able to get blocks in, due to their sound defensive positioning.
Figure 1 shows the shot position matrix for Washington, whole game. Red denotes missed shot, green saved, blue blocked.
The argument for Meggie Dougherty-Howard
One thing that really impressed me, during this game, was Orlando’s ability to work their way out of tight areas in the midfield. And Meggie Dougherty-Howard was instrumental in that regard. She has this uncanny ability to twist and turn, in tight areas. When she does, she’ll either pivot and find the space, or she’ll draw the foul. This then allows Orlando to either retain possession, or to take advantage of a set-piece opportunity.
She also covers a lot of ground, in both the defensive and offensive thirds. Her low centre of gravity, close ball control and ability to drop the shoulder means that she’s often able to turn and create chances, or turn and play her way out of trouble. If you look at her passing position matrix in figure 2, which highlights just how much she gets about. She makes her passes stick as well, posting a 82.6% pass completion rate from 23 passes (figure 3). Which in a team as direct as Orlando, and playing passes in more dangerous areas, is nothing to be sniffed at.
Figure 2 shows Dougherty-Howard’s passing matrix for the whole 90.
Figure 3 shows Dougherty-Howard’s overall statistics for the whole 90.
Even in the short time she’s been with us, her quality is apparent. As she starts to forge relationships with the likes of Marisa Viggiano and Taylor Kornieck, you’ll really start to see her shine.
The Boss is back to her best
It's certainly been a long-time coming, but we can finally say... Alex Morgan is officially back. Which is such good news for the Pride. I feel like I've harped on like something of a broken record, about how good she is-in previous pieces. It's justified, though. She's the Empire Strikes Back of strikers right now, the Jurassic Park of goal scoring. In case you're new to this blog, I'm a bit of a nerd. And I kind of enjoy Star Wars. Just a little. We all know she's one of the world's best, but what makes her so? Her movement. It's an oversimplification of events, but yes. #HiddenPopCultureReference. Nerdy.
Figure 4 shows Alex Morgan's overall statistics for the full 90.
Alex Morgan put up some impressive statistics during this game, as you’ll see in figure 4. With 2 key passes, 3 shots and 1 goal she was a menace for the Spirit defenders. As impressive as these numbers are, however, it’s her movement that sets her apart. Her movement, for the equaliser, was fantastic (figure 5). She knows exactly where that ball is going, and she’s alert to the opportunity. She then has the composure, and presence of mind to lift the ball deftly over the ‘keeper. Any young boys or girls watching her play, need to look at her movement. For me, she’s the best in the women’s game.
Figure 5 shows Alex Morgan's movement, right before the goal.
As much as I've spoken about the defensive improvements, and the brilliance of mses Dougherty-Howard and Morgan... Marta was the best player on the field. By far. With 63 touches, 39 passes and a pass completion rate of 87.2% the evergreen Brazilian's quality was there for all to see. You can see that she is genuinely thriving, having a variety of passing options around her. The movement of the likes of Morgan and Sydney LeRoux has allowed the GOAT to flourish. She knows there are quality players around her now, players who will make those diagonal runs and runs in behind. This allows her to dictate the play a little more, which will only work in Orlando's favour.
Harris-7- Solid game, with quality distribution. Not too much she could do about the goal.
Petersen-6- Seemed to struggle a bit early doors, but grew in confidence as the game wore on.
McClernon-7- Fast establishing herself as first choice centre-back. Superb, raking ball for the equaliser.
Krieger-6- Seems to be forming a good partnership with McClernon.
Jónsdóttir-7- Got up and down the line well, has a superb engine.
Dougherty-Howard-8- Showed some very classy touches, and looks to be adapting well.
Viggiano-7- Seems to have taken to her new role like a duck to water.
Kornieck-7- Skinner has spoken of how Kornieck is much more than a physical player, and she continues to show that.
LeRoux-7- Excellent movement, and wasn't afraid to get stuck in defensively.
Marta-8- What a player.
Morgan-8- What a finish.
Thomas-6- Good to see her building up her fitness.
Washington-6- Didn't look out of place.
*Statistics courtesy of NWSLSoccer.com
Game still courtesy of the CBS Network.