Does the Orlando Pride have a team culture problem?
Updated: Aug 5
It's the sort of story I had really begun to hope was a thing not the past. This week, the Orlando Pride were forced to withdraw from the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup, due to an outbreak of Covid-19 within the squad. It has since transpired, according to reports, that several of the team's players had been out to bars and clubs in Orlando whilst they should have been voluntarily self isolating ahead of the trip to Utah. Face meet palm. And that's me being kind.
Are the alleged antics of a few of the Pride players over the last few weeks symptomatic of a wider cultural issues within the squad? It's possibly too early to say, but it's certainly a worrying turn of events. After a disastrous 2019 season Skinner will have been keen to hit the ground running in this tournament. It offered the club a chance of silverware, however unlikely. Now, thanks to the stupidity of certain members of the team the club won't even get the chance to compete.
The reckless, and let's be honest, downright selfish actions of a few individuals have ruined any hopes of the team competing in the Challenge Cup. That could possibly even be it for the team's season. Given that there are no guarantees the regular season will even resume following the tournament. There is a real danger that this situation could cause some serious division within the squad. Don't forget, this is a team that has experienced a lot of uphevel in terms of personnel. Particularly over the last few months. The likes of Ali Riley, Emily Sonnett and Erin McLeod were brought in to address cultural and leadership issues within the team. They seem to have an uphill task on their hands.
As the situation becomes clearer, and as more reports come to light, the finger is being pointed in one direction in particular. Now, this might seem harsh to some, but the reported actions of the individuals involved were dangerous and outright stupid. Taylor Kornieck is a player with huge potential on the field. Something I have spoken to previously. However, the midfielder's alleged actions were not only reckless and stupid. They were not only incredibly irresponsible, they were borderline midacious - however inadvertent. Reports on social media this morning (23rd June) appeared to incriminate several members of the squad including, Courtney Petersen Kornieck and Erin Greening as well as unsigned draft picks Abi Kim and Phoebe McClernon as well as from University of Colorado team mate to both Greening and Kornieck, Ashley Vidge. At the time of writing, we were still waiting for official comment from either the players or the club.
Venmo transactions sourced by an anonymous Twitter user seem to implicate all of the above named players. All amidst reports of a local pub in the Orlando area, which is confirmed to have experienced a Covid-19 outbreak. Around the time said pub hosted a 'ladies night'. Hence 'Ln' in the below Tweets. In a, now deleted, Instagram post (see below) from June 13th Taylor Kornieck posted a picture of herself and an old college friend with the caption 'two blondes walk into a bar'. I wish to make clear I'm not accusing anyone of anything. This is all unconfirmed conjecture, but it doesn't look good for the players indited. You can certainly draw your own conclusions.
Twitter user @ASHLYNHARRIS shared a video of Vidge, allegedly recorded by Kornieck on popular social media network TikTok. The hashtags used in the video seemed to imply that Vidge was receiving a Coronavirus test. Seemingly. Again, this is an unconfirmed report. It's important that these reports don't lead to a witch hunt. That being said, the club and the fans will be feeling deeply let down by a handful of its brightest stars. The video certainly doesn't reflect well on Kornieck given what has transpired over the last week or so. At best it's negligible. This disease isn't something to be made light of. CDC guidelines currently advise those who have been in contact with anyone displaying symptoms of Covid-19 to self isolate for 14 days. NWSL protocol also dictates that players should self isolate if they have come into contact with someone who is either a confirmed case, or who has suspected Covid-19. Again, it paints a grim picture. If indeed the two were out painting the time red. Kornieck was in training with the club for the duration of this period.
For me, the incident also represents a lack of discipline and control within the Orlando locker room. Has Marc Skinner got a firm grip on goings on within his team? It's difficult to say with any degree of confidence or certainty that he has. Now, there are those who certainly will argue that these are young female athletes who are allowed to go out and enjoy themselves. Ordinarily I would agree. However, we are in the midst of a global pandemic that has already claimed nearly half a million lives globally. Covid-19 is a killer. It really is that simple. If these players did in fact have a night on the tiles, without practising any form of physical distancing, they put themselves and those around them at risk. Especially as we stand on the precipice of the NWSL Challenge Cup. A tournament that required 9 pro soccer teams to isolate together in a bubble. They not only risked the lives of their teammates and their families. But also those of every other team participating in the tournament. Yes, bars are allowed to open in Florida. So it's not illegal. It's also not illegal to wrestle an alligator. That doesn't mean you should go ahead and do it.
Over recent years, the Pride can be accused of harbouring professionalism issues within the team. A lack of focus and dedication has been inherent within the team's squad for a few years now. Epcot anyone? At times, particularly last season, there have been issues regarding player focus on the field. One moment that springs to.mind was the trip to Sky Blue FC towards the end of the season. With the team holding a 1-0 lead, Sydney LeRoux was brought off the bench. It was her first appearance since giving birth, and was undoubtedly an emotional time. As she came on to the field Carson Pickett ran out of position to go and give LeRoux a hug. Now, I'm not for one minute suggesting this is the reason the Pride went on to drop points in that game, but it's certainly indicative of a lack of focus within the squad.
Outgoing GM Erik Ustruck and Skinner identified during the off-season with the acquisition of the likes of Ali Riley, Emily Sonnett and Erin McLeod. Vocal leaders and winners, who were brought in to help mould a culture of honesty and openness within the squad. As well as to help improve results on the field. Over recent years, the Pride can be accused of harbouring professionalism issues within the team.
Sometimes, with this club, I have gotten the feeling that certain players see the team as nothing more than a social club. And I realise that's quite a radical thing to say, to call into question the integrity of some of the Pride players. But I really would go that far. Kornieck et al's alleged actions only further serve to highlight this notion. Even if the reports turn out to be inaccurate, the whole episode has been hugely embarrassing for the team. And their silence is deafening. This devil may care attitude threatens to undermine the hard work of every other member of the team. The Orlando Pride is more than just a place for young players to enjoy themselves. I'm sorry, but it is. The team represents the city of Orlando. Our beloved community. We want to see it become the best it can be. We want to win. We want to lead the charge for equality and the beautiful game in the ever flourishing world of women's soccer. This club deserves more respect than members of its first team squad have shown it this week. We might be a new club, but we are a great one too. This club means so much to its fans, and the alleged actions of some members of the team this week are simply not representative of what this club is and should be. It's not good enough.
Sydney LeRoux, and the other leaders within the locker room, will undoubtedly be furious about what has transpired. LRoux has already taken to social media on the subject. She, I imagine, will be more than furious. Not only has the incident ruined her season it put her and her children at risk. That's not to mention how the incident could have affected Dom Dwyer and his Orlando City cohort. It's just not good enough. This whole sorry episode paints a very sorry picture of the culture that still seems to exist in some corners of the Pride's locker room.