Loans, Loans, Loans... The Orlando Pride seem to be gambling with their future
This is getting weird. Emily Sonnett, Camilla, Jade Moore, Erin McLeod and Ali Riley. All have departed the club on loan in search of regular game time. Whilst the rest of the squad resumed single and household workouts this week, various Pride stars have jetted off to Europe in search of regular game time. At the club's behest. The future of the 2020 NWSL regular season still hangs in the balance, with a potential September return currently being discussed within the corridors of power at the NWSL headquarters.
Amanda Duffy has already spoken to the team's plans for the future. The Pride front office are focusing solely on making sure the team is ready for 2021. 2021. Whilst the prospect of regular season games in 2020 seems closer than it did a couple of weeks ago. It's an original approach, I'll give them that. It's certainly not orthodox. But then again, neither is this season. Or year for that matter. The coronavirus pandemic has ravaged the sport, and presented Lisa Baird and the rest of the NWSL with quite the conundrum. How to resume the season safely. It can be done though. The league has the chance to learn from the leagues that have already resumed their regular seasons.
We have seen, from leagues such as MLB and MLS, the particular challenges and nuances associated with adapting our sports to this 'new normal'. It certainly isn't easy. And the NWSL's inability (though some would call it reluctance) to lay out a clear roadmap, has probably backfired. There is currently an exodus being led from the league. The likes of Rose Lavelle, Sam Mewis and our Pride members have all flown the nest. That only means any regular season we do get, when we get it, will be a pale shade of itself in terms of quality.
The league is at a crossroads. Leagues such as the FAWSL and Primera División are catching up. They are becoming increasingly popular destinations for the world's best talent. Which makes this team's scattered and disoriented approach, right now, all the more baffling. What!? Did he really just say that? Yep. It's ridiculous. It's foolhardy and exceptionally arrogant. These might seem outlandish statements to some, but the approach the Pride are taking right now is dangerous. Let me explain why.
I spoke previously of my concern for this club's very existence. That is merely the gravest of concerns. A cataclysmic, worst case scenario. It's the last stop on the one-way trip to Doomsville. But there are a number of stops along the way.
All any sports fan wants is for their team to be competitive. Something this club hasn't been since 2016. Why do you think teams like the North Carolina Courage and the Portland Thorns have been so dominant and successful in the past? Team chemistry, team culture, winning mentality... Bloody good ability. How do you build that if all of your best players are missing? Well, the layman's answer is you don't.
I can already hear many of you screaming 'WE'RE IN A PANDEMIC! THEY CAN'T BE TOGETHER!' That doesn't wash with me. Let me justify that statement before I move on. The coronavirus is incredibly dangerous, but other teams have proven that participation in team sports can be done safely in the United States. The bubble during the Challenge Cup was incredibly successful, and evidently beneficial for teams like the Houston Dash. We only need to look at how Oscar Pareja has been able to galvanise team chemistry and a sense of togetherness for his Orlando City squad during a lengthy quarantine. This approach took the Lions all the way to the MLS Is Back final. Tesho Akindele spoke about how the team held regular Zoom meetings and workouts to help garner that sense of togetherness and to help develop that long-term plan. It's gonna be hard for the Pride to do this now. It's always better to develop chemistry when all members of the team are physically together. There is now no chance of that for the Pride. They've shot themselves in the foot in a big way. They've gone all Vinnie Jones with the lock, stock and 2 smoking barrels.
I understand why the players would want to go and get competitive minutes, and I understand the value of those minutes for the players themselves. But what good are competitive game minutes at other clubs? How does that help the Pride? Minimally. The experience someone like Jade Moore may obtain at a club as big as Atlético Madrid may benefit the Pride in the long run. But in the short to medium term it doesn't benefit the team at all. Young players like Taylor Kornieck and Marisa Viggiano aren't going to benefit from her experience. The only concerned party that benefits from this arrangement is Atlético Madrid, and possibly Jade Moore. She may not even wish to come back.
With games on the horizon, and having missed out on the Challenge Cup, this period of time would have been a prime opportunity for Marc Skinner and his staff to establish chemistry in the Pride locker room. We're already significantly behind the rest of the league in terms of team chemistry and preparedness. After the disaster of 2019 the development of team culture sounded like it was the team's number one priority. Obviously, it wasn't.
Whilst the rest of the league were putting on a great show in Utah, the Pride were sat at home... Literally. They weren't even in team training. It's not like the state laws weren't allowing it. We could get into a discussion about the morality and all of the various safety connotations associated with team sports and Covid-19 in Florida, but I just want to focus on the soccer. None of us wants to open that particular can of worms. What was to stop the team entering their own bubble? We've seen, with Orlando City, the wonders such an environment can do for morale. It wasn't even considered. It's embarrassing in all honesty.
Now, I don't want to lay the blame at Duffy's or Skinner's door. It's difficult for us, with an outsider's perspective, to ascertain why this club just doesn't seem to have a plan. It feels a lot like they don't even care. I realise that's extreme, but it's a take that isn't without merit. Especially when you consider the crossroads the league is at right now. This team's front office either don't care about the club's future or they are simply incapable of, or unwilling to plan for it. Pride fans deserve better.