Where Marc Skinner Needs To Strengthen Further If The Orlando Pride Are To Be Successful In 2020
Updated: Jun 1, 2020
Whilst it is still early in pre-season training, and Marc Skinner has already spoken to the Pride's need for further reinforcements. The Pride head coach told the gathered press as much, as he was stood outside of the team's new training base at Sylvan Lake Park. Skinner has been focused on not only making additions to the team, but making the right additions. Both Skinner and out-going GM Erik Ustruck have spoken previously about the importance of recruiting leaders and players who will help to instil a winning culture within the Pride locker room. That being said, Skinner will be acutely aware of the apparent positional imbalances within the team. The team is top heavy in terms of defenders, and is in desperate need of additions in the midfield and forward areas.
The Pride endured a rotten season in 2019, and will be keen to rectify this over the coming weeks and months. The team is arguably in its best shape off the field. The team has a permanent training base, the first in the NWSL to do so. Amanda Duffy has signed on to lead the front office, and is a huge acquisition for the club. The Pride has also made some promising signings on the field. But they definitely need to make a few more additions, and in my mind a few players need to head out of the exit door. So let's go ahead and review the Pride roster as of day one of pre-season.
Orlando Pride roster (signed, non roster invitees are not included):
Ashlyn Harris, Erin McLeod, Lainey Burdett.
Erin Greening, Julie King, Ali Krieger, Carrie Lawrence, Phoebe McClernon, Courtney Petersen, Carson Pickett, Toni Presley, Morgan Reid, Ali Riley, Cheyenne Shorts, Shelina Zadorsky, Emily Sonnett.
Bridget Callahan, Claire Emslie, Alanna Kennedy, Taylor Kornieck, Camila, Emily Van Egmond, Marta, Marisa Viggiano, Chelsee Washington.
Kristen Edmonds, Sydney LeRoux, Abby Elinsky, Caitlin Farrell, Abi Kim, Alex Morgan (pregnant).
One thing that sticks out to me when I run down the Pride's roster, is that it's very top heavy in the defensive third of the field. Now with the team allowing 53 goals across 24 NWSL outings last season, that makes perfect sense. They badly needed to make improvements in the defensive third during this off-season, and they have done that with aplom. I've written previously that I thought the signings of Riley and Sonnett in particular were fantastic additions to the team. However, that now means we have 11, yes 11, recognised central defenders. In addition to Riley and Sonnett, Krieger, Pressley, Reid, Lawrence, Petersen, Kennedy, McClernon, Plummer and Zadorsky can all operate in the heart of the defence. They can't all play, so that could be a potential source of frustration for them. Many of those players I've mentioned can also play in other positions on the field, which provides valuable depth. However, I still believe the team is overloaded in that position, so it will be interesting to see if this changes between now and the start of the season. It's natural to hypothesise that some of the draft picks, might make the grade. But that's not something you want to rely on, though draft picks can be vitally important for the future of the club.
The midfield, to me, is where this team is lightest in terms of physicality. At the risk of making myself unpopular, I do not believe Emily Van Egmond has been good enough since she arrived. And I think it's time to say goodbye. In 2019 the Australian chalked up only 1 assist, no goals, no shots on target, a 68.5% pass completion rate, 1 block and only made 6 tackles in that time. 3 of which were successful. I'm sorry, but for someone whom you are looking to be a leader in your engine room that is nowhere near good enough. I've included Camila, Claire Emslie and Marta on the midfielders list, but in reality they are more like forwards. Marisa Viggiano is an incredibly talented ball player, but doesn't offer much on the defensive side of the ball. Hopes are high for Taylor Kornieck to add a bit more steel in the middle, she is a tough player who is hard in the tackle. But again, her strengths lie in offense. She scored 39 goals in 82 games, for the University of Colorado Boulder. That's almost a goal a game, so it would be almost criminal to shackle her with too much defensive responsibility. It's important to remember she is also a rookie, so it would be unfair to put too much pressure on her shoulders. The same can be said for Chelsee Washington. The 30th overall pick in the draft, from Bowling Green State University has a promising career ahead of her. The rookie registered 21 goals and 23 assists across 85 appearances during her college career. The Pride badly need to add a combative defensive midfielder or two to complement the attacking talent they already possess.
And finally, the forwards. Alex Morgan is a huge miss for the team. The USWNT legend will miss at least the first couple of months of the season, as she expects her first child in April. Morgan has publicly said that she wants to feature for the US in the Olympics, so the Pride will be hopeful of having her available for a little while before then. Sydney LeRoux is a goalscorer, and the Pride will be pinning a lot of their goal scoring hopes on the former FC Kansas City striker. Aside from Sydney however, the team are light on legitimate striking options. Abby Elinsky can operate both in the midfield and in a forward role. The 24 year old was unable to register a single goal in 2019, from a mere 4 shots on target across 18 appearances albeit most of those were as a substitute. Caitlin Farrell has yet to register a professional goal, but averaged a goal every 3 games in her college career. The team have listed Kristen Edmonds as a forward on their roster, though she was often utilised as a wing back by Marc Skinner. And that just leaves us with Abi Kim. The youngster notched 18 goals and 10 assists during her 74 game college career, which isn't exactly prolific. So to place any expectation on her would be unfair. She undoubtedly has talent, and Skinner will want to take his time with her (assuming she ends up getting signed that is).
The club have certainly made huge improvements to the team so far this off-season. That being said it's going to be so important that Skinner and co don't rest on their laurels. 2019 was a bitterly disappointing season across the board for the team, and they will be desperate to put that right. There needs to be further movements to bring players in if the Pride are to kick-on and improve this coming season.