Why Emily Sonnett Could Be Marc Skinner's Missing Link
It's probably the worst kept secret in the NWSL that last year's Pride defence was shaky. And to be brutally honest that's me sugar coating it with frosting, sprinkles, more frosting and then dumping a pound of sugar on top of it. Bringing in major reinforcements was a top priority this off-season. There were more than a few eyebrows raise when Orlando traded away its first overall pick for Emily Sonnett and the rights to new Arsenal signing Caitlin Foord. My personal opinion is that this was a very shrewd trade. The experienced former Portland Thorns defender has 43 caps for the USWNT, and has racked up 78 appearances for the Thorns. She's defensively solid and a leader in the backline. She is a cool head, who is also no stranger to finding the back of the net for herself having chalked her name on to the scoresheet 8 times for Portland.
During his tenure as the head coach of Birmingham City Ladies in the FAWSL, Skinner built a team that were defensively solid and liked to play on the front foot. They did this by building a strong spine to the team with the likes of Meaghan Sargeant, Andrine Hegerberg and Ellen White playing straight through the middle. Birmingham also liked to play with width and dynamism when going forward. You get the feeling that Skinner is trying to build something similar in Orlando (believe it or not). Believe, me I know it seems weird to say that about a team that shipped 52 goes last season. Last season Skinner inherited a team that was disjointed and perhaps disillusioned. The end of Tom Sermanni's tenure at the club felt inevitable. Under the likeable Scotsman you got the sense there was no real organisation and cohesion to the teams play. 2019 for Marc Skinner, was about getting over that and beginning to introduce some new ideas. It was never going to be a quick fix, but the acquisition of Sonnett feels like a step in the right direction. She will bring fresh leadership and organisation to and already star studded back four. Her partnerships from the USWNT with the likes of Harris and Krieger should stand the Pride in good stead. She will be able to provide guidance to young players like Erin Greening, who showed encouraging signs of developing in to a very capable full-back towards the end of last season. The experience and knowledge that Sonnett will bring to this club both and off the field cannot be underestimated. And when you consider how keen Skinner is to unify the squad, the acquisition of such an affable and charismatic player Sonnett makes a whole lot of sense.
At times last season, particularly during the 2019 FIFA World Cup, the Pride defence was all over the place. It was only towards the end of the season, with the return of the likes of Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger that some semblance of organisation began to take shape. And let me be clear here, I don't attribute this to Skinner. At least not wholly. Players like Kristen Edmonds and Carson Pickett simply aren't up to scratch. You need discipline, and mental toughness to play at such a high level. Too often players like Edmond's and Pickett would become distracted, and panic particularly when playing against a high press. Sonnett's experience and calmness under pressure, particularly for a team that lost it's discipline on far too many occasions last season. The Pride led the league in yellow and red cards last season (36 yellows, 3 reds). That being said, Sonnett was the recipient of a controversial red card when facing off against the Utah Royal's Amy Rodriguez. Sonnett has firmly established herself as a key player in a Thorns side that regularly finds itself in the end of season play-offs. Sonnett made 13 appearances (12 of which were starts) in 2019, which is impressive considering she was at the World Cup, although she only made one appearance as a substitute in the 82nd minute in the game against Chile. Sonnett has winning experience, having been part of winning teams for her entire career. Even during her spell in the W-League she was part of a Sydney FC side that went all the way to the W-League final before succumbing to a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Melbourne City.
She is someone who is not afraid to put her foot on the ball and play out from the back. She is just as capable carrying the ball forward into midfield as she is switching the play out to the flanks. With players like Claire Emslie, Marissa Viggiano and Marta returning for the Pride this year, the ability to switch the ball out to both flanks will be a valuable commodity for the Pride. It provides them with an out ball that they never really had last season, which should enable them to switch from defence to attack and get themselves on the front foot. This was a huge issue last season as often times, when the Pride were under pressure, they would panic and give the ball away needlessly in dangerous areas. Case and point, Reign FC at home in October and far too many other occasions.
As I touched on previously, she is a defender with a keen eye for goal. She is not afraid to attack the near post from corner kicks, which is something the Pride have lacked probably since their inception in 2016. The Pride only registered three goals from central defenders last season, with Alanna Kennedy, Shalina Zadorsky and Toni Pressley all notching 1 each. Sonnett scored 2 on her own, despite missing two months of the season whilst away on international duty. With the deliveries of Marta and Marissa Viggiano, you have to fancy that Sonnett will have ample opportunity to add to her career tally this coming season.
A lot has been made of how international heavy this current Pride roster is, and how the signing of Sonnett only adds. And to a certain extent I agree, During last summer's World Cup the Pride's squad was decimated when it lost its internationals. However, to say signing a player of Sonnett's calibre is a mistake because of this, is short sighted at best. Marc Skinner wants to create a winning culture in central Florida. This is something that takes time, and requires players like Sonnett to be around and pass their knowledge and experience off to the more up and coming players. The Pride has made some strong off-field moves over the last year. The acquisition of Amanda Duffy at boardroom level, and the fact that the Pride is to become the first NWSL club with it's own customised and fully exclusive training facility are both such huge steps. It's important that these positive off-field steps are met with positive ones on it. The Pride were able to trade their way up and down the draft very well this season. The likes of Taylor Kornieck and Courtney Peterson were picked up at 3rd and 7th overall. Peterson in particular is someone who will benefit from having the likes of Sonnett around. The sort of moves the Pride are making currently will help to ensure that they receive a pick a lot later in the first round of 2021's draft.