Are the 2017 Pride a better team than the 2016 version? Undoubtedly. There's far more talent and much more firepower on the pitch. But the team has a tendency to get a little lazy on defense, especially after they get a lead in the match. In fact, the Orlando Pride have been ahead 9 times in 13 matches this season, and five of those nine times they have conceded an equalizer to leave points on the pitch. This tendency to give up late goals has resulted in at least 10 dropped points and has pushed the Pride down toward the bottom of the table in defensive rank, landing them at 8th spot on the table.
I'd like to see the ladies make a commitment double down on defense once they go ahead so that they can preserve the lead and conserve those points. In fact, if they could have held the lead those five times they coughed it up, they would be sitting on 26 points for the season and only a single point out of first place in the league standings. However, the Pride have got the offense going, outscoring opponents 12 - 11 over their last seven matches, and with Alex Morgan working her way back to full match fitness I presume we would see the offensive output only increase.
Today will be a perfect opportunity to start reversing the defensive woes as the Pride welcome FC Kansas City to Orlando City Stadium on Saturday. FC KC has surrendered 15 goals in their last seven matches, equaling the worst defensive performance in team history. The visitors are winless in their last 6 matches, and they equaled a dubious league record last week when they became only the second team in NWSL history to give up a 2 goal lead and lose a match.
Players to Watch
Any time FC Kansas City comes to town, it's always a treat to get to see USWNT star Sydney Leroux ply her craft on the pitch. Leroux is always a scoring threat for the Blues. She is fifth out of all players in NWSL with 32 shots on the season, and leads her team with 3 goals, while Alexa Newfield is second on the team with 2 goals. Alexa Newfield, Shea Groom, and Christina Gibbons share the team lead in assists with 2 each on the season.
For the Pride, many eyes will be on Alex Morgan to see if she can regain the form that she had this spring when she helped lead French side Olympique Lyon to both league and UEFA Championships. Marta will also draw every eye in the stadium as she looks to add to her season tally of 8 goals, which puts her second in the league behind co-leaders Megan Rapinoe and Samantha Kerr. Camila and Jasmyne Spencer have also added 3 goals each on the season. Marta and Camila are co-leaders in assists on the team with 3 each, and Jasmyne Spencer has added 2 more.
Both teams enter the match struggling on defense, with the Pride having given up 20 goals compared to 19 scored for the season (-1 goal differential), while FC Kansas City have given up 18 compared to only 13 goals scored (-5 goal differential). I am feeling more confident about the ability of the Pride to click the last pieces of the puzzle in place to start consistently getting successful results, and with the home pitch advantage I think they will take full points tonight. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that tonight is the night Alex Morgan gets her first goal for the Pride on the season, and the home team will win by a count of 3 - 1.
What are your thoughts on the match? Do you think that the Pride will be able to solve the issue of giving up late goals with the current roster they have, or do you believe that Tom Sermanni and the coaching staff will still need to make a few more moves to ensure that the defensive side of the ball is as potent as the offense? Let me know in the comments below!