The Orlando Pride took one on the chin on Saturday at the Maryland SoccerPlex. The Pride fell by the count of 2 - 0 to the Washington Spirit. The Pride is one of the most talented teams in NWSL, but out of the roster of 20 players, the team is missing fully seven of their projected starters: Emily van Egmond and Alanna Kennedy are away with the Matildas for an international tournament in the Middle East. Camila and Alex Morgan are both injured, and Camila's Brazilan countrywomen: Marta, Monica, and Poliana, are all off for International Duty with the Brazilian national team. So it means there are a lot of young players playing a lot more minutes than they might normally play on a roster filled with such world-class talent.
- Sydney Leroux - Sydney Leroux was at the top of the formation and made four shots on the day, three of which were on target. She also completed 76.3% of her passes on 56 touches during the match, making her among the most active players on the pitch.
- Rachel Hill - Hill is one of the young players who might normally expect to see minutes off the bench with the Pride, but she was thrust into a starting role on the right wing yesterday. She had three shots. While none were registered as being on target, she pinged one off the crossbar and forced Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe to deflect another up and over her goal to be sure it wouldn't go into the net.
- Dani Weatherholt - Weatherholt was a participant (willingly or unwillingly) in Coach Sermanni's mad scientist laboratory yesterday. Normally Weatherholt is a tenacious holding midfielder that plays an aggressive and physical style of soccer against any and all opposing players going forward into the Pride defensive half of the pitch. But yesterday Tom deployed her at the 10 position and made the offense flow through her. Dani had a shot on goal and three tackles, while still leading the team in total touches (87) and passes completed (56) and had a respectable 73.2% passing success rate.
- Subs Don't Carry Over - OK let me say that I recognize I'm just a schmuck with a blog and I'm not a world-class coach. I also know that the Pride has a tendency to pressure themselves to score in every match. The longer the match goes scoreless, the more the players press to put the ball in the back of the net. This pulls the entire formation forward, and when there are no fresh legs on the pitch, it's hard for the team to get back on defense in counter-attack situations. Yesterday Coach Tom Sermanni opted to use only one sub before the final moments of the match. In that case, he took off Chioma Ubogagu in the 74th and put on another attacker, Danica Evans, in her place. Six minutes later, the Pride paid for a tired defense when Mallory Pugh broke the deadlock with the first goal for the Spirit.
- Officiating - Perhaps all soccer referees are vilified by every fan base, but seems like both the Pride and OCSC were in matches with poor officiating. I'll have to say I questioned a call that went against the Spirit in the 78th minute. Spirit substitute Joanna Lohman was called for a handball just outside the penalty area in front of Aubrey Bledsoe's goal when Rachel Hill fired a shot at the net. Lohman had her hand held up next to her body, but her forearm was across her chest and the ball struck her there. It didn't seem like she raised her arm against the shot--if anything her arm was up already and she tried to pull it closer. But the call resulted in nothing as the free kick from Christine Nairn simply went into the midsection of the Spirit wall and was not a threat to the goal.
- Goal Defense - Saturday wasn't a great day to be a goaltender for a team from Orlando. Both Joe Bendik and Ashlyn Harris didn't have their best matches. In the 80th minute, Mallory Pugh received a pass forward from Ashley Hatch and brought that up to just outside the corner of the six-yard box. She sent a sharp, low shot right at Ashlyn Harris, who tried to fall on the ball. But the shot nutmegged the keeper and found the back of the net. Then in the 88th minute, Pugh sent a crossing pass in toward her teammate. Fortunately, that pass was intercepted by Pride defender Carson Pickett just outside the six-yard box. Unfortunately, Pickett couldn't clear the ball and it fell a couple of yards in front of her, right in the path of the onrushing Ashley Hatch. Hatch smote the ball with a powerful right foot and it beat a diving Harris to find the back of the net on the fly.
- Aubrey Bledsoe - I always try to reserve a spot in "The Beautiful" for a player from the Orlando Pride, but today I have to recognize the play of a former member of the team. Aubrey Bledsoe spent two seasons as a backup for Ashlyn Harris. Last year when Harris suffered a quadriceps contusion and missed twelve weeks, Bledsoe filled in and kept the Pride in contention for the playoffs. I knew this would earn her the opportunity to get a starting goalkeeper job somewhere and I was sorry to see her leave. Bledsoe had a 100% save rate, saving 4 of 4 shots that she faced.
What were your thoughts on the match against the Spirit? Did you think that different substitutions might have helped the Pride preserve a road result or maybe get a win? What did you think of the deployment of some players in unorthodox positions that you saw on Saturday? Let me know in the comments below.