The Orlando Pride are still looking for their first win on the season, with three matches in the book and their form still seeming in a bit of disarray. They will face off Sunday night against FC Kansas City, a team that has also lost two matches on the season, but has balanced that with an opening week win at home over Boston.
The Pride have all the pieces in place to be a great team and watching them on the pitch it seems like they are right on the cusp of doing something really good, but looking deeper into the numbers it's clear that the talent on the pitch is not translating into the results that fans are expecting. The club have managed to only score two goals on the season, which ties them with New Jersey and FC Kansas City for sixth in the league, while they are dead last on goal differential at -4, having given up six goals on the season, which is also the most allowed by any defense.
This comes at the same time that Ashlyn Harris is leading the NWSL in saves with 18 on the young season, meaning that the breakdown is happening in the back line, which is something that Orlando City MLS fans had to suffer with in 2015 and 2016 before the men's team seemed to get things figured out. Many fans were scratching their heads over the coaching decision to start striker Jamia Fields in the back line in the first two weeks of the season, which seemed to put her badly out of her natural position. It was more heartening to see a traditional back line of Steph Catley, Ali Krieger, Alanna Kennedy, and Laura Alleway fielded for the last match at Carolina, but that lineup allowed 3 goals, which was the most of the season so far. So clearly there's still some tinkering that the coaches need to do to motivate the ladies in the back to play to their full potential.
I know that goals put butts in seats and eyes on screens, but at this point I think the Orlando Pride need to remember the adage that defense wins championships and start figuring out ways to earn some clean sheets. Joe Bendik had the second highest save total in MLS last season, but the MLS side gave up the most goals in the league and they missed the playoffs. If the Pride want to play their way into contention, then they need to figure out first how to stop opposing teams from scoring and then worry about how to score more goals.
Now if we look at trends, the trend that favors Orlando in this week's matchup is that our ladies have scored in each of the last two matches while FC Kansas City has been blanked in their last two outings. I'm not counting on that happening again, but if the Pride can limit Kansas City to a single goal, then they might give themselves a chance.
Players to Watch
For the home side, new mom Sydney Leroux has done all the scoring for FC Kansas City so far, and both of those goals came in the week one win against Boston. Shea Groom was a big contributor to the club last season, but she is listed as only a probable starter for this match with what the NWSL reports as a broken rib. For the player's sake I hope that's not the case.
Meanwhile, Orlando will bring in a lot of glitz and big names with Ashlyn Harris in goal and Marta in the field, but in this game teamwork wins matches and that's what we need to see more of this weekend if the Pride want to bring back a result. Camila, last week's goal scorer, is listed as doubtful for the match with a reported left ankle sprain, and two other players are listed with nicks that make them only probable for the match: Kristen Edmonds (right knee sprain) and Chioma Ubogagu (left hamstring sprain).
My heart wants to predict a win, and I'm trying to find justification in the stats. Orlando are marginally creating more chances than their opponents, with an 18 to 15 shots per match edge, and a 17 to 14 edge in crosses per match. But as we've seen in the scoring department those chances are not being finished with goals scored.
And I'm a little less encouraged by looking at the "hustle" stats that show how hard a team is working to win balls in the middle of the pitch. Orlando is getting out-dueled by the count of 36 to 31 per match, and they are losing the battle of tackles by the count of 17 to 12 in each of their matches so far. The Pride are leading their opponents in Clearances and Saves, but to me this is just proof that the defense is not doing enough to prevent the opponents from getting opportunities to get the ball into the danger area and take shots.
Flipping around to look at FC Kansas City, they are losing the shots battle by the count of 13 to 11 per match, and likewise their opponents are creating more crosses by the count of 18 to 15 per match.
But FC Kansas City is winning the hustle stats--they are winning the duel count 36 to 33 and winning tackles by the count of 15 to 13 per match compared to their components. They are leading in Clearances and Saves compared to opponents, but like I said for the Pride, this just means their defense is not getting the job done in terms of keeping opponents from getting the ball into the danger area.
I'm going to go strictly by the numbers and, unfortunately, I'm going to have to give the edge to the home team in terms of the intangibles. Because FC Kansas City will have a hometown crowd behind them and because they are out-hustling us in the deep stats, I think they are going to win this game. We are outshooting Kansas City on the season, but at this point the Pride are going to have to prove to me that they can consistently convert those chances into goals before I'll start to believe they are going to make a serious run for the playoffs this season. I don't like picking against my team, but I'm going to say Orlando will come up short by the score line of 2 - 1.
What are your predictions for the match? Do you think the Pride will finally start finishing more of the chances they are creating and start scoring more goals? Do you think the defense will begin to gel and start taking pressure off of Ashlyn Harris to stop every buildup that the opponent has? Or do you think the team will keep struggling on the young season? Let me know in the comments below!