Weekend Wrap-up: Pride and OCSC Losses on the Road

There is no joy in Mudville or Orlando today, as the Pride and Orlando City both fell on the road. 

Sky Blue vs. Pride

On Saturday night the Orlando Pride traveled to Rutgers to face Sky Blue FC. It was the first start this season for goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe, who played for the injured Ashlyn Harris. Bledsoe had a solid outing, recording six saves and facing a potent 8 shots on goal by the host side. But as the high number of shots on frame indicate, the defense was not up to task and two of Sky Blue's on-target shots found the back of the net and the hosts recorded a 2 - 1 victory.

The Pride's lone goal came from a partnership between Camila and Jasmyne Spencer, as the Brazilian fed the ball to the speedy striker and she scored the first goal of the match in the 18th minute. But Samantha Kerr made a strong case for player of the match as she figured in both goals for Sky Blue, scoring in the 43rd minute on an assist by Daphne Corboz, and then she registered the assist to Maya Hayes in the 82nd minute for the game winner. 

The Orlando Pride held the technical edge on the night: they had 11 shots, completed 83.2% of their 546 passes (compared to 64.4% of 275 for Sky Blue), and held the ball for 66.7% of the possession. But Sky Blue won the battle of hustle, and that proved to be the edge that helped them win the match. The hosts won more Duels (33 to 23), more Tackles (15 to 9), had more clearances out of their defensive end (17 to 10), and blocked more shots (3 to 0).

MNUFC vs. OCSC

The MLS side traveled to the Twin Cities to face former Lions head coach and star player Adrian Heath and Kevin Molino. And the lads put up a great fight, but their inability to finish (which has been a problem all season, seeing that they have been unable to score more than two goals all season) proved their undoing as they fell 1 - 0 to the hosts.

Orlando City seemed to have the better offensive stats on the night. They led in shots (20 to 5), shots on goal (7 to 2), and possession (52.8% to 47.2%). But Minnesota United led the defensive stats on the night: saves (7 to 1) and blocked shots (3 to 0). And the teams split the "hustle" stats on the night. Orlando City won the most duels (58 to 55), Minnesota United won the most Tackles (16 to 14), Orlando City had more clearances (26 to 25), and as we said already, Minnesota United had more blocked shots (3 to 0).

I was frustrated with the lack of finishing, but I can't fault the team for putting up a good fight on the night. They were a bit unlucky to lose, and I have to think the victory for Minnesota was just a bit of karma for Inchy getting a win over the club that fired him midseason last year. It was clear the victory was very important to him, and after a really shaky start in the Northstar State, it looks like Inchy has the good football at this point in the season.

Orlando City will be back home midweek to host DC United. I'll have a preview up for that one later today.

Sky Blue vs. Pride: Previews and Predictions

Pride fans have had an anxious week, starting with seeing defending NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year Ashlyn Harris go out of the match during the first half with an injury. Then the news got worse on Tuesday afternoon when it was revealed Harris would miss 8 weeks with a Quad injury. It was a surprise to see Harris get hurt because she is such a picture of fitness and strength; however, when I saw her injury come on a non-contact play I was not terribly surprised to see it be a significant one. For one reason or another, it almost always seems that injuries an athlete suffers without hitting anything can keep them out of competition for a long time.

Fortunately, Harris has two quality backups in Caroline Stanley and Aubrey Bledsoe, who was recently sidelined herself for precautions around a suspected concussion. Stanley finished the game with Seattle last week and the team brought home a valuable road point after a 1 - 1 draw against the Reign.

This week's match will be the first of the season between Sky Blue and the Pride. The Pride appear to have shaken off the dodgy start to their season, having scored in five straight matches and getting results in four of the six matches they have played so far. After falling all the way to the bottom of the table, they are slowly ratcheting back up, now in 8th place, but they still need to get a little more consistency in finishing to be able to put multiple goals on the scoreboard every match.

Meanwhile, host team Sky Blue FC are sitting third on the table after losing 2 - 0 on the road against the North Carolina Courage in their most recent match. They will be glad to be playing at home where they are 2 - 0 - 0  on the season.

Players to Watch

For Sky Blue FC, Sarah Killion leads NWSL with 5 goals on the season, so the Pride's defense and goalkeeper will be tested. If there's a weakness to the hosts, it appears to be in their defense. I say that because Sky Blue goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan leads NWSL with 30 saves, but the team has given up 10 goals on the season, three more than the Pride. When the league leader in saves is also giving up a lot of goals, it means that they are playing behind a defense that is not slowing down the attack of opposing players.

For the Pride, all eyes will be on the goalkeeper. Media speculation is that Caroline Stanley will play in goal for Orlando, and she will have the benefit of a more stable defensive line in front of her that has shown marked improvement from the first few matches in terms of making it harder for opponents to get uncontested shots on goal against the team. Coach Tom Sermanni continues to tinker with the sharp end of the formation, trying to find the perfect alchemy to turn chances into goals, but the formula is proving elusive to perfect. I was a little surprised last week to see a lineup change after the group that managed a 3 - 1 win against the North Carolina Courage. Hopefully we will see the coach go back to that lineup and try it, with the exception of the necessary change in goal. 

Prediction

The injury to a player like Ashlyn Harris can have two divergent impacts on a team. It can either make the team feel a sense of despair and they can collapse into themselves, or it can strengthen their resolve to play even harder and prove that they can find success without their leader. I've seen lots of evidence to suggest that this year's Orlando Pride is a gritty and determined team, and I think the injury to Harris will make them play even harder. I think this will lead to a positive result on the road, and the Pride will bring home a result with a 1 - 1 draw on the road. 

What are your thoughts on the game? Do you believe the Orlando Pride will bring back a result on the road? Or do you think that Sky Blue will be able to remain perfect at home? Let me know in the comments below!