The Orlando Pride have their best chance so far to take three points and register their first win of the 2019 campaign this weekend when they travel to New Jersey to face Sky Blue FC. Earlier this month Sky Blue traded away their top scoring striker, Savannah McCaskill, in a sign that they may be cashing in the rest of the 2019 season in hopes to improve next year. The most recognizable player on the Sky Blue, Carli Lloyd, is in France with the US Women’s National Team. Sky Blue is also missing Estelle Johnson for Cameroon and Kailen Sheridan for Canada.
Meanwhile, the Orlando Pride look like they may be starting to click with coach Marc Skinner’s tactics and system. The last game out they earned a gritty 2 - 2 draw with Houston Dash. The result came both courtesy of and despite some really poor officiating. The head referee blew a handball penalty against Houston in the first half that should have awarded the Pride a PK. However, there was almost another immediate foul just outside the box, and Joanna Boyles converted that into a goal from the set piece. Then in the 88th minute Pride goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer handled the ball outside the top of the penalty area and the officials missed noticing it.
Several players from last game out deserve some recognition. Among them is the often-invisible Danica Evans, who has probably played fewer minutes than anyone who has been on the Pride roster since 2017. She rarely saw the pitch under Coach Tom Sermanni, and she did not figure in many matches early in the season. But within two minutes of subbing in last week, Evans buried her first touch on the ball in the back of Houston’s net to give the Pride their first score of the match. She had another powerful strike that was low and on frame a little later in the match, but Houston’s keeper managed to smother it and make a quality save. It’s very good to see that a player who rarely plays be able to take full advantage of the chance. I hope this will result in more playing time and that we will be able to see her play more going forward.
Two other players who had a solid second half were Chioma Ubogagu and Rachel Hill. In the first five minutes of the second half, the two combined on multi-prong attack runs deep into the attacking area. On one run Ubogagu crossed the ball to Hill resulting in a shot that narrowly missed finding the back of the net. And on the next attack run it was Hill’s turn to cross the ball over to Ubogagu, who also sent a strong shot at goal that was parried away by the keeper. We need more of this multi-phase attack by the Pride and that needs to come for the full 90 minutes. Too many times on this team one player will run into the box and her teammates will all stand around and watch.
In that match, the Pride showed resilience and hustle and cohesive play that has been inconsistent throughout the first eight matches of the season. If the Pride are able to build on that performance for Saturday night’s match, then it should be a good opportunity for the Pride to bring home points, and hopefully get their first win of the season.
Coming into the match, Sky Blue are managing only 45% possession and completing 61.9% of their passes in the attacking half. They have attempted 75 crosses and completed 14 of them on the season. They are equal with the Pride in having two draws and no wins, but they have managed to score 12 goals, which is eight more than the Pride have managed to put in the back of the net.
Meanwhile, Orlando have marginally better possession with 47%, and they are only completing 56.8% of their passes in the attacking half. They have attempted 101 crosses and completed 21 so far this season—those numbers are slightly better than Sky Blue, but are still woefully inadequate. They have four goals on the season, which is the lowest total in the league, and they also have the worst goal differential at -16 on the season.
I’m cautiously optimistic, and I will predict that Orlando will win the match by one goal. I’m not sure if that will be a 1 - 0 clean sheet victory or a 2 - 1 victory. If they can prevail and bring home three points, it will be a good springboard to attack the second half of the season and see if they can’t bring themselves at least back toward the middle of the table and start building toward the 2020 campaign.