Saturday night the Orlando Pride host the Portland Thorns for the second time in the 2019 season. Both teams will be without several International stars who have already joined their national sides to prepare for the Women’s World Cup in France next month. In the season opener, the Pride looked disjointed and untidy in a 2 - 0 loss at Orlando City Stadium. Since then, the Pride have gradually begun to tighten up their defense, holding opponents to a single goal for three matches in a row.
The biggest struggle for the Pride has been putting the ball in the back of the net. Through five matches, the Pride’s goal total matches their point total of one, that lone goal coming in a match in Tacoma against the Reign at the end of the second week of the season. In the team’s most recent match against Houston, they managed a total of nine shots but no shots on target. By contrast, Houston managed 18 shots and nine on goal. The Pride are starting to get the lead in some categories—in the last match they led in total passes (388 to 349), possession (52.8% to 47.2%), and duels won (72 to 70).
Since this match will be the first time that Orlando has faced the same team for the second time, it will be interesting to see if there has been any improvement in the club since the first meeting, or if the seeming improvement in cohesion by the squad has been due to playing weaker teams in the league and getting lucky with the schedule.
Injuries and International Duty
This week Pro Soccer USA reported that Toni Pressley was back training with the Orlando Pride after missing the first five matches of the season. Coach Marc Skinner said he would be careful not to bring Pressley back into the squad too quickly and risk another injury, so her availability for the 18 this weekend will depend on how she looks and feels in training. At the same time, Kristen Edmonds has been ruled out for the weekend with a knee injury. She has played with that knee taped the last couple of weeks, and apparently it has been hurt to the point she can’t play. On the NWSL injury report, Alanna Kennedy now appears on the questionable list with a potential quad strain. I suspect that since she is on Australia’s roster for the Women’s World Cup we probably won’t see Kennedy this weekend so that she doesn’t risk an injury that causes her to miss the chance to represent her country in the world’s biggest soccer tournament.
In International news, the Canada and England teams were announced. Shelina Zadorsky was selected from the Pride and has left to join her team, but Chioma Ubogagu was not selected and will remain with the Pride through the World Cup tournament. Zadorsky joins Alex Morgan, Ali Krieger, and Ashlyn Harris in training for the World Cup tournament with their respective national teams. After this week, more teams are expected to call their players to camp, so we will likely be losing three more players from the Pride roster in Marta, Alanna Kennedy, and Emily Van Egmond.
As for Portland, they have been hit hard by International call-ups as well. Adrianna Franch (USA), Tobin Heath (USA), Lindsey Horan (USA), Christine Sinclair (CAN), and Emily Sonnett (USA) are all gone from the Thorns side ahead of this match. In fact, the USWNT has their first of three “send-off” matches on Sunday in California. Also for the Thorns, Emily Menges (Right Foot) and Bella Bixby (Right Hand) are on the questionable list for the match.
I have a bold prediction, so I see a need to lay some groundwork. The Thorns have been conceding an average of two goals per match this season, including giving up four to Chicago a couple of weeks ago. This matches the number of goals that Orlando is giving up, but the Pride have really started to clamp down on opportunities they permit the opponents in the last few weeks. Defensively, the Pride are also better than the Thorns in Duels (47.6% to 46.3%) and Aerial Duels (49.1% to 48.6%). In most offensive stats the Thorns are leading the Pride in passes, shots, and scoring, but the Pride do hold an edge in completion of long passes (41.7% to 34.3%). As I said, I’ve marked an improvement match by match in the Pride’s ability to control and move the ball, and it feels like they are building up to putting the final pieces in place and starting to score goals with more consistency.
I believe this week we may see some evidence of improvement in terms of results, and I am hoping that against a depleted Thorns side today we will see the first fruits of the Pride’s labors in the form of a full three points. I am going to be bold and predict a 2 - 0 victory for Orlando, with the team getting their first clean sheet of the season an putting enough shots on target to get two of them into the back of the net.
What are your thoughts on the day? Do you think the Pride can pull off the win, or do you think they still need a few more weeks to put the pieces of Coach Marc Skinner’s tactical plan in place before they can start winning matches? Let me know in the comments below!