NWSL Analysis: What went wrong for the Orlando Pride?
Updated: Oct 25, 2021
Saturday's match disqualifies Orlando from the playoffs for their fourth-straight season
Racing Louisville defeated the Orlando Pride 3-1 Saturday, breaking their nine-game winless streak and ending Orlando’s hopes of qualifying for this year’s NWSL playoffs.
Despite the score, Orlando controlled the majority of the first half, with Jodie Taylor scoring from a through ball slipped behind Louisville’s defense by Alex Morgan in the third minute. It wasn’t until the end of the first half that Racing got on the board as Ebony Salmon struck a beautifully-placed shot into the upper right corner of the net.
After closing out the half conceding a goal, the Pride appeared to be disoriented at the start of the second half. Just seven minutes in, Katie McClure added a goal of her own, assisted by Salmon. Voted player of the match, Salmon made a third contribution to the score in the 77th minute when she crossed the ball to Yuki Nagasato, who buried it with veteran flair.
Orlando managed to spark an offensive push during stoppage time, but it was too little, too late. The loss was their fourth in a row and virtually guaranteed they would not make the playoffs. For a team that began the season undefeated for nine games and at the top of the standings, the Orlando Pride in this match looked a lot more like the bottom-table team fans saw in previous seasons.
However, this season was certainly not normal.
Former Head Coach Marc Skinner dropped a bomb on the team by announcing his resignation, July 23, citing an agreement to become the coach of Manchester United Women as the reason for his departure. The Orlando Pride then hired Becky Burleigh as interim head coach, who arrived with 26 years of experience as the women’s soccer coach at the University of Florida.
The news was received with optimism by players, who seemed eager to be led by a female coach with a positive coaching philosophy. Between Burleigh’s hiring and the international break that occurred in mid-September, the Pride posted a 3-1-3 record.
As a team with a heavy international player presence, it’s necessary that Orlando has enough depth in their roster to continue to have solid performances when players report to their respective countries to play games.The team has received heavy criticism for this in past seasons, and this year’s poor results do correlate with absences of international players, including going winless for the entirety of the Olympic Games.
But perhaps this isn’t fair criticism for a team that has had to deal with the loss of its group of international players since its first season in 2016. It certainly has a talented roster full of capable professionals that can play together well, even without these players. Orlando has shown streaks of brilliance throughout the past five years, this season in particular, but it’s clear something needs to change.
Sydney Leroux’s team-leading eight goals on the season could be a major focus point going forward. Many may consider Leroux’s peak play to have occurred between the years of 2012 and 2015, during which her primary position was at center forward or paired with another offensive player like Morgan or Abby Wambach in a 4-4-2 formation. But based on this season, it seems that the 31-year-old is still far from peaking.
The Pride have centered their frontline on Morgan even though her league play in recent years has been less consistent than her performances with the U.S. Women’s National Team. With Leroux back in form and not currently facing international obligations, targeting her rather than Morgan could be considered.
Making offensive adjustments would not be enough, however. Orlando’s midfield has a habit of nearly disappearing for periods of time during matches. Their defense is stacked full of great players, but still suffers from frequent slip-ups that cost them the game.
Burleigh appears to recognize that Leroux needs to be utilized, but possibly more than she thinks. And despite her losing record, Burleigh has only been with the Pride for three months and seems to have her players’ best interests in mind. With a fresh start and a new season, it’s possible that she could help Orlando could piece together the puzzle of consistency next year.
The Orlando Pride will play their last game of the 2021 NWSL season against the fourth-ranked Chicago Red Stars on Friday, Oct. 29. The Red Stars are still in playoff contention and defeated Orlando 1-0 in their last meeting earlier this month.