As the Orlando Pride have officially begun preseason training, perhaps one of the biggest question marks for the new squad is its defense. While on paper it seems as if the Pride's defense is strong and ready for play, a deeper look reveals that all of the potential starting back four are international players, who will miss significant time this season due to international commitments. This leaves head coach Tom Sermanni without strong leadership and consistency in his back line.
The ideal back line would probably consist of Laura Alleway, Steph Catley, Monica Alves, and Josée Bélanger. A quick glance at these four players reveals that this would be a strong defense and difficult for any team to penetrate. Catley and Belanger play really well on the outside and often make long runs that contribute to the team's offense. Their style of play allows for the game to be more faster paced, spread across the field, and offensive minded.
However, the only reason that Catley and Belanger can move freely up the field is because of a strong center back pairing. This is where Alleway and Alves become vital to the success of the Orlando Pride. If we are correct in assuming that Sermanni will play a 4-4-2, pushing his outside backs forward, then the center backs become the most important piece, holding down the back while supporting the attack. In a perfect world all four of these players would be available for the entire season, but it is almost guaranteed that at some point they will be called in to their national team camps, maybe all at once, or several at a time. This creates the second issue: communication.
The four defenders already come from three different nations, and speak different soccer terms more native to their countries. They will have to take time to learn each player's style of play and rhythm, and they are already at a disadvantage due to prior commitments keeping them from preseason. This leaves Sermanni forced to play another defender in a position that she is unfamiliar with and most likely not prepared for.
So what happens if Sermanni has already recognized these issues and has gone to his bench to build a more consistent starting back line? Who is in the wings ready to play? There is Maddy Evans, a younger player from Boston, Kristen Edmonds, another young player, Camille Levin, a player who spent most of her professional career overseas, Toni Pressley, an inexperienced center back, and Sam Witteman, a rookie. All of these players have potential to be strong defenders, but their youth and lack of experience raise questions as well.
How is it that Orlando's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness, and what are some ways this can be solved? If Sermanni is aware of his back-line dilemma, he will use preseason to play the veterans and younger players together, not allowing only the internationals to play together. This month, leading up to the home opener needs to be a time of evaluation for Sermanni to determine who communicates well together and who can play consistently. If he can find that, the Orlando Pride should have no problem with its international players coming in and out of play and should be successful in stopping advances from the rest of the NWSL.