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A Lack of Lineup Continuity Contributed to the Orlando Pride’s Failures in 2018

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During the off-season and preseason, it looked like the Orlando Pride would be one of the contenders to win the NWSL Championship. Last season they made the postseason before getting beaten by the Portland Thorns FC 4-1 in the semifinal. Orlando responded by adding international players and the roster looked to be largely improved over the 2017 Pride. However, the influx of international players, combined with injuries to key players, proved to be a problem for Orlando.

The season never played out the way it was planned, and Orlando recorded back-to-back wins just once — against Sky Blue FC and the Washington Spirit, the two worst teams in the league. Coincidently, the last time that the Pride have had the same starting XI in consecutive games was in these two matches.

The Pride dropped crucial points in the final run of games to Sky Blue and the Houston Dash, which was ultimately enough to keep them from postseason contention. Prior to the Sky Blue draw, Sermanni changed the goalkeeper — due to Harris on international duty, — two of the back three, and swapped three other players. In fact, the only players to consistently make the starting XI have been Shelina Zadorsky and Ashlyn Harris, with Dani Weatherholt starting almost every game to end the season.

“There hasn’t been a turning point where we’ve been able to turn it around, unfortunately,” Alex Morgan said after the Pride lost to Chicago on Sunday and were officially eliminated from the playoffs. “I think just dropping points against Jersey, against Houston; these are teams we should have picked up points against, should have won. Coming out lethargic after a weather delay, or whatever it may be, in the past, it all added up and frustrations have definitely boiled over.”

The season did not come down to any one game. Instead, it was the consistent underperforming throughout the year that led to the team not living up to expectations and one of the key parts of that is that there has been a lack of consistency in who was out on the field.

Apart from the back-to-back wins, the only other time that Sermanni brought out the same starting XI in consecutive matches was at the beginning of the season when the Pride lost to Portland and beat Houston, albeit there were few options as the Brazilians and Australians were out on international duty.

“On the field, I think it’s building those relationships with each other,” said Ali Krieger. “Maybe we didn’t have the same lineup every game, which might have caused some problems with building relationships. And then some injures so you have to switch out, or you’re resting people at times during the season. I don’t know if that’s an issue but I think the consistency of switching some lineups and personnel, that’s always tough to build that relationship that you need to build with the players around you.”

As Krieger mentions, a big part of the constant shuffling of players is due to injuries, as well as international call ups. The most productive player on the Pride this season has been Sydney Leroux, however, since the last time that the Pride have won, Leroux has just a single start because of an illness and a concussion.

This is not just an isolated situation, as many key players have missed time this season. Alex Morgan started in the season opener but sustained a concussion and was forced to miss the following game. Krieger suffered an MCL injury this season and missed the next four matches — prior to the injury the former USWNT starter held the league-best active minutes played streak (3,227) and played in every minute since she signed for Orlando. Then, of course, there was Camila who played in her first game in July, and never truly looked like the same player as she was before her knee injury last season.

Perhaps what affected the Pride even more than the injuries have been the international call-ups. Ten players have been called up to their respective national teams this season, with Rachel Hill making the U.S. U-23 roster, to move the total up to 11. This particularly hurt the team at the start of the season when the Brazilians and Australians were out.

Alanna Kennedy, Marta, Monica, Poliana, and Emily van Egmond all missed at least three of the first four games in the beginning of the season. Of those first four games, the Pride’s only win was 1-0 against Houston. Even so, the quality on the field was lacking in this match and it was sloppy, filled with turnovers, and the lone goal came from a set piece. In particular, Marta, who missed just a single game in 2017, only played in 17 this season — she will most likely get her 18th appearance against Sky Blue — because of both injuries and international duty.

While injuries and international call-ups have played a big part in this changing of the starting XI, Sermanni is also to blame, especially how the team shape has differed from week to week. In the last month the Pride have played in three-back, four-back, and five-back formations and this has led to many cohesion issues.

Because of the constant lineup changes, the Pride have struggled to even hold shape. Just about every game, players were left to beat multiple defenders by themselves as a direct result of having no other options. On the attack, players would look to cross the ball into the box, but there was no one there. Marta is able to get by with taking on multiple players, but the team cannot rely on her to do everything. Players need some level of consistency to build relationships with each other which, in turn, leads to results.

The pivotal quote to emphasize this came from Chioma Ubogagu after the Pride drew against Sky Blue. With just four games left in the season, Chi said, “We need to start to build our chemistry with whoever is up top and build relationships and knowing what each other likes to do on and off the ball.”

Sermanni also spoke about the constant change. He took responsibility and claimed that if a team doesn’t win the blame should reside with the coach. He knows that next season there are things that will need to be done differently but he also said that he had no choice but to make so many changes because the players were simply not performing.

“It is more than fair to say [there’s been a lack of energy],” said Sermanni. “I don’t know how to explain it. We’ve tried multiple things in training weeks this year. Whether it’s a confidence thing I don’t know, that’s probably part of it. But there just seems to be a reluctance to do stuff. To be frank, apart from Dani Weatherholt, and probably Marta, I can’t turn around and say any other player had played to the expectations that we’ve had.”

On what changes the team needs to make to be better in 2019, the coach said, “Change in personnel, change in training, change in philosophy — that’s perhaps what we need to do.”

The change in personnel might be a big one for 2019. Next year is the World Cup and so, with the current roster, Sermanni will have to make even more changes for the weeks that players are out. Perhaps trading some international players is what the team will need to do to keep a consistent lineup and allow players to build chemistry with each other.

“Whether we feel that we have too many star players, I don’t know,” Sermanni said. “Whether we need more what I’d call ‘blue collar players’ on the team, I don’t know. Whether we’ve got the wrong combination of players, that’s just not working together, I don’t know.”

Orlando Pride

Orlando Pride vs. Utah Royals: Final Score 6-0 as Pride Destroy Royals in Historic Performance

The Pride thumped the Utah Royals 6-0 in record-setting performance.

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Image courtesy of Orlando Pride / Jeremy Reper

The Orlando Pride (9-0-5, 32 points) got back to their winning ways and extended their unbeaten run to 14 games with a club-record 6-0 win over the Utah Royals (2-11-1, 7 points) tonight at Inter&Co Stadium. Barbra Banda and Marta each scored twice while Summer Yates and Ally Watt added one.

Pride Head Coach Seb Hines deployed the same lineup that played to a scoreless draw with the North Carolina Courage last weekend. Anna Moorhouse was in goal behind a back line of Kerry Abello, Kylie Strom, Emily Sams, and Bri Martinez. Haley McCutcheon and Yates were the defensive midfielders behind an attacking midfield of Julie Doyle, Marta, and Adriana. Banda was again the lone striker.

The Pride dominated this game from the opening seconds. They constantly threatened the Utah goal and had little to do defensively for most of the contest. Their impressive accuracy of putting 21 of 28 shots on target was key as they netted a team-record six goals and won by the largest margin in team history.

The Pride created the first chance of the game in the second minute when Abello sent Doyle down the left. The speedy midfielder tried to get around Zoe Burns in the box, but the defender did well to slide in and knock the ball out of play. The ensuing set piece by Yates found the head of McCutcheon at the near post, but she sent the redirection over the goal.

The Pride’s high press forced a turnover from the goal kick, winning back possession and creating another chance. Receiving a pass from McCutcheon, Adriana played the ball across the field for Abello. The left back took a long-distance shot into the arms of Royals goalkeeper Mandy Haught.

It looked like the Pride might strike in the ninth minute through a defensive mistake. Lauren Flynn played the ball back for Haught who misplayed it. Banda darted for the loose ball, arriving at the same time as Haught. While the forward went down, Haught got to the ball first.

The Royals created their first decent chance in the 19th minute when Ally Sentnor played the ball wide for Madison Pogarch and made a run to the far post. Pogarch’s cross found Sentnor, but she could only head it back, where it ended up with Amandine Henry outside of the box. The French international’s shot was deflected by McCutcheon, giving the visitors a corner kick.

The ensuing set piece by Sentnor was headed towards goal by Pogarch. Kate Del Fava put a body on Moorhouse, but the Pride goalkeeper was able to grab the ball and end the threat.

The Pride quickly went the other way with Doyle dribbling down the left. She played the ball to Adriana near the top of the Royals’ box and the Brazilian continued it on for Banda on the right. The striker was looking for the far post with her shot, but the ball rolled wide.

In the 26th minute, Sams sent a beautiful long diagonal ball for Doyle on the left. Dribbling inside, the midfielder took an ambitious shot towards goal, but it went straight to Haught.

The Pride’s pressure kept the ball in the Royals third of the field and they quickly created another chance. Marta sent a dangerous ball in front of the goal where Adriana was running in. The pass was a bit too far in front of her, but Banda retained possession for the Pride on the right. The forward found Adriana in front of goal, but Haught was there.

The Royals goalkeeper should’ve been able to collect the ball, but spilled the chance, forcing Del Fava to clear it out for a Pride throw-in. Off of the restart, Abello sent the ball to the back post where Banda got her head to it and put it in to give the hosts a much-deserved 1-0 lead.

“The first goal, header back post. We talked a lot about her coming into this game being in the width of the goal, being in goal-scoring positions when we’re in crossing positions,” Hines said about the first goal. “And so she took that information on and she put herself in a threatening position.”

“The main target is to score in the first minutes because it keeps the game so easy when you score first,” Banda said about the Pride scoring first. “And I think for me, I feel scoring early goals is more important to the team when we keep calm, so that we are not pressured. So, I think we really wanted that goal.”

The goal was Banda’s ninth of the season, tying her with Portland’s Sophia Smith for the league lead.

In the 37th minute, Macey Fraser’s cross towards the far post was headed away by Martinez. Pogarch came flying into the play, taking Martinez out. The ball went to Ana Tejada, who sent a hard shot towards goal. It was on frame, but Moorhouse did well to get down and make the stop. In the meantime, Martinez remained on the ground after the hard contact. While she required attention, the right back eventually got up and was able to continue.

Following the restart, the Pride nearly got a second through an excellent effort by Yates. The second-year midfielder used her change of pace to beat Michele Vasconcelos and shoot. The ball was dipping under the crossbar, forcing Haught to tip it over.

The Pride took advantage of a terrible mistake in the back by Agnes Nyberg in the third minute of first-half stoppage time to double their lead. After receiving the ball, Haught played a short pass to Nyberg. She was looking to send it wide for Del Fava, but it was a weak pass. Yates took possession and beat Haught to give the Pride a 2-0 lead.

In the sixth minute of first-half stoppage time, Doyle played Adriana forward. A late challenge by Tejada saw the Brazilian go down and the defender was booked. The ensuing set piece by Adriana was tipped by Haught off the crossbar, but the referee determined that it went directly off the crossbar and issued a goal kick.

It was a dominant first half by the Pride, who had the advantage in possession (63%-37%), shots (12-4), shots on target (9-3), corner kicks (5-1), crosses (22-3), and passing accuracy (91%-77%).

“The message to the players at halftime is 2-0 is always a dangerous score line,” Hines said about his halftime speech. “We’ve got to make sure we get that third goal.”

The Pride continued their domination over Utah at the start of the second half, scoring just two minutes after the restart. Adriana’s cross was headed out by Tejada, but only to Marta at the top of the box. After controlling it with her left foot, the Pride captain sent her second touch inside the near post to give the Pride a commanding 3-0 lead.

“To get it so quickly after halftime was really important for us,” Hines said about the early second-half goal. “And I think that momentum kind of settled us into the rest of the game.”

The Royals attempted to get one back on the other end when Paige Monaghan found Henry with space in the 50th minute. The midfielder attempted a long-distance shot, but it never challenged Moorhouse. The bouncing ball was straight to the Pride goalkeeper, enabling the English shot-stopper to make an easy save.

The Pride nearly got a fourth in the 57th minute when Adriana lifted the ball wide for Banda. The Brazilian made a run to the middle of the six-yard box while Strom headed for the back post. Banda sent a dangerous ball across the mouth of the goal, just missing the foot of Strom.

Shortly after the chance, the Pride made their first two changes in the 59th minute. Cori Dyke and Angelina came into the game for Abello and Doyle.

Utah didn’t create many good chances in this game, but had one in the 64th minute when Henry played a great ball forward for Monaghan, sending her behind the back line. Monaghan dribbled into the box and sent a low cross through the six before Dyke could catch her. Halftime substitute Hannah Betfort was making a run, but couldn’t get to it, enabling the Pride to clear the danger.

In the 64th minute, Martinez went down off the ball. The right back required treatment, resulting in lengthy delay. During the stoppage, the Pride made two more substitutions. While Martinez was able to leave the field under her own power, she was replaced by Carrie Lawrence. Additionally, Ally Lemos came into the game for McCutcheon.

Adriana used a nice piece of skill in the 71st minute to flick the ball behind the Utah back line for Yates making a run into the box. However, Del Fava did well to get a touch to the ball, enabling Haught to collect it. Yates stuck a foot in trying to knock it past the Royals goalkeeper, but she was too late.

The teams headed to the sidelines in the 79th minute for the second-half hydration break. Hines took that time to make his final substitution of the night, replacing Yates with Watt.

The Pride almost took advantage of another bad pass by Utah in the 81st minute when Tejada sent the ball straight to Lawrence. The defender sent a long pass behind the Royals back line for Banda to run onto, putting the striker in on goal. She attempted to beat Haught to her near post, but the goalkeeper made an excellent one-handed stop, knocking it wide.

Lemos made her first significant impact in the 84th minute, when she played Watt through with the outside of her foot. Watt sprinted past her defenders and into the box, but Haught came off her line to claim the ball before the forward could get a decent shot off.

Banda took advantage of another bad pass in the back to score her second of the game in the 86th minute. Pressured by Adriana, Pogarch cut back and played a pass behind her to Tejada. The center back took her eye off the ball, resulting in it going behind her. Banda beat the defender to the loose ball, dribbled around Haught, and put it in to make it 4-0.

“Second goal is just raw talent,” Hines said about Banda’s second goal. “You know, her speed is incredible. She makes something out of nothing and having the calmness to go around the keeper and slot it with her left foot.”

The goal by Banda saw her take the league lead in goals with 10 on the season.

“I think when I get a chance, I have to put the ball at the back of the net,” Banda said about her scoring mentality. “If anything I didn’t score, then I just have to go back to my drawing board and work hard so that the next time I can find a goal.”

Just two minutes later, the Pride scored their fifth of the night. Again, Lawrence played a nice ball down the right for Banda, who sprinted behind Tejada. She found Marta wide open in the box and the Brazilian probably should’ve taken it first time. However, she took a touch before sending it past Haught and increasing the lead to 5-0.

Banda was looking to become the first Pride player to net a hat trick in the first minute of second-half stoppage time. She dribbled past a clearly tired Tejada and tried to beat Haught to her near post, but hit the outside of the net.

In the fifth minute of second-half stoppage time, the Pride took the largest lead in team history. It started when Marta backheeled the ball with a defender on her back for Banda. The forward sent a cross into the box that was very well taken by Watt. Her perfect first touch beat Flynn and the substitute put it past Haught to give the Pride a 6-0 lead.

The Pride nearly scored a seventh goal in the eighth minute of stoppage time. It came from a corner kick after Flynn knocked the ball out of play. Strom outjumped a pair of defenders to get her head to the ball, hitting it off the crossbar. That was the last chance as the final whistle blew seconds later, securing the Pride’s historic 6-0 win.

The Pride finished the game with the edge in possession (63%-37%), shots (27-11), shots on target (20-9), corner kicks (8-4), crosses (31-8), and passing accuracy (89%-78%).

“It’s an outstanding performance. Flawless really. You know, the amount of goals that the players scored and to get a clean sheet. I think most importantly, it was for the fans tonight,” Hines said about the game. “I think when you look at the fixtures and you look at days like today, you know, it means a lot to the community and so we had to do our job tonight. And the players fully did that. You know, they put a real show on for the fans and the supporters who have supplied and gone through, you know, moments of adversity eight years ago. And so we’ve thought that performance epitomizes what this team is about, and the determination, their grit, and the relentlessness to go after it and get a comprehensive win.”

“We talked so much about it and I think everybody thinks about the last two games that we did and they were not happy with the results and not happy with our performance,” Marta added. “We created but we didn’t score enough and especially in the last game. Tonight, we were determined to do something different, to score all of the goals that we didn’t score last game. So, I think we did a good job when we talk about defensive and when we go to attack or we have so much passion and hunger to score. So, I think this makes a huge difference tonight.”

The 6-0 win is the largest win in team history. Previously, the Pride had beaten Sky Blue FC 5-0 on Aug. 12, 2017 and the Chicago Red Stars 5-0 on Aug. 20, 2023.

“We had a good chat after the North Carolina game because we left the game feeling disappointed that we weren’t able to score the goals that we created. But you can see tonight there was a real passion, a real hunger to put the ball back in the net,” Hines said about the six goals. “And there were some really good goals tonight. And I still think we left some on the table as well, which is remarkable, but to end the game with Adri, Ally, Barbra, Marta as a front four is pretty scary. And as the game went on, you could see the spaces and the opportunities that present themselves.”

While the focus will be on the most lopsided win in team history, the Pride extended their club record and league-leading unbeaten run to 14 games. They’re now only six results short of the NWSL record of 20, set by the Washington Spirit between 2021 and 2022. It would be another league record after they set the longest win streak earlier this season.

“Of course, we know there’s going to come one point we’re going to lose games too. But so long no happen,” Marta said about the unbeaten run. “Let’s enjoy the situation because it’s so good to be involved in situations like that. Especially with Orlando how we’ve never had a run like this one before.”

This was a record-setting game on the field and in the stands. In addition to the most goals scored in a game in club history and the highest margin of victory in club history, the attendance of 9,656 is the highest attendance ever for a game not on opening day. It was also the second-highest attendance for a Pride game at Inter&Co Stadium and the third-highest attendance in club history. The Pride previously drew 14,525 in their first game at their current stadium and 23,403 in the first game in club history at Camping World Stadium.


Having returned home and gotten back to their winning ways, the Pride will now head back out on the road for a three-game league road trip. It starts Sunday, June 30 when the Pride visit Angel City FC in Los Angeles, CA.

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Orlando Pride vs. Utah Royals: Preview, How to Watch, TV Info, Live Stream, Lineups, Match Thread, and More

The Pride return home and welcome the last-place Utah Royals.

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Image courtesy of Orlando Pride

Welcome to your match thread as the Orlando Pride (8-0-5, 29 points) return home to face the last-place Utah Royals (2-10-1, 7 points). This is the second and final scheduled meeting between the two teams during the 2024 NWSL regular season.

Here’s everything you need to know about tonight’s game.

History

The Royals first played in 2018 and 2019 before the team was purchased and relocated to Kansas City. The new owners of Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake bought an expansion side, so it’s the first season the two teams have met since 2019, although this is an all-new side. The Pride are 2-3-2 against the Royals all-time, with all games coming in the NWSL regular season.

The last time the Pride met the Royals was on April 12 in Sandy, UT. Marta started on the bench and came on for Adriana in the 62nd minute. It didn’t take long for the Pride captain to make an impact, netting the game’s lone goal in the 68th minute as the visitors left the Beehive State with a 1-0 victory.

The 2019 season was the final one for the original Royals and the Pride faced this opponent three times. The first game between the teams was on April 27 and the difference was Christen Press, who netted the lone goal early in a 1-0 result. On May 25 in Utah, Amy Rodriguez opened the scoring from the penalty spot and Makenzy Doniak made it 2-0 late. The third meeting was on Aug. 17 in Orlando. Press gave the visitors the lead in the 60th minute and Rodriguez doubled the advantage late as the Royals won 2-0.

The 2018 campaign was the Royals’ inaugural season, and Orlando got the better of the newcomers, going unbeaten in three matches (1-0-2). In the 2018 season opener, Utah and Orlando played to a 1-1 draw. The Royals scored on their first chance of the game. They had an excellent spell of possession and, in the third minute, Diana Matheson put in a cross, and Gunny Jonsdottir — who later played for the Pride for two seasons in 2021 and 2022 — volleyed it into the back of the net. Marta tied things up from the spot in the 21st minute, and the game ended 1-1. 

About a month and a half later, the teams met again, playing to a 0-0 draw, this time in Rio Tinto Stadium. It was a relatively dull night with no goals and the majority of the action in the middle of the field. Both teams struggled on the attacking end. There were no shots on target in the first half and just three in the second.

While those first two matches ended in draws, the last meeting of 2018 finally saw a winner. On July 14, 2018, there was end-to-end action, and both teams saw chances in front of the net. Utah found an early goal from Rodriguez, and then Alex Morgan tied it up with a penalty kick just before halftime. In the second half, a good through ball from Ali Krieger found Kristen Edmonds one-on-one with Utah goalkeeper Abby Smith, who was caught out of position. Edmonds chipped the ball past Smith for the game-winner, and Orlando got its first-ever victory against the Royals.

Overview

The Pride enter this game after ending a two-game road trip that saw their league record eight-game win streak come to an end, but the extension of their season-opening unbeaten run to a club-record 13 games. They drew 1-1 with San Diego Wave FC and played to a scoreless draw with the North Carolina Courage, becoming the first visiting team to get points in North Carolina this season.

The two most recent games have seen the team’s defense remain strong. The Pride held a 1-0 halftime lead in San Diego and ended up conceding just once against a potent offense. The Pride backed that up by keeping the Courage — who’d won their first five home games — off the scoreboard.

In the two games prior to the North Carolina contest, Barbra Banda came off at halftime. The team’s star striker played until the 90th minute in this one, a positive going into tonight’s matchup. However, she didn’t score or create any goals against the Courage. It was the first time in nine games that Banda didn’t score a goal, assist on one, or draw a penalty.

The Royals are coming off four straight 1-0 results. The first three were losses to the Courage, Kansas City Current, and Washington Spirit. They flipped the trend on June 16 by beating fellow league newcomers Bay FC away from home.

Tonight’s opponent has struggled offensively and defensively this season. Utah is the only team in the league to have scored single-digit goals, with seven, and one of four teams with more than 20 goals conceded. The Royals’ 21 goals against are third most behind Bay FC and Seattle Reign FC, both with 25.

As you might expect from a team with only seven goals on the season, nobody has stood out as an attacking threat. Kate Del Fava and rookie Ally Sentnor lead the team with two goals each. Meanwhile, Cameron Tucker, Olivia Griffiths, and Dana Foederer have one each. Sentnor has also been the most prolific provider for Utah, recording a team-leading three assists.

Utah’s defensive unit has been much better in recent weeks. The Royals conceded multiple goals in six of their first nine games, including a season-high five goals against Racing Louisville FC on April 20. However, they’ve only given up one goal in three of their last four games and are coming off a shutout.  The recent success can be attributed to a defensive unit that’s getting used to playing together. The last three games have seen the same four in front of goalkeeper Mandy Haught, including Lauren Flynn, Ana Tejada, Del Fava, and Zoe Burns.

“We’re excited to be back at home in front of our fans,” Pride Head Coach Seb Hines said about tonight’s game. “It’s been a while, so it’s exciting. Friday night should be nice, should be good. You know, after Utah’s last result, we can’t take them for granted. We have to be on top of our game. After the game against North Carolina, we were disappointed not to come away with three points. But the performance was terrific. You know, their attitude, the commitment going into an environment like that. I am proud of them and I was really impressed with the players. So we have to continue with that same attitude, same mentality against Utah, and hopefully get a couple of goals and the three points.”

The Pride will have to win those points without several players, including Celia (hip), Simone Charley (leg), Morgan Gautrat (concussion), Luana (illness), Megan Montefusco (heel), Rafaelle (leg), and Viviana Villacorta (knee). 

Utah will be without four players for tonight’s game, including Imani Dorsey (Achilles), Olivia Griffiths (hamstring), and former Pride players Carly Nelson (excused absence) and Mikayla Cluff (foot).


Official Lineups

Orlando Pride (4-2-3-1)

Goalkeeper: Anna Moorhouse.

Defenders: Kerry Abello, Kylie Strom, Emily Sams, Bri Martinez.

Defensive Midfielders: Haley McCutcheon, Summer Yates.

Midfielders: Julie Doyle, Marta, Adriana.

Forward: Barbra Banda.

Bench: McKinley Crone, Angelina, Amanda Allen, Ally Lemos, Mariana Larroquette, Alex Kerr, Carrie Lawrence, Cori Dyke, Ally Watt.

Utah Royals (3-5-2)

Goalkeeper: Mandy Haught.

Defenders: Lauren Flynn, Ana Tejada, Kate Del Fava.

Midfielders: Zoe Burns, Agnes Nyberg, Amandine Henry, Macey Fraser, Madison Pogarch.

Forwards: Ally Sentnor, Michele Vasconcelos.

Bench: Hannah Betfort, Dana Foederer, Emily Gray, Addisyn Merrick, Paige Monaghan, Brecken Mozingo, Cristina Roque, Frankie Tagliaferri, Cameron Tucker.

Referees

REF: Alyssa Nichols.
AR1: Ethan Buege.
AR2: Rhett Hammil.
4TH: Russell Miller.
VAR: Laura Rodriguez.
AVAR: Kaili Terry.


How to Watch

Match Time: 8 p.m.

Venue: Inter&Co Stadium — Orlando.

TV: None.

Streaming: Prime Video.

Twitter: For live updates and rapid reaction, follow @TheManeLand and the Orlando Pride’s official Twitter feed (@ORLPride).


Enjoy the match. Go Pride!

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Orlando Pride

The Pride’s Favorite Hunting Ground Is the Middle of the Box

A look into the Pride’s goals in 2024 and why it is really not a riddle why so many of their goals have come from the middle.

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Image courtesy of Orlando Pride / Jeremy Reper

In my article last week I took a look at Orlando City’s offense, or lack thereof, and so this week I am going to focus on a far more pleasant topic — the undefeated Pride and where their goals have been coming from thus far this season. Let’s take a look at this heatmap (the darker the red, the more goals in comparison to other locations) that I made below, sourced from data I took from fbref.com for the distance away from the goal and from espn.com for the general location on the field for each goal:

Now, a few things you’ll notice about this heatmap:

  • The Pride have scored 19 goals themselves thus far this season (opponents have gifted them two own goals), and 16 of the 19 (84%) have been from inside the 18 and pretty much right in front of the net. The one goal from outside the 18 was a rocket from Emily Sams on May 19 at Seattle, and that too was basically from the center of the goal, just 23 yards away, so it shows up in that very pale pink stripe outside the 18-yard box.
  • Most of the goals were scored from in between the six and the 18 (average distance for those 14 goals in the dark red = 11 yards).
  • The Pride have not scored any goals on the left side of the field all season. This is interesting, because they do have several offensive players who are left-foot dominant (you may have heard of Marta, for example), but at least through 13 games, nobody has been able to get loose on the left side of the box and finish into the net.
  • The heatmap looks like it came from Microsoft Excel…because it in fact did come from Microsoft Excel. I know that there are programs and websites out there that can provide better graphics and which may have much more detailed tracking on the exact locations shots were taken. Our team at The Mane Land will happily do all the research and share what we find. All you have to do is buy us some coffees and we will invest that right into giving you the content you desire!

Being that most of the goals scored this season by the Pride have all been in that same central location, there is not a lot of suspense in looking at the leaders in goals by location. As you surely guessed, since she leads the team in goals, Barbra Banda also leads the team in goals scored in the center of the box. What I found more interesting, however, was how those goals came about.

The website fbref.com’s shot tracking, provided by Opta, includes the last two offensive actions prior to the goal for every goal scored in every match. They call these “goal creating actions,” and here are the possible actions: live-ball pass, dead-ball pass (i.e free kick), take-on (beating a player off the dribble), taking a shot, drawing a foul, and stealing/intercepting a ball while on defense. Shown below are all 16 of those goals scored in the middle of the box, listed in order from the start of the season, and what you will see is that every goal pattern is unique, highlighting the diversity of ways the Pride have put the ball into the back of the net:

  1. Pass (Live) by Amanda Allen – Goal by Summer Yates.
  2. Pass (Dead) by Angelina – Goal by Marta.
  3. Shot by Kerry Abello – Goal by Summer Yates.
  4. Pass (Live) by Barbra Banda – Goal by Angelina.
  5. Pass (Live) by Julie Doyle – Goal by Barbra Banda.
  6. Foul Committed on Barbra Banda – Goal by Summer Yates (penalty).
  7. Pass (Live) by Barbra Banda – Goal by Ally Watt.
  8. Pass (Live) by Ally Watt – Goal by Barbra Banda.
  9. Take-On by Barbra Banda – Goal by Barbra Banda.
  10. Pass (Live) by Emily Sams – Goal by Barbra Banda.
  11. Foul Committed on Barbra Banda – Goal by Adriana (penalty).
  12. Pass (Live) by Marta – Goal by Barbra Banda.
  13. Shot by Haley McCutcheon – Goal by Barbra Banda.
  14. Shot by Rafaelle – Goal by Barbra Banda.
  15. Take-On by Barbra Banda – Goal by Barbra Banda.
  16. Pass (Live) by Barbra Banda – Goal by Julie Doyle.

While there are no goal patterns that have emerged yet for the location on the field where the Pride score the most goals, there is a name that jumps off the page when you look at that list — the aforementioned leading goal scorer, Barbra Banda. The Zambian is clearly far more than just a clinical finisher, though. She also drew two fouls that led to penalties, took on and beat two defenders to give herself openings to score, and also played three passes in open play for goals, including the most recent goal scored by the Pride — a Julie Doyle volley on a beautiful cross from Banda.

For the season, Banda is third in NWSL in total goal creating actions with 10, and first in goal creating actions per 90 minutes (GCA90) with 1.39, a value that is more than double the player currently in eighth (let me repeat, she is averaging more than double the person ranked in eighth!) place in the NWSL. Her GCA90 of 1.39 is also 16% higher than that of Chelsea’s Fran Kirby, who finished ranked first in England’s Women’s Super League last season with a GCA90 of 1.2. This article was not originally intended to be a Banda lovefest, but it is quite difficult to write about the Orlando Pride’s offensive success without a brief trip down the middle of the rabbit hole to look at just how good she has been this season.

Channeling my inner yoga instructor and returning us to center, the last piece to look at around the Pride’s goal scoring is to look at their shot locations and how they are doing from all sections on the field. The side-by-side heatmaps below use different colorings. The left heatmap shades from white to red as the total shots taken increases, and the right heatmap is styled more as hot/cold, with low percentages of success being blue and high percentages of success (read: goals) turning red.

I expect that were we to look at the heatmaps of most soccer teams, they would all likely look very similar to the Pride’s heatmaps above. It is highly likely that teams will try to shoot most frequently from the middle of the areas closest to the goal, and it is highly likely as well that they will achieve higher percentages of success from shots in the middle of the field and close to the goal. Just like teams in the NBA have identified that corner 3-point shots and shots in the paint are the primary places that they want to look for their shots, most soccer teams are game-planning their offenses around creating shots right smack in the middle of the 18.

Opposing teams know this, of course, and that is where the battle of wills and wits comes into play that we love watching so much. So far this season, the Pride have clearly been winning these battles, as evidenced by the fact that even though defenses are trying to stop them, they have still managed to take 76 of their 195 shots (39%) from the most dangerous spots on the field and have scored 16 goals on those shots, a conversion rate of 21%.

If they keep up their current goal-scoring pace the 2024 Pride are on pace to surpass their total goals scored from 2023 (27 goals) within the next 4 games, and they have an outside chance to score the most goals of any Pride team ever (current leader = 2017 Pride with 45 goals) if they can slightly increase their goals/game rate during the second half of the season. I think they have a legit chance to do this, and if they do I expect it will be because they continue to excel at pouncing on the opportunities they create in the center of the box.

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