The Orlando Pride were expected to be near the bottom of the NWSL standings this season with no hope of making the playoffs. However, a four-game unbeaten run in early May and a three-game winning streak around the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup break put them in the hunt. Unfortunately, they squandered a pair of opportunities to climb into a playoff spot the last two games, but the Pride still have an opportunity to make a postseason run.
The Pride welcomed San Diego Wave FC to Exploria Stadium on Aug. 25, two points behind their opposition for the sixth and final playoff place. A win would’ve seen them jump San Diego and a draw would keep them within touching distance. After conceding early and equalizing just before halftime, the Pride gave up the winning goal in the 75th minute to lose 2-1.
They had another chance to get into a playoff position on Sept. 3 against OL Reign in Seattle. It was a tougher task as the Pride have never won away to the Reign, and it was made more difficult when starting goalkeeper Anna Moorhouse was sent off in the third minute. Despite the numbers advantage, it took the hosts until the second half to convert and the Pride fell 1-0 for their second straight loss.
It might seem like the Pride had lost their chance to qualify for the NWSL playoffs for the second time in team history, but it’s not over yet. They currently sit in ninth place of the 12-team league and are four points out of sixth. However, they play the two teams directly in front of them — Angel City FC and Racing Louisville FC — in two of their final four games.
The two most recent losses makes it a tall task to make the playoffs, but the Washington Spirit have to go to Seattle to face OL Reign, and NJ/NY Gotham FC, which is five points ahead, has to travel to Portland to face arguably the league’s best team. If the Pride can win their final four games, they might only need one of the teams to drop points in one other game. The key to that situation is that the Pride probably need to win their final four games for any chance of making the playoffs.
A major factor in the last two losses has been the play of the back line. Against the Wave, both goals by the visitors were scored off set pieces. Haley McCutcheon failed to clear the ball off a corner kick on the first goal, enabling Abby Dahlkemper to convert seven minutes into the game. On the second goal, Kyra Carusa beat Mariana Larroquette to the ball to head in the winner. As a striker, it might not be expected for Larroquette to win that challenge, but Rafaelle got caught in the middle without marking anyone, resulting in Larroquette being forced to win a defensive header.
The loss against OL Reign can largely be chalked up to the third-minute red card by Moorhouse. However, the cause of the play was another defensive error. Bethany Balcer split Emily Madril and Rafaelle, getting behind the pair. Moorhouse’s choices were to stay in goal and probably concede, or to come out and attempt to win it. She decided to come out, Balcer got there first, and Moorhouse was given her marching orders.
In all three situations, a lapse in concentration can be faulted for deciding moments in the games. The defenders weren’t focused enough on the set pieces and the center backs weren’t aware of where Balcer was in relation to them, leaving them and their goalkeeper in a vulnerable position. It’s something Pride Head Coach Seb Hines mentioned following the San Diego loss and has mentioned on multiple occasions this season.
On the attacking end, the loss against the Wave was a similar story prior to Adriana and Marta returning from the World Cup. After the red card in Seattle, it was always going to be a defensive strategy for the Pride. But in a game where both teams had 11 players, the Pride outshot San Diego 17-8. However, the Wave put five of their eight shots on target and the Pride only put six of their 17 shots on goal. Creating more chances than the opposition is meaningless if you can’t put those shots on frame.
If you compare those statistics to the team’s 5-0 win over the Chicago Red Stars in the first league game after the World Cup, the Pride only outshot their opponent 13-9. But they put seven shots on target as opposed to Chicago’s one attempt on frame. Hines said after the Wave game that the visitors didn’t allow them good looks at goal, but much of that was the Pride taking long-distance attempts rather than looking for a higher-percentage shot.
The Pride were given a break Friday afternoon when it was announced that the team’s Sept. 21 game against Angel City had been moved to avoid international scheduling. Instead, they’ll play on Oct. 2. That move means that Rafaelle, Adriana, Marta, and Larroquette will be available when the team travels to Los Angeles. Given the way the Pride have played without Adriana, her inclusion in that match could be a deciding factor.
The Pride’s current two-game losing streak has put them in a tough position. Not long ago, they were playing directly for a playoff spot, but now they find themselves four points behind that coveted sixth position. Despite recent failings, they can climb into seventh with a pair of upcoming games and have a favorable schedule to some currently in playoff spots. However, the team will need better performances offensively and defensively to qualify for the postseason for the second time in team history.