Editorial (March 25, 2019) — The Orlando Pride have dealt with inconsistency since their acceptance in the NWSL. In 2016, the club was announced as an expansion club in a league still finding their footing. Tom Sermanni, a legendary women’s soccer coach who once coached the U.S. Women’s National Team, was in charge.
The Pride did not meet expectations in 2016, failing to qualify for the playoffs. In the NWSL, it’s a tight race to get into the playoffs, with only four teams able to qualify. In 2017, the Pride did make the playoffs, but fell to the Portland Thorns FC in the semifinals.
Orlando Pride Preview: What happens now with a new head coach?
Last year, the rollercoaster went back down to the lower dip. The Pride failed to make the playoffs, despite sitting pretty in a playoff spot for a few weeks. However, the Pride failed to finish the season on a high note. This resulted in the termination of Sermanni — who is now the manager of the New Zealand Women’s National Team — and a long hunt for head coach.
The Pride didn’t even announce Marc Skinner as the club’s second-ever manager until after the NWSL College Draft. Instead, making the two selections was the club’s first-ever general manager, Erik Ustruck.
Now, with a new head coach in charge from the realms of English football, the Pride are looking to bounce back from last year’s 8-10-6 record. After earning a taste of the playoffs in 2017, the Pride want that back. Here are three questions for the Pride ahead of the upcoming 2019 season.
What kind of depth does Orlando really have?
In the midst of a World Cup year, every team is facing the absence of some of their best players. The league will take a small break for group stage action, but once the knockout rounds begin, the NWSL will be back in full-swing.
It’s always unpredictable to which team will make it to the knockout rounds. Just because you won in 2015 or made the elimination round doesn’t mean you’ll make it back. Just ask the German Men’s National Team. However, in women’s soccer, there are teams that are expected to return to the bracketed rounds.
Those nations include the United States, Brazil and Australia.
Orlando is filled with players from all three nations — and more. Despite losing a couple Brazilians in the offseason — Poliana was waived so she could return to Brazil and Mônica saw her contract expire — losing Marta for the large part of June will hurt. Defender Camila is also a Brazilian expected to make the Women’s World Cup roster for Brazil.
Meanwhile, the Pride is home to plenty of Australians, too. Defender Alanna Kennedy is one of the more prominent leaders on the Pride, with her tall build serving as a wall against opposing teams. Meanwhile, in the midfield, the Pride will likely lose Emily van Egmond to the World Cup.
Alex Morgan and Ashlyn Harris are essentially a lock to be named to the United States roster. Recently, Ali Krieger was called up to international duty for the first time since April 2017. However, it’s a mystery to if she’ll be on the roster. Hypothetically speaking, if Krieger does go to France, the Pride would be missing four defenders out of six, as Shelina Zadorsky will likely make the Canadian roster.
There will be a huge number of players gone for the World Cup. While they’re still trying to get his 2019 roster shaped up, it’s up to Skinner and Ustruck to focus on finding some players for depth and international replacement players. Orlando is going to need a lot of help this summer.
— Orlando Pride (@ORLPride) March 23, 2019
Will Kopmeyer give Harris a run for her money?
When she was part of the Seattle Reign organization, Haley Kopmeyer served as a backup to one of the best goalkeepers in the world: Hope Solo.
However, after Solo left league competition in the middle of 2016, Kopmeyer stepped up to the plate, starting the last nine matches of the season. In 2017, she was the undisputed starter for Seattle. After a strong season that led Seattle to fifth place in the NWSL, she was traded to Orlando.
There, Kopmeyer went from a starter to a backup again.
Last season, Kopmeyer started three matches, recording one clean sheet against her former club. Kopmeyer made 14 saves in three matches, with six saves against the Reign in the second meeting of the season in July.
Harris had a rough outing in 2018 and with the World Cup break, Kopmeyer could step up to the plate. There’s been no regular-season matches played so far, but in a recent preseason contest against the North Carolina Courage, Harris gave up three goals — although the defense was shaky too.
Kopmeyer has a potential chance to become a starter again.
— Orlando Pride (@ORLPride) March 23, 2019
Can Rachel Hill have a breakout year?
In the middle of a talented forward grouping is Rachel Hill.
The 23-year-old forward in the middle of a crowded group that includes Marta, Alex Morgan, Chioma Ubogagu and Sydney Leroux. However, with Marta, Morgan and potentially Ubogagu gone for the World Cup and Leroux unable to play competitively for at least the first half of the season — she’s expecting her second child — Hill is poised to breakout during the summer.
Hill has earned some quality minutes for the Pride. In 36 total appearances since 2017, Hill has scored seven goals. Last year, Hill appeared in 21 matches, only starting seven times.
With plenty of absences in the World Cup, players that have been in the program for a while need to step up. This includes Hill, despite being a younger player. She has the experience, entering her third season with the Pride and spending the last two off-seasons with Perth Glory in Australia.
Last year, Darian Jenkins made the most of her opportunities when players were gone on international duty. Now, she’s a starter with the Reign. Hill could potentially have the same thing happen to her if she impresses in Orlando.
Three weeks until we're kicking it at home. ? pic.twitter.com/3pfoy3viYf
— Orlando Pride (@ORLPride) March 25, 2019
Last Word: Orlando experiences no change
Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Skinner isn’t going to have his perfect team in one year. There are going to be plenty of edges to smooth along the way. Having almost half of your team gone in the summer for the World Cup isn’t going to help. However, if Skinner and Ustruck can find the right international replacement players, there could be a surprise.
There is pressure on Orlando to find consistency, but as far as competing for a title goes, these things take time and Skinner will need patience to find the right pieces. Orlando stays in seventh place to finish the NWSL season.