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Orlando Pride, coach Tom Sermanni mutually agree to part ways

Orlando Pride coach Tom Sermanni has posted a 25-29-14 record during three seasons leading the team. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)

Orlando Pride coach Tom Sermanni’s tenure with the team is over. 

Sermanni and Orlando City SC announced Friday they mutually agreed to part ways.

His last game was a 1-0 loss to  Sky Blue FC in the season finale. The match capped a rough season for the Pride, who plummeted out of the playoff picture over the final matches of the 2018 season.

Sermanni, who has been the Pride’s coach since the club’s inaugural season in 2016, finishes his run with the Pride with a a 25-30-13 record.

“I want to thank Tom for all that he has done for the Club and community and for helping to build Orlando Pride over these first three seasons. He will forever be a part of the Orlando Pride family. We want to extend the best wishes to Tom in the next steps of his career,” Orlando City SC GM Niki Budalic said. “Our goal for the Pride remains to field a playoff team that will bring an NWSL championship to our community and supporters.”

“It’s been a great honor to be the inaugural coach of Orlando Pride and to be a part of this wonderful organization. I’d like to thank all of our players, staff, fans and community for their tremendous support throughout my time here,” Sermanni said. “I want to wish the team and the organization great success moving forward. I look forward to being an avid supporter and following the Club’s fortunes.”

The Pride came into this season with high expectations after making the playoffs in 2017 and adding national team players like Syndey Leroux and Shelina Zadorsky to the squad. The Pride put together an unbeaten run in the middle of the season but crumbled down the stretch.

After a loss against the Red Stars that eliminated the Pride from playoff contention, Sermanni apologized to the Pride’s fans.

“We can’t have some of the performances that we’ve had this year,” Sermanni said. “That has to be rectified. Whether that’s so that we can perhaps do that in several ways. One is that you change personnel. The other is that you change your coaching philosophy. You change your training regime and you do things differently to make the team effective.

“The difficult part I’ve found this year is that when I look at our team compared to last year, as I said on many occasions, I think we’ve probably improved the quality of our team or our squad as a whole, but we haven’t got close to matching the performances that we’ve had last year.

“I need to scrutinize my performance. I need to scrutinize players’ performances, and then we need to sit down and say this is what we think we need going forward.”

Sermanni struggled to find answers for the club and frequently expressed confusion – and dismay – when asked how a group with so many talented players has underperformed this season.

“The problem is we’ve changed the team, we’ve changed the formation, we’ve changed training, we’ve changed how we’ve organized the week,” Sermanni said after the loss to the Red Stars.

“What you’re talking about tonight and what you saw in the first half has been symptomatic of performances during the season. Not for 90 minutes, but for certain periods of the game. When we have those types of performances or those lapses or those moments of indecision or ‘lackadaisical-ness,’ we seemed to get punished for it. Lack of concentration.

“You can throw out all those words. Do I know the answer? Again, change the personnel, change the training, change the philosophy. That’s what we perhaps need to do.”

Star forward Alex Morgan was critical of the constant lineup changes for the Pride throughout this season and said players frequently weren’t on the same page with each other and with the club’s coaches. The Pride used a three back formation in five consecutive matches with limited success before switching back to a four-back formation over the final two matches of the season.

“I just think that our style is adjusting to our opponent, and that’s really difficult because we don’t necessarily have that style that we can go out and have that presence and confidence and know that this is how we’re going to play every single game,” Morgan said.

“We’re changing formations this game after playing with a three-back the last couple games. We kind of went out there and hoped for the best. Obviously, I think we had the energy initially, but eventually they wore us down.”

Sermanni has a reputation as a players’ coach.

“He’s always very demanding and expects a lot out of us,” said veteran defender Ali Krieger before the Pride played Sky Blue. “I don’t think there’s a huge change. Obviously it’s disappointing the way that we’ve ended and we obviously have to adjust the way we see things now and enjoy the last few days and the last week of training.

“Nothing has changed. There’s still that demand to be the best that we can be and to play the Orlando Pride soccer that [Sermanni] envisions and that we expect out of each other.”

USWNT goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris said Sermanni is relatable, honest and kind as a coach – that didn’t change despite the Pride’s poor run of form. 

“Tom, he’s always going to give you his normal Tom self,” she said. “His charm and character. You can tell he’s exhausted, because trying every single avenue to get the best out of the team. I haven’t noticed… Tom always brings his usual self.

“He has the human element. It’s about being a person first and a player second. He cares about your well-being and he takes care of you as a player he tries to get the best out of you by that trust element. He’s never going to be overly harsh, but he’ll be honest, which you appreciate and you trust.”

She added, “But with that, you have to have a really tactical, structural supporting staff to take care of all the other pieces.”

After losing to the Red Stars, Sermanni thanked members of the media for sticking with the team after his post-match press conference was over.

“I appreciate all your support during the season. I appreciate you turning up every day. I appreciate how you’ve gone your jobs in relation to the team, the support you’ve given me and the support you’ve given the team. You’ve kept behind us through a season that’s been difficult.

“Personally, I’d just like to thank all of you for that support. I really appreciate it. It’s been a tough season for all of us and you’ve stuck in with it. I respect that and your honesty in dealing with us and your help in dealing with us… particularly dealing with me, so thank you very much indeed.”

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