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Attack no longer Orlando Pride’s issue, team working on defense

Orlando Pride forward Alex Morgan, left, and North Carolina Courage midfielder McCall Zerboni vie for the ball Wednesday night at Orlando City Stadium. (ISI Photos)

The Orlando Pride haven’t had much trouble putting the ball in the back of the net lately.

After a slow start, the Pride (5-3-4, 19 points) are second in the NWSL in goals scored with 19 and have scored multiple goals in four of their last five matches. Orlando had just one multi-goal game through its first seven matches.

The Pride have scored 13 goals over their last five matches, a vast improvement over the six goals scored over their first seven matches.

Coach Tom Sermanni said it’s difficult to decide on his starting XI with so many attacking players in form. The Pride return to action at 7 p.m. on Saturday against the Washington Spirit at the Maryland SoccerPlex. 

Scoring isn’t the Pride’s biggest issue anymore. Orlando hasn’t been as stout defensively as it was to start the season. Over the last five games, the Pride have given up nine goals, after conceding just six through their first seven games.

“It’s trying to get that delicate balance right, particularly for a team like us who puts a big emphasis on attacking and scoring goals,” Sermanni said. “It’s a fine line between doing that and keeping things really tight at the back. That’s a constant challenge for us.

“Sometimes we just need to be just a little bit more cautious. A lot of that is down to me because how I like to play the game obviously flows on to the players and how we like to play and that leaves us open. It leaves us open particularly in transition and to counterattacks.

“Teams do their homework and they go out and they set up against us to do that. One of the key points we talk about is defending when we’re actually attacking. That’s something we need to get back on and refocus on.”

So many attacking players playing well also creates a bit of an issue: Not everyone can score.

For example, Chioma Ubogagu, Sydney Leroux and Rachel Hill all have four goals apiece. All four have proven to be capable finishers in front of the goal. All four have – at this point in the season – earned the right to take a shot they feel is available.

The same could be said for Marta and Morgan, who have two goals apiece.

In the 34th minute of the Pride’s 3-2 victory over Sky Blue FC, Ubogagu and Morgan were out on the break and Ubogagu elected to shoot instead of passing to Morgan, who was running free alongside her. Morgan immediately let Ubogagu know she wasn’t happy with the choice.

“I expressed my frustration, because I feel like it’s happened over the course of the last couple of seasons playing together,” Morgan said.

“At the end of the day, I just want this team to win. I want this team to be successful. I don’t care about stats. I just care about us getting three points at the end of every game. Luckily, that was the case, but it took a lot longer than  I think was necessary for this team because I felt like we put [a] good product on the field.”

Sermanni said having a group of in-form attackers playing together comes down to making good decisions in the final third.

“If Chi buries that in the back of the net, it’s a good decision. She passes it to Alex and the linesman happens to put the flag up and give Alex offside then we don’t score from there,” Sermanni said. “If she slips it to Alex and Alex is onside, it’s a tap-in.

“Those are all the things that happen in football. Our game is about little decisions and trying to get as many right as possible. What we try to do as coaches is give players as much information as we can. Work out as many scenarios as we can so that in certain situations, hopefully players make the right decision.”

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