SANFORD, Fla. — After the Orlando Pride’s 6-1 loss to North Carolina during the weekend, Alanna Kennedy made sure to take rookie Erin Greening aside and offer words of encouragement.
It’s something the veteran midfielder often does with Greening, a rookie who has earned a significant role within the Pride defense throughout the season. A self-described perfectionist, Greening often analyzes mistakes after matches until experienced players like Kennedy can shift her focus to the next game.
At this point in the season, Kennedy said the defender is no longer a rookie. The biggest challenge, Kennedy said, is making sure Greening believes in herself.
“Erin is so valuable in this team and she doesn’t even realize it,” Kennedy said. “She has no idea how good she is. She doesn’t make many mistakes, so when she does, they stick with her. Sometimes I have to tell her to just let it go, worry about the next thing.”
Greening’s role in the backline came earlier than expected for a first-year player in the National Women’s Soccer League, but a combination of World Cup call-ups and injuries helped her earn a starting role. During her fourth game as a professional, Greening played a full 90 minutes. She’s played a full game on the backline for all but two matches since.
Becoming a consistent part of the Pride backline alongside household names such as Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris is something that Greening doesn’t take for granted.
“If somebody told me a year ago I’d be playing next to Ali Krieger, I’d say ‘You’re crazy,’” Greening said. “There’s no way. I’d say that straight to their face.”
Although the Pride are stocked with international talent, coach Marc Skinner ultimately hopes to build the team around a more equal balance of national team stars and consistent league players. Greening is an important piece of that effort.
Skinner and Kennedy both describe Greening as highly coachable, with the rookie eagerly soaking up information and asking questions throughout training. Sometimes she can be too hard on herself, but Skinner said he knows Greening will keep pushing to improve.
“Erin might make positional mistakes, but she won’t ever lack in heart or effort,” Skinner said. “I love working with younger players. We needed to give this club a future. We’ve been building the youth, because I think we need to have younger hungry players.”
For Greening, this rookie season has been focused on growth. Playing college soccer is completely different than the NWSL, she says. Some changes were simple — for instance, the step up in endurance from the NCAA level, which allows players to be subbed on and off, to professional league rules.
The increase in talent was another factor Greening knew to expect. Yet it was one thing to understand it, she said, and another thing to play head-to-head with attackers such as Christen Press and Sam Kerr on a weekly basis.
As a defender in a transition-heavy league, the challenge is whistle-to-whistle, when a single mistake can cost the Pride a goal. But Greening said she’s grown through this process.
“It’s just a completely different game, to be completely honest,” Greening said. “The speed of play — it’s just so much faster. I’m a completely different player than I was when I first stepped foot here. I developed a lot in my speed of play and my decision making.”
As an outside back, Greening brings a burst of athleticism that has been refined throughout the season. She tackles hard, fully committing to each challenge and using her speed to recover when she loses an attacker.
Skinner said Greening’s greatest improvement has been her quickness in reading the game, which he believes can only be built with in-game experience. As the Pride look to build around young players, Greening represents the club’s future.
“I’ve been that young player, and the thing that you struggle with is knowing that you earned your spot here and you belong here,” Kennedy said. “She’s been one of our best players every game. I can’t wait for her to realize that herself. Once she realizes her potential, her football will take her to some cool places.”