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Orlando Pride to close rough season with match against Sky Blue FC

Orlando coach Tom Sermanni walks off the field as fans behind him head into the stadium after a lightning delay stopped play during the Chicago Red Stars at Orlando Pride NWSL soccer game at Orlando City Stadium on Saturday, August 25, 2018. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)

The Orlando Pride’s season ends on Saturday.

There’s no getting around it. The Pride (8-9-6, 30 points) could beat winless Sky Blue FC (0-17-6, 6 points) on the road and not make the playoffs. Losing wouldn’t do anything but give Sky Blue its first win of the season and put an ugly stamp on a rough season for Orlando.

Still, with nothing but pride to play for, coach Tom Sermanni said his team approached training this week with an upbeat attitude.

“Two things: a positive performance and a win,” Sermanni said when asked what he’s looking to get out of the final match of the season. “That’s it in a nutshell. You never know how seasons are going to pan out, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to go out and perform as a professional sportsperson.

“We need to that. We need to do that as a staff. We need to do that as a team. We need to do it as individual players.”

Players are on board. Forward Chioma Ubogagu said the team needs to finish on a high note as it looks toward next season. A loss or draw on Saturday would mean a six-match winless skid to end the year for the Pride. 

“I think it’s important to finish as strong as we can,” Ubogagu said. “Obviously, we had high goals and expectations in the beginning of the year and we fell a little short. We can still end on a high note and try to get three points.”

The Pride’s playoff push ended with a thud against the Chicago Red Stars two weeks ago. Orlando lost 3-1 to the Red Stars, who recently clinched the fourth and final playoff spot in the NWSL playoffs.

“The best thing we can do as a team is to stay together and grow together and use this adversity to strengthen us, you know?” Ubogagu said. “It’s not something that we want to see divide us, by any means. I think we’re strong and capable enough to bounce back.”

Sermanni said – and Ubogagu agreed – there hasn’t been a full 90-minute performance from the Pride the season. Ubogagu added the chemistry on the field never clicked despite the players getting along off the pitch.

Ubogagu said the fluidity of the Pride’s lineup this season may have contributed to the team’s issues, but Orlando’s problems were multi-faceted.

“Chemistry’s a very important thing and I think a lot of teams go it early on and that’s why they were able to have success,” Ubogagu said. “I think that was one of biggest parts we struggled with throughout the season. You could see it in the play.

“That’s building relationships, that’s getting connected with each other and knowing how each other wants to play.”

Veteran defender Ali Krieger said Saturday’s match is a test of character for the Pride. Orlando has its players back from international duty – they all met in New Jersey ahead of the match – but the group will be without Brazilian star Marta, who is battling a left hamstring injury.

“Every game, we want to win,” Krieger said. “That’s why we’re here and that’s why we play at this level and that’s why we’re a part of this club and this team. And also, people are fighting for their jobs, too. That’s motivation, since every single day, you step out on the field and you have to prove why you deserve to be here and I think that’s going to part of the weekend’s game mentality as well.”

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