ORLANDO, Fla. — Marc Skinner didn’t bother waiting to get back to the locker room Saturday night to start unloading his frustrations.
Gathering his players just off the center circle, the Orlando Pride coach went into a lengthy, animated discourse about the breakdowns that produced a 1-0 home loss to the Utah Royals and kept the Pride winless to start the new season.
Was it blistering? Only those who were on the field know. But it certainly looked impassioned.
“It’s accountability,” Skinner said when he met with reporters afterward. “They’ve not been accountable, this team, for their individual performances. You’ve got to make them accountable.
“They are privileged, as we all are, to work for a wonderful club. So there’s accountability. I don’t think we should be scared to say that.”
The Pride (0-3-1, 1 point) sit just above the bottom of the NWSL table. They’ve scored just one goal in four matches, while allowing nine. Orlando is winless in its past 10 matches, dating back to last July.
And here may be the real anxiety inducer: Now begins the exodus of international players to get ready for the Women’s World Cup.
Alex Morgan and goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris are packing for U.S. national team camp, while defender Ali Krieger awaits a call whether to join them. Soon to follow will be leaves taken by Marta (Brazil), Alanna Kennedy and Emily van Egmond (Australia) and Shelina Zadorsky (Canada).
“It’s a big chunk of the team that’ll be leaving for a good amount of time,” said Morgan.
It’s not as though the Pride haven’t seen this coming, and it’s a dilemma every NWSL team faces to some degree. But Morgan, Harris, Skinner and everyone else in purple had hoped they’d see better results ahead of the transition.
“I wish the results were different, of course,” Morgan said. “But no expected us to go out in Game 1 and blow teams out of the water by playing our style.”
Said Skinner: “What’s really, really, really missing from this team is consistency.”
After last weekend’s 1-1 draw against Reign FC, the Orlando coach expressed pride over his squad’s growth over the course of a tough week – one that demanded three games in eight days, taking them from the City Beautiful to North Carolina to the Pacific Northwest.
And then as they returned to Orlando City Stadium, the Pride suddenly reverted back to old ways.
“The first half was far too passive,” Skinner said. “We didn’t affect the ball enough. The goal was just a ridiculous goal.”
Christen Press tallied the only goal in the 19th minute, finishing a disjointed sequence that didn’t look nearly as dangerous as it became. Her shot from the top of the box wasn’t struck all that powerfully, but took a slight carom off an Orlando defender and took a bouncing roll just beyond goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer’s reach.
Kopmeyer was a last-minute replacement for Harris, who landed awkwardly during pregame warmups and was re-evaluated in the locker room. Skinner quickly noted the goal came not from Harris’ absence but mistakes that allowed Press to settle a long pass that she had to adjust for.
“No coach in the world can stop that goal from going in,” he said. “It needs to be stopped at the source by the players.”
Offensively, Orlando players too often played right into Utah’s central trap, losing possession and creating too few legitimate scoring threats. The Pride put just four shots on target, struggling to complete connections near the Utah box.
Though Marta was credited with three shots, she went missing for long stretches. Morgan managed just one shot the entire night, marked tightly up top by Utah’s Becky Sauerbrunn and Rachel Corsie.
“I need to work harder to get more shots off,” Morgan said. “It’s not for lack of effort, but at times I’m looking for the pass more than the shot.”
Fixing that will have to come later. Now begins the process of mixing in the new blood to replace the Pride’s international talent.
Midfielder Joanna Boyles came on in the 72nd minute Saturday for her second action of the season, while 2019 draftee Marisa Viggiano made her NWSL debut for seven minutes. Chioma Ubogagu – if she doesn’t get an England callup – and Rachel Hill will be asked to create more chances.
Skinner hinted there may be other wrinkles.
“I think you have to be tactically different,” he said. “It’s adaptability. The players have to adapt to what we do have, the strengths of the players we do have. … Behind the scenes, we’re working hard to get those players up to speed, too.”
As important as adaptability will be, Skinner is stressing that other “A” word.
“As soon as you get over the fear of being accountable – it’s my fault, I take ownership – you start to iron out the mistakes,” Skinner said. “That’s the growth of the person in football. And that will happen in this team, I promise you.”