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Orlando Pride say missing players not an excuse for loss to Washington Spirit

Orlando Pride forward Chioma Ubogagu participates in an open practice (Jordan Culver, Orlando Sentinel)

Orlando Pride forward Chioma Ubogagu wanted to get right back to training alongside the rest of the club after its 2-0 loss to the Washington Spirit.

Saturday’s loss was rough, made worse by narrowly-missed chances that could have turned the tide of the match, and Ubogagu wanted to get back to work.

Just one problem: The Orlando Pride are missing 10 players, a good chunk them starters, because of international duty.

Brazilians Mônica, Poliana and Marta have been gone since last week. Australians Alanna Kennedy and Emily van Egmond haven’t reported to the club yet. Americans Alex Morgan and Ashlyn Harris left this week. So did Shelina Zadorsky (Canada), Nádia Gomes (Portugal) and Lotta Ökvist (Sweden).

So whatever things the Pride need to work on as a unit, they’ll have to wait a while.

“It’s tough because we know what we want to work on and soon after a game, we want to start working on it,” Ubogagu said. “Obviously it’s tough because people have international duties and they’re leaving again and we have ‘X’ amount of players still around and everyone’s literally all over the world.

“It’s definitely tough and definitely something we knew was going to happen this year, but at the same time, every team is dealing with it, so it can’t be our excuse, you know? We’ve got to stay patient, stay on the mission and just trust the process.”

Coach Tom Sermanni said Saturday’s game the club could have won. Or, at the very least, the Pride shouldn’t have lost. The club gave up two goals in 10 minutes late in the match – both involved U.S. national team forward Mallory Pugh.

“We felt we were very much in the game, particularly in the second half and looked fairly comfortable,” Sermanni said. “But we seemed to get punished for some lapses we made. There some areas and levels of concentration in this league where we need to do a little bit better. Particularly in areas where there’s transition involved.”

The Pride played Washington without its Brazilian trio, but also without Morgan, who was in concussion protocol and didn’t travel with the Pride.

“It’s easy for me to go on excuses about that in relation to results and preparation, but we feel that we’ve built a squad here that’s capable of winning games regardless of who’s playing,” Sermanni said. “The lack of numbers or lack of bodies at training does obviously impact how much you can do and what you can do. But outside of that, you know, you have to prepare with what you have to prepare with.

“That’s not an excuse. If fact, in some ways, it means that we can be a bit more specific with more players. You have some downsides to losing a lot of players. But there’s also some positives where you can do some more concentrated work with the others.”

Offensive issues

With Marta and Morgan both out against the Spirit, the Pride relied on Ubogagu, second-year player Rachel Hill and new striker Sydney Leroux in the attack.

Marta was integral to creating chances in the club’s 1-1 draw with the Utah Royals, though Ubogagu said the club’s scoreless effort Saturday was because the Pride were “disjointed” – an early-season problem that can be fixed.

“I think last year, the same thing kind of happened,” she said. “Each game, it got a little better, but at the beginning of the season we were definitely not connecting to the best of our ability. Not putting away the chances. The chances were few. I think it’s just … it’s early. It’s two games in. We have a lot of time and a lot of potential to keep building.”

The Pride don’t have a match this weekend and return to action April 15 against the Portland Thorns.

“I think you just keep chipping away at it throughout the game, but also throughout the season,” said veteran defender Ali Krieger.

“It’s early on. We have time. We have one more game until everyone gets back, but I think it gives everyone an opportunity to prove themselves and step up. We trust in each other. We believe in each other, like I’ve said before. We just have to understand that people are going to need to step up in those positions and do their jobs. That’s why we’re all here.”

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