The Orlando Pride are well aware of the talent that’s on the roster.
They know what’s expected of them when the talent they have on paper is scrutinized.
And with three matches left in the season, the Pride (8-7-6, 30 points) are determined to live up to that talent. Orlando has a match against the league-leading North Carolina Courage in Cary, North Carolina on Saturday, and it’s a match players and coach Tom Sermanni are describing as a “must-win.”
The Pride are coming off a 2-0 loss to the Portland Thorns and weren’t shy about calling that match a must-win.
“What I know is that we’ve got a group of players that are really focused on getting into the top four,” Sermanni said. “We’ve got a group of players that are, like myself, a little bit frustrated with the way results have gone [and] the kind of disparity in some of our performances during games.”
At this point, the remaining matches of the season are a math problem of sorts for Sermanni.
“We know how critical these last few games are,” he said.
“If we win our three remaining games, I think we make the top four. If we get seven points, I think we’ll go close to the top four. There’s still a lot of critical games to go.”
The club’s grip on fourth place in the league – and the place remaining playoff spot – isn’t secure. The Pride are tied with the Chicago Red Stars at 30 points apiece, but the Red Stars have four matches left to play compared to the Pride’s three. The only thing keeping the Pride from dropping to fifth place is the team’s head-to-head record against Chicago.
One of the Pride’s three remaining matches is against the Red Stars.
Kristen Edmonds, one of the Pride’s most versatile players this season, said not making the playoffs this season would be a failure.
“On paper, we look like a really, really strong team, but on the field we haven’t proven that every game this year,” Edmonds said. “You’ve seen it some games and then some games we’re not as strong as we need to be. Obviously, our goal is to make the playoffs.”
Sermanni and veteran defender Ali Krieger didn’t go as far as to say the season would be a failure if the team didn’t reach the postseason, but they made it clear their expectation is to be in the postseason.
“Obviously, we would be a bit disappointed in ourselves and I’m sure the club would be upset we didn’t make it, but I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a failure,” Krieger said. “We can kind of look back on the season – if this were to happen – and say that we’ve really given everything we could.”
Of course, the club is focused on its next match. Krieger added the club has had “hard” conversations about its playoff expectations.
“This is expectation of such a great team that we have and such great players, both individually and as a team,” Krieger said. “It’s frustrating for us because we want to be there and we want to play good, quality football. The past few games, or handful of games, we just haven’t quite gotten there. We kind of look at each other and we’re like, ‘All right, we’ve got to keep push. Keep the mentality positive.’
“That’s kind of what it’s going to come down to. These last three games are basically a cup final for us. It’s a matter of who wants it. Who has the better mentality? Who has the mentality that wants to win? The desire to win and the fight. It’s going to be a fight and a battle.”
Leroux back in training
Striker Sydney Leroux returned to training this week after missing weeks due to an undisclosed illness.
Sermanni offered a cautiously-optimistic outlook for this top goal scorer. Leroux has six goals this season.
“She’ll be ready and ready for selection,” Sermanni said. “She’s probably not ready to start yet, you know? She’s been out probably now for three weeks and this is her first week back in training. She’s looking lively. She’s fit, she’s healthy again. She’ll certainly be in contention, if not to start the game, certainly to play in the game.”