ORLANDO, Fla. — New Orlando Pride coach Marc Skinner is aware his team needs to improve its quality. He knows with each loss, the frustration of the fans will increase and the judgments against him will get harsher.
Speaking after a 3-0 home loss to the North Carolina Courage Saturday evening in front of an announced crowd of 4,427 at Orlando City Stadium, a fiery Skinner said he’s committed to building something with the Pride. Orlando is 0-7-1 (1 point) following Saturday’s loss, and Skinner is still as passionate as he was when he first arrived in Central Florida.
“I have to swallow a lot,” he said. “I’m not sitting here and going, ‘Oh, it’s brilliant. I love being me. I love being this. It’s great.’ No, no, no. I’m swallowing a lot. But that’s my job. And my job is to [stay] calm, focus and know what’s around the corner. You’ve seen teams built where they’ve lost, lost, lost and then all of the sudden, a year down the line, they’ve got those players, they believe.”
Skinner said his side, which consists mostly of players who are getting the first opportunities to play in the league, will continue to grow.
“Everybody can hate me,” he said. “It’s fine. They can say it’s my fault. Tactics this, tactics that. Everything’s all well and good when you manage a team on a computer. For me, in real life, when you’re dealing and you’re dealing with real people that don’t have the experience they need and basic understanding — I’m going to swallow it and I’m going to make sure they know what they’re doing.
“That’s my job. And that’s the hardest part of the job. But it’s the thing I love the most. I’ll take all the flack. You can hate me. ‘Sack Skinner,’ blah, blah, blah, whatever. I’m not going anywhere. Because this team believes in what we’re doing and I believe in what we’re doing and we’re going to make sure we get to where we need to be.”
The Orlando Pride’s goal-scoring woes continued Saturday night. Orlando has just two goals so far this season, and both of those goals were scored by the team’s centerbacks. One of those centerbacks has been called up for the Women’s World Cup.
Still, there were some encouraging signs from Orlando’s NWSL side. For the first time this season, the Pride didn’t concede a goal in the first half.
The defending champions created a couple of chances just before the break. Left back Jaeline Hinkle put a long ball off the crossbar shortly after goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer had to knock away a shot by Courage forward Leah Pruitt from close range. Pruit took an opportunistic try in the 45th minute after the ball bounced around in the penalty area following a corner kick.
Kopmeyer had a save earlier in the half, denying McCall Zerboni in the 32nd minute after the latter got into open space after taking a touch around centerback Toni Pressley. Kopmeyer also saved a shot from outside the penalty area from right back Merritt Mathias in the 10th minute.
During the second half, things unraveled for the Pride.
Midfielder Kristen Hamilton opened the scoring for the Courage in the 59th minute, pouncing after Kopmeyer bobbled a long ball that bounced in front of her. Hamilton got her brace in the 66th minute. She received a pass from Pruitt, turned and split Dani Weatherholt and Morgan Reid and fired past Kopmeyer.
Skinner said that first Courage goal was the turning point of the match.
“If you know about soccer, if you lose momentum when you have it, you’ve got no chance because you’re chasing and they can sit deep and counter-attack,” Skinner said.
Hamilton earned a hat trick and put the exclamation point on the match in the 85th minute. Hinkle sent in a cross that took a bounce toward unmarked Hamilton, who one-timed it past Kopmeyer and into the back of the net.
The Pride had opportunities to score in the second half. Forward Chioma Ubogagu sent in a ball in to wide open Rachel Hill, but Hill put a shot wide. A goal there would have opened the scoring in the 50th minute.
Even more gutting was when the Pride were 3-0 down and looking for a consolation goal in the 88th minute. Left back Carson Pickett sent in a free kick and after the ball bounced around the penalty area, forward Danica Evans managed to get a shot off on an empty net.
The shot bounced off Hill and left the Pride scoreless.
Orlando gets next week off and travels to face the Houston Dash the following week. The Women’s World Cup, which will feature nine Pride players, starts Friday in France.
“We’re getting better each game,” Hill said. “Obviously sucks to lose and to put it simply, we need to score goals and we need to not let goals in. I think we’re getting better and better each week. We’re staying positive. We’re doing what we’re told. We’re trying our game plan. We’re sticking to it. Everyone’s heads are up. Given time, we’ll get there, but it is a bit frustrating for now.”