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Orlando Pride upbeat entering final third of 2018 season

Orlando star Marta screams during the Pride's 2-1 win over the Washington Spirit Saturday at Orlando City Stadium. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)

SANFORD, Fla. — The Orlando Pride’s season is winding down, believe it or not.

Every club in the NWSL has played at least 14 matches, and the Pride are 16 games into their season. With eight games left, Orlando has officially entered the final third of its 2018 campaign.

Luckily, the Pride are entering their home stretch with a win under their belt. Orlando defeated the Washington Spirit 2-1 on Saturday to bounce back from two consecutive home losses. The Pride (7-5-4, 25 points) return to action at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday with a match at the Houston Dash.

“Extremely critical,” said Pride coach Tom Sermanni about Saturday’s win. “We’re at the cusp of the season where you have to keep in touch, you have to really keep in the mix of the teams that are vying for second place and vying for the top four.

“Those kinds of wins at home are very critical to achieving that.”

The Pride are in third place on the NWSL table. They’re part of a five-team battle for second place in the league – the North Carolina Courage have first all but locked up – and one loss could drop them out of the playoff race.

Saturday’s match was the first of three games in a seven-day span for the Pride. After facing the Dash on Wednesday, the Pride fly to Utah to face the Royals.

“I think we need this sequence of games and this sequence of wins,” Brazilian centerback Mônica said through a translator, adding victories now are “critical” for a potential playoff run.

The Dash are near the bottom of the NWSL table, but in a nine-team league, that doesn’t mean there’s much separation between them and the Pride.

Plus, Houston beat Orlando 2-1 at home last week.

Sermanni said the club isn’t going to change its approach while preparing for Houston, despite last week’s loss.

At this point in the season, there isn’t much wiggle room in terms of the team’s approach to training, he added.

“We are what we are,” Sermanni said. “We do what we do. What we’ve got to do is do is do what we as well as we can. With [midfielder] Camila back in the mix, that gives us a further impetus, a fully-fit squad. We just need to be what we are.

“We just need to be what we are. There will be times where we need to make tactical adjustments in games. Times where we need to make selection adjustments based on those tactics and opposition, but in general, we want to get to the stage where we’re the Orlando Pride going out to play as the Orlando Pride do.”

Marta continues to dazzle

Brazilian superstar Marta scored the match-winning goal late against the Washington Spirit, showing off a set of moves that illustrated why she’s called “Legend” in Pride promotional materials.

The 32-year-old still surprises Sermanni with her abilities.

“She’s just an amazing competitor,” Sermanni said. “It’s not just her ability. It’s about her passion and her drive. Her sheer competitive spirit that enables her to bring those things out at critical times in games.

“I think it gives everybody a boost. What it does is it sets a standard. It sets a standard for other players to look at when I can turn around and say, ‘Here’s the FIFA Player of the Year five times or whatever, in her 30s and she’s able to do that.’ It means there are no excuses for anybody else.”

Mônica, Marta’s teammate on Brazil’s women’s national team, is no longer shocked by moments of brilliance from Marta.

“It may seem like there’s nothing we can do, but she always finds a way,” Mônica said.

“She’s inspiring. I think she can do way more, to be honest. I think she did half of what she is capable of doing.”

Morgan expected to play

Star forward Alex Morgan was training Monday morning. It was a regeneration day for most of the club, but she was part of a small group scrimmaging during the portion of training open to members of the media.

She missed Saturday’s match due to a calf strain.

“She should be fit and healthy,” Sermanni said. “If the game at the weekend was a Cup final, we would have taken a risk and played her. But we’ve just got to be careful with three games in a week.”

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