There’s only one NWSL playoff spot left, and the Orlando Pride aren’t in control of whether they clinch it.
The Pride (8-8-6, 30 points) are in sixth place in the league and sit behind the fourth-place Utah Royals (8-7-8, 32 points) and the fifth-place Chicago Red Stars (7-4-10, 31 points). The Pride have a game in hand over the Royals, so winning out would vault them over Utah.
It’s the Red Stars Orlando must worry about. Chicago has three matches remaining, while Orlando has two, including this weekend’s game against the Red Stars at Orlando City Stadium. Chicago could lose Saturday’s match and still get into the playoffs by winning its remaining two matches.
Rather than do the mental gymnastics surrounding playoff scenarios, the Pride are just focused on their matches.
“There’s things we can control,” veteran midfielder Dani Weatherholt said. “The other games are going to be going on and there’s nothing we can do about that. We really have to focus in on ourselves and make the most of this next weekend.”
That doesn’t mean Orlando isn’t focused on what Chicago is capable of, Weatherholt said. The team is wary of the capabilities of Australian forward Samantha Kerr, who leads the league with 12 goals scored and has earned seven goals during her past five matches.
“It’s a must-win mentality, for sure, but we’re just focusing on ourselves,” Weatherholt said. “We have to be better in all aspects of our game. [We’re] really trying to finish the season strong.
“We just have to be better in those final moments of games. As a group, as a team, that something we’re looking to implement in our next game.”
The Pride are winless in their past four matches and have come away with zero points in their last two games. Coach Tom Sermanni – who all season has been searching for why his group is so inconsistent – said the Pride don’t take advantage of their chances and concede poor goals when they’re not really under “extreme pressure.”
Still, Orlando has two wins in two matches against the Red Stars this season.
“It’s simple,” Sermanni said. “When you talk about a must-win game, this is a must-win game. It’s gone down to the wire now, but we’re still within a chance of getting in the top four. It’s really tight, but anything other than a win won’t be good enough, simple as that. We’ve just got to focus on the task and on playing against a team that’s been in good form as of late.”
Saturday’s match is Orlando’s final home match of the season. The Pride, who have just three wins in 11 matches in Orlando, haven’t been their best at home, Weatherholt said.
Goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris it’s a good thing Orlando is playing at home, despite its poor form in Orlando City Stadium.
“I’m hoping that our crowd will give us the energy we need and the confidence we need,” Harris said. “This weekend against Chicago is an absolute must-win and our season is dictated by it. We’ve put ourselves in that position, unfortunately.”