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Orlando Pride gearing up for final match of preseason

Orlando Pride new head coach Marc Skinner speaks during a press conference on Pride Media Day, on Thursday, March 14, 2019. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/ Orlando Sentinel)

SANFORD, Fla. — Orlando Pride forward Rachel Hill knows there’s work for the team to do with the start of the NWSL regular season less than two weeks away.

That’s not stopping her from looking forward to the Pride’s April 14 start date. The Pride, in the first season under coach Marc Skinner, host the Portland Thorns to open their fourth NWSL season.

Orlando played a preseason friendly against the University of South Florida on Saturday, beating the college team 6-0, thanks in part to a hat trick from Hill. The Pride wrap preseason play Sunday with a friendly against Puerto Rico Sol FC, which plays in Liga PR Femenina, the top women’s league in Puerto Rico.

“I think we’re getting there,” Hill said when asked if the team is ready for the start of the regular season. “There’s definitely a lot to improve upon, but I think, for the amount of time that we’ve been together as a team with Marc and [assistant coach] Carl [Green], I think we’ve been doing pretty well and we’re pretty prepared.”

The match against Puerto Rico Sol FC is open to the public. Goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer said the team doesn’t really know what to expect Sunday.

“I think with pro teams, you know what you’re going to get, because we play them all the time,” she said. “And then, with college teams, you know, you have an idea because we all went through college. But we don’t really know that much about this Puerto Rico team.

“For us, we’re taking it on as it’s like any other game. It’s a professional test for us. It’s a chance for us to go out and do things right and play our style. Marc kind of gives us the freedom that if we make mistakes, preseason’s probably a better place to make them than when we’re out doing it.”

Skinner has a clear idea of where he thinks his team needs to improve with just one more preseason friendly remaining. Skinner has spoken about the level of physicality in the NWSL, but speaking to reporters Wednesday, he turned his attention to counter-attacks.

“I think controlling counter-attacks,” Skinner said when asked what’s the biggest thing the Pride need to work on. “I think the league dictates that, really. You need to control counter-attacks. You need to be in earlier positions.

“I’m getting the girls to think harder earlier. It’s strange to me, because they’re such good players that you kind of think they would do that naturally. They do have that, you’ve just got to work them up to thinking about defending while we’re attacking. It sounds strange but people get caught up in the emotion of attacking, whereas, actually, they’re very dangerous in the league on the counter-attack.”

Monica not in Pride’s plans

Skinner said there are no plans for the Pride to bring back Brazilian centerback Monica, despite her playing in the team’s preseason friendly against USF.

Monica announcing in February she would not return to the team, but she has been training with the Pride throughout preseason and started in Saturday’s friendly.

“We were looking into that,” Skinner said about bringing Monica back. “I don’t think that will happen. One of the things, because of Monica being such a good person and a good player anyway, we were kind of helping her. As well, she’s helping us with, like, preparation with central defenders and so on. We were helping her.

“I wouldn’t say it’s 100 percent dead, but it’s probably likely that that won’t happen. But again, if that doesn’t happen, I’m pleased with the person. I’m pleased to have met the person and what she’s brought to training. No, there’s no plans at this current moment to do that, because we’ve identified the people that we’d like to bring in a little bit further down the line because they’re not in this league.”

Monica wasn’t the only player who isn’t under contract who started for the Pride in Saturday’s friendly. Defender Erin Greening and midfielders Joanna Boyles and Marisa Viggiano all started and all three are unsigned. Greening and Viggiano were the Pride’s two 2019 draft picks.

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