SANFORD, Fla. — American superstar Alex Morgan’s time with new Orlando Pride coach Marc Skinner has been limited, but he’s already made a positive impression.
Morgan — who by the end of last season said the team was disjointed, with communication breaking down among players and between the players and the coaches — already has high praise for Skinner’s approach.
“I just really like his encouraging way of coaching,” Morgan said of Skinner. “He’s all about really paying attention to the small details and making sure that everyone is aware of their positioning at all times, but, along with the same time as giving us freedom to express ourselves on the field.
“I’ve just really found that he’s so easy to work with and that I want to just learn so much from him. I think that he has so much knowledge to be able to share. I think the team just feels really motivated and encouraged by him.”
The majority of the Pride’s international stars are back training together Central Florida, though Chioma Ubogagu is not expected to return until Thursday.
The Pride kick off their season Sunday at home against the Portland Thorns.
Morgan said it’s always difficult rejoining the team days before the start of the season, and there’s more international duty to come for some of the Pride’s best players. However, she said Orlando’s national team players laid down a good foundation with Skinner before leaving for international matches.
The World Cup starts June 7 in France and the Pride have four matches scheduled while World Cup games will be played. Orlando’s players called up for the World Cup will miss more time in the lead-up to the competition when they report to national team training camps.
“I think, for me, it’s just, I guess, frustrating the way the league has set up the season for us to really miss so much of it,” Morgan said. “I want to give my attention fully to both teams, so I think we’re really forced to have to choose the national team until after the World Cup because we’re here for such limited games.
“I’m going to do my best these three weeks to do everything I can to integrate myself with the team and be a part of the team over the course of the next few games.”
Despite the tough schedule, Skinner has put his players at ease.
“He’s a great professional,” Brazilian superstar Marta said of Skinner through a translator. “He’s smart and he checks the little details, but I feel like he has something special with his energy. In everything he does, he has such a great energy. Maybe I can’t understand him in something he says, but then with his energy I know, and he gets me. He gets everyone going with the energy that he has.”
Marta said splitting attention between club and country can be complicated.
“It’s not a lot of time, but, I mean, we have a lot of great professional players here,” Marta said. “They’re already used to it. I believe we just need to think about it and see what we need to do and what we need to improve in this short time and just do what we’ve got to do for Sunday.”
Morgan said she and the other national team players had a chance to work in Skinner’s system before leaving for international duty. The new system calls for player rotation during the game, and Skinner has stressed organization on the pitch.
“It’s not just rotation to be free,” Skinner said. “It’s about covering. It’s about balance, and that allows you to have the freedom to go and play. If you watch it and don’t see that, then you’re not watching the right game. It’s all built on being able to control counter-attacks, control the opposition, and that gives you the freedom to go and rotate.”
Morgan said she’s on board with Skinner’s style.
“I actually think it’s really freeing and liberating to be able to know the themes of how we want to play more specifically, but not feel so structured in exactly what positions we need to be on on the field,” Morgan said. “I find that it’s a lot easier to just let everyone kind of express themselves rather than making sure that players are really playing their position, like, the position they were given right before the game. I think it’s more about, like, filling holes.
“It’s kind of just a way I see eye-to-eye with Marc on how I like to play soccer. It’s good. I really enjoy it and I think my teammates have really gotten the hang of it over the last month.”
Pressley out for opener
Defender Toni Pressley suffered a hamstring injury last week and will miss the Pride’s season opener, Skinner confirmed on Wednesday.
“It’s fine, there’s no severe damage,” Skinner said. “We’re just managing her through. Again, during this process where the first couple of games, she might not be ready for, but we’ll get her ready for when the girls go away into the World Cup period.”
Skinner said the team is otherwise healthy heading into the weekend.
Pride roster announced
GOALKEEPERS (3): Lainey Burdett (SUP), Ashlyn Harris (FED-USA), Haley Kopmeyer
DEFENDERS (7): Erin Greening, Alanna Kennedy (INTL-AUS), Ali Krieger, Carson Pickett, Toni Pressley, Morgan Reid, Shelina Zadorsky (FED-CAN)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Joanna Boyles (SUP), Bridget Callahan, Kristen Edmonds, Abby Elinsky, Emily van Egmond (INTL-AUS), Marisa Viggiano, Dani Weatherholt
FORWARDS (8): Danica Evans, Caitlin Farrell (SUP), Rachel Hill, Sydney Leroux (SUP), Camila Martins Pereira, Alex Morgan (FED-USA), Chioma Ubogagu, Marta Vieira da Silva (INTL-BRA)
FED — Federation Player; SUP — Supplemental Player; INTL — International Player